By Irma Walter, 2020.
Hertfordshire was one of the British counties where the cottage industry of straw plaiting flourished from the eighteenth century, turning out lengths of plaited straw for the booming hat and bonnet market. It was mostly carried out by women and children, working most of the day to supplement the family income. Children as young as four years were taught the trade. The 1851 census showed that more than 8,000 women in Hertfordshire were employed as straw plaiters. The trade continued until the end of the nineteenth century, when cheap foreign plait was brought into the country from the Far East.
Reuben Dean, born 1814 at Great Gaddesden in Hertfordshire, was a plaiter by trade, as was his mother Elizabeth, who at the time of the 1861 census was still plying the trade at the age of 84, along with her unmarried daughter Ann Maria, aged 42.
Reuben by this time was in Western Australia, sent there in 1851 as a convict onboard the Pyrenees, arriving in Fremantle on 28 June. He had been convicted on 2 January 1849 in Bedfordshire of stealing ‘six score yards of straw plait at Humbershoe, the property of Thomas Tyler’. His name was recorded at the Bedfordshire County Sessions as Reuben Dean, aged 36, unable to read or write, and convicted of stealing as a servant. Due to previous convictions, he was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. In August 1849 he was removed to Millbank Prison, awaiting transportation.
Reuben’s earlier convictions began in 1836 and involved trespass and poaching. Then in 1838 he was found guilty of stealing a sheep from an Edlesborough farmer. Reuben admitted the charge and showed police where he had hidden some of the meat in a dung-hill at the back of his house. A woman named Mary Ann Rogers was living with Dean at the time of this offence and gave evidence at his trial. He was sentenced to seven years for that crime, but avoided transportation and was permitted to serve out his term in a British prison.
On arrival in Western Australia for his 1849 conviction, Reuben was 39 years of age, a married labourer with one child. His physical description was sandy hair, light blue eyes, a round face, a fresh complexion, of stout build, with no distinguishing marks.
[Note: Reuben had married Mary Ann Hobbs in the District of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire in 1845. A daughter Eliza was born there in 1846, but died that year. The birth of a son named Thomas Dean was registered at Hamel Hempstead in the January quarter of 1847. At the time of the 1861 Census their son Thomas Dean. a scholar aged 14, was living at Luton in Bedfordshire with his mother Mary Ann and her second husband James Moss. The 1891 Census has Thomas Dean, aged 44, hat blocker, living with his wife Amy, (49), straw hat finisher, in Luton, Bedfordshire.]
Soon after Reuben’s arrival in Western Australia he received his Ticket of Leave, on 28 June 1851. Where he was employed after that is not known. He worked hard and managed to acquire some land in the Dardanup area, not far from Bunbury. Rica Erickson states that Dean applied for land in 1854 in the Wellington district. He bought 110 acres between 1856- 64 and employed 2 T/L men in 1862 and 1864 at Bunbury.
Just one reference to Dean appears in the Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton of Australind in 1859:
‘Rode to Bunbury with Mr Allnutt after calling there. Attended at the Bench on Allnutts & Perrings affair, and Reuben Dean’s.’
Reuben appears to have lived a quiet life up until his untimely death at 50 years of age in 1864 [cause unknown.]
Joseph Withers and Dr John Sampson were appointed as Executors of his Estate:
ALL Parties indebted to the estate of the late Reuben Dean, of Didnup, farmer, deceased are requested to make payment of said debts on or before the 10th day of September next; and all claimants under this estate to make such claims on or before the above date.
Administrators for the Estate.
Bunbury, August 25, 1864.
Reuben Dean’s Probate document says that he died at Dindnup or Didnup near Bunbury on 27 June 1864. Joseph Withers and John Sampson as Executors were instructed to make a list of all the goods, chattels and credits due to Dean. His property was to be disposed of by the Executors and bequeathed to his son Thomas Dean of Peppermint Farm in Great Gaddesden in Hereford on his attaining the age of 21 years, or if he has died to be divided between his surviving brothers.
Dean’s property was a well-known landmark in the Dardanup district, with several advertisements in later years for Hunt Club meets taking place in its vicinity:
Bunbury Hunt Club.- The Hounds will leave the kennels this afternoon at 2 o’clock, for a run out Reuben Dean’s way.
The property was still known as ‘Reuben Dean’s Land’ many years later when put up for sale in 1895.
Sale of Freehold Property
Wellington Location 217, containing about 40 acres, fenced, having a frontage to the
Vasse Road, and seven miles from Bunbury, (known as Reuben Dean’s Land) Wellington
Location 100, containing 10 acres, adjoining Wellington Location 217, enclosed in same
The History of Straw Plait in Hertfordshire, http://www.hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk/data/occupations/straw-plait.htm
 Cambridge Independent Press, 6 January 1849.
 Cambridge Independent Press, 11 August 1849.
 Hertford Mercury, 9 February 1836.
 Northampton Mercury, 7 July 1838.
 Bucks Herald, 3 July 1838.
 England & Wales Criminal Registers, Bedfordshire 1849, https://www.ancestry.co.uk/imageviewer
 Convicts to Australia, http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/con-wa3.html
 UK Records 1845, Vol.6, Page 674, https://www.freebmd.org.uk
 UK Records 1846, Vol. 6, p.531, and Vol. 6 p.339, https://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl
 Hertfordshire Birth Records, https://www.familysearch.org
 1861 UK Census https://search.ancestry.com.au
 1891 UK Census, Family Search, https://www.familysearch.org
 Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p.797, http://www.friendsofbattyelibrary.org.au/the-bicentennial-dictionary-of-western-australians.html
 Phyllis Barnes, JMR Cameron, HA Wills, et al, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, WA, 2010, p.532.
 WA Department of Justice, Reg. No. 2547, https://bdm.justice.wa.gov.au/_apps/pioneersindex/
 West Australia Times, 25 Aug 1864.
 WA State Records Office, Item AU WA S34 cons 3403 1864/334
 Southern Times, 15 August 1908.
 Southern Times, 30 March 1895.