By Irma Walter, 2020.
The record of James Punt Porritt is an example of the common practice of nineteenth century criminals to hide their identities through the use of aliases, in order to avoid the cumulative effect of crimes when it came to sentencing.
In 1853 a man giving his name as ‘George Parker’ was arrested as an associate of Lewis Myers, Charles Marshall and John Saunders, in breaking into a dwelling house at Leighton Buzzard and stealing a quantity of jewellery comprising 100 watches and chains, and 200 knives and forks, to the value of £800 or more. For their part the three men were sentenced to 15 years’ transportation to Western Australia. At first the fourth accused man, George Parker, aged 44, had the charge dropped against him due to insufficient evidence, as nothing was found at his lodgings which connected him to the robbery:
Parker was not identified by witnesses as being at Leighton Buzzard that night, but by a cabman in London the following morning with Marshall and Sanders (Saunders); he has not long returned from transportation. They are all, except Parker, of a most slim and active appearance, most remarkably suited to their profession.
George Parker, under the alias of ‘John Jones’, was re-arrested soon afterwards as part of a different gang of thieves and was sentenced to seven years. However during this trial it was revealed that George Parker had a long criminal history, having previously been convicted at the Old Bailey in 1839 and sentenced to 15 years’ transportation. When questioned Parker admitted his crimes and described how he managed to escape from Norfolk Island but was eventually re-captured at Liverpool, resulting in a stretch at Hobart Town before escaping from there in 1849 and again returning to England. He told the court that he was caught and tried again at the Old Bailey in 1852, where he claimed that he had been given a pardon.
This man was actually James Punt Borritt, born in Essex around 1814, alias ‘George Parker’. He was a seaman, 5’8” in height, with brown hair, hazel eyes and a sallow complexion. His identification marks were a small scar on the left corner of his mouth, a large scar below it, a scar on right elbow and an anchor on back of his right hand.
Borritt was literate and judging from his lengthy career as a criminal, was a clever and resourceful individual, willing to use his persuasive powers to manipulate others. Appearing in 1838 at the Central Criminal Court in London, he was charged with forging an order for the payment of money. He had tricked a young man named Joseph West into believing that he had found them both positions as seamen on a ship named the Hebe, producing advance notes as evidence. [No such ship was found.] West’s sisters were induced to exchange these forged notes for cash, which they brought back to the two men. The women said that they knew James Punt Borritt as ‘Jemmy Punt’. Their brother Joseph West was arrested and gaoled for two years for his part in the affair, but Borritt escaped arrest by jumping out of a window. When he eventually faced court, he was found not guilty of the crime of forgery. A magistrate later declared during another court case that he believed that Joseph West was an innocent young man who had been manipulated by Borritt, believed at that time to have avoided gaol by persuading his confederates to bribe witnesses.
The second case referred to in 1838 was against ‘the well-known thief and smuggler James Borrett (Borritt)’, who appeared at the Thames Police Office charged along with Samuel Vincent with smuggling 55 lbs of tobacco.
In 1839 Borritt and three others broke into a clothing shop at St Paul, Shadwell, stealing a quantity of coats, trousers and waistcoats. James Borritt was sentenced to 15 years’ transportation. The others were acquitted.
1840 – Transportation to Norfolk Island (1).
James Punt Borritt arrived at Norfolk Island on 27 March 1840, onboard the Mangles (9).
[At this time Norfolk Island convict settlement was administered from New South Wales. It was in 1840 that convicts there began to be treated more humanely under the leadership of Commandant Alexander Maconochie. In 1844 he was replaced by Captain Joseph Childs and the island came under the control of Van Dieman’s Land. It is said that from that time Norfolk Island regained its reputation for brutality which it retained until the closure of the penal settlement in 1853.]
James Borritt didn’t consider his treatment there benign, escaping at the first opportunity and returning to England. In 1846 the NSW Government Gazette was still posting a full description of James Punt Borritt, Essex seaman aged 28, missing from Norfolk Island since June 1841. The following account gives a description of the 1841 boat seizure:
The Government brig Governor Phillip, which arrived yesterday brings intelligence of six men having escaped from the settlement, under the following circumstances. The officers are in the habit of visiting Phillip Island, which is about eight miles from Norfolk Island, and boats are sent to fetch them back at night. On the 3rd of November, Mr Mitchell, of the 98th Regt., and Mr. Waldron of the Commissariat Department, were on the Island, and a boat containing six convicts was sent for them in the usual manner. When the gentlemen had placed their luggage and guns in the boat, the convicts seized the guns and making the gentlemen retire to a small cottage which was built for the use of the officers, tied their hands behind them and made them fast. They then returned to the boat and stood to sea. The night before this, the officers mess room was broken open, and some wine and provisions stolen which is supposed was done by the men to victual the boat with, but their stock of provisions must have been very small. From the prevalence of the southerly winds at the time, it is supposed they could not have made the land to the south ward of Moreton Bay, but the probability is that they all have perished. The Governor Phillip, called at Howe’s Island on the 5th instant, and it was conjectured that the prisoners who had escaped might have gone on shore there. A boat was manned and armed for that purpose, having on board Captain Tew, Dr. Murray, 96th regiment, and Sergeant Carroll, 50th regiment, who, although the surf was considerable, effected a landing. Three families are on the Island, with eight children, and a young man, (a New Zealander), all well. They said they had not seen the convicts, and expressed themselves decidedly averse to receiving prisoners if any should present themselves; indeed they said, from what had occurred before, they were always ready to resist any such approach with fire arms, which they had in their possession.
In 1844 Borritt was back in court in England again, charged with returning from transportation before the expiration of his sentence. He was described as a middle-aged man with marks on his forehead and chin, who gave his name as ‘James Gazon’. Police Sergeant Shaw identified him as Borritt, stating that he knew the prisoner and had him in custody several times, including a charge at the Old Bailey in 1839 of burglary, resulting in a sentence of 15 years’ transportation. At the end of the trial Borritt was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment, to be followed by transportation for life.
1845 – Transportation to Norfolk Island (2), under jurisdiction of Van Dieman’s Land.
He soon landed back in Norfolk Island on 19 February 1845, transported on the Hyderabad. The ship surgeon’s report described James Borritt as ‘a bad, desperate man who would require vigilance’. However, given his qualifications as a seaman, Borritt was put in charge of the Island’s whaleboat, ferrying passengers and goods from ship to shore. He was allowed to pick his own crew, so he chose three of his former comrades from the Mangles, William Vines, John Day and William Pedder. On 2 June 1848, in a carefully planned operation, they and five other convicts headed off in a north-westerly direction and after a long and difficult voyage landed at New Caledonia. Borritt managed to get a passage away from the islands and eventually made his way back to England, where he remained at large for 16 months before being re-arrested.
In February 1852 he was once again in the Central Criminal Court in London, charged with returning from transportation before his term had expired. He presented a petition for clemency to the sergeant in charge. His lengthy treatise, which found its way onto the pages of many British newspapers, and months later, into several newspapers in Australia, gives more details of Borritt’s escape from Norfolk Island in 1841:
NARRATIVE OF AN ESCAPED CONVICT.
James Punt Borritt, the returned convict, who was tried on Thursday at the Central Criminal Court, under the name of George Parker, for returning from transportation, having pleaded guilty, caused the following narrative, in the shape of a petition, to be handed to the common serjeant :-” I have pleaded guilty because I was unwilling to waste the time of the court in an inquiry which, destitute as I am of the means of defending myself by counsel or attorney, for paying witnesses’ expenses, could have only led to one result; but, my lord, it is not my intention to deny the charge which has been made against me. The condition of a convict at a penal station is too horrible to be voluntarily endured, and they only can tell how irresistible is the yearning for liberty who have been once deprived of it.
My object is, my lord, with profound respect, to make known to your lordship the terrible penalty which I have already paid for a single transgression of the laws of my country. Dire necessity, created by a want of employment, once goaded me to the commission of an offence against the laws of property, but it was not aggravated by personal injury or cruelty. For that offence, I was sentenced to fifteen years’ transportation. I was conveyed to the most penal settlement, Norfolk Island, which, from the horrible personal sufferings to which all the prisoners are there exposed, is commonly designated the ‘Ocean Hell.’ Here, my lord, I endured almost incredible misery for eighteen months. At the end of that period I and eight other convicts effected our escape in an open boat. For eight days and nights we were beaten about at sea without chart or compass, with death from exhaustion and shipwreck staring us in the face. At length we were driven on the Caledonian Islands, whose only inhabitants are savages, and who stripped us all naked and detained us for ten days. At the end of that time we made our escape in the boat without a rag to cover us, and with only two bamboos, holding two gallons of water each, and eighteen cocoa nuts. The heat of the sun split the bamboos the very first day, and we lost all our water. The misery we then endured from thirst no language can express.
In seventeen days we arrived at Star Island, one of the New Hebrides [now Vanuatu], where we remained seven months. I and two of my companions then embarked on board a whaler, leaving our companions behind, and got to America, from whence I returned to England. In 1844, I was apprehended for having at the risk of my life, and by enduring sufferings from which death would have been a relief, illegally and prematurely recovered my liberty. I was again transported to Norfolk Island, the horrors of which I once more endured for two years. I was then removed to Van Diemen’s Land, from which place I made my escape by being stowed away amongst the cargo of a merchantman. In that situation I was concealed sixteen days, in the most miserable plight, being almost dead from suffocation and want of food. Indeed, my lord, for one original offence I have endured torments and privations worse than death itself, and I take the liberty most humbly to present this brief and imperfect narrative of them, in the hope that your lordship will take them into your humane consideration in passing sentence upon me. Permit me most humbly to assure your lordship, as the result of no common experience, that nothing so much humanizes and awakens the better feelings of men placed in the unhappy position in which I now am, as justice tempered with mercy. – JAMES PUNT BORRITT.” 
This impassioned plea for mercy appeared to cut no ice with the judiciary. In court Borritt was described as a ‘well-built and powerful man, identified by a scar under his left ear and an anchor on his right arm’. His previous history was read to the court, including the arrest in June 1839 on the charge of burglary in Ratcliffe Highway, with a trial at the Old Bailey resulting in a 15-year term. In August 1844 he had been identified at Liverpool and was sentenced to transportation for life. The court was informed that Borritt, a sailor, had been suspected, along with a man named Sullivan, of having commandeered a vessel which appeared in distress off Norfolk Island. The two were sent with a crew to offer assistance, but all on board apart from Borritt and Sullivan were said to have disappeared.
On 2 February 1852, after pleading guilty to the crime of returning to England before the expiration of his sentence, James Punt Borritt, aged 36, was sentenced to six months and then transportation for life. He spent 19 days at Horsemonger Lane Prison and five months at Wandsborough Gaol. He also spent a period in separate confinement, comprised of 22 days at Millbank and five months eight days at Pentonville. His next-of-kin was listed as his sister Mary Kay, of Globe-Boro’ Road, Southwark. On 18 February 1852 a reward of £20 was given to policeman George Lawrence for being instrumental in the capture of Borritt.
While at Pentonville his behaviour was good. He was described as a sailor, single, intelligent and able to read and write well. Despite having received a sentence of six months in English prisons and then transportation for life, Borritt received the good news on 21 October 1852 that he had been granted a Free Pardon. Perhaps his written plea for mercy was the reason for this act of clemency.
Inevitably, his life of crime continued. On 3 May 1855 ‘Thomas Parker’, alias James Punt Borritt, was committed to Wandsworth House of Corrections for two months, or otherwise a £5 fine for an assault. On 3 March 1856, under the name of ‘John Jones’, he was back in the Central Criminal Court again, this time with two men named John Williams and Richard Wilson, charged with housebreaking at Holloway and stealing an iron box, seven silver spoons and other articles, worth £20. Borritt’s true identity was revealed by Police Sergeant Whicher, who knew him well. However, Borritt was sentenced as ‘John Jones’, aged 55, to a term of 15 years.
A newspaper had reported a month earlier, in February 1856, that three men, John Monro (alias Wilson), John Jones (alias George Parker, James Punt Bovitt, sic, Borritt) and George Richardson had been apprehended for entering a house and stealing some items of silver worth £30, which they placed in a dog cart. They were sentenced to three months’ gaol, but Sergeant Sainsbury requested that they be detained for further investigation. He soon found that they had committed other crimes. Williams and Wilson had stolen four shirt collars worth 5/- which they were wearing. ‘John Jones’ was linked not only to the housebreaking at Holloway, but also to the Leighton Bassett burglary in 1839, committed under the name of James Punt Borritt, followed by his subsequent escape from Norfolk Island. George Richardson was said to be a well-known burglar on the run from Horsemonger Lane Gaol, while John Munro also had a police record. Three were committed for trial.
On 3 March 1856 at the Old Bailey three men stood trial. John Jones (aged 55) and Richard Wilson (aged 29) were found guilty of the Holloway robbery. John Williams (aged 28) was found not guilty of this crime, but he and Richard Wilson were tried again the same day and were found guilty of the theft of collars (which they were wearing) and other goods. All were sentenced to 15 years’ transportation, due to their previous records. At the trial Richard Wilson was certified as having been previously convicted at the Surrey Sessions in December1853 as Thomas Richards. John Jones was certified as James Punt Borritt, who was convicted in February 1852 of being at large before the expiration of his sentence.
1858 – Transportation to Western Australia as ‘John Jones (Reg. No. 4564), on the Nile.
By this time transportation to New South Wales and Tasmania (Van Dieman’s Land) had ceased and Western Australia was the only colony willing to accept convicts.
On 23 September 1857 the three prisoners were taken onboard the Nile, heading for Fremantle, arriving in Western Australia on 1 January 1858. No mention of their various aliases has been found in the Western Australian convict records. Their numbers were as follows –
John Jones, seaman, (Reg. No. 4564)
John Williams, stone dresser (Reg. No. 4563)
Richard Wilson, clerk, (Reg. No. 4565)
His entry in the Character Book in WA is as follows-
Received 2 January from Portland to Nile, seaman, aged 55, single.
Separate confinement – at Millbank 1.15, at Pentonville 10.4.
Character: 1843 – Transportation for life.
1852 – Life.
Requires a strict watch.
Conduct during voyage – Good.
12 February 1859 – Hard labour – 3 months.
1858 – Excellent.
1859 – V.G., Excellent.
25 January 1859 – Perth.
24 December 1859 – Ticket of Leave.
3 March 1860 – six months. 
Few other records for John Jones (No. 4564) in Western Australia are available, perhaps indicating good behaviour –
25 January 1859 – Transferred to Perth Prison.
12 February 1859 – Received from Perth at Fremantle Prison.
24 December 1859 – Received Ticket of Leave.
24 June 1862 – Due for Conditional Pardon.
7 August 1862 – To RM at York – received on 9 August 1862.
The trajectory of the life of John Punt Borritt (alias ‘John Jones’) from that time is not known. His determination to live out his life on his own terms probably led to another escape from incarceration and a return to his home country under yet another identity.
 Bedford Mercury, 24 December 1853.
 Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 6 March 1866.
 NSW Government Gazette, 28 August 1846, Issue 72, p. 104.
 Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 23 September 1838.
 Morning Advertiser, 5 December 1838.
 Central Criminal Court, at https://www.oldbaileyonline.org
 Claim a Convict website, https://www.hawkesbury.net.au
 NSW State Records at https://www.records.nsw.gov.au
 New South Wales Government Gazette, 28 August 1846, Issue 72, p.104.
 Southern Australian, 12 February 1841.
 Liverpool Mail, 11 May 1844.
 Register – Comprehensive register of convicts (Core Series) A – L, 18444 – 1850.
 Tasmanian Convict Records 1800-1893) at www. findmypast.com.au
 Tim Causer (ed.), Memorandoms by James Martin, An Astonishing Escape from Early New South Wales, London, UCL Press p.51, 2017, at Google Books, https://doi.org/1014324/111.9781911576815
 Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser, 24 July 1852.
 Morning Post, 20 January 1852.
 Central Criminal Court proceedings, at https://www.oldbaileyonline.org
 England & Wales, Crime, Prisons and Punishment 1770 – 1935, at www. findmypast.com.au
 London Daily News, 11 February 1856.
 Central Criminal Court proceedings, at https://www.oldbaileyonline.org
 Convict Department Registers, Character Book for nos. 4508 – 5585 (R8)
 Receipts and Discharges, 1855-59 (RD1 – RD2)
 General Register 1850 – 1868 (R21B)