Convict Histories

John Witchell (c1819 – 1885) (Reg. No. 1595)

By Irma Walter, 2020.

“I hope that you will transport me. It is what I want.”

This statement was made to Lord Campbell in the Wiltshire Court by a defiant John Witchell (Whitchell) after being found guilty of having stolen a horse from a field in Bishopstrow on 4 July 1851.

During his trial he was described as ‘a scampish looking fellow about 30 years of age’. Some laughter broke out in the court when a policeman gave an account of the conversation he had with Witchell after stopping him at 3 o’clock in the morning on the road with the horse but no bridle or saddle. When asked why he had taken the horse the prisoner said that he had got on it to have a sleep and to keep warm, further telling the constable that if he wanted to know who the owner was, he should go and find out.[1]

Evidence was given that Witchell’s cap had been left behind in the field and that the horse’s hoof-marks had been followed to the place where it was found. The owner said that the horse had been locked up safely in a field that night, and that he knew the prisoner well, as someone who mostly lived under the hedges and hay ricks in the district. The jury found Witchell guilty and afterwards Lord Campbell said that he was then able to tell the court that Witchell had 13 previous convictions and that the time had now come for his country to get rid of him. He said that the same court had previously transported his brother, so John Witchell could now go and join him in Australia.[2]

One of John’s previous convictions was recorded in 1840 at the age of 21, when he was gaoled for six months for larceny from a person.[3] Another was in 1842 when he was charged with having entered land armed, with the intention of taking game. Both records show that he had little or no reading and writing skills.[4]

John Witchell arrived on the Dudbrook from Dartmoor Prison and left Plymouth on 22 November 1852, bound for Western Australia, arriving there on 2 February 1853. He was described as a carpenter, single, 5’8¾” tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes, an oval face, a sallow complexion and a stout build. His markings were a scar on his right eye and the forefinger of his right hand was injured.

[Note: The Dudbrook shipping list at has convict no. 1595 incorrectly listed as ‘John Mitchell’. Also the Fremantle Prison website and the Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p.2183.]

Witchell was discharged from prison and given his Ticket of Leave on 29 December 1853.[5] He was then employed by Marshall Waller Clifton as a gardener and viticulturist for the next four years. He earned his Conditional Pardon on 15 November 1856.

Extracts from The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840 – 1861[6] show a pattern of mostly good behaviour on the part of Whitchell [sic], marred by occasional bouts of drinking which earned strong criticism from his employer. One can sense that Clifton was prepared to overlook Witchell’s occasional lapses because he was otherwise a reliable worker:


12 Nov. – wages – Engaged John Whitchell at 30s. per month from 17th inst.


6 March – Making wine all day. Whitchell in the kitchen.

13 May – Sent up Whicher [sic] & Offer[7] on horseback with letter to John Allnut about sending up cart.

20 May – wages – new contract for Offer & Whichett [sic] – £20 per annum.

25 July – Allowed Whitchell to go to Bunbury – he was drunk & was locked up.

27 July – Sent Townsend[8] to Bunbury to look after Whitchell and neither returned till evening.

28 Aug. – Pearce came up and instructed Whitcher in grafting.

22 Octo. – Whitchell tying & trimming the vines.

7 Nov. – Whitchall [sic] & Davis tying up vines.

20 – 22 November – Went to Bunbury. Did not return until 22nd.

26 Nov. – Went to Bunbury for his Conditional Pardon

19 Dec. – Summer pruning – vines with Whitchell – very hot.

21 Dec. – Whitchell pruning vines still and arranging the bunches.

26 Dec. – Allowed Whitchell to go to Bunbury for his boots.


4 Feb. – Gave J. Whitchell £1.

15 March – Whitchell & Mansfield[9] garden & pigs.

6-7 Apr. – Allowed Whitchell to go to Bunbury but he did not return on either day.

21 July – On this day the 27th a great Cabal with the men & determined to part with all, & Davis & Whitchell going from one month from 28.

12 – 13 Aug. – John Whitchell apologised and I agreed to take him in my service.

27 Octo. – Whitchell & Geo digging first land of field at further end – magnificent crop.

2 Nov. – Agreed with John Whitchell to remain at £3 for two months in the summer & 10s. a month more from the time he entered my service in Dec.

3 Nov. – Allowed Whitchell to go to Bunbury.

12 Nov. – Whitchell tying up vines.

8 Dec. – Whitchell, Offer & Crowd[10] all drunk as Beasts with Wine which Mr Gibbs gave them.

14 Dec. – Whitchell still laid up.

25 Dec. – Settled with Whitchell.

30 Dec. – Whitchell & Offer digging potatoes.


26 Jany – Whitchell absent two days.

14 Apr. – Whitchell & Offer to go to Turkey Point at 4 in Gibbs’s boat to shoot Swans.

18 Apr. – Whitchell & Offer digging Chatterton’s garden & planting potatoes.

25 Apr. – Whitchell & Offer dug up the last tree in the Pigstye field.

16-19 May – J. Whitchell determined to leave me according to my notice at end of this week.

23 May – Whitchell & Guthrie at work on Eastwell clearing.

21 – 22 June – Gave Offer & Witchell leave to be absent. Whitchell did not come to work.

23 June – Whitchell & I pruning all day.

8 July – All hands but Whitchell digging potatoes.

13 July – Whitchell pruning.

16 – 17 July – Whitchell dead drunk at Best’s & could not move him. Consented to Harris not taking Whitchell down till tomorrow.

18 July – Forgave Whitchell.

8 Aug. – Whitchell ill and pruning stopped.

30 Aug. – Sent Whitchell to Pearce’s for vine cuttings.

13-15 Sept. – Offer, Whitchell & John at Bunbury. Neither Whitchell nor Offer at work next day.

21 Sept. – Whitchell & Offer planting Irish Kidneys & Black Potatoes.

28 Sept. – Whitchell went to Bunbury to get Free Pardon which proved a mistake.

15 Oct. – Paid Whitchell two pounds.

16 Octo. – Whitchell went to Bunbury alone.

21 Octo. – Cattle in rye field – Whitchell & I drove them out.

27 Octo. – Sent Whitchell & Offer to hoe potatoes.

10 Nov. – Whitchell tying up vines.

17 Nov. – Whitchell & Offer tying up vines.

18 Nov. – Whitchell completed three years’ service today. I gave him ½ a G. of wine.

23 Nov. – Whitchell & Offer still tying up vines.

10 Dec. – Whitchell & Offer finished whole of garden in the most beautiful state.

12-13 Dec. – Set Whitchell, Offer & Robertson out to split vine posts & they got out 121.

27 Dec. – Whitchell & George not at work – drinking at Howden’s.


1 Feb. – Whitchell & George to dig potatoes at Eastwell.

18 Apr. – Whitchell & I sowing seeds.

21 Apr. – Whitchell had a holiday & went & returned with cart.

3 May – After dinner went with Whitchell & Nicolas to survey Locke’s & Harris’s allotments.

10 May – David Cundell[11] brought up a bottle of Gin for Whitchell. I gave David one month’s warning & had a great deal of trouble with Whitchell.

23 May – Sowing English seeds with Whitchell.

9 June – Whitchell made drills & I sowed 50 rows of peas.

6 – 7 July – Pruning all day with Whitchell.

12 July – Pruning middle Walk.

24 July – Whitchell & I and Furie pruning most of the day.

30 July – Pruning.

14-15 Aug. – Whitchell began to dig potatoes. Sent Whitchell to Pearce’s to take up vine plants & cuttings.

23 Aug. – Pruning.

31 Aug. – Whitchell & David dug Ellen’s garden set to right Border opposite.

5 Sept. – Whitchell & George planting potatoes.

20 -21 Sept. – Whitchell & George clearing Ellen’s garden.

28 Sept. – All hands but Whitchell forking out black potatoes.

5 Octo. – Whitchell drunk & abusive because I would not give him £5 note to go to Bunbury but he apologised and went to work.

11 Octo. – Paid Whitchell on account £4 and he went to Bunbury and returned all right at Tea Time.

12 Octo. – Whitchell ill and unable to work.

16 Octo. – Whitchell sowed and planted top piece in the Wet Enclosure.

20 Octo. – Whitchell & George had a holiday to go to Offer’s.

6 Nov. – Whitchell wheeled Ellen down to her Flower Garden under the Willow and weeded her garden when she was present.

15 – 16 Nov. – Whitchell dug the potatoes.

18-19 Nov. – Whitchell completed 4 years’ service and I gave him ½ Gallon Wine and promised him another tomorrow. Whitchell & George tying up vines.

3-4 Dec. – Whitchell went to Bunbury & had his hand opened.

7 Dec. – Whitchell unable to work.

12 Dec. – Whitchell mowing Walk.

25 Dec. – Whitchell & George & Woods went out last night to spend Xmas with Offer & Lyons.


18 Jan. – Whitchell pruning & tying up vines.

19 Jan. – Whitchell pruning Vines for the last time.

15 Feb. – Charley Crampton had six gallons of wine & gave part of it to Whitchell, John, Stewart[12] & I think Michael – were all drunk. Michael Cawthorne[13] in defiance of his engagement told me that he would not cook another thing, & would not light the fire in the morning.

7 March – Set Whitchell & the Portuguese to pick leaves off the trees. Very hot day.

23 March – Row with Whitchell who gave me warning for this day month.

27 March – Whitchell & All digging new land in the field & began planting black potatoes.

[Note: The journals of Marshall Waller Clifton ended with his death on 10 April 1861 and burial at Australind. Just months after Clifton’s death, a great flood destroyed his precious garden at Upton House, but Elinor and other family members remained there until 1862 when they all moved to Moorland.[14]]

It appears that John Witchell had intended leaving the employ of the Clifton family, but when this occurred is not known. We do know however, that from 1863 he spent the last 21 years of his life at Pinjarrah Park, employed by Captain Theodore Fawcett, assisting with the development of the fine gardens, vineyard and orchard for which the place was greatly admired by the many visitors welcomed there, using the skills he had been taught at Australind.[15] There is no record of Witchell having married in WA.

A brief notice recorded his death as follows:

WITCHELL.— On the 31st December, at Pinjarrah Park, John Witchell, in his sixty-sixth year; for twenty-one years vine-dresser in the Pinjarrah-Park vineyard.[16]

And so ended the life of the man who back in 1851 at the time of his conviction in Wiltshire had defiantly expressed his desire to come to Australia as a convict. It is hoped that the challenge of setting up and maintaining the productive gardens at Australind and then at Pinjarra gave him satisfaction and a sense of pride in a job well done.


[1] Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, 19 July 1851.

[2] Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 17 July 1851.

[3] England & Wales Criminal Registers, Wiltshire 15 August 1840.

[4] England & Wales Criminal Registers, Wiltshire 1842.

[5] Convict Department General Register 1850 – 1868 (R21B)

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

[7] Henry Offer, Convict Reg. No. 746.

[8] Joseph Townsend, Convict Reg. No. 2777.

[9] James Mansfield, Convict Reg. No. 2557.

[10] Thomas Crowde, Convict Reg. No. 2310.

[11] David Cundell, Convict Reg. No. 5003.

[12] William Stewart, Convict Reg. No. 4517.

[13] Michael Cawthorne, Convict Reg. No. 4868.

[14] Barnes, Cameron et al, The Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840 – 1861), Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, Perth, WA, 2010, pp. 658 – 659.

[15] Pinjarra Park,

[16] Inquirer, 7 January 1885.