Convict Histories

Burglary at Finmere Farm – Joseph Buswell and Others

By Irma Walter, 2024.

A break-in took place at Finmere, in the far north-east of Oxfordshire on the night of 21 November 1848. George French of Finmere Farm and his housekeeper were asleep in their beds when three men entered Mr. French’s bedroom around two a.m., two of them carrying sticks and one holding a candle. The other man carried a gun. After waking French they demanded his money, and he handed over several coins from his pocket. They forced open a chest of drawers with a chisel and took three gold sovereigns and bank notes valued at £40. Mr French later insisted that he heard the voices of other men downstairs, but this was never confirmed.

They then woke the housekeeper Mary Irons, stealing her small amount of money and demanding to know where the household silver was kept. She said that she didn’t know. On their way out Buswell stole French’s loaded gun while the others took meat from the kitchen.

During the robbery John Marriott wore a hat and two handkerchiefs wrapped around his face, but was recognised by French and was soon arrested. He was described as 23 years of age, a widower of Brackley with one child, unable to read or write. He was held in the Oxford Castle Gaol.[1] Joseph Buswell, also a resident of Brackley, who during the robbery had carried the candle, had blackened his face and was not recognised at the time.

Several similar offences had recently occurred in the neighbouring counties, alarming the local residents. Following a public meeting of concerned citizens, a £150 reward was offered for information about the robbery.[2]

The identity of the other burglars remained a mystery for some weeks, until George French went over to Brackley in late November. While there he saw Buswell on the street and immediately recognised him as being one of the gang. Arriving back home Mr French devised a plan to approach Buswell and ask him to come and do the chimney, a ploy that would allow Mary Irons to see him. When Buswell arrived at Finmere about two weeks later to do the job, he avoided looking at Mary Irons, but she immediately recognised his voice and identified him as the man who had come into her bedroom on the night of the robbery. As a consequence, he was arrested on 15 December 1849. He was later identified by his footprints, which had left a distinctive imprint because of a large steel tip on one of his boots. A young woman named Sarah East later gave evidence that the two men had been in and out of the King’s Arms Tap at the Deddington Fair the evening after the robbery. She recalled that Buswell had been dancing, and removed his shoe at one stage to do a repair at its tip.[3] [Up to this day, Brackley still celebrates its four-hundred-year tradition of Morris dancing.[4]]

The third man was never apprehended. At their trial, Marriott claimed to have spent the night of the robbery at Buswell’s place. Buswell’s statement before the magistrates was that he hadn’t done the robbery, but knew a bit about it, and asked whether he could clear himself if he told what he knew. It seems that Buswell was considering giving the names of his associates in an endeavour to avoid conviction, a common ploy in those days. He had made a similar statement to the policeman who took him to Oxford Gaol –


Banbury Guardian, 8 March 1849.

Nothing more seemed to come as a result of these statements. Buswell must have decided to keep his mouth shut.

His Lordship, in passing sentence on Marriott and Buswell, spoke of the seriousness of their offence, telling them that a few years earlier they would have lost their lives for the crime. He went on to tell them that they would pass the rest of their lives in slavery in a foreign country, and sentenced them to 20 years’ transportation. [5]

Bucks Herald, 17 March 1849.

John Marriott [6]

For some reason, John Marriott was never transported to Western Australia. He spent eight weeks in solitary confinement Oxford Castle Gaol, then nine weeks in Reading Gaol, before being transferred to the prison hulk Warrior.[7] He was transferred to Boaz Island Prison in Bermuda on 31 December 1852, spending time on the hulk Thames, from 1 February 1854. Due to exemplary conduct, he was discharged to Portsmouth Prison in September 1856. He was released on License on 4 March 1857, and was sent back to Brackley where his father lived.[8]

Joseph Buswell (1819- 1891) (WA Convict Reg. No. 3233)

Joseph Buswell was born at Brackley in Northamptonshire on 29 September 1819, to parents John Buswell and Ann Geydon. He married Elizabeth Stanton at Woodstock Deddington, Oxfordshire, in 1839.[9]

In the 1841 Census they were listed as Josh Boswell (sic), sweep, aged 21, and his wife Elizabeth (19), residing along with daughter Jane (1), at Deddington in Oxfordshire. Three more daughters followed –

Daughter Mary Ann was born in Deddington on 5 June 1842.

Ellen Maria was born in Deddington in 1842.

Selina was born at Brackley in 1847.

At the time of his arrest in 1849 Joseph was described as aged 28, a sweep, able to read, with a sallow complexion, brown hair, grey eyes, married with four children. The top of the forefinger on his left hand was described as missing. His place of abode was listed as Hethe.[10]

Joseph was sentenced to twenty years’ transportation as a result of the break-in and robbery at the French farm-house in Finmere, Oxfordshire. The cumulative effect of a previous conviction came into consideration when the length of his sentence was decided. His Portland Prison record shows him having previously been twice summarily convicted.[11] While in that prison he was reported to the Governor for misconduct due to irregularity.[12]

Following her husband’s arrest, his wife Elizabeth was left in desperate straits. In December 1849 she applied for admission along with her four small daughters to the local Brackley Union House. It was later decided that the family was not entitled to apply for alms in that Parish. By that time Elizabeth had left the children, possibly looking for employment. They were transported to Hethe in Oxfordshire –

Banbury Guardian, 13 December 1849.

By March 1850 it was reported that Elizabeth had been tracked down and taken into custody at Bicester, charged with having left the children in a Parish where she was not registered –

Northampton Mercury, 30 March 1850.

At the time of the 1851 Census, the children were listed as pauper scholars at the Union House at Bicester, Market End, as follows –

Jane (10), born Deddington, Oxfordshire.

Mary Ann, (6), ditto.

Ellen Maria (5), born Brackley.

Selena (4), born Brackley.

Their mother was not with them. Distressed over his family’s problems, Joseph Buswell (Reg. No. 2091), sent a submission that year from Portland Prison, in the hope of being released in order to support his family –

Petition sent by J. Buswell (2091), from Portland Prison –

Two previous convictions.

Prisoner has carried on the business of a master Sweep at Brackley near Banbury, supporting his wife and 4 children in respectability. He was taken into custody for a robbery which took place 6 weeks earlier at Finnimore. Petitioner believed him to be one of 3 men who entered his room with a gun. Housekeeper believed that he was the man with a blackened face who entered her bedroom. He claimed to be innocent of the crime. Had been suffering for 10 years from diseased liver. Begs for consideration of his health and doubtful evidence against him.

Petition accompanied by a letter from the prison medical officer (page 334).

A second letter sent from another medical officer at Portland Prison, stating that Buswell’s health was not as bad as claimed.

Letter from J. Buswell, 9 September 1851 begs for release in order to support his family, who had sought refuge in the Union Workhouse (page 337).[13]

Joseph’s petition was not successful. He spent time before transportation on a convict hulk, where his conduct was described as exemplary.[14]

He came to Western Australia onboard the convict ship Stag, departing London on 5 February 1855 and arriving at Fremantle on 23 May. On arrival he was described as aged 32, 5’5 ½’’, with brown hair, dark grey eyes, an oval face, a fresh complexion, and tattoos including the name ‘Mary Ann’, a heart, anchor, dart, sun, and various other symbols on his arms.[15]

Soon after his arrival in WA, Joseph received his Ticket of Leave on 18 June 1855, and his Conditional Pardon on 13 August 1859.[16]

Late in 1855 he applied to have his wife and children brought to Western Australia under the supported passage scheme.[17] For some reason this failed.

In 1858 Joseph married Eliza Cross at Bunbury.[18] Marriage was considered to have a stabilising influence over the conduct of expirees and was encouraged by authorities. Nine children were born to the couple between 1860 and 1876. Three were named Joseph, with the first two dying soon after birth in 1870 and 1874. A daughter, born in 1864, was named Selina, after her half-sister from Joseph’s previous marriage.

Joseph was a hard worker, determined to make a good life for his family. By 1868 he had taken up land and was involved in the whaling industry in Bunbury when the following article appeared in the Inquirer

This afternoon a poor man named Joseph Buswell, living near Bunbury, sustained a severe loss by fire. It appears his children having been left at home by themselves took some fire-sticks to play with, when the stable got ablaze, and was consumed, together with a haystack and whale-boat, which were in its vicinity. Fortunately the dwelling-house was saved by the prompt and energetic exertions of a young man named Joseph Hough, who lives close to the place.[19]

Between 1864 and 1876 Joseph employed 14 Ticket of Leave men.[20] He was listed as a fisherman of Bunbury, Dardanup and Australind in WA Almanacks from 1873 until 1876, when he became the proprietor of a boarding house.[21] The following advertisement appeared in a March newspaper in 1876 –

Application for a Boarding House License. To the Worshipful the Justices of the Peace acting in and for the District of Wellington, in Western Australia. I, JOSEPH BUSWELL. Fisherman, now residing at Bunbury, in the District of Wellington, do hereby give notice that it is my intention to apply at the next Licensing Meeting to be holden for this district, for a Boarding House License, in the shop or rooms which I now occupy, or, intend to occupy, situated in Victoria Street, Bunbury ; not previously licensed. Given under my hand this sixth day of March, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-six. JOSEPH BUSWELL.[22]

Joseph’s conduct in Western Australia was generally good. In 1869 he gave evidence in a Bunbury Court about the ownership of a watch, during the trial of two expirees, Henry Holmes and John Daws, who were found guilty of larceny.[23]

He faced a serious indictment himself in the Supreme Court in Perth late in September 1880, after being accused by a Bunbury policeman of having stolen the purse of one of the regular visitors to his boarding house. Evidence was given that Sergeant Charles Gee and another policeman named Vincent had heard a commotion coming from the premises on the night of 19 June. Looking through a window, they saw a man named John Bishop in an intoxicated condition, and arrested him. Hurrying to the back of the premises, Gee witnessed Joseph Buswell in a kitchen, rifling through a purse and pulling out money and papers, showing the contents to a James Thompson. Both men were arrested and charged with stealing from the purse belonging to Bishop. Sergeant Gee later gave evidence that he had seen Buswell pass some of the silver coins from the purse over to Thompson, who put them into his pocket, but later passed them back to Buswell when questioned. The Court was told that Capel farmer John Bishop was a regular visitor to the establishment. He admitted that he had a tendency to imbibe too much alcohol, and was unsure about the amount of money he had that night. He had known Mr and Mrs Buswell for more than 30 years. They were good friends of his, and had previously been instructed to take care of his belongings when he was in this condition. Both Buswell and Johnston were found not guilty and were acquitted of the charge.[24]

Joseph obviously had the help of his wife Eliza in the running of the boarding house and caring for the family. After an eventful life, Joseph Buswell passed away at the age of 74, on 24 December 1891.[25] His descendants went on to become well-known citizens in the Bunbury area, particularly on the sporting fields.

The kindly nature of his wife Eliza is evident in the obituary which appeared following her death in 1914 –



Much regret and deep sympathy is expressed to the relatives of the late Mrs Eliza Buswell who passed away at the residence of her daughter, Mrs Wenn, Elliott-street, Bunbury, The deceased lady was of an exceptionally kind and charitable nature, and known throughout the district for her good works. In addition to rearing her own large family the respected lady also adopted and reared another family, who speak in the highest terms of her good nature and kindly feelings. The deceased was 78 years of age, being born in the year 1863 at Taunton, Summersetshire England, arriving in this State in 1856 from Syned, New Hull, Wales, she was married to Mr. Joseph Buswell, who predeceased her some 20 years ago. About four years ago deceased was smitten with a paralytic stroke from which she never recovered, and for the past twelve months suffered keenly, senile decay accentuated and hastened her end. This good lady, however, remained conscious to the end. In addition to her own family consisting of five sons and one daughter the deceased leaves 48 grand children and 9 great grand children.

The funeral took place at four o’clock this afternoon in the Anglican Cemetery. The cortege left the residence of Mrs Wenn, Elliott-street, and was followed by a large number of relatives and friends. The Rev S.R Fellows conducted the last rites.[26]


[1] Oxford Assizes, Institutions and Organisations, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 38.

[2] Oxford Journal, 10 March 1849.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https:www.//

[5] Banbury Guardian, 8 March 1849.

[6] Not to be confused with a John Marriott who arrived in WA onboard the convict ship Stag, as Convict No. 3440, sentenced at Huntingdon to transportation for Life, after being found guilty of setting fire to farm buildings on 17 March, 1851. [See Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R18).]

[7] Oxford Assizes, Institutions and Organisations, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 38.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Marriage Certificate, Deddington, Oxford,

[10] Oxford Gaol, Register of Prisoners, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 350.

[11] Portland Prison, Home Office Records, Criminal Registers, Series HO27, Piece No. 88.

[12] Portland Prison, Dorset, Governor’s Journals, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 223.

[13] Home Criminal Petitions, Series 11, Series HO18, Piece No. 314.

[14] Convict Hulks, Quarterly Returns, Series HO8, Piece No. 114.

[15] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/1-32)

[16] Rica Erickson, Dictionary of Western Australians, 1829-1914, Vol. 2, Bond, UWA Press, 1979, p.416.

[17] Ibid.

[18] WA Department of Justice, Online Index, Reg. No. 1263.

[19] Inquirer, 19 February 1868.

[20] Rica Erickson, Dictionary of Western Australians, 1829-1914, Vol. 2, Bond, UWA Press, 1979,


[21] Herald & WA Almanacks, Carnamah Historical Society, https:www.//

[22] Inquirer, 15 March 1876.

[23] Inquirer, 14 April, 1869.

[24] West Australian, 8 October 1880.

[25] WA Department of Justice, Online Index, Reg. No.895.

[26] Southern Times, 15 January 1914.