The Elizabeth Saville Story:

Hers was a truly remarkable life - a product of the disrupted social conditions in England and cast aside with other women of the times to the horrific conditions forced upon convict women on the other side of the world. Elizabeth’s early years in both England and Hobart were indeed turbulent. However, given a stable home and a steady relationship, she raised a fine family of children whose many descendants are typical of the strength which has built this country. Another amazing woman!!

Story available on request (4.4 Mb PDF).


Elizabeth Saville was born circa 1835 at Selby, Yorkshire to John and Hannah Saville.
John Saville was born circa 1804 in Yorkshire, England, married Hannah Burgen on 4 November 1828 at Snaith, Yorkshire, England (John was aged 24 and Hannah was 20) and died in July 1837 at Howden, Yorkshire. Hannah was born circa 1808 at Brigg, Lincolnshire, England and died in July 1878 at Hull, Yorkshire. John and Hannah had four children:
Harriet Saville.
Charles Saville born c1832 at Selby, Yorkshire.
Elizabeth Saville born circa 1835 at Selby, Yorkshire.
Ann Saville born c1837 at Selby, Yorkshire.
Elizabeth’s father, John, died when she was only two years old and we can only presume that things must have been pretty tough for Hannah and the children. Two years later, on 1 October 1839, Hannah married Edward Ryley at Selby, Yorkshire. Edward was born circa 1805 at Louth, Lincolnshire (his father was John Ryley) and was a shoemaker by trade. Edward and Hannah had one child, Hannah Maria (or Mary) Ryley, born 3 July 1840 at Selby, Yorkshire.
By the 1841 census Edward, Hannah and four children – Charles (8), Elizabeth (6), Ann (4) and Hannah M (1) - were living at St Mary, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Yorkshire. We do not know where Harriet was.
At the age of fifteen, Elizabeth was living at home in Skirbeck (part of Boston, Lincolnshire) when she was tried for larceny on 14 October 1850. She was found guilty and imprisoned for two months. 1
The 1851 census shows Hannah and Edward Ryley living at Skirbeck, Lincolnshire (near Boston) with three children – Elizabeth (15), Ann (14) and Hannah M (11).
So we know that after her release from gaol, Elizabeth returned home. Then in April 1851 she ran away from home and went to Nottingham and worked as a servant. Here we suspect she turned to prostitution and other crimes, simply as a matter of survival. Not long after her arrival in Nottingham she broke into a house and stole four items of clothing. She was tried, found guilty and sentenced to three months hard labour. 2

Ann Elizabeth Saville, 20, servant, to having on the 12th of May, broken into the dwelling house of William Jones, at
Radford, and stolen therefrom a gown, a shawl, a pair of boots, and a pair of gloves, his property. Committed to hard labour
for three months.

After being released from gaol this time Elizabeth sought assistance from the Wakefield Poor Union – Wakefield is about 100km north from Nottingham.

[Removed image: Workhouse at George Street, Wakefield]

The Wakefield Poor Union was formed in 1837 to assist the extreme poor and was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians. The Board ran a workhouse in George Street, Wakefield, so Elizabeth may have spent time here. Although entry to the workhouse was supposedly voluntary, it was seen as the last resort because life inside was hard, families were segregated and the able-bodied were set to work. The diet was limited consisting mainly of gruel, bread and cheese. The Wakefield workhouse building was regularly condemned for its squalor. In 1851 there were 103 inmates in residence (perhaps Elizabeth was one of them), with the Wakefield Journal reporting: 3

In the females' day room there are several idiotic and also some insane girls and it is frequently the case that girls of the town, full of loathsome disease, have to be sent into the house, but there is no separate place to put them in and they are left to mix with other inmates whom they contaminate by their obscene language and songs.

The Board considered Elizabeth’s manner as “most penitent and circumspect” and recommended her for a position with Joseph Whitley and his wife. Elizabeth started work for the Whitleys on 8 November 1851 at Black Bull Street in Leeds. Over the next two weeks Elizabeth behaved well, but on 24 November, Mrs. Whitley left Elizabeth by herself. It was then that Elizabeth stole several items of clothing, a magnifying glass, a watch and a basket and left the house. She went to Nottingham and met three other young prostitutes -Mary Butler (aged 19), Catherine Porter (aged 17), and Isabella Ashforth (aged 16) - with whom she shared the spoils of the robbery. By 26 November Whitley had traced her to Nottingham and informed the police. Elizabeth was arrested in a liquor shop on Long Row by Inspector Raynor with some of the goods in her possession. Mary Butler was with Elizabeth and after she was searched was found to have some pawn tickets and was also arrested. Shortly after, the other two girls were arrested for receiving goods knowing them to have been stolen – they were found to have also pawned the goods Elizabeth had given them. The robbery was reported in the local paper: 4


ROBBERY BY A SERVANT – On Monday last, a servant in the house of Mr. Whiteley, Black Bull-street, Hunslet-lane, absconded, taking with her a patent lever silver watch, about ₤2 in gold and silver, and a large quantity of wearing apparel. She has since been apprehended at Nottingham, to which place Mr. Whiteley traced her. Most of the apparel was found in her possession, and upon the person of a female companion. The watch has not yet been traced. The girl’s name is Elizabeth Saville, and she is only 17 years of age.


The four girls appeared in Court on 27 November. Elizabeth acknowledged she had stolen the goods and was remanded in custody. The other girls pleaded that they did not know the goods were stolen as Elizabeth had told them the goods were her own. As such they were allowed to leave the Court, pending their appearance again on 1 December: 5


Elizabeth Saville, Mary Butler, Catherine Porter, and Isabella Ashforth, remanded from Thursday last, the first charged with stealing, and the others with receiving, a quantity of articles, the property of Mr. Whitley, Saville’s master, were again brought up. Mr. Bowley attended for the three last, and urged that they had not known that the articles were stolen; and on his undertaking for their appearance next Monday, they were allowed to leave the court. Saville was remanded till Monday, with a view to being committed on that day.


A BEVY OF BAD ONES – Elizabeth Saville, aged 20, Leeds, Mary Butler, aged 19, Pear Street, Nottingham, Catherine Porter, aged 17, Denman Street, New Radford and Isabella Alforth, aged 16, High Cross Street (young prostitutes) brought up by Inspector Raynor and serjeant Wilkinson, charged the first person with stealing a silver watch, and a large quantity of wearing apparel, the property of Mr. Joseph Whiteley, Black Bull Street, Leeds, on Monday last, and the other prisoners with receiving portions of the same, knowing them to have been stolen. Saville was in the prosecutor’s service until Monday, when she decamped, taking the articles. On Wednesday she was apprehended by Raynor in a liquor shop on Long Row, with some of the goods on her. Butler was with her, and on being searched some pawn tickets were found in her possession. The other prisoners were afterwards apprehended, and it appeared that to each she had given various articles, which they had pawned. They asserted that the girl told them the things were her own; but Porter stated that she had previously known the prisoner, and that she was once convicted at Nottingham Sessions for felony. Saville acknowledged that she had stolen the articles from her master’s house. Remanded until Monday. Saville had entered Mr. Whiteley’s service on the 8th instant, from a recommendation of the Wakefield Board of Guardians, to whom she had applied for relief, and had conducted herself in a most penitent and circumspect manner. She had behaved herself well until Monday, when she decamped in the absence of her mistress.


 Elizabeth’s plight was also reported in a regional newspaper:


Intelligence has been received at Boston of a robbery at Leeds by a maid servant named Elizabeth Saville, late of Boston. She left home unexpectedly about eight months ago, since which time her friends had no idea of her whereabouts, till she wrote to them requesting that her clothes might be forwarded to her at Leeds. Before, however, that could be done, she
decamped from her situation there, and took with her some valuable property belonging to her master and mistress, and nothing has since been heard of her.

Elizabeth’s case was heard by the Magistrates on 8 December 1851. 7

THE LEEDS CASE. – The whole of the evidence connected with this case was read over in the presence of the witnesses,
and Elizabeth Saville, the prisoner, was fully committed to take her trial at the next Borough Sessions. The Mayor on
behalf of his brother magistrates, wished to show their approbation of the very creditable manner in which all things
connected with this case has been performed by the officers. He also cautioned masters and mistresses never to take
parties into their service before duly considering the character.

The Magistrates determined there was a case against Elizabeth and her criminal trial was heard at the General Quarter Sessions in Nottingham on 5 January 1852 before Richard Wildman Esquire. Her trial record reads:

Elizabeth Saville Junior Maid Servant to Joseph Whitley steals on 24 November one carpet bag val. 2/-, one shawl val. 20/-, one velvet bonnet val. 8/-, one apron val. -/8d, two shifts val. 5/-, 3 pairs stockings val. 3/-, one pocket val. -/4d, one magnifying glass val. 3/-, 2 pairs of drawers val. 2/-, one cloak val. 15/-, two gowns val. 3.5.0, 4 petticoats val. 10/-, one night jacket val. 2/-, one silver watch val. 9, one watch guard val. 2/- & one basket val. 3/-, her master’s property. and previously convicted by name of Jane Elizabeth Saville at Nottingham June Sessions 1851.
True Bill returned – Plea guilty. Sentence to be transported for 7 years


Explanation of “True Bill returned” – After a jury has deliberated and believes sufficient evidence has been provided to suggest the accused person probably committed the crime, the jury will return a “True Bill”. If they believe the accused is innocent they will return a “No True Bill”.

The trial was reported in the newspapers: 8

Elizabeth Saville, aged 18, to having on the 25th of November last stolen a silver watch, a carpet bag, two gowns. And
various other articles of wearing apparel, the property of Joseph Whiteley. A previous conviction was proved against her.
Transportation for seven years.

THE LEEDS ROBBERY. – On Thursday last a young woman, Elizabeth Saville, was brought up in custody charged with having stolen a silver watch and a large quantity of wearing apparel, the property of Mr. Joseph Whitley, of Leeds. The watch had not been found, although the principal portion of the other articles had been traced to the possession of three
young prostitutes, who were also brought up under surveillance, charged with receiving the same knowing them to have been stolen. All the prisoners were ultimately remanded until Monday. This morning Inspector Parkinson produced the watch in question, which he found in the possession of Elizabeth Rothers of Leen Side, who was in attendance to tell the
Bench how it had come into her possession. She said she was a dressmaker, and resided with her sister on Leen Side. On Monday night she had to go on an errand up to the barracks, where she met the prisoner, who at that time was a perfect stranger to her. She asked her where she should be able to get lodgings, but not knowing who she was, she left her without
directing her any where. On Tuesday morning she was going down the Market Place when the same young woman went up to her. She appeared to be in great trouble, and said, “You saw those shawls I had last night; some girls took me to a house, and stole them from me. I have no money left, but I have a watch at a watch maker’s where I took it to have a glass
put in, and I am in the want of money to fetch it away. If you will lend me half-a-crown you may keep the watch until I redeem it.” She afterwards asked me if I would give her a pound for it, and I did.
By Mr. Ald. Heard: The watch was at Mr. Hall’s, Bridlesmith Gate. Before I bought it I asked him what it was worth, and he told me about 3. The watch was detained, and Mrs. Rothers was allowed to go home on promising to appear again on Monday. (The watch cost 12 when new.)

This might have been a case of “three strikes and you’re out” as Elizabeth was sentenced to seven years transportation.
From her English convict record we find Elizabeth was:
Aged 18.
5’ 1¾” tall.
A nurse and needle woman.
A native of Selby (about 24km south of York).
Literate as she could read and write.
The daughter of Anna (sic) and had sisters Anna, Mary and Harriet.
Of “good” character.
Committed for “Robbing my employer of money and clothes. Prior Whitby 3 months for a dress and clothes. 2 months for ditto.”

As an aside, it seems that Elizabeth’s sister, Harriet, may have also been “misbehaving” at this time. On 9 April 1850
Harriet was tried for larceny at the Easter Sessions, Northallerton (near York), Yorkshire, but was found not guilty and

The 1861 census shows Edward and Hannah Ryley living at Kingston-Upon-Hull with their married daughter Hannah Backhouse (a boot binder) and her two children John E Saville and Harriet E Ryley. By 1871 Edward and Hannah were living at Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, with their grandson, John Saville (a roper, aged 14).

Edward Ryley died in October 1876 and Hannah Burgen/Saville/Ryley died in July 1878 at Hull, Yorkshire. Their daughter Hannah M Ryley led a very complicated life, especially from a genealogical point of view. In 1856, aged 16, she had a son, John Edward Rodgers. Then in 1858 Hannah gave birth to a daughter, Harriet Emma Ryley. At around the same time, in October
1858, Hannah married Richard Bowling Backhouse, but because Harriet’s birth surname is recorded as Ryley, we suspect Richard was not Harriet’s father. Harriet went on to marry Henry George Smith.
Richard Backhouse was born 24 September 1837 at Drypool, Yorkshire to Richard (born 12 August 1802 and died 26 April 1867) and Mary Backhouse (nee Taylor born 30 July 1804 and died in October 1871). We do not know what happened to Richard Backhouse, but by the 1861 census, Hannah is back living with her parents in Kingston-Upon-Hull, with no mention being made of Richard.
Between 1863 and 1871 Hannah had another four children:
John Backhouse born circa April 1863. 

•Kathleen Little Backhouse born circa January 1867.
Minnie Little Backhouse born circa July 1869.
Charles Edward Backhouse born 19 September 1871, married Blanche Ramskill on 25 December 1890 at Grimsby, Lincolnshire and died in September 1958 at Lincoln, Licolnshire.

We suspect Hannah had a liaison with someone with the surname “Little”, hence the “Little” in two of the children’s names. The 1871 census tells us that Hannah was now calling herself Hannah Little.
In 1874 Hannah had a son, Neasham Barker Bell and in 1877 she married Neasham’s father, Thomas Bell, a
railway ticket collector. Thomas was born in 1847. By the 1881 census, sadly, Minnie Little and Charles Edward, were inmate pauper scholars in the Caistor Union Workhouse in North Kelsey Road, Caistor, Lincolnshire, whilst older sibling Kathleen was living with Thomas and Hannah at Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Here Thomas was a shipwright. Minnie became a Captain in the Salvation Army and according to the 1891 census was living in Northamptonshire. We wonder if the Salvation Army offered comfort to Minnie and Charles whilst they were in the Caistor Workhouse and Minnie continued their work throughout her life.
In the 1891 census Thomas (still a railway ticket collector) and Hannah Bell were living at Gateshead, Durham with their son, Neasham (aged 16, a railways clerk).
The 1911 census shows Thomas and Hannah Bell still living at Gateshead with Neasham. Neasham Bell died in December 1952 at Durham, England. Hannah possibly died circa June 1923 at Hull, Yorkshire.

Returning to Elizabeth Saville - Elizabeth was transported to Van Diemen’s Land aboard the “Sir Robert Seppings”, along with 219 other female convicts and several children. The ship was built in Moulmein, India in 1844 and was an A1 class ship weighing 628 tons. The “Sir Robert Seppings” departed Woolwich on 18 March 1852. The Master was R. S. Stewart and the surgeon was Dr L. T. Cunningham.  [Removed: General Comments by Surgeon Superintendent Dr. Cunningham.]

[Removed: Ship's Image]


(conduct record, indent, description list)


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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed online [date].

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