Thomas Dennard

Thomas Dennard, another member of the Aldington smuggling gang, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1827 along with his cousin Samuel Bailey, and the husbands of his cousins, Elizabeth and Rhoda Bailey.  Their mothers, Lucy and Mary, were sisters: daughters of Robert Highstead and Mary Ransley.  Rhoda’s husband, Richard Higgins, was my GGGG Grandfather, and Elizabeth was married to the gang’s leader, George Ransley.

Early life

Thomas Dennard was baptised at Bilsington on 23 August 1803.  His parents, Daniel Dennard and Lucy Highstead, married at Mersham in February 1795.  Their first daughter, Sarah, was baptised seven months later, followed by Jane in 1798.  Three years after Thomas’ birth, brother Stephen was baptised at Mersham in May 1806.

Before his conviction for smuggling, Thomas Dennard lived on land that he owned at Aldington Freight where he kept two or three horses.  According to his convict conduct record, Thomas described himself as a farmer and he worked, along with fellow smuggler Paul Pierce, for George Brepington (or some similar name).  Thomas was arrested on 17 October 1826, as part of the first group of gang members brought in for the murder of Blockade man, Richard Morgan.  Along with other gang members he faced trial on 6 January 1827 and was sentenced to death for being ‘Feloniously armed to assist Smugglers’.  The sentence was soon commuted to transportation for life, and Thomas was taken aboard the hulk, York, at Gosport, prior to sailing for Van Diemen’s Land.


On 3 April 1827, the Governor Ready left England.  Of the 191 male convicts on board, thirteen were members of the Aldington Gang.  Like my ancestor, Thomas Gilham, Thomas Dennard was assigned, on arrival to work for Joseph Archer at Lake River.  However, by 1830, Thomas was working for a Mr A Gatenby.  This was probably Mr Andrew Gatenby, a Yorkshireman who had emigrated from Wales to Van Diemen’s Land in 1823, bringing with him his wife, four sons and three daughters.  Gatenby was granted 1500 acres of land on the Pennyroyal Creek, which he named Barton, and erected a substantial flour mill using millstones he had brought with him to the colony.  The mill served the district for over half a century and the Gatenbys acquired substantial land holdings.

Convict conduct record for Thomas Dennard

Thomas Dennard’s conduct record is almost blemish free.  Apart from the initial collection of information about his crime and life in Kent and the record of Conditional Pardon No 1713 received on 22 June 1838, the record notes that he appeared before Oatlands’ Supreme Court on 2 October 1845 charged with receiving a cart harness and being found not guilty.  The Court’s consideration was published in the Courier of 8 October 1845.  The report shows that Dennard was charged together with his former smuggling companion, and second cousin, John Bailey:

According to the evidence, the harness in question was stolen from the cart shed at Dingley Dell in April last, and no tidings gained of it until the middle of July, when the two prisoners passed through Mr Gilbert’s premises with a bullock team, and were seen by the overseer, Mr Miller, the team piled up with sheep and kangaroo skins.  They proceeded on towards Oatlands, nigh to which Bailey lives, and on nearing home the same evening were encountered by District Constable, Mr Quinlan, and Constable Clough; on approaching whom Dennard quickened his pace to the front, and disowned all connexion with the cart.  The constables, after some resistance, having stopped the team, discovered the harness beneath the skins; and Bailey, on his part, denied all knowledge of the gear. He was taken into custody, and Dennard, who in the meanwhile had slipped away, was apprehended on the day following, when both parties were taken before the police magistrate and committed for trial. 

The Court concurred, and directed an acquittal; and the prisoners were remanded to abide the ordeal of a fresh indictment. 

…. Dennard and Bailey were then again placed in the dock under a fresh form of indictment for the offence comprised to the charge before related; the former charged with feloniously stealing, the latter with feloniously receiving from him, the harness in question.  

Mr Macdowell, as counsel for Bailey, contended that, under the circumstances of his previous acquittal, he was exonerated by the Statute from further prosecution, under whatever form, for the same offence. 

To facilitate the despatch of business, of which there was still a large arrear on hand, the case was put back; and finally Bailey was discharged without further trial, and Dennard had the good fortune to be acquitted.  [Courier, 8 October 1845, p3]

Marriage and children

In June 1838, Thomas had married Ellen McCabe, described as ‘a native of Tasmania’ and ‘free’, a woman whose earlier history and parentage has so far proven elusive.  The couple were to have eight children, two of whom died in infancy.  Their first child, Lucy, was born in February 1839; followed by Bridget in August 1840; Ellen in December 1841.  The following year, Thomas was declared bankrupt, having accumulated debts worth over £120.  Life must have been very difficult for the young family.  The 1842 Census records that Thomas Dennard was living in a wooden dwelling at the ‘Hunting ground’ that was owned by Robert Parkinson.  The house was usually occupied by Thomas and five other people: his wife and daughters and a male convict holding a Ticket-of-Leave.

In January 1843 another daughter, Jane, was born.  The Census records that year show that the family had moved to the Esplanade at Oatlands (which borders the north western edge of Lake Dulverton). They were living in a brick home owned by Thomas Maynard.  The Ticket of Leave holder had moved on and Thomas’ occupation was included in the category ‘Gardeners, Stockmen and Persons Employed in Agriculture’.

In September 1844, Ellen gave birth to her first son, named for Thomas.  When young Thomas was just four months old, the Dennard family boarded the schooner Lillias, and sailed for Port Phillip.  I have not had much success in tracing the family after this date.  In Jully 1846 another daughter, Mary Ann, was born and on 5 October she was baptised, together with her older siblings, at St James’ Church of England in Melbourne.  Sadly, Mary Ann did not survive infancy and was buried the following year in St James’ burial ground.  The Port Phillip Directory of the same year lists a Thomas Dennard living ‘off Bourke Lane’ and working as a labourer.

Thomas and Ellen were to have two more children:  Henry was born in 1850 but did not survive; and Sarah followed in 1852.  It seems likely that Sarah’s birth was the cause of her mother’s death as St James’ register records Ellen’s burial in March 1852.  She was just thirty years old.

Thomas died in Victoria in 1880.  He was 76.  He died at his home at Emerald Hill and the informant described him as an immigrant and labourer, noting that he was born in Kent and had spent 34 years in Victoria. No mention was made of his convict years in Van Diemen’s Land.

I would love to hear more from others who have researched this family more thoroughly.  If you can contribute anything further, please contact me by email.

[Updated 10 June 2012]

Online resources

Tasmanian Archives:  Thomas’ convict conduct record

Thomas Dennard on my Ancestry tree

Thomas Dennard on Founders and Survivors

Colonial Times: Thomas Dennard acquitted of stealing cart harness



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