James Broomhall

Questions and clues

One of very few possibly Welsh ancestors, James Broomhall claimed to have been born in Wrexham, close to the border with the English Cheshire, where as a young man he was sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.  I’ve discovered very little about James’ background in either Wales or Cheshire.  All we have to go on are his convict records that state that his native place was Wrexham in Denbighshire and that he was aged either 19 or 20, suggesting he was born around 1805.  Intriguingly one record also states that he had a mother at Chester, in Cheshire, named ‘Bromhall’ and that his proper name is ‘James Capper’.

While there are a number of Cappers in the Wrexham baptism registers around this time, there doesn’t appear to be a match for James under either surname.  There is a James Capper born to mariner James Capper and his wife Margaret at Chester in December 1806, but no connection to Broomhall; and a marriage of a Margaret Broomhall, at nearby Malpas, to a Joseph Cappur in 1810, but so far no other clues that connect this couple to my James Broomhall either!

Another potential match is the birth of a James Bramhall, illegitimate son of Mary Bramhall, born 1 August 1810 and baptised on 19 August 1810 in Stockport, Cheshire. However, he would need to have looked quite mature for his age to pass himself off as a 19 year old at his trial, when he was actually only a boy not quite fourteen.

Crime and conviction

So, the first records we have that reliably relate to James are those that refer to his criminal activity.   They tell us that he was single, a Protestant, and employed as a farmer, labourer and ploughman.  He was five foot, ten and a half inches tall with a fair complexion, brown hair and brown eyes.  He had two small scars on his forehead and a mole near the elbow joint on his left arm – not much to go on should he ever escape!

These records also tell us that a Thomas Broomhall was tried on the same day as James, but for a different offence.  He also gave his birthplace as Wrexham in Denbighshire and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.  He was only fourteen at the time so may have escaped transportation on this occasion, but I wonder whether he was the same Wrexham-born Thomas Broomhall transported on the Strathfieldsay in 1831. I haven’t been able to identify his parents either – so more research to be done here!

Returning to James – he was tried at Chester on 10 April 1824 for stealing 31 yards of velveteen, valued at one pound, and (according to some records) some keys, the property of a Mr John Ellis.  The Chester Courant of 20 April reported:

JAMES BROOMHALL, was charged with stealing a piece of velveteen, the property of John Ellis.

—— is a joiner and was in Ellis’s shop, it was dark, saw the prisoner and two other men in the row opposite the window, one of them climbed up the window, put his arm through a broken pane and laid bold of a roll of velveteen, but in attempting to pull it through knocked something down which caused them to run away, witness ran out at another door, seized the prisoner and called for a constable, prisoners said d—n your eyes let me go, but witness would not; he then said I will go to gaol if you can find anything about me.

John Cartwright, constable, apprehended prisoner, and confirmed the latter part of the testimony of the former witness. — Guilty — To be transported 7 years.

After the Recorder had passed sentence, the prisoner said “Go to hell with you, I can live longer than that”.

James’ records also tell us that he admitted to having previously been in custody for assault.  Now, convicted of the theft, James was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.  He had already spent some time in the local gaol, having been committed in the previous January.  The gaol records (some of which use the spelling ‘Bramhall’) describe him as a ‘bad character’, citing an attempt to escape by cutting his irons. On the 28th of April Charles Burrows, John Jones, James Broomhall and William Swain were put in irons and confined to their cells for cursing and swearing and making a great noise.  James managed to cut off his irons.  The following day the record notes that ‘J Broomhall was very noisy and turbulent during last night until 2 o’clock this morning was obliged to get up and put him in the Black Hole … by order of Alderman Massey’.


Shortly afterwards, on the 3rd of May, James was taken for Woolwich, along with Richard Sant, Charles Burrows, Thomas Broomhall and William Jones.  James boarded the hulk Justitia the following day, along with others convicted at the London, Middlesex, and Gloucester Sessions.  They remained there for a few months before it was time to board the Lady East which set sail on 7 November 1824.  From Sheerness she sailed to Portsmouth, leaving on 11 December and finally sailing from Falmouth on the 16th.  On the Wednesday night before departure about 40 convicts escaped their irons and were proceeding to the arms room when they were intercepted by one of the guards.  Seventeen of the ringleaders were flogged the following morning.  James doesn’t seem to have been among this group.

The Lady East arrived at Hobart Town on 9 April 1825. There were 207 convicts on board and a cargo comprising 200 tons of government stores and an organ for St David’s Church (which is now at St Matthew’s Anglican at Rokeby).

Lady East Assignment List

Lady East Assignment List

On arrival at Hobart Town, James was allocated number 799 and assigned to Mr William Bryan along with fellow Lady East convicts, William Pemberton and Henry Green.  James was fortunate in this assignment.  Bryan was a considerate master of his convict workforce and indeed eventually lost his workforce and left the colony following conflict with Governor Arthur because he allegedly entered into a share-farming agreement with two of his convicts.  He was also accused of having turned a blind eye to servants suspected of branding cattle running on crown land and land belonging to his neighbour William Thomas Lyttleton.

According to the convict musters, James was still assigned to William Bryan as late as 1830 and possibly up until the time he attained his Certificate of Freedom in 1832.

Marriage and Children

On 19 February 1838 James Broomhall married Mary Catherine Coan at Longford.  The earliest record I have seen relating to Mary is the baptism of her son James.  He was born on 3 December 1837 and baptised two months later on the day before Mary married James.  The register indicates the couple lived at Cornea, but in fact the place was Coronea at Hadspen.  Neither Mary or James, or their witnesses, George Young and R Harrison, could sign the register with their names, perhaps explaining why Mary’s surname is spelt ‘Cohen’ on the 18th and ‘Coan’ the day after.

Irish born Mary had arrived in the colony two years earlier, sailing aboard the Amelia Thompson, as a free emigrant. The ship set sail from Gravesend in April 1836 with 309 immigrants on board.  Reporting on a rather eventful journey, Major Ryan, Commandant of the northern part of the colony noted:

During the voyage on 23rd May 1836 in Lat 4 N and Longitude 22 West the crew mutinied and all aboard were placed in the most imminent danger and nothing but the firmness and courage of the Master, Tomlinson, Surgeon Superintendent, Ronald, the three mates with Boatswain and Carpenter could have saved the vessel from being captured by the Mutineers. During the following three days it became necessary in consequence of the refusal of the crew to return to their duty to employ several male Emigrants to work the ship.  The conduct of the several Mutineers has since the arrival of the ship been handed over to the civil power for investigation and they are fully committed for trial.

He further stated that the conduct of the Emigrants was ‘most exemplary’.

Unfortunately nothing is known of Mary’s life prior to emigration.  The Van Diemen’s Land records state that she was eighteen when the Amelia Thompson arrived at Launceston on 2 August 1836, putting her year of birth around 1818 and making her about thirteen years younger than her husband. On her arrival, Mary was engaged to work for a Mrs Chitty at Westbury at the rate of 12 pounds a year.

Over the next nearly two decades, James and Mary had eleven children, remarkably not losing any to infant disease or accidental death. Their fifth child, Michael, was my Great Great Grandfather.  The birth registrations for each of the children list James as a labourer and farmer.  According to researcher John Kelly, James rented a farm at Drumreagh, just out of Deloraine, from a Mrs Munce.  He may also be the James Broomhall listed on the 1863 Valuation Roll as renting twenty acres of land at Brookside from Martin Blake.  By 1875, the Valuation Roll records that James owned and occupied a hut and thirty acres of land at Reedy Marsh where he died of old age and ‘natural decay’ on 23 June in the same  year. He was buried in the grounds of St Marks Church of England, Deloraine, where his headstone can be located to the left of the entrance to the burial ground.

James Broomhall's headstone

James Broomhall’s headstone

Presumably some time after James’ death, his widow moved to Victoria.  She died there, aged 77, on 1 February 1888.  According to the register she had lived 53 years in Tasmania and eleven in Victoria.  The best clue to Mary’s residence in Victoria is the death of her son-in-law, John O’Keefe, in Geelong in 1890.  John had married Mary’s daughter, Mary, in Geelong in 1876 so it may be that Mary decided to move to be near or live with her second eldest daughter soon after her husband’s death.

[Published 13 September 2013]

Online resources

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies: James Broomhall in the Chester City Gaol database

Tasmanian Archives: James Broomhall’s Convict conduct record

Tasmanian Archives:  James Broomhall on the Lady East Assignment List

Tasmanian Archives: James Broomhall’s Convict Indent

Tasmanian Archives: James Broomhall on Description List

Family Search: James Broomhall’s Death Registration

James Broomhall on my Ancestry tree

James Broomhall on Founders and Survivors



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