Reginald Wigmore Gaby (1876-1971)

Boer War veteran

Reginald Wigmore Gaby is my first cousin, three times removed. Our common ancestors are Robert Whiteway, a convicted thief who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1822, and Ellen Wigmore, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Thomas Wigmore, an Irish born clergyman who served in Bothwell in the 1840s before quarrelling with the first Bishop of Tasmania and returning to England.

Reginald’s story is of particular interest because he is one of the very few members of my extended family who, at least as far as I’ve discovered to date, served in the South African (Boer) War. Fought between the United Kingdom and the South African Transvaal Republic and Orange Free State, the war was fought between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902. British efforts were bolstered by troops from across the British Empire, including from South Africa, Canada, British India, New Zealand and the Australian colonies. The war ended with the annexation of both the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State.

Unfortunately records of the Boer War are sparse and I have not discovered a great deal about Reg’s participation but it is clear from his later life that he exhibited energy, resilience and determination. No doubt these characteristics, together with the bush skills practiced in his youth, helped him to survive the rigours of war in a hostile climate.

Early life

Reginald Wigmore Gaby was born on 19 February 1876, at Tea Tree, to Alfred Athelstone Gaby and Adelaide (nee Whiteway). Today Tea Tree is a five-minute drive north west of Richmond and only 20 minutes north of Hobart; although the road from the capital no doubt took considerably longer to travel back in the 1870s. Located in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley wine region, Alfred Gaby’s 620 acres of farm land may well have given way to picturesque vineyards in the last twenty years or so. In any event, some time during Reginald’s youth, the family moved from the Coal River to Launceston for a short time before moving to a new property near Scottsdale in the state’s north-east.

Reg was the eldest of nine children. Over the first eighteen years of his life seven brothers and one sister were to join the household: Ernest, Emily, Louis, Frank, Charles, Thomas, Alfred and Percy. Sadly, Louis was to die in hospital, from Diphtheria, in 1886, just a few months after his fourth birthday. And the boys were to lose their only sister two years later when nine year old Emily died from ‘typhoid fever’.

Joining up

When he was twenty-three years old, Reg volunteered to join the First Tasmanian Contingent to support the Empire in its fight against the Boers in South Africa. Reg was single and worked as a miner at Scottsdale. He would also have worked on the family’s property, clearing bush and tending to the farm.

Reginald Wigmore Gaby

Reginald Wigmore Gaby

He was one of 49 men chosen from the volunteers in the north of the state to join the first contingent. On 19 October 1899 they travelled by express train to Hobart where they joined the southern recruits to form a small contingent totalling 80 men. Met by hundreds of well-wishers at the station, the following day’s news reported that:

Most of them are from outlying parts of the North, and the appearance of the whole body denoted the care that had been exercised in selecting them. Without exception they were a fine, capable looking company …’.[1]

Subsequent articles reported that the men were undergoing more than six hours drilling each day, with a great deal of attention devoted to instructing the men in the use of rifles and bayonet.[2][3] Following a number of enthusiastic farewell receptions, the troops left Hobart en route to South Africa on 27 October, travelling firstly by train to Launceston allowing the northerners further farewells.[4]

Boer War contingent lined up for inspection (edited)(original courtesy of Archives Office of Tasmania)

Boer War contingent lined up for inspection (Archives Office of Tasmania)(edited)

First Contingent for Boer War, Launceston Wharf (edited) (Original courtesy of Archives Office of Tasmania)

First Contingent for Boer War, Launceston Wharf (Archives Office of Tasmania)(edited)

Reg became ill and retuned to Australia with 110 invalided Australian soldiers, on board the Karamea, reaching Hobart on 23 July 1900.

Reginald was heartily welcome home by the people of Scottsdale. The Examiner reports his homecoming, on 6 August:

The return of our warrior bold, Trooper R W Gaby, was witnessed last night by upwards of 250 or 300 people. The reception accorded our hero took him quite by surprise, so much so that he retreated to the far end of his carriage when he saw the crowd on the platform; but he soon overcame his timidity and faced the inevitable, and went through his part of the programme like a soldier, with his head up and eyes front. He received a right hearty, warm and cordial reception, and was informed that a public social would be accorded him next Monday night at the Mechanics, for which he was told to be prepared, when we trust the weather will be favourable and the attendance large, befitting the occasion.[5]

Indeed, notwithstanding the inclement weather, more than 110 people attended the social the following week. Mr Ed Button, presented an address, offering:

… sincere and hearty congratulations on the trooper’s safe return home from the seat of war in South Africa. Though deeply regretting that sickness had compelled him to return at this present stage, they were proud to know that while on active service he had nobly done his part in upholding the dignity and honour of this portion of her most gracious Majesty’s dominions.[6]

Once recovered, Reginald joined the 8th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse for service in South Africa. Signing up on 21 April 1902, Reg’s papers tell us that he was just a quarter of an inch shy of six feet tall, with a fair complexion, light brown hair and hazel eyes. Aged 26 at the time, Reg was single, living at Scottsdale, listed his occupation as miner and had served as a Private in the First Tasmanian Contingent.

While it is not clear when he was promoted, Reg served as a sergeant in his brief second tour of duty, departing on 21 May 1902 aboard the St Andrew and serving until 28 July. The Mercury of 21 May reported:

The Tasmanian troops (C Squadron), of the Commonwealth Contingent, will embark on the troopship Saint Andrew this (Wednesday) morning. At 8:30 am the squadron, consisting of 116 men and 5 officers, will leave the camp at New Town. It is expected that half an hour will be occupied in the march from the camp to the wharf, the squadron arriving at the ship’s side at 9 am. The soldiery and equipment will be at once taken on board, and after being stored, the horses, 121 in number, will be embarked. It is expected that the horses will be baled up in their respective stalls, and by 10:30 am this work should be finished, and the men ready to store their baggage on board, which will be at the ship’s side at that hour.

All work in connection with the embarkation will, probably, be finished by 11 am, at which hour the men of the squadron will be allowed to come on shore and spend three-quarters of an hour in bidding farewell to their friends. … It is expected that the vessel will leave the wharf at noon.

The men of the departing contingent have attained quite as high a state of efficiency as the troops that previously left Tasmania, and despite the continuous drain upon the horses of the State, are as well mounted.[7]

Parade of C Squadron of the 8th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse (Australian War Memorial)

Parade of C Squadron of the 8th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse (Australian War Memorial) (edited)

Interestingly, while there were dozens of articles welcoming Gaby home from his first tour of duty, it is much harder to follow his return journey. Perhaps the press was already growing tired of this war that had gone on for longer than originally anticipated. The Australian troops were integrated with British regiments and took no distinctive part in the major battles. Somewhat embarrassingly, the colonial troops lost slight more men to disease than to enemy action.[8] Of the 16 000 Australians engaged, 282 died in action or from wounds, while 286 died from disease, particularly typhoid or ‘enteric fever’ as it was commonly known.[9]

Indeed, the next reference I can find to Reg is his inclusion in a list of those ‘Sick in hospital in South Africa’ during the last days of his deployment.[10] His service was recognised by the award of the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony and Orange Free State.

Reg’s daughter Marie Jean and grandson Neville record that Reg was a man of strong character and pride. His four younger brothers served in World War I and his own four sons served in World War II. They say he was motivated by a desire to serve his country and to earn money towards a farm of his own.

After the Boer War, Reg moved to Tasmania’s north-west, where he selected and cleared bush land at Nabageena, twenty kilometres south of Smithton. He established a dairy farm that was to remain in the family for the next century.

In 1907 Reg married Mary Bald at Jetsonville, near Scottsdale. The couple was to have four boys and five girls.

An article in the Circular Head Chronicle tells us more[11]:

The thought that lead to the pioneering of Nabageena, first settlement among the fertile hills lying south of Irishtown, were born on a Boer War battlefield. It was there that Reg W Gaby, a young Tasmanian from the North-east Coast, first heard of the possibilities of Sunny Hills, as the district was then known, and decided to run an eye over it when he returned to his homeland.

It must have been a determined and energetic eye for, a fortnight after he had returned from South Africa, Mr Gaby was exploring the forest of gum and blackwood which, from his east-coast experience, prejudiced him in favour of the area.   A few days later, having applied for 150 acres, he was in Hobart asking and obtaining permission to begin clearing on 25 acres before the survey was made.

His was not the first axe to ring in the Nabageena hills, for J Laird, a Victorian, who subsequently returned to that State, had selected 320 acres and cleared and grassed much of it several years earlier. This had reverted to second growth before Mr Gaby’s arrival. …

… Mr Gaby’s first building was the inevitable bush hut, but such care was used in axe-dressing the timber that one of the first visitors thought it had been sawn, and asked how it had been conveyed in the absence of a road.

Another old timer who frequently camped at the hut complained bitterly because the timber was so smoothly dressed that he could never find a splinter with which to pick his teeth.

… But enthusiasm can do much and, acting for friends and acquaintances from the east coast, Mr Gaby explored and reported on the country as far back as the Trowutta hills and down into the Duck River valley, with the result that over 1000 acres were selected.

Mr & Mrs R W Gaby's home at Nabageena, 1909. The home was built using split timber weatherboards and a shingle roof. (Courtesy eHeritage, Circular Head Heritage Centre)

Mr & Mrs R W Gaby’s home at Nabageena, 1909. The home was built using split timber weatherboards and a shingle roof. (Courtesy eHeritage, Circular Head Heritage Centre)

In 1916, in an article on the Potato Industry, the Circular Head Chronicle cites Mr F W Ulbrich, the ‘potato expert of the Agriculture Department’ giving advice to farmers about dealing with ‘Irish blight’ and refers to Reg’s practices with approval[12]:

Mr Ulbrich said he might mention that Mr Reg Gaby of Sunny Hills had sent along to him at Devonport last season for exhibition purposes samples of Red Bismarks, Gem of the South, and ordinary Reds. They were the result of careful culling of seed, using tubers only true to type.

Reg was also active in the local dairy industry. In 1927 a report of the Annual Shareholders meeting at Smithton has Reg Gaby ‘strenuously advocating’ amalgamation of local butter factories; a motion that was carried at the same meeting.[13]:

Mr Reg Gaby strenuously advocated amalgamation. He said that the industry needed some impetus as there was a steady retrograde tendency. Amalgamation was calculated to benefit the suppliers and to relieve them of much of the drudgery which at present fell to their lot. It would also cut down running expenses. It seemed ridiculous that on the North-west Coast there were many butter factory lorries competing against one another on the same roads. That alone showed the urgent need for amalgamation. Obsolete methods should be discarded at the first opportunity. The question affected all branches of agricultural and pastoral life. The speaker had been to coastal factory meetings, and had learned there that the scheme now being considered along the coast was peculiarly suited to the local factory. Suppliers should have a bigger say, and then the feeling of the people could be accurately gauged.

The Advocate published a story on the growth of the Nabageena District in 1932 which reveals a little more of Reg’s pioneering and farming efforts[14]:

Mr R W Gaby’s property of 185 acres has always been regarded as one of the best in this fast-progressing district, being especially good for the growth of grass, while for agriculture the lower lands are equally productive. Mr Gaby, who is a veteran of the Boer War, in which he enjoyed the distinction of being the youngest trooper-sergeant on active service, has been at Nabageena for the past 30 years, at which time the present fine country was all virgin forest, with the exception of a few blocks which had been scrubbed and grassed but then left to grow up again with undergrowth. There was much heavy timber to contend with when this Nabageena pioneer started including eucalypts, sassafras, blackwood, dogwood, musk and man fern, flora always indicative of rich soil well worth bringing into a state fit for cultivation or dairying. I noticed Mr Gaby hard at work on a rich alluvial flat of about 10 acres, which next year should give a good return, being well drained and rich in appearance. In grasses, cocksfoot, English, White Dutch and alskye are preferred, with some good subterraneum on the high ground and a little elsewhere.

Top-dressing is found to pay handsomely when one bag of super per acre is used, about 80 acres per year being treated. In Mr Gaby’s opinion the direct benefit derived from this enriching of the soil admits of no doubt or argument the increased quantity of milk and improved appearance of stock proving this very conclusively. Here some 50 cows are milked, the fine herd consisting of some pure bred Jerseys, but Jersey grade cows predominating. Only heifer calves are reared. For the past ten years only registered Jersey bulls have been used, these coming from the famous herd of Mr B T Saddler, East Devonport. A “New Zealandia” milking machine is installed and for 10 years this plant has given every satisfaction.

I noticed a good concrete floor in the milking shed, which is up-to-date in every way, the cowyard also being well graveled and paved with stones. Water is laid on to the shed, and this and another property of 150 acres are specially well off in the matter of permanent water. Hedges of macrocarpas surround the comfortable homestead, which in the “old days” was regarded as the customary house of call for all and sundry whose business or pleasure called them to the new settlement of Nabageena.

In another article a few month’s later, reporting on the ‘magnificent country’ of Smithton’s hinterland, the Advocate reported:[15]

Mr R W Gaby, of Nabageena, claims to be the pioneer of that area. He took up land there 30 years ago on his return from the South African war. He had bush experience on the North-East, and turned it to good account in the Far North West. He affirms that the Nabageena country is better than any of the old settled lands. He puts it value down at £20 per acre. Another district settler placed a similar value on cleared farms.

… Nabageena is myrtle country, which lends itself to clearing, as the Yolla experience testifies, hence, after the lapse of 30 years, the district has quite a settled appearance, with many good metal roads and others which will call for metalling when the country’s finances improve.

… Dairying is the chief pursuit, and some large herds are being milked. Mr Gaby has 45 cows; others have more. On one farm 75 cows are milked.

In 1952 and 1954, Reg travelled to Boer War reunions in Kalgoorlie and Hobart, remarking that at that time only 100 of the 850 Tasmanians who had served in the Boer Ware were still living.[16]

South African War Veterans 50th Reunion, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 31 May, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27091430

South African War Veterans 50th Reunion, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 31 May, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27091430

1954 'BOER WAR VETERANS.', Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 - 1954), 13 November, p. 3, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69867896

1954 ‘BOER WAR VETERANS.’, Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 13 November, p. 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69867896

Four years later, Reg travelled to London, where he represented his younger brother, Alfred Edward Gaby VC at the Victoria Cross Centenary Review of Holders of the Decoration by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Hyde Park, on 26 June 1956. This occasion warranted a colour spread in the Australian Women’s Weekly, and Reg was photographed with a French artist from a West End hit show at the Lyceum Theatre Party.[17] A far cry from Nabageena!

1956 'AUSTRALIAN V.C.s

1956 ‘AUSTRALIAN V.C.s “OFF PARADE”.’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 1 August, p. 16, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51775295

When Mary Gaby died in May 1952, the Advocate reported:

Mrs Mary Gaby, a highly esteemed resident of Circular Head, died at her home, after a long illness, on May 12. She went to the district from Jetsonville, near Scottsdale, as a bride just after the turn of the century with her husband Reginald W Gaby. It was her first journey into the far North West to her home “Mary Banks”, Nabageena, previously selected by her husband. Surrounded by bushlands and far removed from neighbours, the late Mrs Gaby, sustained by a virile Christian faith, won the respect of all.[18]

Reginald Wigmore Gaby died on 5 August 1971. He was 95 years old.

[1] 1899 ‘AUSTRALIAN CONTINGENT.’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 20 October, p. 3, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12760394

[2] 1899 ‘AUSTRALIAN CONTINGENT.’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 23 October, p. 3, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12760865

[3] 1899 ‘AUSTRALIAN CONTINGENT.’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 24 October, p. 3, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12761120

[4] 1899 ‘AUSTRALIAN CONTINGENT FOR SOUTH AFRICA.’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 27 October, p. 3, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12761744

[5] 1900 ‘COUNTRY NEWS.’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 9 August, p. 2 Edition: DAILY, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35366464

[6] 1900 ‘RETURN OF TROOPER GABY.’, Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 16 August, p. 6 Edition: DAILY, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35367450

[7] 1902 ‘COMMONWEALTH CONTINGENT.’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 21 May, p. 3, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9582689

[8] Jim Davidson, ‘The Boer War’ in Griffith Review 48: Enduring Legacies, Brisbane: 2015, p26

[9] Thomas Keneally, Australians: Eureaka to the Diggers, Melbourne: Allen & Unwin, 2011, pp 221-225

[10] 1902 ‘TASMANIANS IN SOUTH AFRICA.’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 4 August, p. 2, viewed 8 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153821394

[11] 1954 ‘Nabageena — first of district’s southern settlements.’, Circular Head Chronicle (Stanley, Tas. : 1906 – 1954), 17 November, p. 11, viewed 8 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163476968

[12] 1916 ‘The Potato Industry.’, Circular Head Chronicle (Stanley, Tas. : 1906 – 1954), 5 January, p. 2, viewed 8 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160995841

[13] 1927 ‘BUTTER FACTORY.’, Circular Head Chronicle (Stanley, Tas. : 1906 – 1954), 14 September, p. 3, viewed 8 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169013132

[14] 1932 ‘With Plough and Cow. Nabageena District.’, Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 30 January, p. 9, viewed 8 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67904909

[15] 1932 ‘FAR NORTH-WEST.’, Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 27 April, p. 9, viewed 8 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67921830

[16] 1954 ‘BOER WAR VETERANS.’, Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 13 November, p. 3, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69867896

[17] 1956 ‘AUSTRALIAN V.C.s “OFF PARADE”.’, The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 1 August, p. 16, viewed 7 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51775295

[18] 1952 ‘Mrs. Mary Gaby.’, Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 26 May, p. 4, viewed 17 May, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69461075

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Life in Blackfriars Wynd

Blackfriars Wynd

The records of Janet Robertson’s early life tell us that she lived in the dirty, densely populated tenements of Edinburgh’s slum district. Edinburgh suffered the effects of rapid population growth and industrialisation during the years leading up to Janet’s expulsion in 1841.  When just a child, Janet would have witnessed a dreadful epidemic of cholera that swept through the city.  It was most virulent in the overcrowded areas that housed those fleeing rural poverty for the city’s Old Town.  Typhus and other diseases swept through the appallingly dark, damp and unhygienic tenements and alleys.  An influx of Irish migrants seeking refuge from the potato famine added to the population pressure.

Blackfriars Wynd, Edinburgh, c 1825

With new building activity concentrated in the New Town, the growing population of poverty-stricken crowded into the old tenements that were subdivided to house whole families in single rooms.  In the 1840s Edinburgh’s Old Town reportedly had the most unsanitary living conditions of any other city in Britain at the time.

Some, however, would argue that Glasgow might equally claim that title.  Quite by coincidence, I have in the last couple of days started reading Deborah Swiss’s book The Tin Ticket – The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women.  Her first story is about the young Glaswegian Agnes McMillan, abandoned to the wynds of Glasgow’s slums.  These extracts paint something too of the life Janet Robertson would have faced as a young girl in Edinburgh’s slums.

Agnes saw a world of cobblestone and brick, full of misery and manure.  Coal particles stung her eyes at every blink.  Each sip of water she drank from the brackish public well carried the risk of dysentry or typhoid fever.  She and everyone else who lived near the mills coughed out pieces of black grit breathed in from Glasgow’s raging industrial fires.  Neighbours overhead tossed their garbage out the windows onto the walkway.  Most had witnessed some unfortunate soul drop dead in the street or on the job. The grey-eyed five-year-old had already proven to be lucky, since half the Scottish children born in 1820 had already been laid in the ground by their parents.  In the slums, dunghills and raw sewage blanketed the crowded space with a sticky black glaze.  This was Agnes’ playground and schoolyard. 

Children dashed around the wynds playing tag, hide-and-seek, and peever —the Scottish version of hopscotch. Boys picked up sticks to bat whatever they could hit in the air.  An old barrel hoop started a contest for who could spin it the farthest.  Street waste offered an abundance of possibilities for games and entertainment. 

…. Among the labouring class, a child’s role included the duty of earning a living.  By age seven, Agnes would have been expected to contribute to the McMillan household income.  Every penny mattered.  Children her age, and younger, worked full time as chimney sweeps or factory workers, hired for the ability to reach small crevices and machine parts. 

Sadly, Janet was to loose five of her own children in childhood but those who survived certainly had a better start in life than she had.

Janet Robertson’s early life of crime


A couple of weeks ago I received some papers from the National Archives of Scotland which, while sometimes difficult to read and rather repetitive, have helped to shed new light on Janet Robertson‘s early life.  Unfortunately any clues that might point us to parents or siblings have so far proven fruitless.  Indeed there is every indication that she was making her own way, as best she could, in one of Edinburgh’s poorest districts from at least her teenage years.

When she was arrested and brought before a magistrate on 11 July 1840 she declared ‘I am seventeen years of age, and was born in Leith, and live in Blackfriars Wynd, Edinburgh, with a Baker named Brown, and I have been three times convicted of theft’.  Faced with the prospect of a fourth conviction she made no effort to hide her guilt:  ‘I carried away from Leith Links a shirt and two shifts from among some clothes which I assisted a girl to fold up, and I was apprehended  and taken to the police office where the articles were found in my possession’.

Early thefts

Janet Robertson was first convicted for theft on 10 August 1839.  At the time she used the name Jessie Livingstone.  Having heard the claims against her, Jessie admitted that she was guilty of stealing two cotton shirts belonging to Robert Ireland of No 15 High Halton. She admitted to having taken them from the Calton Hill, one of Edinburgh’s central hills, presumably where they were set out to dry.  Following Jessie’s admission, the complaint against her co-accused, Helen Anderson, was dismissed. Sixteen year old Jessie was sentenced to thirty days imprisonment in the Jail of Edinburgh, apparently in solitary confinement.

Not long after her release from prison we find ‘Jess Livingston’ admitting guilt to another charge of theft.  A little braver this time, Jess admits to having stolen, on 29 November 1839, a cotton sheet from the house of lodging house keeper, John Henderson, at 131 Grassmarket. The Grassmarket, where Jess claims to be living at the time, is a short ten to fifteen minute walk from Blackfriars Wynd.  On this occasion Jess is sentenced to forty days in the Bridewell of Edinburgh.

In March 1840 Janet is charged in her real name (or at least the name she uses from this point on).  The documents indicate that Janet was living at Milne’s Court, Lawnmarket.  She is charged with stealing, on 11 March 1840, from the Calton Hill a boy’s striped shirt, a striped apron, a child’s red printed frock and muslin cap, the property of John Scott, a broker from Low Calton.  She is also charged with having stolen from Calton Hill, on the following day, a linen half sheet belonging to Thomas Reid.  Janet declared she was guilty of the second charge and was sentenced to sixty days in the Bridewell.

The crime that sealed her fate

A very similar crime, and her own admission, was to seal Janet’s fate and earn her the tag of thief by ‘habite and repute’.  According to the precognition papers, the events of Thursday the 9th of July 1840 were as follows.

Margaret Perry, the wife of a fireman in the Royal Victoria Steamship, and resident of Fox Lane in Leith, washed some clothes and gave them to her daughter Janet to take them to the Leith Links to dry.  Janet’s younger sister Margaret accompanied her to the Links and stayed there to keep an eye on the clothes until they dried.  Around four o’clock Janet Perry was sent back to the Links to fetch her sister and the clothes.  When the girls returned from the Links, with the clothes tied up in a bundle, Mrs Perry discovered that her son’s blue striped cotton shirt, her own cotton shift and another belonging to Janet were missing.  Mrs Perry and ten year old Janet walked back up to the Links to check that they hadn’t blown away.  When they arrived they were told that a woman had stolen the clothes and was now in custody.  Mrs Perry went to the police office where she saw the articles and was told that the prisoner had admitted taking them.

Eight year old Margaret later gave evidence and explained that a woman had come up to her on the Links and said she would fold the clothes because they were dry.  Once the job was done she left saying that she was meeting someone on the Links.  Another witness, a servant called Marion Whitecrof, said that she watched Janet Robertson go up to the girl with the clothes and that she sat there for about twenty minutes before running off.  Suspecting that she had stolen some of the clothes Marion called out to her and then gave chase.  Once she got hold of Janet she accused her of theft but Janet denied the charge.  The evidence is a bit contradictory from this point but it seems that Janet was taken to the Leith Police Office where Sergeant William Gunn searched Janet and found the shirt and shifts hidden under her own clothing.  Initially she claimed they were given to her by a woman on the Links who she did not know, but she later admitted to having stolen them.

It was this crime which was to seal Janet’s fate by earning her a sentence of transportation and voyage aboard the Rajah to Van Diemen’s Land.