Samuel Winch


One thing that all my early ancestors seem to share is that they generally appear to have been born and grown up in fairly poor circumstances.  Samuel Winch was no exception.  And like so many others, he certainly didn’t choose to make his home in Van Diemen’s Land.  Instead, he found himself on the wrong side of the law and transported to the ‘other side of the world.’

Early Life

I am still to confirm the efforts of other researchers that tell us that Samuel was the second son of Thomas Winch and Mary Brown and that he was born in the parish of Ippollitts in Hertfordshire on 27 December 1809.  Later documents record his ‘native place’ as the village of Preston, which lies within the neighbouring parish of Hitchin.  In April 1810 he was christened at the Independent Bethel Chapel in the town of Hitchin.

Baptism record for Samuel Winch

There are a number of Baptist Churches in Hitchin, no doubt reflecting the early roots of this ‘dissenting religion’ in the ministry of John Bunyan who was born in 1628 and who frequently visited Hitchin from his home in Bedford.  The Independent Chapel in Back Street (now Queen Street) was established after a small group broke away from Hitchin’s Tilehouse Street Baptist Meeting.

Thomas and Mary Winch had at least six children: William, Samuel, Daniel, Martha, George and Hannah.  Thomas worked as an agricultural labourer. Census records indicate that the daughters and subsequent generations of Winch women worked as straw plaiters, a cottage industry that flourished in Hertfordshire during the nineteenth century.  It seems likely that Mary Winch would also have supplemented the family income by working as a straw plaiter.

Like his father, Samuel was also an agricultural worker. His convict records show that he was employed as a ploughman as well as in preparing milk. Given the seasonal nature of farm work, the men and boys in the family no doubt worked at a large variety of labouring tasks, from digging ditches, ploughing fields, setting seeds, hoeing and weeding, cutting chaff, spreading dung, threshing and harvesting, felling timber and cutting faggots of firewood.

In the 1830s, a farm labourer might expect to earn nine shillings a week, worth around £360 in today’s terms, or $742 (AUD).  In Hertfordshire the supplementation of family incomes from the women’s straw plaiting is credited with having staved off the worst of the agricultural unrest and rioting that occurred in other areas of the England at this time.

Trial and conviction

On 3 March 1830, when he was 21 years old, Samuel Winch was tried at the Lent Session of the Hertford Assizes.  Together with Daniel Worboys and Joseph Ward, Samuel was convicted of breaking and entering a dwelling house.  The young men had broken into Mary Hodgson’s house in Pirton, where they had stolen a shoulder of mutton, candles, a ham, a basket, ten eggs, a box, two shillings, three sixpences and six pence in copper. They were sentenced to transportation for life.

Another four local boys were also sentenced at the Hertford Assizes on that day and they also travelled aboard the Southworth to Van Diemen’s Land.  David Hosie and James Wheeler had been convicted for stealing a watch and money, while Joseph Pedder and Abraham Sommerfield were convicted of assault and highway robbery.

The Southworth sailed from Sheerness on 26 June 1830 and arrived at Hobart Town 115 days later, on 19 October 1830.  Shortly after arrival the young men were placed on assignment.  Ward and Warboys were assigned to a Mr Cawthorn, while Samuel was assigned to Mr A Reid.   It is likely that this was Mr Alexander Reid of Ratho Estate at Bothwell.

Alexander Reid migrated to Van Diemen’s Land from Scotland in 1821.  He had been a merchant and insurance dealer in Edinburgh’s port of Leith where his offices were less than 200 metres from public linksland where the first organised golf clubs were formed.  At Ratho, the Reid family established what is today Australia’s oldest golf course.

Convict life

Samuel Winch had not been long in the colony before he was in trouble again.  On 22 September 1831 he was committed to stand trial for robbing Henry Wakefield on the Highway, taking a silk handkerchief, silver and an order of £2.   It is not clear from the records though what the outcome was except to the extent that they show he was subsequently engaged in public works rather than assigned to a free settler.  On 11 February 1832 Samuel received 50 lashes for absconding from a road party and three days later he was officially reprimanded for neglect of duty.  In March he absconded again. His description was published in the Hobart Town Courier:

1129  Samuel Winch, 5 ft 7, dark brown hair, gray eyes, age 23, a ploughman, tried at Hertford in March 1830, sentence life per Southworth, native of Preston Herts, absconded from Notman’s road party, March 21 1832. Reward 2l.

Another convict, 19 year old Robert Harris, absconded at the same time.  He had been tried in the same month as Samuel, at Southampton, and sentenced to fourteen years transportation for stealing sheep.

An 1838 account of Notman’s road party at Green Ponds, notes that Robert Notman was a Scotsman, familiarly known as Old Bobby Nutman and that his cruelty was known throughout the island.  Political prisoner, Samuel Snow, relates that they had ‘… heard of his whipping men nearly to death, and the old prisoners feared him as they would a tiger; but to us he was the most humane and indulgent overseer we found during our residence on the island.  He told us that murderers, thieves and robbers who had been placed under him heretofore, could not be governed without being flogged …’. At the time that Samuel Winch served under Notman the party was probably working on the road from Launceston to Evandale and Perth.

Shortly after Samuel’s description was published, he must have given himself up or been apprehended as later that month he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and hard labour for having absconded.

By December that year, Samuel had again absconded – this time from a chain gang – and was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.  Samuel’s conduct record provides no further details about this period of imprisonment, including whether it was served at Port Arthur, in Hobart or elsewhere on the island.

In August 1834 Samuel was found at Hamilton without a pass and a recommendation was made that he be worked for three months at the Sorell Creek Road Party.  In November that year he was admonished for repeated idleness and neglect of duty with the road party.  A month later he is again in trouble for neglect of duty and also for ‘suspicion of hiding his Masters bullock Cows and Chains, One Week given him to find them’. It is not clear whether the next offence occurred at the same time or is simply not dated but the next entry is for ‘Gross neglect of duty, using most obscene language and Insubordination’ for which 18 months imprisonment and hard labour in a chain gang appears to have been recommended.  On 7 March the Lieutenant Governor decided to send Samuel to the Grass Tree Hill Chain Gang.

After this date Samuel’s record simply notes that he was granted a Ticket of Leave on 22 May 1839 and a Conditional Pardon on 15 June 1842.  What, I wonder, brought on this remarkable change in his behaviour?

Married Life

I have found no further record of Samuel until his marriage, two years later, to Janet Robertson in Launceston.  Perhaps romance was a factor in Samuel’s reformation? But Janet’s conduct was hardly exemplary.  She was penalised on many occasions for ‘misconduct’, ‘insubordination’ and ‘insolence’.

Scottish born Janet Robertson was born about 1822 and convicted in 1840 for ‘theft by habit and previous conviction’.  She was transported to Van Diemen’s Land aboard the Rajah in 1841 and after numerous failed assignments was sentenced to incarceration in the Female House of Correction in Launceston, then the Launceston Gaol and finally the Longford Gaol.  Despite previously being refused permission to marry another man because of her poor conduct, the authorities seem to have had a change of heart in February 1844 when Samuel’s application to marry Janet was approved.

They married on 1 April 1844.  The ceremony was witnessed by Isaac Lefevre and S Dowsett.  Isaac was a former brick labourer from Whitechapel in London. He had been sentenced for larceny and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land aboard the Moffatt in April 1838.  It is a little more difficult to establish who S Dowsett may have been.  There was a Samuel Dowsett transported aboard the Commodore Hayes in 1823.  He had been convicted for fiddling the accounts of the silk weaving business in London where he was a weaver and foreman.  It seems likely that this was the same Samuel Dowsett who started the Cornwall Press, and later the Independent newspaper.

Just over a fortnight past their first wedding anniversary, Samuel and Janet’s first child was born.  Elizabeth’s birth registration indicated that Samuel was working as a carter and the family was living at Longford. Samuel registered the births of nearly all of the couple’s eleven children, in each case signing the registration with his mark, indicating that he was unable to write.  Until 1851, his occupation was described variously as carter, carrier and labourer.

I have told the tragic story of Samuel and Janet’s children elsewhere so suffice to say here that of their eleven children, only seven survived infancy; another died before she turned five; and their eldest, Elizabeth, died just short of her nineteenth birthday.  There is no particular pattern to these early deaths, nothing, for example, to suggest a particular genetic vulnerability.  We can only speculate about whether the babies were weak from birth or succumbed quickly to various ailments in the community.  Mary died in 1847, just three months old, from convulsions.  Daniel  died the following year, aged two months, from thrush.  Their fourth child, Martha, was to marry and bear eight children, only to succumb to ‘scirrhus cancer of brain’ before her thirty-ninth birthday.

Samuel and Janet’s fifth child, Alice, was born in 1851.  Her birth registration indicates that Samuel was working in Longford as a shopkeeper.  Hopefully life was now a little more comfortable.   Like her sister Martha, Alice also grew to adulthood, married and had children.  But she too died early, aged 26, after contracting ‘typhoid fever’ from one of her children.

In June 1853 Samuel and Janet had a second son, Samuel.  But again, they were to lose him in infancy when at just two months old he died from ‘overflow of the bile’, possibly as a result of jaundice.  Janet was soon pregnant again, and baby Agnes was born twelve months after Samuel’s death.  In August 1856 another daughter, Janet, was born; followed in July 1858 by Christina Elizabeth, who was to marry my Great Great Grandfather, Thomas Gillam.

The next tragedy was the loss of young Agnes.  Just four years and nine months old, she died in May 1859, from ‘water on the brain’. But still more tragedy was to follow. In July 1860 another son, Samuel Thomas was born, only to die from dysentery before his second birthday.   Janet was already pregnant again and their last child, George, was born in October 1862.

By the time he was 55, Samuel had had occasion to celebrate the birth of eleven children and to mourn the loss of six.  Tragic indeed.

Samuel and Janet seem to have led a fairly quiet life.  Their names rarely appeared in the local newspapers or in public records generally.  The 1858 Valuation Roll shows that Samuel was occupying a house and shop on property of less than an acre, valued at £100, and owned by prominent citizen and parliamentarian William Dodery.  Beyond this, it has been difficult to learn much about their lives beyond the births, marriages and deaths of children, and the arrival and loss of grandchildren.


Amazingly, despite their very tough beginnings and tragic family life, Samuel and Janet both lived long lives.  Samuel Winch died on 18 December 1895. He was 86 years old.  Janet lived another four years, dying at the age of 77.  They were both buried at Deloraine following services at the Presbyterian Church.  Samuel was living at home, in Exton, at the time of his death.   Janet was probably living with her youngest son George as she died at his home in Mill Street, Deloraine, on 3 December 1899, suffering from senility, chronic gastritis and heart failure.

[Updated 7 May 2012]

Online resources

Samuel Winch on my Ancestry tree

Samuel Winch on Founders and Survivors

Samuel Winch’s convict conduct record CON31-1-46, 247

Samuel Winch on Appropriation list for Southworth CON27-1-4, 161

If you’re interested in Samuel’s early life or want to know more about straw plaiting, visit  Preston, Hertfordshire in the nineteenth century.


The header image at the top of this page is taken from an old postcard of Bridge Street, Hitchin, Hertfordshire


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