My connection – Daniel Whitton
My Great Great Grandfather, Daniel Whitten Steers was born at Deloraine on 25 May 1870. Unfortunately his birth doesn’t appear to have made it onto the official registers but we know from other sources that he was the son of William and Bridget Steers and that when he was about three years old, the family moved from Deloraine to Sassafras to take up farming with other early settlers in the district.
Daniel was the seventh of twelve children born to William and Bridget, eight of whom were boys. Daniel’s eldest sibling, John, was born in 1858 and his youngest, Harry, not until 1880.
Unfortunately I have only tracked down one or two family photos and much of the information I have on the family is fairly fragmentary. Writing up what I have will hopefully point to areas for further research and perhaps bring to light more photographs and documentary evidence.
Daniel’s mother, Bridget
Only the births of three of William and Bridget’s children seem to have been recorded in the official registers. Each of the registers, for John (born in 1858), William (1859) and Henry (1869) tell us that William was farming at Deloraine at the time and that Bridget’s maiden name was Griffin. [See comment below for additional information on births and baptisms.]
Westbury’s first resident Catholic priest, Father James Hogan, married William and Bridget on 4 May 1857. Holy Trinity Catholic Church was, then, a wooden structure, only a couple of years old. It was subsequently replaced by the large stone building that stands today and the original was later transformed into St Joseph’s convent.
The marriage register indicates that William and Bridget were both single and free and confirms William’s occupation as a farmer. Perhaps most interesting is the difference in the couple’s ages. William was 53 years old at the time. Bridget was only 22.
When Bridget died in 1903, the North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times published a short obituary revealing that ‘Mrs Steer, who was a native of Country Limerick, Ireland, arrived in Tasmanian in 1855’.
Journey to Tasmania
Indeed, the arrival records for Tasmania include 19 year-old Bridget Griffin amongst the record number of 5471 assisted immigrants who arrived that year. Bridget had travelled from the port of Liverpool to Melbourne aboard the Boomerang. Seventy five of her fellow passengers transferred from Melbourne to Hobart on board the City of Hobart, while Bridget and twenty-one others transferred from Melbourne on board the Clarence, arriving at Launceston on 24 May 1855. In total, the Clarence carried sixty-five bounty emigrants.
The records also tell us that Bridget’s native place was Ireland, that she was 19, single, Roman Catholic and had no education. She gave her occupation as domestic servant. How extraordinary that sea voyage must have been for a young Irish girl with little knowledge of the world.
The voyage was somewhat slower than expected, with numerous newspaper articles commenting on the delay in the ship’s arrival. Colonists were anxious to receive mail from home as well as details of the Crimean war and negotiations for peace. The Colonial Times reported on the ship’s lengthy passage on 21 May, extracting many entries from the ship’s log, including report after report of split sails, broken masts, and booms carried away in squalls and heavy gales. On the 13th of February a seaman was washed off the forecastle and drowned.
If those events weren’t frightening enough, the Launceston Examiner of 29 May also reports on a series of allegations made by the surgeon of the Boomerang, ‘who accuses the captain of that vessel with immorality, drunkenness, debauchery, an assault, using insulting language, and by way of a finale, of manslaughter’. The article notes that some of the charges had been reported to the Immigration officer while the surgeon intended to personally prosecute others. In support of the manslaughter charge the surgeon alleged that at one point during the voyage he had been struck off duty by the captain, ‘without rhyme or reason’, and a certain chemist had been installed in his place, after which three infants were said to have died for want of proper medical treatment. The captain, unsurprisingly, countered that the surgeon was utterly incompetent and denied the charges. Unfortunately the outcome of the investigations into these allegations does not appear to have made the newspapers. Interestingly, The Courier also reported that while the Boomerang was berthed at Williamstown, twelve of its crew succeeded in breaking away from the ship and taking a boat with them.
Who was Timothy Mahoney?
Another important piece of intelligence found in the Return of Bounty Immigrants that records Bridget’s arrival is the fact that her £22 fare was covered by the sponsorship of Timothy Mahoney. Unfortunately no further details are provided and Bridget is the only person on that page that Mahoney sponsored.
According to other researchers, Timothy Mahoney was Thadeus Mahoney, born in Kilbreedy, Limerick around 1813. Timothy’s eldest son, Michael, married an Irish girl, Catherine Griffin, at Westbury in 1860. She may have been Bridget’s sister, although I have yet to confirm this. Although Catherine didn’t marry until 1860, it seems she may have arrived as early as February 1836, when she was 24 years old, sailing with some 215 female emigrants aboard the Boadicea.
Unfortunately I have not found any further information about Bridget’s connection either to Catherine Griffin or to Timothy Mahoney. Presumably she worked as a domestic servant for some period to cover the cost of her fare but perhaps not for very long given that she married William just two years after her arrival in the colony.
William Steers, ex-convict, but which one?
When the recently arrived Bridget Griffin married William Steers in May 1857, she was marrying a man a lot older than twice her age and an Englishman rather than a compatriot. And he was almost certainly an ex-convict … but which one? At least four convicts named William Steers were banished to Van Diemen’s Land. If we can rely on the ages given by William at his marriage and by family members at his death we can narrow the search to those born in the very early years of the nineteenth century.
The first William Steers transported to Van Diemen’s Land arrived from New South Wales via the Ruby following a voyage on the Guildford from London in 1812. William’s hulk record indicates he was 24 when sentenced to ten year’s transportation in 1810 so he is too old to be Bridget’s William.
Another William Steers was transported aboard the York in 1829 for receiving stolen goods. He was 19 at the time so a few years younger than Bridget’s William. Similarly, the William Steers who arrived in the colony aboard the Aboukir in 1852, just a few years before Bridget’s marriage, was born about a decade after the William we are looking for.
The most likely candidate for Bridget’s William, is the William Steers who arrived aboard the Woodford’s second journey to the colonies in 1828. Various records suggest that this William was born somewhere between 1798 and 1802, bringing him closest to the 53 year old who married Bridget Griffin in 1857.
Who was he?
Various criminal registers and convict records help us to piece together this picture of William Steers.
As we have already seen, William declared himself to be 53 years old when he married Bridget in 1857. Like the dates on his headstone at Latrobe, this information suggests that William was born in the early 1800s. However, some of the convict records indicate that William may have been born as early as 1798 and, if the marriage is his, as late as 1804.
William probably made his first appearance at London’s Old Bailey when he was 19 years old. In September 1823 a William Steers was tried and acquitted of larceny from a person. Apart from the brief reference in the criminal register I have not discovered any more about this incident.
Father and son, John and William Steers, faced the Old Bailey on 26 October 1826, together with Charles Pearce, charged with ‘burglariously breaking and entering the dwelling house of Samuel Maine, about twelve o’clock in the night of the 17th of August, at Hanworth, with intent to steal, and stealing 117 pairs of shoes, value 40l, his property. John and William were found not guilty of the crime but Pearce was sentenced to death.
One of the clues in this story that suggests that this could be our family is that John and William lived at Whitton – a name that was later bestowed on my Great Great Grandfather as a middle name and which he in turn passed on. Whitton was about two miles from Maine’s home at Hanworth Park, near Hounslow.
William Pullum, a local labourer who had lost his position as Maine’s watchman as a result of the break-in, gave much of the evidence; Maine suspecting him of having some hand in the robbery. In fact, Pullum was to do some investigating of his own. Making out that he desperately needed new shoes he met up with Pearce on a number of occasions, first at the Swan Yard at Hanworth, where Pearce told him, over a drink, that he and William Steers and one other had taken the shoes and buried them in gravel pits. He told Pullum that if he was to go to Whitton the following Sunday he would let him have a pair of shoes. However, when he arrived Pearce told him that a man named Orwell at Twickenham had the shoes, presumably to dispose of. After yet another disappointment Pullum still had no shoes and was ready to tell his former employer about what he had heard when Pearce offered to take him to Whitton to see Will Steers. ‘I went with him to Witton, which is about two miles – as we went along, he said, very likely Will would give me a ticket, to go and get a pair of shoes – I supposed by that they had been pawned – we went to the yard where Steers lived – he said “Steers is gone to bed, but I will soon call him up; you stand under the tree, out of the moonlight”; he then called Will – his mother came, but I did not see Steers till he was in custody.’
The Old Bailey record mentions nothing of John Steers’ involvement, nor is it clear why Pearce was convicted and William found not guilty. Nevertheless we learn some other useful information about William’s family. Samuel Maine’s evidence tell us that ‘…On the 16th of October, I went with Cooke and a search warrant to the house of John Steers; the prisoner William is his son, and lives with him; the house is two miles from mine – we found his daughter and a younger son there; but neither of the prisoners were at home.’ We also learn that John and William were in the service of a gentleman at Case Orton.
This information about William allows us to start the search for his parents and siblings in the area of Whitton, a village in the ancient parish of Twickenham, in London’s central west. Piecing together clues from Twickenham’s parish registers and a number of criminal and convict registers, it seems that William was most likely the second son of John and Sarah Steers, adding a few more to the long list of agricultural labourers and poor people in my family history.
Census records suggest that William’s father, John, was born in Sussex around 1766. Quite possibly, he is the John Steer baptised at Duncton in West Sussex’s Chichester District on 9 November 1766 to parents John and Mary. John junior probably married William’s mother, Sarah around the turn of the 19th Century, as their first known child, also called John, was baptised at Twickenham’s St Mary the Virgin church on 3 June 1801. Unfortunately I have not yet discovered Sarah’s surname let alone any details of her family or of the day she married John Steers. Census records indicate she was born at Heston, just a short distance from the town of Whitton where she was to make her home with John.
John and Sarah’s children were baptised at St Mary the Virgin Church of England in Twickenham – first born John in 1801, followed by my GGG Grandfather William on 14 November 1802, then Sarah in 1804, Isabella in 1806, James in 1808, David, 1810; Richard 1812; George 1821 and Henry in 1828. So far I have found no records to explain the gap between 1812 and 1821.
The Steers children grew up in a semi-rural environment, probably living in one of the terraces of worker’s cottages close to Kneller Hall. The 1841 Census suggests they lived somewhere between the Hall and the Red Lion which was located on the east side of Nelson Road. In the early 1800s much of the land around Whitton had become common or enclosed market gardens, nurseries and orchards. Gunpowder was manufactured along the banks of the River Crane between Hanworth and Hospital Bridge road. In 1818 an Act of Parliament enclosed Hounslow Heath and new roads across the old heath extended the area of Whitton. At that time the population stood at around 500.
Writing in the 1870s, Richard Cobbett noted that Whitton had in the past possessed ‘…an unenviable notoriety as a resort of characters not of the best class, and containing at the most but two residences of any size and importance.’ More specifically, ‘Whitton was a notorious resort for the highwaymen who in old days infested Hounslow Heath.’
And, indeed, it was highway robbery that earned William his passage to Van Diemen’s Land!
On 21 February 1828, William Steers faced the court charged with ‘feloniously assaulting John Bailey, in the King’s highway, on the 8th of January, putting him in fear, and taking from his person, and against his will, 1 hat, value 2s, his property.’ Perhaps worse than the crime itself, is the fact that William appears to have taken advantage of Bailey in the moments after which he had already been assaulted and robbed. Bailey says that he thought that William had come to his assistance. Instead he was robbed a second time.
The case against George Wyeth was heard first. Bailey began by explaining that he was a farmer from Bristol who had worked as a woolen draper and got himself into difficulties through bad debts. He had come to town on Christmas Day to look for work and was setting out on his return journey on the evening of Tuesday 8th of January when he arrived at Isleworth corner where he stopped for a moment to rest against a post while deciding which road to take. Within two minutes ‘…I saw a female followed by three persons, they were in conversation together; the prisoner, without saying a word in any way, rushed towards me with a horrid oath, and struck me a violent blow – the post saved me from falling into the ditch; he then snatched the bag out of my hand, with the box and hat in it, and ran away: a man, named Steers, instantly came up, (he was not a moment) and asked me, which way he went, as if he was a friend, come to assist me; I pointed to him as well as I could speak and he (Steers) immediately snatched my hat off my head – there was a night-cap in it – he took it off with his hand; he used no violence to me; he then followed the prisoner, and from the effects of the blow I fell into the ditch; my mouth bled severely.’
Other evidence suggests that Wyeth and Steers were known to one another and had been drinking together earlier with three other men at the Cricketer’s public house at Hounslow. John Wavin testified that ‘William Steers was in his [Wyeth’s] company there; they staid there till eleven o’clock – the house was not shut up at eleven that night, but the landlord would not draw any more beer, and wished the company to disperse; they staid in the house till eleven, Wyeth lives at Hounslow.’ Unfortunately for Wyeth and Steers, one of the witnesses for the defence, John Thomas, was a ‘common informer’ who could not be believed and upon whose testimony the Magistrates would not convict. When William faced the court Bailey repeated his story and added that ‘the prisoner was with the four – he instantly stepped up under colour to aid me; he asked which way did they run; I spoke as well as I could, and pointed; he snatched my hat off my head, and took the same direction as the others – I swear I was sober – it was a clear night, but no moon was up; I positively swear he is the man – I saw him again on the Monday following before the Magistrate, and swore to him’.
An officer, William Barrett, who conveyed Wyeth and Steers to the prison reported that ‘… as they were going along, Steers said to Wyeth, “This fellow has sworn false, and if he swears up yonder (meaning here), he will top us- he said this b – l – y foolish thing – “. In his own defence, Steers said ‘I am brought here to be sold by Mr. Cook [the high constable at Brentford who had apprehended Wyeth]; he is bribed to do it’.
Wyeth was found guilty of highway robbery and sentenced to death. William was found guilty of the lesser charge of stealing from the person and sentenced to transportation for life.
What was going through William’s head in the nights and days that followed in Newgate prison? No doubt there were plenty of stories about life in Botany Bay and Van Diemen’s Land. Did he have the opportunity to say goodbye to his parents and siblings? Did he even know how little time he had left before leaving his homeland forever?
On 14 March William was taken from the prison to board the convict hulk, York, at Portsmouth. Of the 25 of or so men who made the journey with him that day, it seems that only one, Jonathan Hickman, was to travel with him to Van Diemen’s Land. In late April, 184 convicted men were removed from various hulks in the harbour and taken on board the Woodford which eventually set sail from Portsmouth on the 2nd of May. The Hobart Town Courier reported in June that the Woodford was struck by lightening at Kedgeree, Bengal, on the 6th of June and the ‘… mainmast was shivered to atoms, and other considerable damage was done. No lives were lost.’ The ship arrived at Hobart Town on 25 August 1828.
The records made on William’s arrival in Van Diemen’s Land describe him as a 30-year-old gardener from Hounslow Heath who had most recently been working as a brick maker’s labourer in the Hounslow brick-fields. He was short – only five feet, three and half inches tall, with a large round head, high forehead, dark fresh complexion, grey eyes, brown hair, dark bushy whiskers and dark bushy overhanging eyebrows. His nose was described as ‘short thick, full between eyes’; his mouth ‘small – deep upper lip’; and his chin ‘large round fleshy’. Perhaps a forensic artist could sketch a portrait from this description, noting too that he had a scar on the left side of his upper lip. It seems he had tattoos on each arm – a ‘W’ on the inside of his right arm and a ‘M’ inside the left. The little fingers of both of his hands were, apparently, crooked.
Commenting on William’s criminal history, the records note that William stated that he had been convicted for highway robbery and that he had been in custody before, for two days after which he was bailed, tried and acquitted, for ‘boots and shoes’. This seems to confirm that the 1826 and 1828 trials referred to above relate to our William.
William was no model prisoner. While the list of offences committed in the colony is not particularly long, insubordination, disobedience and absconding earned him time in chains on road gangs and three years at Port Arthur. On 5 January 1829, William was charged with insubordination and having absconded from his station. He was sentenced to a month in irons at New Norfolk. Five days later he was reprimanded for refusing to work.
Convict musters for 1832 and 1833 tell us that William was assigned to William Lyttleton, probably at Lake River in the colony’s north, where things seem to have gone well until July 1834 when Steers is in trouble for insubordination and absconding. As a result he was sentenced to six months hard labour at the Constitution Hill road party, with a recommendation that the first three months be worked in irons.
Coincidentally, like my ancestor Thomas Gilham, Steers was to move from assignment to Lyttleton to assignment to his neighbor, Joseph Archer Esquire. He was working for Archer when the 1835 Muster was completed and in October that year reprimanded for disobeying orders.
In January 1836 William absconded. It seems that he survived at large for more than two and a half years. His record provides little detail but on 22 September 1838 he was sentenced to serve three years at Port Arthur for absconding and the Lieutenant Governor soon afterwards approved ‘severe discipline’, whatever that may mean!
So far the newspaper reporting I have found is similarly sketchy. The Hobart Town Courier of 24 August 1838 reports that the ‘indefatigable district constable of Norfolk Plains, Mr James Hortle, has succeeded in capturing two bushrangers, one named Thomas Walker, and the other William Steer. A week later the paper reports that Walker, from the Launceston chain gang, and William Steer, from the service of Joseph Archer, Esq., were remanded, charged with absconding and when captured having fire arms in their possession.
So far I have not been able to discover anything about William’s time at Port Arthur. I’d love to hear from any readers who have some information or clues for further research.
Indeed the next record I have for William, during the 1841 Muster, indicates that he holds a Ticket of Leave. William received a conditional pardon in 1846, recommended on the basis that he had completed ‘beyond the ordinary Servitude’ in the colony and had given proof of reformation. He had been in the colony for more than 16 years at this point.
It seems that William left Van Diemen’s Land for Melbourne in 1852. On 21 September he set sail aboard the Mariposa. Given the timing it seems likely that he was following the lead of many other ex-convicts set on finding their fortune on the Victorian goldfields. Perhaps he had success but so far I have found very little more, not even a record of his return to the colony.
William’s younger brother, Richard, had been transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1841 for stealing five tame rabbits from their hutch at a home in Twickenham. Once he had served his sentence, in 1846, Richard left the colony for Port Phillip so it may well be that William decided to visit his brother in 1852.
While it is not known precisely when William returned to the colony, his name does appear on a list of people entitled to vote in the Deloraine District in 1856. And the following year, on 4 May 1857, he married the very young Bridget Griffin at Westbury’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Apparently William bought two acres of Crown land, in West Parade, Deloraine for £110 which he later sold to the Catholic Church. Another researcher said that William and Bridget lived in a farm house on Emu Bay road where Huett’s service station now stands. Unsigned notes amongst my grandmother’s papers said that William obtained 50 acres of land near Deloraine where the Mountain View Motel now stands. I haven’t yet investigated these land purchases further, but it is interesting to think that perhaps success on the goldfields may have enabled William to return to Tasmania with some level of prosperity.
On 21 April 1858, the first of William and Bridget’s twelve children was born at Deloraine. The birth registration described William as a farmer. In the years that followed, another six children were born at Deloraine – William in 1859, Richard, 1861, Catherine (known as Kate) in 1863, Mary in 1868, Henry (who sadly died when only a few weeks old) in 1869, and my ancestor, Daniel Whitton, on 25 May 1870.
We learn a little more about William’s circumstances when he appears in the Insolvency court in October 1869 as a witness in case of Westfield farmer, Thomas William Field. The evidence seems to go to the question of when William had signed a deed relating to Mr Field. William says that he was a creditor for £50 in Field’s estate and that he had ‘told Mr Field that I couldn’t get on this year in consequence of the blight in my crops.’ Field had told him that he could put £40 or £50 his way and that he’d sell him 100 sheep. Apparently Field then sent 100 sheep to William’s property, but only for a time to graze, after which they were taken away again. At one point William says ‘I don’t know that I made any complaints about Deloraine about the way I had been treated by Mr Field; I don’t know, but I suppose I might talk many things I ought not to talk, like a good many more. I got from Mr Field what satisfied me. Nobody asked me to sign the deed. I came in when the neighbours came, signed the deed, and got my money … I got the composition — 5s in the pound. … We never had a clear settlement for the last twenty five years — never since 1844. We never look for payment for a bit of grass. If I wished seed or a beast I went and got it of Mr Field. I never expected he would be the way that he is. I thought the sheep had been given to me, but it appears he didn’t; he fetched them away again. … There was an execution on me for £140. The £50 is due for 200 bushels of wheat; it was not given for rent. I paid my rent last year to him in produce when he was at Port Phillip. … He said he would allow me 5s a bushel for the 200 bushels. I farm 110 acres. … I don’t know how many bushels of wheat and oats I grew this year – about 700 or 800 I suppose.’ The case itself continues on for some months, but I wonder whether William’s involvement in this case explains, at least in part, his motivation for deciding to move from Deloraine to Sassafras.
As William’s evidence indicates, he faced his own financial difficulties and the following year, prior to his move to Sassafras, he was also facing the insolvency court. The Examiner reported on 9 July 1870 that the second meeting in relation to William’s case had been adjourned to ‘allow of insolvent delivering up possession of his farm’ and William was granted discharge on 21 July. It would be interesting to know the extent to which William’s financial difficulties were exacerbated by the difficulties in his relationship with the more powerful Field family, including the ‘lack of a clear settlement’ for some 25 years.
These must have been very difficult days for William and Bridget, with six young children, including a tiny infant, to care for. Some time over the next couple of years the couple decided to move from Deloraine to Sassafras, where twins Ada and Cornelius were born in 1874. In February 1873 the Cornwall Chronicle published an advertisement for the sale of a farm ‘of 164 acres a mile and a half from Deloraine at present in the occupation of William Steers’ for possession on the 1st of April 1874.
Beyond this point, the records are sparse. William and Bridget had three more children – Annie in 1876, Dave in 1878 and Harry in 1880.
William died at Port Sorell on 22 November 1886. He was 84 years old.
Bridget died on 5 September 1903, at Stoodley. The North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times reported:
RAILTON: The many friends throughout the State of the Steer family will regret to hear of the death of Mrs Wm. Steer, sen., one of the oldest residents of this district which took place at her residence at Stoodley on the 5th inst., at the advanced age of 68 years. Her death was not unexpected, as for some considerable time she had been ailing, yet the blank left in the household when she left four daughters and seven sons to mourn her loss cannot be re filled. Mrs Steer, who was a native of County Limerick, Ireland, arrived in Tas mania in 1855, and with her husband, who predeceased her several years, took up their residence in the Deloraine district, from which they went to Sassafrass, where they spent nearly 20 years ; then they came to Stoodley and made a home very comfortable for the remainder of their days.
Bridget left the farm, on which they were then residing, to her two youngest sons David and Harry. She left ten pounds to daughter Annie; twenty five pounds to Ada; and any balance, together with her draught mare (Diamond), buggy and harness to daughter Mary.
Despite the length of this story, I think there is much more to discover about William and Bridget and their families. I would love to hear more from other researchers who can shed further light on this interesting family.
[Added 2 August 2104]
William Steers on my Ancestry Tree
William Steers’ convict Conduct Record
William Steers’ convict Description Record
 Archives Office of Tasmania, Guide to the Public Records of Tasmania, Records relating to Free Immigration, 1975, http://www.linc.tas.gov.au/tasmaniasheritage/search/guides/freeimmigration/appendix-e
 1836 ‘From the Hobart Town Gazette’, Friday, January 15, 1835.’Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), 21 January, p. 4, viewed 25 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84754252; See also: 1836 ‘The Courier.’, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), 12 February, p. 2, viewed 25 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4177476; and 1836 ‘Prison Discipline.’, Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857), 23 February, p. 4, viewed 25 April, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8648910
 The Twickenham Museum, ‘Whitton – from hamlet to housing estates’, http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/tour_detail.asp?TourID=43
 Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 31 May 2014), February 1828, trial of George Wyeth (t18280221-31).
 Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 31 May 2014), February 1828, trial of William Steers (t18280221-32).
 ‘Old Bailey’, Morning Chronicle, 26 February 1828