Convict Histories

Britain’s Garrotting Epidemic in the Mid-19th Century.

By Irma Walter, 2020.

Reports of the killing on 25 May 2020 of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis describe the use of the technique of placing a knee on the neck of a suspect in order to restrain him during an arrest. This strategy, in use in many jurisdictions around the world, is commonly taught as an immobilising technique during training of law enforcement officers. It has often been blamed for asphyxiation and even the death of victims in police custody.

The dangers of this practice were well-recognised back in nineteenth-century Britain, when a similar practice, known as ‘garrotting’, a technique of placing an arm around the neck of a person to restrict air-flow was readily employed, not by the police, but by criminals who roamed the streets on the look-out for likely victims with the intention of robbing them of their possessions. Some credence is given to the theory that this technique was first employed on convict ships by guards as a means of quelling dissent among prisoners, who when released used a similar method to their own advantage.[1]

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In the 1850s and early 1860s reports of garrotting were a frequent occurrence in England, leading to alarm among citizens lawfully going about their business on city streets after dark. Links were being made to new laws which allowed prisoners with sentences of up to seven years’ penal servitude to serve out their time in British prisons instead of being transported. In addition they were allowed remission of part of their sentence on ‘Ticket of Leave’ for good behaviour. Prisoners released back into the community as ticket-of-leavers found it difficult to procure work and soon reverted to crime as a means of survival, with garrotting favoured as an easy method of disabling a victim. Anyone leaving work or a public house after dark was a potential target. Even women became afraid to walk up the street to visit friends at night.

Demands for better street lighting and more police patrols appeared in the press. Potential victims were advised to carry a stick or a small pistol as a means of warding off attackers. More outlandish suggestions were the wearing of a spiked iron collar as protection, and placing fish hooks on string in one’s pocket as a means of injuring the hand of a pick-pocket assisting in the crime.

Garrotting was a technique adopted with relish by those with evil intent. All that was needed was one person to walk ahead as a look-out, while the main instigator approached from behind, pressing hard with his arm on the victim’s windpipe, and a third person, sometimes a woman, rifled through his pockets. Cutting off the victim’s air supply left him unable to defend himself, lying on the ground, either unconscious or gasping for breath. Meanwhile the assailants fled with their booty.

Convictions reached their peak in November 1862 when 27 men were indicted and 24 were convicted of savage garrotting crimes at the Central Criminal Court in London. Judge Baron Bramwell was said to have been accompanied by a large black dog for his own safety as he approached the Court where he issued severe penalties on the miscreants.

Such was the consternation among the general public over the frequency of these attacks that the Government at last took action. A Royal Commission was held in 1863 into the prevalence of the crime of garrotting and its connection to ticket-of-leave privileges. In March 1863 an Act of Parliament was passed, introducing whipping as an accompaniment to the term of imprisonment:

North Devon Journal, 30 July 1863.

A graphic description of an instance of corporal punishment carried out against two criminals, John Croudace and Thomas Alison, was published in 1864:

…They were convicted of garrotte robberies at Sunderland and sentenced to five and ten years respectively, and twenty lashes each. The instrument of punishment is described as of formidable-looking nature, and was manufactured expressly for the purpose by a sailor who is undergoing imprisonment at the jail. The cat is ingeniously composed of nine thongs of stout leather, in each of which are nine knots, and these being connected to a flexible handle, the power wielded by strong hands is terrific. At every stroke the knots cut deeply, making flesh and blood fly in every direction. The prisoners were firmly tied up in a reclining position, the lower part of their shoulders exposed, the higher and lower part of their back being protected by padding. The warders executed their task with the skill of more practised hands, inflicting ten lashes on each of the prisoners. The first lash was received with comparative equanimity by each prisoner, but on the second the yell of deep and excruciating agony was indescribable. Their cries continued during the whole of the punishment, and these, together with the sight of the flying flesh and blood and mangled backs of the sufferers, and the clotted skeins of the cat, made a spectacle of horror overpowering to those who witnessed it. When the punishment had been inflicted the prisoners were removed to the infirmary in a state of complete prostration – indeed, it is averred that neither of them could have received another lash without the greatest danger. Although the other prisoners did not witness the punishment, they could hear the shrieks of the unhappy sufferers in the cells, and it is to be hoped the contemplation of the punishment may have a salutary clout on their minds.[2]

Gruesome as this treatment seems, it had a salutary effect on the criminal class, with garrotting mostly disappearing from the list of crimes carried out in Britain in the following years.

Garrotting in WA

A study of early Western Australian newspapers reveals an occasional mention of prisoners using the garrotting technique during robberies:

Lately, a number of men have received their tickets-of-leave, and complaints are made that

they are wandering about the country out of employ. The men thus discharged are those who

arrived in the colony by the last convict ship (the Sultana), and who were entitled to their

tickets-of-leave six months after landing. We shall now have an opportunity of testing the advisability of the step taken by the Governor in abolishing the ticket-of-leave depots. It seems to us that the dispersion at one time of so large a body of men, without the means of support, and without the hope of immediate employment, is tantamount to forcing them to commit crime.

The settlers, especially those residing in the country, may well feel and express alarm at such a state of affairs. There have been several robberies from the person of late, by pickpockets and garroteers; two of the former received, respectively, sentences of three and six months’ imprisonment, at the Perth Police Court on Monday. They were conditional pardon men.[3]

Two men, Andrew Daley and Joseph Lewis, were charged with garrotting in the Geraldton Court in 1865. Another attack in 1874 in Perth against a woman earned the offender serious punishment:

Police Court. — The absconding ticket-of-leave holder Butler who garrotted Mrs. Henry Leeder near the recreation ground was brought up for trial at the Police Court on Thursday last and received the well-merited sentence of three years’ imprisonment and fifty lashes.

…So long as garroters were only imprisoned and put to hard labour, so long were the weak, even in London, entirely at the mercy of the strong. We remember well what might have been called that “reign of terror,” but such an act as that which Mr. Landor referred to soon made right triumphant. “The reign of terror” came to a short and sudden end. When the first introduction of a garotter to the cat, in the hands of an athletic and skilful warder, took place in the prison yard, he knew, let us rather say he “felt,” “his occupation was gone.”[4]

The following list contains names of convicts who were found guilty of participating in garrotte-style robberies and were sentenced to transportation to Western Australia. The highlighted convicts have stories in this article or elsewhere on this website.

James Harcourt Dixon (7677) – 20 years.

John Kelly (4878) – 15 Years.

Thomas Kelly (4802) – 15 Years.

Peter Duff (5065) – Life.

Thomas Dornan (4124) – 15 years.

William Hall (3796) – 15 years.

James Mowat(t) (7798) – 20 years.

John Allen (8198) – 10 years.

George Roberts (8103) – 20 years

John Redwood (8104) – 10 years.

John Kingston (7757) – 10 years.

Edward Marks (7774) – Life.

Charles Thompson (8138) – 10 years.

Samuel Robinson (8113) – 10 years.

William Barker (7943) – 10 years.

Dennis Carr (9112) – Life

Edward Hall (9176) – 20 years.

James Luby (8340) – 10 years.

John Jackson (8310) – 10 years.

Gilbert Grierson (8003) – 14 years.

George Roberts (8103) – 20 years.

Thomas Redshaw (7830) – 20 years.

James Hurley (8014) – 10 years.

James Anderson (alias Mark Price) (8193) – 12 years.

James Garrett (Garratt) (5331) – 20 years.

James Murphy (4856) – 20 years. Previously transported after sentence of 10 years in 1852. Back in England just two months.

Michael Brannon (Brannan), (5712) – Life.

William English (4025) – 15 years.

Edmund (Edward) Munday (3906) – 15 Years.

(1) Thomas Dornan, alias Fletcher, (c1815 – 1885) (Reg. No. 4124)

It is not known under which name Convict No. 4124 was born and married. He was charged in 1850 as ‘Thomas Fletcher’ and in 1854 as ‘Thomas Dornan’.

At the time of the 1851 census Thomas Fletcher was one of hundreds listed as prisoners in the Kirkdale House of Correction at Liverpool, recorded as aged 35, a pipe maker, married and born in Manchester.[5] He had been arrested along with Owen Pepper and was convicted on 7 December 1850 of a violent attack described as a garrotting in Manchester, for which he received a term of seven years’ transportation.[6]

Garrotting was the crime committed in December 1850 by Thomas Fletcher [aka ‘Dornan’], along with Owen Pepper, when robbing tea-dealer and banker Thomas Nash of £59/10/- on a dark night in Manchester. As a result, ‘Thomas Fletcher’ was sentenced to seven years’ transportation, while Owen Pepper received the lesser sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment with hard labour.[7] It appears that Fletcher was not transported for this 1850 crime. Due to a relaxation of the law regarding transportation for sentences up to seven years, he was liberated from prison on Ticket of Leave in August 1854.[8] However he offended again that year, this time using the name ‘Thomas Dornan’, and was arrested and charged with a similar crime of garrotting in Manchester, carried out this time with the assistance of a female.[9] The offence would normally have attracted a sentence of seven years, but when His Lordship was informed of Fletcher/Dornan’s prior conviction, he handed down a sentence of 15 years’ transportation.[10]

At the time of this arrest Dornan was described as aged 40, a tobacco pipe maker, 5’9½”, with dark brown hair, hazel eyes, a round face, fresh complexion, of stout build, and a scar on his right leg.[11]

He was received onboard the Runnymede from Portsmouth Prison on 11 September 1856. His character record shows that he was of Catholic faith, married with two children and could read and write imperfectly. Surgeon Superintendent Edmonds on the Runnymede recorded his behaviour as good while in solitary confinement and on public works, and very good during the voyage, although on 14 October 1856 Thomas was placed on bread and water for seven days.[12]

The Runnymede arrived at Fremantle on 7 December 1856. Dornan was one of three men received back at Fremantle Prison from Freshwater Bay on 28 September 1858.[13] Being an older man, he found hard labour in work gangs difficult and was treated several times at the prison hospital. On 23 November 1856, as a Provisional Prisoner employed in a quarry, he received medical treatment of liniment for pains.[14] He received his Ticket of Leave on 25 February 1859.[15]

Dornan was employed as a shepherd by Marshall Waller Clifton of Australind, commencing work on 11 January 1860. By September Clifton recorded that he was unhappy with Dornan for failing to report the deaths of a number of sheep. He gave him notice to leave in October, but later changed his mind, as Dornan was still employed there in November. The last time Dornan was mentioned in the Clifton journals was on 16 March 1861, shortly before Clifton’s death on 10 April 1861.[16]

Whether Dornan was still in the Wellington District on 7 September 1861 when he received his Conditional Pardon is not known.[17] In 1864 a ‘Thomas Fletcher’, an employee of Mr Properjohn of Bunbury, gave evidence in a case of the stabbing of a co-worker.[18] In 1866 a ‘Thomas Fletcher’, shepherd of the Blackwood River district, had his horse stolen.[19]

Dornan (or ‘Fletcher’) had his Certificate of Freedom sent to the Resident Magistrate in Bunbury on 25 February 1875.[20] No more is known of Dornan until 1885, when his death was announced – ‘Thomas Dornan, alias Fletcher, died at Kendenup of natural causes.[21] The official record is of ‘Thomas Fletcher, aged 70, parents unknown, place of birth unknown’. [22] Dornan may have been still employed as a shepherd as his death appears to have been a sudden and perhaps a lonely one. An inquest was held at Bridgetown into the circumstances:

Inquest. Bridgetown. — On the 16th ult., at Kendenup, before J. G. Lee Steere, J. P., and acting Coroner, on the body of Thomas Dornan, exp., late 4124, alias Fletcher, who died on the 13th ult. Verdict — “Death from natural causes.”[23]

(2) John Kelly, (c1830 – 1910?) (Reg. No. 4878)

At the time of the 1851 census, brothers John and Thomas Kelly were living with their mother at 10 Albert Terrace in Toxteth, Liverpool:

Ann Kelly, 52, widow, washerwoman, born in Shropshire.

James Kelly, 25, son, labourer, born Liverpool, Lancashire.

John Kelly, 21, son, labourer, born Liverpool, Lancashire.

Thomas Kelly, 18, son, labourer, born Liverpool, Lancashire.

Martha Kelly, 15, daughter, born Liverpool, Lancashire.

In 1856 the three Kelly boys were arrested, following a violent assault and robbery which took place at night in Bedford Street, Toxteth Park, against a shopman named Edward Jones. In Court the case against James Kelly was dismissed, but John and Thomas Kelly were convicted, along with another man, Peter Duff. The victim told the court that Peter Duff had approached him from behind, putting his arm around his neck and throttling him in a garrotting style, while Thomas Kelly grasped his arm, stealing his watch and a purse containing 14s 6d. Garrotting had become such a serious problem on English streets that heavy sentences were being meted out to perpetrators.[24] Peter Duff, a previous offender, was sentenced to transportation for life, while the other two received terms of 15 years.[25]

The two Kelly brothers arrived at Fremantle WA on the convict ship Lord Raglan on 1 June 1858. Peter Duff arrived on the Edwin Fox on 20 November 1858.

John Kelly was received onboard the Lord Raglan from Portland Prison and arrived in WA on 1 June 1858. He was a single man, described as aged 26, height 5’ 9½”, with dark brown hair, dark hazel eyes, a sallow complexion, full face, of stout build, with initials ‘J.K.’ and an anchor tattooed on his right arm.[26]

The journal of Surgeon Superintendent John Bower on the Lord Raglan records that John Kelly had attended day classes and on Sundays and was able to read. His character record states that eight times he had Sumy. Conv. [Summary Convictions] and was once discharged.[27] While in Solitary Confinement his behaviour was’ Fair’, and while on Public Works, ‘Tolerable’.[28]

John Kelly’s Record in WA

30 September 1858 – Employed on Perth Road.

7 January 1859 – As a Provisional Prisoner, admitted to Fremantle Prison from Perth Lime Burning Party.[29]

24 January 1859 – CE. – F.W.B. Marks taken 1723.

25 June 1859 – Bread & Water 5 days. CE.

14 July 1860 – On T/L in Perth.[30]

8 August 1863 – Received his Conditional Pardon.

21 July 1865 – As a local prisoner, aged 36, (new Reg. No. 1167), convicted of being drunk and using obscene language – one month in prison, released 9 August 1865.[31]

2 February 1867 – Convicted with others by C. Symmons, Fremantle Magistrate, of stealing grapes from the vineyard of H Lefroy, Esq. – 6 months.[32]

8 April 1868 – The two Kelly brothers gave evidence against John Cullen, charged with stealing their belongings which they had left in Bunbury in the care of John Oldham, while the three were employed by John Telleff.

6 October 1869 – Along with his brother Thomas, John Kelly gave evidence in a trial against James McLaren, found guilty of the murder of Margaret Regan in a Bunbury boarding house.[33]

12 January 1877 – John Kelly served one month in Fremantle Prison.[34]

16 March 1877 – John Kelly, a re-convicted convict, (new Reg. No. 1109), sawyer, Catholic, aged 45, was up before Resident Magistrate W Pearce Clifton at Bunbury and was found guilty of violently resisting police arrest.[35]

Like his brother Thomas, John Kelly became a sawyer by trade, and the two men worked for a number of years in the Bunbury area. They became quite well-known characters in the district. In later years local Bunbury identity George Withers, writing under the nom de plume of ‘G.H.F.W.’ in a column entitled ‘Recollections of Bunbury – 60 Years Ago and Later’, paid tribute to the sawyers of the past, including the Kelly brothers:

All timber used locally for trade purposes, such as buildings, vehicles, etc., was sawn by hand, and no doubt some of the old saw pits are still in existence throughout the district. Sawyers were very expert at the work, the “top sawyer” being the most important man, the “pit” sawyer only having to work his end of the saw while the “top” man was responsible for the timber being cut to proper sizes and shapes. When a few of these sawyers came into town to draw their pay they would make things pretty lively, having what was called a “lambing down” which consisted of handing their cheques to the landlords of the hotels and asking to be told when they were run out, then the landlord would probably give them “bottle for the wad,” and back they would go to work for another few months, when the operation would be repeated. One pair of sawyers, the brothers Tom and Jim [sic] Kelly, stand out vividly in my recollection. Tom was very noisy and Jim the opposite, but when he got a “few drinks” in there was trouble, but they had no enemies but themselves.[36]

As an older man, John Kelly’s behaviour became more erratic, probably due to excessive drinking. He was well-known to the Bunbury Magistrates:

On 20 October 1880 – John Kelly aged 50, (Local Prisoner No. 2976, previously 4878), was up before Resident Magistrate William P Clifton at Bunbury on three charges – For being drunk and disorderly he earned a sentence of 21 days. For an assault on a police constable he was sentenced to one month and for the charge of being a rogue and a vagabond, he was sentenced to three months, He was committed to Fremantle Prison on 11 November 1880 and was discharged to a quarry on 5 March 1881.[37]

In January 1895 – John Kelly and John Campbell, two well-known boozers, were brought before the Resident Magistrate on Wednesday, the former charged with being drunk, using obscene language, and resisting the police, and the latter with being drunk. Kelly was fined £1 15s. or in default 6 weeks’ imprisonment with hard labor and Campbell 10s. or one week’s hard labor. On Thursday, Thomas Kelly, a brother of John Kelly’s had to pay £1, with the alternative of 21 days’ imprisonment, for assaulting Sergeant Osborne in the execution of his duty. The fine was paid.[38]

On March 23 1896John Kelly, undergoing a sentence of three months’ imprisonment, was charged by the gaoler (Constable O’Connor) with refusing duty on Friday last, was sentenced to three days’ solitary confinement on bread and water, and for striking at the officer with a handsaw. He was sentenced to 1 month’s imprisonment with hard labor and to be sent to Fremantle.[39]

On 15 April 1898 at Bunbury, John appeared before Resident Magistrate WH Timperley, for assaulting police. He was sentenced to six months’ hard labour and was transferred to Fremantle Prison on 18 April 1898.[40]

In 1899 John Kelly was again brought up before WH Timperley at Bunbury and fined 5/- for drunkenness.[41] Later that year on 17 November 1899 at age 65 he was again up before Timperley, convicted of disorderly conduct and fined 20/- or 14 days’ hard labour.[42]

On 20 April 1900 in Bunbury he was found guilty of being disorderly, receiving seven days’ hard labour.[43]

In 1901 an article entitled ‘OUT AND IN AGAIN’ appeared, possibly reporting on the same John Kelly:

John Kelly was charged with disorderly conduct. Mr. Roe: I thought this man was in gaol? Constable Johnstone: He came out on Saturday, sir, and yesterday morning the accused was using most disgusting language, and was very violent all the way to the station. Kelly: I went to get some money, and the woman sent for the police. I may have been drunk. Mr. Roe: Is that all you have to say? Kelly: Yes, sir. Mr. Roe: One month’s hard labor.[44]

No evidence has been found of the Kelly brothers marrying in Western Australia. Both men were living in Bunbury in 1907:

Lost and Found. — It was reported to the police on Monday last that John Kelly, 77 years of age, was missing from his camp near the Rifle Range. P. c. Dillon was at once despatched to institute a search. It was found that the old man had taken an axe with him and this assisted in a small way in the picking up of tracks by the constable. P. c. Dillon picked up tracks on Wednesday, but, in consequence of the rains, these were lost. He was more successful yesterday and traced him back to his own camp after four day’s wandering. Kelly is very short-sighted and complained to P. c. Dillon of swimming pains in his head. His brother Thomas, who is with him, wishes him to be sent to the Old Men’s Depot.[45]

John was still in Bunbury on 27 June 1907 when he was fined for being drunk in Victoria Street the previous day. He was gaoled for 24 hours when he couldn’t pay the 1/- charged for his cab fare.[46] He was again cautioned for drunkenness in June 1908.[47]

A John Kelly, aged 78, died in Claremont (probably at the Old Men’s Home) and was buried in Perth in 1910.[48]

(3) Thomas Kelly (c1833 – 1914?) (Reg. No. 4802)

Following his conviction in 1856 Thomas Kelly spent time in Wakefield Prison[49] and Chatham Prison.[50] While in Separate Confinement his conduct was Fair, and on Public Works, Good.[51]

He arrived in Western Australia on the Lord Raglan along with his older brother John in 1858. The Surgeon Superintendent’s journal tells us that he was born in England and had attended Day and Sunday Schools, was able to read and write and had made progress with arithmetic during the voyage.[52] His description was a sawyer, aged 25, married with one child, was 5’7¼” tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes, a long face, a fresh complexion, middling stout, with a birth mark on his left arm and lost top joints of the second and third fingers of his left hand.[53]

Thomas Kelly’s Record in WA

27 September 1858 – Provisional Prisoner to York Roads (No. 3).[54]

26 September 1860 – He was given his Ticket of Leave at Guildford.[55]

12 October 1861 – He was received back at Fremantle Prison.[56]

14 November 1861 – Listed as a tailor when treated for piles as an out-patient.[57]

3 December 1861 – Treated for constipation.[58]

5 May 1862 – Passport for Swan District. Ticket of Leave for Bunbury.[59]

1 December 1863 – Entered the service of Jas. Storey as a sawyer [at Guildford] at 30/- per month – left on 10 February 1864. On the following day he entered the service of AG Thompson.[60]

30 March 1864 – Received his Conditional Pardon from Resident Magistrate, Swan.[61]

7 October 1864 – Thomas Kelly, expiree, aged 32, (Reg. No. 999, formerly 4082), absconded from the service of H. Yelverton, 3 months’ gaol. J. Harris Magistrate.[62]

6 October 1869 – Along with his brother John, Thomas Kelly gave evidence in a trial against James McLaren, found guilty of the murder of Margaret Regan in a Bunbury boarding house.[63]

27 April 1877 – Thomas Kelly, aged 44, Roman Catholic, sawyer, received at Fremantle Prison after conviction by W. Pearce Clifton at Bunbury for resisting police (one month), and using obscene language (20/- fine or 14 days gaol).[64]

A Thomas Kelly died on 28 May 1914 and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Bunbury Cemetery.

(4) Peter Duff (c1828 1897) (Reg. No. 5065)

Peter Duff, the main instigator of the violent attack in Toxteth, Liverpool, was received from Chatham Prison onboard the Edwin Fox.[65] He arrived in Western Australia on 20 November 1858, a few months after the Kelly brothers had landed. He was described as a labourer, aged 27, married with no children, 5’ 5” tall, with dark brown hair, grey eyes, a long face, dark complexion and middling stout. His distinguishing marks were a mermaid on his right arm and a flag, heart and whale on his left arm.[66]

He is said to have been born in Dublin, Ireland, about 1828.[67] He was a Roman Catholic and could read and write imperfectly. He was given a life sentence for the attack, with two previous convictions and one acquittal taken into account. He had eight Summary Convictions brought against him with one dismissed. His behaviour while in Solitary Confinement was mostly good, on Public Works very good, and during the voyage, good. On 1 November 1860 he was appointed as constable in charge of a work gang, indicating an improvement in behaviour. On 22 May 1861 he was sent to Guildford, where he received his Ticket of Leave on 14 December that year.[68]

Soon after landing Peter Duff’s convict records show many visits to the doctor for minor ailments.[69] From December 1861 until 8 March 1862 he was being treated for a painful infection in his thigh. The doctor recorded that Peter Duff was a slight and moderately healthy man, a carpenter by trade who had always enjoyed good health in England.[70]

Peter Duff’s record in WA

22 May 1861 – Transferred to Guildford as a Provisional Prisoner.[71]

22 March 1862 – Employed by A. Lewis.[72]

23 July 1863 – The Resident Magistrate at Toodyay convicted him of fighting.

25 April 1864 – Convicted again at Toodyay of drunken behaviour and using obscene language, fined £1.

7 May 1864 – Drunk again – fined £1.

13 February 1866 – Drunk and obscene language, fined 10/-

30 June 1863 Employed by JJ Monger at Newcastle in the Toodyay District, as a labourer for 40/- per month.

31 December 1863 – Ditto.

30 June 1864 – Self-employed in the same district.

31 December 1864 Employed at Fremantle as a bootmaker by (?) Leach, 40/-per month.

30 June 1865 – Self-employed as a carpenter.

31 December 1865 – Ditto, at Toodyay.

30 June 1866 – Ditto.

31 December 1866 – Ditto.

30 June 1867 – Ditto, 5/- per diem.[73]

11 September 1867 Received his Conditional Pardon at Toodyay.[74]

June 1878 – At York PETER DUFF was charged by P.C. Scott with being drunk in the public street on the 15th instant. Fined 5s. and 3s. 6d. costs, or one week.[75]

August 1886 York Municipal Council Meeting – The following accounts were passed for payment – Peter Duff, carpentering, 11s.[76]


Peter Duff married Mary Mccarty (or McCarthy) at Northam in 1864. In 1878 Peter inserted a notice in a newspaper which confirmed that he would no longer be responsible for his wife’s debts:


I WILL not be answerable for any debts contracted by my wife MARY DUFF,

she having left her home.


York, 20th July, 1878.[77]

The couple appears to have later re-united, as a son named John Peter Duff was registered to them in 1880.[78] He was one of eight children.[79] John Peter Duff died in York at the age of fifteen, in 1896.[80]

This was the same year that his father Peter Duff also died, on 21 May 1896. His obituary shows that by then he was a respected member of the York Community:

An old and respected resident in the person of Mr. Peter Duff passed away at his own residence on Thursday, 21st ult. The deceased was connected with York for nearly thirty years in which place he had gained the respect of almost everyone. The respect shown at his demise fully testified this. He was in the employ of the Messrs. Monger family for more than 30 years. His remains were conveyed to St. Patrick’s Church on Friday morning, and at 4 p.m. the funeral procession headed by Fr. Gibney moved to the cemetery. A large collection of floral wreaths encircled the hearse. The funeral arrangements were conducted by Mr. G. Wansbrough.

A large number on foot and some in carriages following to the grave-side, The Rev. Fr. Gibney at the conclusion of the funeral prayers addressed the assemblage. His age as inscribed on the breast-plate was 68 years.[81]

The following year Peter Duff’s estate was settled, indicating that a beneficiary of his will was the local Roman Catholic priest:

Wills & Bequests

Peter Duff, of York, carpenter, to Patrick Joseph Gibney, and John Francis Dwyer,

sworn value £455.[82]

Peter Duff’s headstone tells us that he was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1828 and died in York WA in 1896, aged 68. He shares the grave of his son John Peter Duff, who died the same year:

York Cemetery, Western Australia [83]

(5) James Mowatt, alias Moor, Moore, (1830 – ?) (Reg. No. 7798)

On 24 November 1862 James Mowatt, aged 31, was charged at the Central Criminal Court in London with attacking a man on the street with intent to rob him. The crime was referred to as a garrotting, a technique prevalent at that time, whereby pressure was applied to the victim’s wind-pipe in order to disable him during the robbery. His co-conspirators were John Allen and Lawrence Sherriff. All three were described as well-dressed individuals. The victim was able to escape their clutches and called for police assistance. The case against Sherriff was dismissed through lack of evidence. John Allen was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude and James Mowatt was sentenced to twenty years, due to previous convictions.[84] Evidence was given by two policemen that James Mowatt had been convicted twice before, once as ‘George’ Mowatt on 21 February 1856 at the Central Criminal Court, when he was sentenced to twelve months for larceny from the person, and then on 23 November 1857 as ‘John Moore’, at the Middlesex General Sessions, convicted of stealing £50 worth of shoes and sentenced to six years’ penal servitude.[85] All robberies were in the company of others.

James Mowatt (alias Moor) served time at Millbank Prison, where prisoners were kept in Separate Confinement, designed to allow them to contemplate their crimes.[86] He was transferred to Newgate Prison and then was taken on 6 January 1863 to Pentonville.[87] Finally he was moved to Chatham Prison on 14 September 1863 where he awaited transportation, leaving London on 11 January 1864 onboard the Clara (Voyage 2), arriving in Western Australia on 13 April. His partner-in-crime John Allen (Reg. No. 8198) arrived on the Racehorse on 10 August 1865.

Mowatt was described as a smith, aged 34, married with seven children. He was said to have had two different abodes in London, one with his long-suffering wife Sarah, said to be a woman of good repute, and another with his constant companion, a woman named Mitchell, who had faced the Courts for assaulting Mowatt’s wife. The children’s names were Matilda (14), George (10), Richard (9), Mary Ann (6), Thomas (5), and twins Maria & James (aged 15 months.) The family lived at 8 Green’s Court, Poulteney St, St James.[88] This address is in the Soho District of London.

On arrival Mowatt was described as a waterman, Protestant, 5’ 9¾’, with brown hair, blue eyes, an oval face, a dark complexion, and middling stout in build. He had a flag tattoed on his right arm and a scar near his left eye. He was able to read and write. His possessions were sent to Vasse in 1867 and included a hymn book, letters, four books, a dressing box (broken open), containing a looking glass, shaving brush, two tooth-brushes, a pair of scissors, a shaving box, knife, three razors, paper and envelopes, a box containing pieces of artificial flowers, six books (3 books & 3 pamphlets).[89]

James Mowatt’s record in WA

Mowatt’s employment record in Western Australia indicates that after some initial acts of defiance against authority he proved to be a reliable worker. He went on to do contract work in his own right. Erickson states that he employed ticket-of-leave men in Perth in 1868, and again between 1870 – 1872 at Vasse.[90] He spent most of his time in the Sussex District –

25/4/1864 – Discharged to Perth.[91]

29/9/1964 – Misconduct reported.[92]

20 December 1864 – Was returned from the Survey Department as’a most useless man in

every respect’. No remittance to be granted while with Survey Party. (Vide 4258/5).[93]

February 1866 – Mutinous conduct – 23 days added.

February 1867 – Special remission of two months granted.

25/4/1867 – Has been credited with a small amount of marks because his conduct was so bad.

(Vide 4258/5).[94]

24 June 1867 – Eligible for Ticket of Leave on 29/8/67 with good behaviour.[95]

29/8/1867 – Discharged to Ticket of Leave at Vasse.[96]

31/8/1867 – General Servant in Sussex District, 21/- per week, R. Barry, Wonnerup.

17/12/1867 – Ditto, 30/- per month, G. Layman, Wonnerup.

31/12/1867 – Ditto, 24/-, R. Barry, Wonnerup.

30/6 1868 – Ditto, 30/-, G. Layman, Wonnerup.

24/3/1869 – Ditto, 40/-, J. Allnutt, Blackwood.

30/6/1869 – Ditto.

23/9/1869 – Labourer, Wellington District, 40/- per month, John Galley, Blackwood.

31/12/1869 – Ditto.

27/1/1870 – Sawyer, contract work, Sussex, R. Jones, Quindalup.

30/6/1870 – General Servant, £6/10/- per month, Sussex, H. Yelverton, Quindalup.

31/12/1770 – Ditto.

20/1/1871 – Labourer, 4/- per day, Sussex, D. Earnshaw, Busselton.

18/2/1871 – Labourer, contract, G. Fenner, Busselton.

30/6/1871 – Ditto, 5/- per day.

31/12/1871 – Ditto, G. Simpson, Wonnerup.

22/6/1872 – Ditto, 40/- per month, A McDaniel, Busselton.

3/7/1872 – A Rosseloty, Vasse.

31/12/1872 – Ditto.

30/6/1873 – Labourer, own account, Sussex.

30/6/1874 – Ditto.[97]

23/4/1875 – Conditional Release sent to RM, Vasse.

21/1/1873 – Working on his own account on Ticket of Leave.

30/6/1874 – A labourer in Sussex District, on his own account.

31/12/1874 – Labourer, 8/- per day, in Sussex District, WA Timber Co., at Lockeville.[98]

4/4/1883 – Certificate of Freedom sent to RM, Vasse.[99]

No record has been found of Mowatt’s death in Western Australia.

(6) John Allen, alias Donovan (c1835 -?) (Reg. No. 8198)

John Allen arrived in Western Australia onboard the Racehorse on 10 August 1865. His partner-in-crime Mowatt had arrived the previous year on the Clara (Voyage 2).

Allen was described as aged 30, a tailor by trade, single, Protestant, height 5’7¼”, with brown hair, dark hazel eyes, a full face, fresh complexion and middling stout. His identifying marks were scars on his chin, forehead and under his left eye.

Initially he was sent from Fremantle Prison out to work in the Bar Party, then at the 15-mile camp on the Albany Road and later at Freshwater Bay. Once released on Ticket of Leave on 28 January 1868 he was in steady employment, initially in the York district, but later in Perth. He was mostly employed at his trade, though in 1871 he was trenching fields at York.[100] His Certificate of Freedom was sent to the Resident Magistrate at York on 27 November 1872.[101]

His marriage details are sketchy. His wife was Emma Stapley who arrived on the ship The Bride in January 1867. Their son John Robert Allen was born in 1877.[102] Emma Stapley, aged 20, came to WA as a passenger on The Bride, leaving London on 29 September 1866.[103] She was in the employ of Rev. H. Grimaldi of Guildford in 1867, along with Jane Milton, when they both gave evidence against a mail driver William Howard over his failure to deliver a package – he was found guilty.[104]

There appears to be only one black mark against John Allen’s name in WA, when he was convicted in the Supreme Court in 1886 as John Allen, (alias John Donovan, local prisoner number 6241), for stealing three one-pound notes from the pocket of a drunken companion. He claimed that he did it ‘for a lark’, but the jury was not convinced and he was sentenced to six months. While in prison he was regularly visited by his son John (Jnr) and occasionally by friends, Mr and Mrs Thompson and their son.[105] On 7 October 1886 he was ‘discharged to Local Strength’. He was discharged from prison on 14 March 1887, said to be aged 67.[106]

For some years John Allen was employed by expiree tailor Thomas Henderson (formerly Convict No. 4168), whose premises were in Hay Street, Perth. Newspaper articles indicate that Henderson was not an easy man to work for, with several instances of disputes with employees reported. The editor of the Geraldton newspaper shared a bit of humour at John Allen’s expense in 1879:

A tailor, indifferently known as “Jack Donovan,” or John Allen, nimble alike with the thimble and at a jig, having a longing desire to see “the Bay,” disposed last week of his goods and chattels, and betook himself to Fremantle to embark per Rob Roy, for Geraldton, but in this matter he had not consulted his employer, Mr. Thos. Henderson, tailor, “by appointment, to His Excellency,” and in consequence was arrested on a warrant, under the Masters’ and Servants’ Act. Having remained in durance vile for some three or four days he has resumed his seat at his employer’s shop, vowing, however, that as soon as he can come to the Bay he will do so.[107]

John Allen continued working as a tailor through the 1880s, advertising in the WA Almanacks.[108] No more is known about him or his family.


[1]The Science of Garrotting and Housebreaking, Cornhill Magazine, in John o’Groat Journal, 8 January 1863.

[2] Durham Chronicle, in Protestant Watchman, 30 July 1864.

[3] Inquirer, 22 February 1860.

[4] Perth Gazette, 23 January 1874.

[5]Bolton Chronicle, 16 December 1854.

[6]Lancaster Gazette, 29 March 1851.

[7] Manchester Courier, 5 April 1851.

[8] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R19)

[9] Liverpool Standard, 19 December 1854.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Convict Ships List, at

[12] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R19)

[13] Convict Department, Receipts and Discharges (RD1 – RD2)

[14] Convict Establishment, Fremantle Casual Sick Registers (CS1-CS3)

[15] Convict Department, General Register (R21B)

[16] P Barnes, JM Cameron, HA Willis, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Carlyle, WA, 2010, pp.612, 634, 642, 655.

[17] Ibid.

[18] WA Times, 7 January 1864.

[19] Inquirer, 10 October 1866.

[20] Convict Department, General Register (R21B)

[21] Ibid.

[22] WA Department of Justice,

[23] Police Gazette, 5 May 1885, p.74.

[24] Note: See Thomas Dornan above.

[25] Liverpool Daily Post, 12 December 1856.

[26] Convicts to Western Australia,

[27] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[28] Ibid.

[29] Convict Department, Receipts and Discharges, (RD1 – RD2).

[30] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[31] Fremantle Prison Registers, Registers of Local Prisoners, (F3 – F4)

[32] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Local Prisoners Register (V16)

[33] Herald, 9 October 1869.

[34] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges (RD9 – RD9A).

[35] Fremantle Prison Registers, for Local Prisoners (F3 – F4).

[36] South Western Times, 22 August 1929.

[37] Fremantle Prison Registers, Registers of Local Prisoners, (F3 – F4)

[38] Bunbury Herald, 26 January 1895.

[39] Bunbury Herald, 27 March 1896.

[40] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Local Prisoners Registers (V16A – V16C)

[41] Bunbury Herald, 2 May 1899.

[42] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Local Prisoners Registers (V16A – V16C)

[43] Ibid.

[44] Daily News, 2 September 1901.

[45] Bunbury Herald, 17 May 1907.

[46] Southern Times, 27 June 1907.

[47] Southern Times, 26 May 1908.

[48] Metropolitan Cemeteries Board,

[49] Convict Department Registers, Convicts Transported on the Lord Raglan ((R33/1-3).

[50] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8).

[51] Ibid.

[52] UK Surgeon Superintendent’s Journals of Convict Ship Lord Raglan, 1858,

[53] West Australian Convicts,

[54] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges (RD1 – RD3).

[55] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8).

[56] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges (RD3 – RD4).

[57] Convict Establishment, Fremantle Casual Sick Registers (CS6 – CS8).

[58] Ibid.

[59] Miscellaneous, Tickets of Leave, Swan District, 1859 – 1866.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R21B)

[62] Convict Establishment Miscellaneous, Local Prisoners Register (V16).

[63] Herald, 9 October 1869.

[64] Fremantle Prison Registers, Registers of Local Prisoners (F3 – F4).

[65] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8).

[66] Western Australian Convicts,

[67] Headstone, York Cemetery, at Findagrave website,

[68] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8).

[69] Convict Establishment, Fremantle Casual Sick Registers, (CS4- CS5).

[70] Convict Establishment, Medical Registers by Patient (M4 – M6).

[71] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges, (RD3 – RD4).

[72] Miscellaneous, Tickets of Leave, Swan District, 1859 – 1866.

[73] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R1).

[74] Ibid.

[75] Eastern Districts Chronicle, 29 June 1878.

[76] Eastern Districts Chronicle, 14 August 1886.

[77] WA Times, 26 July 1878.

[78] Birth record 21451, Department of Justice,

[79] Toodyay Convict Data Base online.

[80] Eastern Districts Chronicle, 4 January 1896.

[81] Northam Advertiser, 6 June 1896.

[82] Daily News, 5 August 1897.

[83] Findagrave website,

[84] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 8.0, 24 November 1862, trial of JAMES MOWATT (31) JOHN ALLEN (30) LAURENCE SHERRIFF (27) (t18621124-38).

[85] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 8.0, November 1857, trial of JOHN JOHNSON (38) JAMES MOORE (26) (t18571123-66).

[86] England & Wales, Crimes, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,

[87]  Ibid.

[88] Convict Department Registers, Distribution Book for Nos. 7608 – 8107.

[89] Convict Establishment, Prisoners’ Property Book (V14)

[90] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p.2258, at

[91] Convict Department, Receipts & Discharges, (RD3-RD4)

[92] Convict Department General Register (R28)

[93] Convict Department Registers, Distribution Book for Nos. 7608 – 8107.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Convict Department, General Register (R31)

[99] Ibid.

[100] Convict Department, Receipts & Discharges (RD5 – RD7)

[101] Convict Department General Register (R21B)

[102] WA Department of Justice, Reg. No. 18238,

[103] Western Australia Crew & Passenger Lists,

[104] Perth Gazette, 4 Oct 1867.

[105] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, List of Visitors (V26)

[106] Fremantle Prison Registers, Local Prisoners (F3-F4)

[107] Victorian Express, 19 February 1879.

[108] WA Almanacks, People of Western Australia 1863-1897 (