Convict Histories

William Proctor (1830 – ?) (Reg. No. 3509) ‘One of the Swell Mob’

By Irma Walter, 2021.

The term ‘Swell Mob’ was commonly used in 19th century Britain and in the capitals of Europe to describe a certain class of thieves. Stylish and well-mannered, they were mostly young men, posing as gentlemen of genteel address, who mingled with the upper class travelling on trains or boats in order to relieve them of their personal possessions. They frequented race-courses and other popular events, sometimes accompanied by attractive young ladies. Many were skilled pickpockets, often targeting women travelling alone. Others we would refer to today as confidence tricksters or swindlers. Police were at their wits-end watching over the growing number of offenders who stood around street corners, puffing cigars while contemplating their next crime.

The Swell Mob members revelled in the publicity given to their exploits in newspapers. As early as 1834 many of them were being transported to Australia:

TRANSPORTATION OF CONVICTS. – On Saturday morning the ship ‘Lloyd’s’, Thomas Ward, Esq., owner, left Woolwich for Sydney, with 200 male convicts on board, who are under sentence of transportation for life and for 14 years. The whole of them have been convicted at the Middlesex and Old Bailey Sessions during the last four months; and among them are a number of the most desperate thieves, housebreakers, and swell-mob-men who have, during their career, levied heavy contributions on the inhabitants of this great metropolis.[1]

In 1850 their numbers in London were said to range from 150 – 200 members.[2] One such man was William Proctor. At the time of his trial one headline announced – ‘Daring Robbery By A Swell Mobsman’.[3] Proctor was described as a lawyer’s clerk, of the Waterloo Road, Blackfriars, a tall, well-dressed man, well-known as a member of the Swell Mob.[4]

Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 30 August 1851.

At the end of his trial Proctor pleaded for a longer sentence, indicating a desire to make a new start in Australia under a more lenient regime.

[Note: Another pick-pocket named John Leary, (22), was convicted on the same day as Proctor in the Clerkenwell Court. Their names were bracketed together in the England and Wales Criminal Register for Clerkenwell, on 26 August 1851. Like William Proctor, Leary pleaded for an extension of his sentence from seven to ten years, in order to ensure transportation to another country, rather than remaining in a prison or on the hulks with his old companions.[5] As convict number 3508, Leary arrived on the Adelaide along with Proctor in 1855.]


William Proctor, Convict No. 3509, arrived in Western Australia onboard the convict ship Adelaide on 18 July 1855. His description was labourer, aged 25 years, single, 5’6” tall, with dark brown hair, grey eyes, a round face, a fresh complexion and middling stout, with a mermaid tattooed on his right arm and a cross on the left.[6] He received his Ticket of Leave on arrival and his Conditional Pardon on 21 February 1857.[7]

His name was mentioned on several occasions in the journals of Marshall Waller Clifton as an employee at Australind. On 18 April 1859 Clifton wrote that Proctor had ‘brought home some Pales’.[8] On 6 May 1859 Clifton ‘lent Allnutt 4 Bullocks & Proctor.[9] On 12 January 1861 Clifton wrote – ‘Sent Mr. Allnutt my large Cart & a pair of Bullocks to go to Bunbury for the things & Emigrant Girls. Proctor did not get back till late & brought the three for Mary.[10] [Note: Marshall Waller Clifton died on 10 April 1861.[11]]


Proctor appears to have mostly kept out of trouble. In 1862 he married an Irish girl, Mary Allen (neé Tuohy), widow of Charles Allen. Mary Tuohy had arrived on the Travencore in 1853 with her sister Catherine May Tuohy. [Note: Catherine married expiree Henry Offer in 1854 and by 1868 Henry was a farmer at Benger.[12]] The marriage of Mary Toovey (sic) and Charles Allen was registered in 1855 as taking place at Australind. Their daughter Ellen Catherine Allen was born the same year at Busselton.[13] [Note: Charles Allen (Convict No. 838) arrived on the Minden in 1851. He was awarded his Conditional Pardon on 24 February 1855.] Nothing more is known of Charles Allen.

Mary Allen was employed by Marshall Waller Clifton at the same time as Proctor. The first mention of Mary in Clifton’s journal was on 7 September 1859, with Sergeant Hyde visiting ‘on Mrs A.’s [Allen’s] affair’. On 13 September 1859 Clifton wrote that he ‘rode to Bunbury & sat on the Bench on Mrs Allen’s case. We convicted her for concealing the Birth of a Child.’[14] A few days later it was reported in a Perth paper as follows:

From Bunbury we hear of a suspected case of infanticide, but it appears the evidence was not considered sufficient to ensure conviction upon the capital crime, and the prisoner, Mary Allen, has been committed for trial at the Sessions for the minor offence of concealment of the birth.[15]

On 24 September Clifton recorded that Mary Allen was not to be prosecuted. This was confirmed to him by the police on 26 September.[16] Mary was discharged from prison on 5 October 1859.[17] All must have been forgiven by 15 March 1861, when Clifton recorded that his wife had engaged Mrs Allen as her Parlour Maid.[18] A year later Mary married her second husband William Proctor at Bunbury, on 8 April 1862.[19] At some stage he was employed by William Pearce Clifton as a labourer.[20]

Keen to establish a home for his family, Proctor leased some land from WP Clifton at Benger, about 20 miles from Bunbury. The block adjoined land owned by Robert Clifton.[21] Proctor set to work clearing the land and erecting fences, but by 1864 he found himself in financial trouble, owing a debt of £59 to James Everett, a Bunbury storekeeper. Proctor later claimed that he had offered to pay off the debt in instalments, but this was refused. Everett, worried that Proctor was about to leave the colony, obtained a warrant against him and had him arrested. He was taken into custody by James Moore, but instead of placing Proctor in the Bunbury Gaol, he was taken to the lock-up, where he remained for eight months. According to Proctor, conditions there were primitive and he suffered far worse treatment than other prisoners at the hands of warders Joseph Bovell and William Dale. He took out a writ against them, along with Resident Magistrate George Eliot and James Moore, pleading unlawful arrest and illegal detainment. It was a brave move to challenge the authority of Eliot, and the proceedings attracted a lot of interest in the community:


WILLIAM PROCTOR, the person who for upwards of eight months has been confined in the Bunbury lock-up, by the authority of Mr. G. Eliot, the Resident Magistrate, upon a warrant granted for his arrest on the ground that he was a debtor about to leave the colony, was brought up to Perth on Saturday last, under a writ of Habeas Corpus obtained by his Counsel, Mr. E. W. Landor. On Tuesday he was taken by the police officer to whom the writ was directed, Corporal Dale, before His Honor the Chief Justice when his Counsel applied for his immediate discharge, upon the ground that he was now, and had been for eight months illegally in custody. The Crown Solicitor Mr. G. W. Leake, opposed the discharge, but the prisoner was ordered by the Chief Justice to be set at liberty, inasmuch as he had been wrongfully detained in a place which was not one of the Common Jails of the Colony. There are curious stories afloat as to the treatment received by a debtor whilst in the custody of the police, and it is probable that the public will be enlightened on the subject through the medium of the Supreme Court.[22]

Supreme Court Trial

On 2 January 1865 William Proctor, along with his wife and children, travelled on the Wild Wave to Perth, where William’s charge against James Moore, George Eliot, Joseph Bovell and William Dale was to be heard in the Supreme Court:

Supreme Court-Civil Sittings.


(Before His Honor the Chief Justice.)

Proctor v. Eliot and others, for illegal imprisonment and ill-treatment; damages laid at £1000. Tried before a common jury.

Mr. Landor and Mr. Howell were for the Plaintiff. The Attorney General and Crown Solicitor, appeared on the part of the Defendants. Mr. Landor explained the cause of action by reading the Declarations.

Those set forth that the Defendants – George Eliot, James Moore, William Dale, and Joseph Bovell, by maliciously imprisoning and shutting up the Plaintiff in a cell or a common lock-up, not being a jail, and cruelly ill-using him. The Plaintiff was a person commencing as a farmer in the neighbourhood of Bunbury, and had become indebted to one Everett, in the sum of £59. The ground of maliciousness was that the magistrate had by listening to what was told he conceived a prejudice against the Plaintiff; these stories appeared to be based upon the following circumstances:- Plaintiff had a field of barley which was several times trespassed upon by sheep belonging to Mr. Robert Clifton, and having in vain endeavoured to obtain redress from Mr. Clifton, the Plaintiff applied to Mr. Eliot for a summons against him, which was refused on the ground that more than seven days had elapsed since the trespass, adding that “if he was Mr. Clifton he would not pay him a farthing.”

Shortly afterwards Mr. Clifton’s stacks were burned down, and it was surmised, without any proof, that the Plaintiff had set fire to them because he had failed in obtaining redress for the trespass; and Mr. Eliot had allowed himself to be swayed by these unfounded suspicions. Shortly afterwards Everett determined to proceed against the Plaintiff for the debt owing to him, and persisted in doing so notwithstanding an offer of the payment of one-half down, and the remainder in instalments. Two actions were accordingly brought against Plaintiff for the amount, and judgments given; upon this Mr. Eliot granted a writ of arrest on the day after, upon insufficient proof that the Plaintiff was about to leave the colony, and this he contended was a proof of bad feeling in the mind of the creditor and responded to by the magistrate a link in the chain of proof of malicious feeling.

Proctor was arrested in his own house, with plenty of property about him, which however there was no attempt to seize. Proctor was made to walk to Bunbury, 20 miles, and was placed in the lock-up at that place – not a common jail as required by the Act, and must have been known not to be so by Mr. Eliot. That lock-up had no furniture of any kind, not even a table or a form; it also was not in the jurisdiction of the Sheriff, and therefore not a legal place of confinement for debtors. In that lock-up the Plaintiff was left, without any warrant of commitment, to the tender mercies of Dale and Bovell, and the protection of the magistrate, which was never exercised towards him, but rather the contrary, and there he was confined for the space of nine months, in company with felons and fed upon bread, no vegetables, and very little meat, purchased by a subscription raised[23]

In the Court, Proctor responded eloquently to questioning over the events leading up to his arrest, and described the depredations he had suffered in the lock-up:

…By the Attorney-General — I did not tell Moore I had cattle, nor did I tell Everett. I did not know that execution had issued. I rent my place from Mr. Pearce Clifton. I had offered to sell my cattle to Moore and Everett. I offered Everett £40 cash, and I offered him wheat and cattle, but he refused. I have never been in jail since I have been in the colony. I came out as a ticket-of-leave holder. The day-room was about 20 feet long by 12 feet broad. I was never locked up in England as I was in this prison. In England I had bedding, books, a bench and table and proper utensils, a small bucket to wash in, and a good water-closet. I was sometimes allowed 10 or 15 minutes for exercise, sometimes none at all…[24]

Several witnesses gave evidence in support of Proctor, stating that he was treated far more harshly than other prisoners. He was refused books and writing materials. Proctor’s wife told how she, although pregnant at the time, had to walk 20 miles to visit the lock-up, only to be forced to stand in the rain in order to speak briefly to her husband.

The Chief Justice, after hearing the case, said that the action arose of proceedings under the Local Ordinance Act, for preventing debtors from absconding, and that Proctor had been arrested by District Police Constable James Moore and should have been held in the common gaol awaiting trial, but instead he was taken to the lock-up and was held there for almost nine months.

The Jury found a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded him £150 in damages against Dale and Bovell. The case against Eliot and Moore was dismissed. However the Jury added that if the Resident Magistrate had done his duty, the case would not have come before the Court.[25]

[Resident Magistrate George Eliot was the son-in-law of Marshall Waller Clifton and the brother-in-law of Robert Clifton. In their history of Bunbury, Barker and Laurie cited this case as an example of the power of the elite in Bunbury during that period.[26]]

Shortly after the case concluded, a desperate William Proctor sent the following letter to a Perth newspaper:

To the Editor of the Perth Gazette & W. A. Times.

MR EDITOR. – I beg you would kindly permit the following statement of my position to be inserted in your valuable paper:

After a fruitless attempt to obtain re-dress for a nine months’ illegal imprisonment in the Bunbury Lock-up, all my resources are completely exhausted, and the position of myself, wife, and three children, that of poverty.

At the time of my imprisonment I had a lease of 200 acres of land, which I had partly cleared, fenced, and built upon, this now is useless as I have no means to cultivate the part cleared, and thus ensure a living for myself and family.

Had I received the “damages” of £150 awarded me against constables Dale and Bovell, there would have been no necessity for my appealing to a public generous and willing to assist the unfortunate, but as I have not, and as there is at present but little chance of getting them, I beg, through the medium of your paper, to solicit the public to assist me.

So reduced am I in circumstances, that I applied to the Immigration Agent to admit my wife and three helpless children into the Poor-house; he refused in a peremptory manner; I then tried a higher power and received as little satisfaction; I am therefore very reluctantly on the part of my wife and family compelled to make this appeal.

Your obedient servant,


Perth, March 22, 1865.[27]

Totally disillusioned at the outcome of the trial and with his hopes of leading a better life in Western Australia dashed, William Proctor quit the colony soon afterwards, sailing in the Alexandra for South Australia on 19 June 1865.[28] He abandoned his wife and children in the process.

In his letter to the Perth Gazette in March that year William Proctor had stated that he had three children to support.[29] Only two were registered to this couple, Samuel (born at Benger in 1863) and Elizabeth (1864). The third child would have been an older girl, Ellen Catherine Allen, the child of Mary’s first marriage to Charles Allen. [Ellen Allen married John Connor in Perth in 1881.[30]]

Mary Proctor must have been left in desperate straits after the departure of her husband William. Whether he continued to support his family seems unlikely, as it appears that Mary sought support from the Church. The two children Samuel and Elizabeth Proctor were both christened in Perth on the 7 Jul 1865, just 18 days after William Proctor left the Colony.[31] Both children may have been taken into care, as in 1875 Samuel was referred to as ‘an 11-year-old orphan boy from the Protestant Orphanage’, when called upon with another boy to give evidence as witnesses in a trial of theft that year.[32]

Mary Proctor (née Tuohy), of East Perth and described as a widow, died at the age of 74 in 1905. She was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery.[33]

Mary had maintained a life-long friendship with Honora Rea, another of the Irish girls who came to Western Australia on the Travencore in 1853. Honora had married Thomas Abbs Cook in 1857.[34] The two Proctor children also had a close association with the Thomas Abbs Cook family. In 1904 Samuel Proctor married Henrietta Cook, daughter of Thomas Abbs Cook and Honora Rea. Samuel served as a farrier, police constable and a greengrocer. He died in 1936.[35]

Elizabeth Proctor, born 1864 at Benger, married blacksmith Thomas Robert Cook in 1886, the son of Thomas Abbs Cook and Honora Rea.[36]

Elizabeth Cook died in 1927 at Fremantle:

COOK. — On November 12, 1927, at her late residence, 52 Norfolk-street, Fremantle, Elizabeth, relict of the late Thomas Robert Cook,and loving mother of Nellie (Mrs. F. Raebel, Benger), Nora (Mrs. W. Watson, Bunbury), Dorothy (Mrs. C. Evans, Merredin),and Kit (Mrs. R. Fielding), Viny, Les, and Harold Cook (Fremantle); aged 63 years. To be privately interred in the Fremantle Cemetery on November 14, 1927, by Arthur E. Davies and Co.[37]


[1] London Morning Chronicle article, re-printed in the Sydney Monitor, 10 January 1834.

[2] Newry Examiner, 21 September 1850.

[3] Morning Post,22 August 1851.

[4] Morning Post, 22 August 1851.

[5] Sun, London, 26 August 1861.

[6] Convicts To Australia,

[7] WA Convicts,

[8] P Barnes, JM Cameron, HA Willis, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Carlyle, WA, 2010, p.596.

[9] Ibid., p.588.

[10] Ibid., p.647.

[11] Ibid., p.658.

[12] Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1987, p.2356,

[13] WA Department of Justice, Births, Deaths and Marriage Indexes, Reg. Nos. 795 & 2990,

[14] P Barnes, JM Cameron, HA Willis, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, p.598.

[15] Perth Gazette, 23 September 1859.

[16] P Barnes, JM Cameron, HA Willis, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, p.600.

[17] Perth Gazette, 7 October 1859.

[18] P Barnes, JM Cameron, HA Willis, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, p.655.

[19] Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p.2539.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 3 March 1865.

[22] Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 9 December 1864.

[23] Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 3 March 1865.

[24] Inquirer, 8 May 1865.

[25] Inquirer, 8 March 1865.

[26] AJ Barker & M. Laurie, Excellent Connections, A History of Bunbury Western Australia 1836 – 1990, City of Bunbury, SW Printing & Publishing Co., 1992, p.100.

[27] Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 24 March 1865.

[28] Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p. 2539.

[29] Perth Gazette and West Australian Times, 24 March 1865.

[30] WA Department of Justice Births, Deaths and Marriage Indexes, Reg. No.5052,

[31] Australia, Birth & Baptisms, FHL Film Number 1363650.

[32] WA Times, 5 March 1875.

[33] Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, WA.

[34] WA Department of Justice Births, Deaths and Marriage Indexes, Reg. No. 1082,

[35] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p.2539.

[36] Ibid., p.644.

[37] West Australian, 14 November 1927.