Sepia Saturday – Living Dangerously

On the 24th February 1830 Elizabeth Bumstead was certainly living dangerously when she decided to steal a pewter pot from the Wheat Sheaf Public House in Camden Town, London, but not satisfied with that she stole 4 more  from the Black Cap Public house, and hid them up her petticoats. She knew what the consequences would be if she got caught as her eldest son William had already been transported for theft.

She took off across the fields but was soon apprehended by officer William Jamieson. It was the first time she had been caught stealing and was in a state of great distress as she had 6 hungry children to feed and no money to provide for them. But no leniency was offered and on the 15th April 1830 in the Old Bailey she was convicted and in May 1830 transported to Van Diemen’s Land with 117 other female convicts and 14 free women arriving there in September. Five of her children were sent with her on board The Mellish. In all there were over 100 children on the ship.

This  print by Edward  Duncan, of  ‘The Mellish‘  entering Sydney Harbour is held in the National Library of Australia Source

The MellishAccording to the report of the ship’s surgeon the women were well treated, there was considerable effort made to air and dry out their sleeping quarters, they spent several hours each day on deck and were regularly supplied with lime juice or wine. But even so it takes little imagination to conjure up what a frightening and confrontational experience this must have been for them all.

Once they arrived in Van Diemen’s Land she and the children were placed in the female orphan school, but Elizabeth had  several brushes with the authorities mainly because she liked a tipple, and sometimes was absent with out leave. The punishments for this varied – sometimes she was placed in a cell for 7 days with bread and water, and on some occasions she was sent to the Female House of correction. She was also sent here when it was discovered she was pregnantHouse of correctionSource Women, Infanticide and the Press, 1822–1922 Nicola Goc, University of Tasmania, Australia February 2013

This photo taken early in the 20th century sourced from the files of the State Library of Victoria image b36020

CascadesWomens State Library of Victoria, image b36020

Elizabeth gained her freedom (ticket of leave) 0n 15th April 1837, and died in Hobart in 1853, how she spent her life between those dates I do not know, but it seems she kept clear of the law.

This is a very grim tale. but except for George, the children lived law abiding and useful lives. William was granted a conditional pardon in 1847 and at the time of his death in 1859 his occupation was listed as dealer. George was in prison working as a blacksmith at the time of his death. Three daughters, Mary Ann,  Elizabeth and Caroline married and had children.

The baby Sarah is our mystery person – there has not been enough documentary evidence located to conclusively say how her life turned out, and I will write a little more about her in next week’s post on Tasmania.

Meanwhile there are other interesting posts to read on other views of Living Dangerously atSepia Saturday April 5th


20 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday – Living Dangerously

  1. I can’t help but wonder, when pregnant women were sent to the Female House of Correction & put to hard labor while pregnant, if it had been done with an ulterior motive to bring about the possible loss of the child so there wouldn’t be another mouth to feed? Poor Elizabeth. Stealing isn’t right, of course, but when one has a hungry family to feed I can imagine one gets rather desperate!

  2. Great story. Bumstead is a distinctive name. We were lucky enough to have Henry Bumstead open the Queensland office of AFTRS back in 1990. He was a famous production designer in Hollywood.

  3. My ggg-grandmother was convicted for stealing too, in 1850, but the extenuating circumstances – she was a widow with a young son to feed, and an epileptic – meant that she only spent a few weeks in prison, and then went to the Workhouse, where she spent the rest of her short life. What limited options they had.

  4. Lime juice or wine — now there’s a toss-up.
    This is a fascinating bit of history, both social and personal. What frightening times for those poor women and children.

  5. I have a couple of Tassie convicts too – it’s wonderful how much info is available on them now – much better than the NSW convicts – and the work on the Female Factory records is great too.

    • Yes there is so much available online now to help with research. I did my Tasmanian research way back in 1990 – the old fashioned way – sitting in the various record offices in Hobart and trawling through microfilm and fiche and taking notes in greylead.

    • It’s a very grey area, and I intend to write a little more about this in next week’s post. She may be the x4 Great Grandmother of my husband – but I have no proof of that.

  6. A sad tale, but I loved every word, I wonder she stole only the cups, would think she’s steal food for her children…and what is a “tipple” referred to that she liked. I learned quite a bit of history reading this..thank you for sharing.

    • I suppose there must have known of a market for stolen goods, and then she would have money to buy food. A tipple is (in our household anyway) and alcoholic drink.

  7. Your opening line was a great hook into a fascinating history. The era of transportation to Australia as well as earlier to America was a terrible travesty of justice, but how different the world would be today if it had not happened.

  8. Hi,
    I’m a direct descendant of Elizabeth Bumstead through her youngest child, also named Elizabeth. Elizabeth Jnr married ex-convict George Clements in Hobart, then they sailed to New Zealand.becoming successful Confectionary Shopkeepers. Upon George’s death, Elizabeth Jnr sailed to Sydney with her daughter and son in law. I have photos of Elizabeth Jnr from the 1860’s through to around 1910. In 2011 I holidayed in England and visited the Black Cap Inn where Elizabeth Snr stole the pewter. The Inn staff were amazed at my story and I staged some photos of me stealing the Pub’s cutlery to go with the Pewter pots that my gt gt gt grandmother nicked 170 years earlier. A real experience. Cheers, Dave Patrick, Homebush, Sydney, NSW

  9. Thanks Dave for making contact. We’ve never been able to prove a connection to Elizabeth, and short of some DNA testing never will I suspect. I think other family members have visited the Black Cap Inn in the past – at that time it was predominately patronised by the gay community.

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