CrimeLocal History

1846 – Transported for stealing sheep

The consequences of stealing sheep in the 19th century are far different from today. Here is what happened to shepherd William Lewis & his family after he stole not one but two sheep from his employer in 1846. A life of prisons, transportation, institutions, tragedy and death.

Hampshire Chronicle, 24 October 1846, Pg. 2

William Lewis was born on 28th April 1813 in St. Mary Bourne, Hampshire the son of William Lewis and his wife Mary Westrip and baptised in the parish church on the 9th May 1813. On the 27th June 1841 he was a labourer in Faccombe, Hampshire when married Mary Coventry in the parish church of Faccombe. Mary wasn’t quite honest about her age when she married knocking 9 years off it. Also she had a son Anthony out of wedlock in 1835, who was not living with her at the time of the wedding. How much William knew about Mary’s true age and son is unknown.

On the 4th June 1842, William and Mary welcomed their first child John, at the time they were living in Chitterne, Wiltshire where William was working as a shepherd. A second child William was born in St. Mary Bourne on the 6th September 1844, when his birth was registered a month later the family were living in Stoke and William senior is stated as being a labourer. Life appears to having been going as well as it could for the Lewis family and by the middle of 1846 Mary was once again pregnant, then things change completely for this family.

The Hampshire Chronicle, 12 September 1946, Pg. 1

In 1846 William was working as a shepherd for for major landowner Henry Beckley Vincent who owned Binley House Farm, he stole two sheep from his employer. The first on the 25th July and the second (no doubt thinking he’d got away with it in July) on the 3rd September. Unfortunately for him Police Constable May was alerted about a sheep carcase in a coppice in Binley. May immediately proceeded to investigate watching at the location until William returned at which point he was arrested. May’s supervisor Police Superintendent Harvey of the Kingsclere division then took up the case searching for the skin, which had been cut up and hidden. Other evidence such as proof William had been selling joints of the meat was gathered and he was brought before the magistrates at Whitchurch. He was formerly charged and committed to the County Bridewell, Winchester to await trial.

From the County Gaol Committal Register

No. 785
Name: Lewis, William
Age: 32
Read/Write: [blank]
Profession/Trade: Labourer
Offence: Stealing a sheep
Where from: St Mary Bourne
When committed: 8 Sep 1846
By whom: R. Rawlins, esq
Sentence: 30 years transportation
Disposed off: Millbank

On the 19th October 1846, William was convicted and sentenced on two counts of sheep stealing with 15 years transportation for each count. He spent a few more weeks in the County Bridewell before being transferred to Millbank Penitentiary in London on 16th November 1846. At this time Millbank was used as a holding prison for prisoners that had been sentenced to transportation, they could be held there for up to three months whilst it was decided where they would be sent. William stayed at Millbank until 11th February 1847.

Millbank Prison in London by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, published 1829.

REMOVAL OF CONVICTS FOR GIBRALTAR – On Wednesday and Thursday, the steamers Waterman No. 3 and Waterman No. 7, conveyed 300 male convicts from the Pententiary, Millbank, to Sheerness, where they were transferred on board the Euryalus transport for passage to Gibraltar, where the prisoners will be employed on the public works. Several persons recently appointed as mates and quartermasters embarked on board the Euryalas at the same time.

The Sun, 12 Feb 1847, pg. 5
HMS Euryalus – Thomas Buttersworth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Euryalus, convict ship, with 300 convicts on board, left the harbour this morning for Gibraltar

The Evening Chronicle, 15 Feb 1847, Pg. 4

The Euryalus convict ship, arrived at Gibraltar on the 9th March

The Sun, 22 Mar 1847, Pg. 7

When William arrived in Gibraltar he was transferred to the Owen Glendower a prison hulk, where he stayed until the 17th May 1854.

Prison hulk HMS Owen Glendower middle right (from the Ministry of Heritage of Gibraltar Convict Labour page)

From 1842 to 1875, Gibraltar became a half-way penal station for convicts employed in carrying out Public Works before being sent to Australia to complete their terms of confinement.

The 7 years William spent in Gibraltar would have been 7 years of long days completing hard labourer in a warmer, drier climate than back home in England. His skill as a shepherd would not have helped him here, exactly what he would have been doing is unclear but many convicts worked in quarries, and/or built places. He may have hoped to complete his sentence here as if he had, he would have been returned to England at the end of his sentence. He would have known many that got to go home during his time there. However, that wasn’t to be the case as on the 17th May 1854 he left Gibraltar on board the Ramilies bound for Western Australia.

William arrived in Australia on the 7th August 1854 where he was transferred to Fremantle Prison in Western Australia. He didn’t stay long there as he received a “Ticket of Leave” on the 29th August 1854. His arrival did generate a description of him which means now we can start to form a picture of this man.

From the estimates & convict lists

Reg. No. 2964
Name: William Lewis
Age: 39
Height: 5ft 7.5ins
Hair: dark
Eyes: hazel
Visage: long
Complexion: sallow
Appearance: slight
Marks: none
Trade: shepherd
Single, Married, Widower: married
No. of Children: 2

The ticket of leave system was a form of bail or licence which allowed a prisoner to start to build a new life in Australia before the official end of his or her sentence. The system was introduced informally in 1801 to reward convicts who had performed some service or been of particularly good conduct. From 1811 convicts had to serve a minimum sentence before a ticket of leave would be granted. Once a convict had his or her ticket of leave they were allowed to work for themselves, marry, or to bring their families to Australia.

Now with his Ticket of Leave, William would have had a little more freedom he could start to rebuild his life, although this did not include bringing his family to Australia. He would have been responsible for looking after himself and have needed to find work and lodgings. As he received a Conditional Pardon 6 years later on the 15th December 1860, he must have succeeded in rebuilding his life as best he could.

Freemantle Prison Convict Database

Name: LEWIS, William
Convict No. 2964
Arrival: 7 Aug 1854
Arrived on: Ramillies
Date of Birth: 1815
Marital Status: Married 2 children
Occupation: Shepherd
Sentence Date: 19 Oct 1846
Sentence Place: Winchester, Hampshire, England
Sentence Period: 30 years
Ticket Leave Date: 29 Aug 1854
Conditional Pardon Date: 15 Dec 1860

No trace of William has been found after this last mention in the Freemantle Prison Convict Database, he seems to have vanished from the records after receiving his Conditional Pardon.

Now we know how William paid for his crimes it’s time to go back to those he left behind, his wife and children. William’s family is next found in the Whitchurch Union Workhouse which at this time was still the old one in Overton, a new one was being built. Mary gave birth in the workhouse on the 31st January 1847 to a daughter Mary Ann, whilst her husband was at Millbank Penitentiary, whether he was ever told of his daughters birth we’ll never know.

Mary stayed in the workhouse until at least the 20th May 1847 when sadly baby Mary Ann passed away after suffering convulsions for 12 hours. This must have been a very traumatising time for Mary and her children John & William, they’ve lost the breadwinner of the family and now the baby. There was little that could be done though, in these times the death of infants and children was common place as was spells in the workhouse.

Mary and her family did escape the workhouse and returned home to St. Mary Bourne at some point as they are living there when tragedy strikes again, as on the 17th August 1848, 4 year old William dies after suffering fits. So in less than two years Mary has lost her husband and now two of her children, but keep going she must, there was still John to look after who was now 6 years old.

By the time of the 1851 Census, Mary’s son Anthony Coventry now age 16 is living with her and John, he’s working as an Agricultural Labourer no doubt supporting the family as Mary described herself as a “pauper widow”, pauper yes but widow no as William was alive in Gibraltar. Going forward 10 years to the 1861 census and Mary is a farm servant and her two sons Shepherd Farm Servants. By the time of the 1881 census Anthony had passed away in 1876 and John had married the same year leaving Mary alone, described as a pauper. We find Mary one last time in 1891 in Stoke, by this time she has outlived all of her children as John passed away in 1884.

Mary’s life was one of hardship and tragedy, at some point after the 1891 census what we today would call dementia had been the cause of her yet again being in the workhouse. This time not the old one in Overton but it’s replacement in Whitchurch. When she entered and for how long she stayed is unknown, but it appears they were unable to deal with her and she was sent to the Hants County Lunatic Asylum.

Main building of the former Hampshire County Lunatic Asylum (later Knowle Mental Hospital)

Old people with dementia were admitted to lunatic asylums, workhouses and charitable homes, but were not welcome there.

Institutionalising senile dementia in 19th-century Britain

Dying in the Hants County Lunatic Asylum is something I have seen more than once on my family tree, the giveaway every time is seeing Fareham registration district when finding a death record. I remember the first one I found it didn’t seem right as I expected to see a more local registration district, but once I had seen the details for that first death I found there I knew that seeing that registration district again when unexpected would most likely mean another death there.

Death registration for Mary Lewis (nee Coventry), 28 Nov 1893, Hants County Lunatic Asylum

From her death entry we can see that she died there on the 28th November 1893, from Senile Atrophy, the name of her former husband William wasn’t known as there was no one left to tell them. She outlived her family, the husband who through his actions in 1846 was taken away from her never to be seen again, and her children Mary Ann who died as a baby, William who was just 4 when his life was cut short and sons Anthony and John who only just made it to their 40s.

Victorian Britain was for many a life of hardship, with no welfare state to fall back on in hard times, no NHS to help when ill, it was a life of harsh punishment and institutions for all whether guilty or not.


  • Hampshire Parish Records, available at
  • The British Newspaper Archive, available at
  • Q13/3/1 – Gaol committal register 4 January 1836-11 March 1848, available on microfiche at Hampshire Archives & Local Studies, Winchester, Hampshire, England.
  • England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, available at
  • UK, Criminal Records, 1780-1871, available at
  • England, Criminal Lunatic Asylum Registers, 1820-1876, available at
  • Birth/Death information from GRO Birth & Death registrations
  • Western Australia, Australia, Convict Records, 1846-1930, available at
  • Freemantle Prison Convict Database, available at
  • Institutionalising senile dementia in 19th-century Britain available at

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