Convict Histories

Joseph Townsend (c1831 – ?) (Reg. No. 2777)

By Irma Walter, 2020.

Joseph Townsend, aged 20, was convicted on 27 February 1850 at Newcastle-on-Tyne of forging orders of payment to the value of £40 and £32/4/- while in the employ of a firm of solicitors.[1] Hearing the evidence he pleaded guilty to both crimes. In Court he was told that a few years earlier he would have forfeited his life for such crimes, but would receive a severe sentence as a deterrent to others. He was sentenced to ten years’ transportation.[2]

He arrived in WA on the Sea Park on 5 April 1854, described as a clerk, aged 23, single, height 5’8”, with dark brown hair, hazel eyes, an oval face, a fair complexion, slight build, with no marks.[3] He could read and write well.

His convict records are sparse. A Joseph Townsend appeared in the Perth Court in 1859 charged with assault against an old character named John Bonner:

ASSAULT.- Joseph Townsend was charged by John Bonner with having assaulted him by kicking him, and also with having broken his walking-stick of the value of 5s.

John Bonner deposed, that on the morning of the 25th ult., as he was passing along the residence of the master of Townsend, in St. George’s Terrace, he saw him standing at the gate, and, as he knew him before, he accosted him thus -“Well Joe, I’m astonished that an enlightened Englishman like you, and, moreover, one of Her Majesty’s most loyal subjects, would so far forget yourself as to pass by a number of gentlemen with a pipe in your mouth.” He said this merely as a joke, but Townsend immediately gave him a kick on the hip, which sent his valuable stick flying in two pieces into the middle of the street. – Townsend was fined for costs, plus 2s 6d. for value of the stick.[4]

In 1861 a Joseph Townsend, expiree, and R. Wethers, c.p. were fined 5s each for being drunk, disorderly, and incapable of taking care of themselves.[5]

His name appears frequently in the journals of MW Clifton at Australind from 21 May 1856, when Clifton recorded employing Joseph Townsend, a young man whom he had promised to take on for doing odd jobs. Townsend became a trusted servant, often accompanying Clifton on rides of inspection and was frequently sent to Bunbury to carry out tasks and take messages. On 7 February 1857 Townsend was making arrangements to buy French’s pony and Clifton ‘gave livery stable to Townsend’.[6] On 12 July that year Townsend was out riding with Eliza, a maid in the service of Mrs Clifton.[7]

On 22 October 1857 he instructed the men to pull down Townsend’s room and fence, presumably with the intention of providing Joseph with a better dwelling. On 30 November 1857 Clifton recorded that he was determined to allow Townsend and Eliza to marry and finish their house accordingly.[8]

Marshall Waller Clifton was willing to employ expirees, providing they complied with his high moral standards. As time passed, growing tensions appeared in the relationship between the two men. On 2 February 1858 Clifton wrote that after a row in the kitchen with Burgess, Davis and Townsend, he was determined that they should all leave his service, and Eliza also, as soon as he returned from Perth.[9] Whether Mrs Clifton agreed to part with her servant Eliza at this stage is not known. Townsend was still at Australind when on 1 April 1858 Clifton recorded that there was another falling out between himself and Townsend, who was found to have been telling lies about the beer – Clifton told him [Townsend] that he should send him away.[10] It wasn’t until 20 April that Clifton decided to forgive Townsend and consented to employ him and Eliza for a further six months, during which time Joseph was to be Mrs Clifton’s servant entirely.[11]

Townsend’s behaviour faltered again when on 5 May 1858 he was sent to Bunbury on an errand but got drunk and kept Clifton’s cart waiting for him all day at Bunbury. On 10 May 1858 Clifton sent him to sign the ‘Teatotal Pledge’ before Mr Brown. However, on 5 June 1858 Townsend again failed to return home from Bunbury – John Lyons reported the next day that Townsend had been thrown off his horse Napoleon, which was lost.[12] When Townsend finally returned home Clifton dismissed him, paying his wages and told him to quit the premises.[13] At the time Clifton recorded that Eliza was mad, but was determined to leave also. He noted that he had sent for another maid to replace her.[14]

It appears that the couple may have finally married in 1860, with a marriage between Joseph Townsend and Eliza Pierce being registered at Perth (Reg. No. 9483). The birth of a child to this couple, a daughter named Eliza Edith Townsend, born at Milton Farm, was recorded in 1866, Reg. No. 9483.

The entry for Joseph Townsend in the Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians online (p.3090) does give us a little more information about Townsend’s later life:

TOWNSEND, Joseph, b. 1831 (expiree). arr. 5. 4.1854 per Sea Park. Employed a T/L boat-maker at Perth in 1864 & 2 T/L labourers at Blackwood River district 1870 & 1874. Dep. for London 5.1.1878.

[It is not known whether Townsend’s family accompanied him.]


[1] Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury, 2 March 1850.

[2] Newcastle Guardian, 2 March 1850

[3] Convict Department Registers, General Register, 1850 – 1868 (R21B)

[4] Perth Gazette, 5 August 1859.

[5] Inquirer, 7 August 1861.

[6] Barnes, Cameron, et al., The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton. 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park WA, 2010, p.527.

[7] Ibid, p.540.

[8] Ibid, p.551.

[9] Ibid, p.555.

[10] Ibid, p.559

[11] Ibid, p.560.

[12] Ibid, p.563.

[13] Ibid, p.564.

[14] Ibid, p.564.