James Deverell

Another English convict

My Great Great Great Grandfather, James Deverell was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the last decade of transportation to that colony. He sailed aboard the Sir George Seymour which arrived in Hobart on 27 February 1845.

James’ convict records indicate that he was 23 years old at the time of transportation, suggesting he was born about 1822.[1] The same record describes his native place as near Devizes, the historic market town in the heart of England’s Wiltshire. Another tells us that his father Joseph and a sister, Eliza, were still living in Wiltshire in 1845.[2]

The convict records also tell us that James worked as a stonemason and rough carpenter. They also tell us that he was single, a Protestant, and that he could read but not write. He was 5’ 9” tall, with a sallow complexion, long head, high brow and broad chin, dark brown hair. He was clean-shaven, with brown eyes and black eyebrows. Unfortunately James was also ‘pock pitted’, ‘stout made’ and had small scars on his left arm below the elbow and on the back of his left hand.[3]

A possible match for James in the 1841 Census is a 20-year-old James Deverell, a stonemason, living in St Pancras in Middlesex with three other apparently unrelated young men. There is also a 20-year-old James Deveril living in Monmouth Street, Bridgewater in nearby Somerset, lodging with an elderly agricultural labourer, Edward Goddard and his wife Ann. This James is described as an ‘excavator’.

The 1841 Census suggests that James’ parents, Joseph and Elizabeth, and his sisters Ann and Eliza, were living in the village of Hilperton which lies on the main road from Devizes to Trowbridge.


On 29 March 1843, James was tried and sentenced to ten years transportation for stealing two sheep from a Mr Landford of Devonshire. The report in Besley’s Devonshire Chronicle and Exeter News, suggests the owner was a William Vicary:

Sheep Stealing — James Deverell, 21, was indicted for stealing two ewe sheep the property of Wm Vicary, of Sampford Peverell, on the 3rd of February last. On the 2nd of February, the prosecutor had 22 sheep in his field, and on the following morning two of them were missing. He found a skin in the field from which the sheep was taken, and another one in the field adjoining, and both these skins were identified as belonging to the sheep stolen. There were tracks in the field which were followed nearly up to the house in which the prisoner lodged. Two adjoining houses were searched, and nothing found. In the house in which Deverell lodged some liver and lights were found concealed under some straw and potatoes. It was proved by a fellow lodger, that this had been brought into the house by the prisoner. It was proved further, that the prisoner was in the habit of wearing a striped smock frock, and that he had been heard to ask for his smock frock before going out on the night the sheep were stolen. When the house was searched but no smock frock was found, but one of a similar description was discovered under a bridge in the neighbourhood, in which a quantity of mutton was wrapped up. This mutton was clearly proved to match the skin of the stolen sheep. There, tracks were also sworn to correspond with the boots which the prisoner had on. The jury returned a verdict of guilty.[4]

 James was duly sentenced to ten years transportation.

Two months later, The Western Times reported that James and another four men convicted of sheep stealing at the same time, together with another five criminals, were removed from the Devon County Gaol and taken by steamer to Pentonville, the Model Prison, in London.[5]


On 22 October 1844, James embarked aboard the Sir George Seymour. Robert Skitch, John Huxtable, Edward Rowden, William Harding, William Nott, George Bell, Henry Watson and William Morrish who had been sentenced to ten years transportation at the same hearings, and who had travelled down to London with James were also on board, as were two poachers, William Davis and John Upjohn who had received the lesser sentence of seven years transportation.

News reports indicate that the vessel’s departure was delayed for a fortnight or so while advice was prepared by the secretary of state on important changes to the system of convict discipline. It eventually departed on 25 November.

On 1 March 1845, the Hobart Courier and Van Diemen’s Land Gazette reported the arrival of the Sir George Seymour in one of its regular items of shipping news. The 850 ton ship arrived in the colony on the 27th of February, bringing with it a handful of free settlers, 344 male convicts under the charge of Surgeon Superintendent, Dr Hampton, and a guard of 30 rank and file under the command of Captain Thompson.[6]

The reporters and authorities in Hobart were impressed with the condition of the ship and with those who sailed aboard. The Courier reported favourable impressions on the 4th of March:

Nothing can exceed the order, regularity, and cleanliness which pervades every part of that beautiful ship the Sir George Seymour. The men, too, are of a very superior order, and the greatest credit is due to Dr Hampton, the Surgeon Superintendent, for the excellent arrangements which are discoverable in their comfort and classification. The vessel proceeds to Port Phillip the latter end of the present week with that portion of the prisoners who have obtained conditional pardons. The remainder, by far the larger portion, ticket-of-leave men and pass-holders, remain in this colony. The Government has rented Mr Solomon’s house in Argyle-street as a hiring depot for these latter men, who are well clad and present altogether a very different appearance from the ordinary class of convicts. Several of the men, we understand, have been already engaged at wages varying from ten to twelve pounds a year; and every facility is afforded by the Surgeon-Superintendent to those who, for the purpose of engaging servants, visit the vessel. It is necessary, however, to be provided with an order from the Colonial Secretary to go on board the ship.[7]

Reporting again, four days later, The Courier repeated its earlier favourable impressions, shedding a little more light on the experimental system from which the ‘Pentonville men’ had emerged:

We noticed in our impression of the 4th instant that the men by the Sir George Seymour were of a superior class to those hitherto sent to this colony. It is impossible for any person who has visited the ship and noticed the cleanliness, the order, and decorum observable in the most marked degree, not to be at once aware of the fact. On Wednesday that portion of the men who have obtained probation passes and tickets, and who are to remain to seek their livelihood in this colony, were landed and marched up to Mr Judah Solomon’s house, at the top of Campbell Street, rented by the Government as a temporary residence for them, and placed under the charge of Mr Holland. Here they were eligible for hire, and amongst them are men of every description of trade and calling. These men are the first draft from Pentonville, who have been subjected to the novel and strict discipline of that establishment. Great interest is felt ‘at home’ by several noblemen and gentlemen, amongst whom are Lords WHARNCLIFE, RICHARD, DEVON, CIMCHESTER, J RUSSELL &c., nor must we omit our Secretary of State, LORD STANLEY, in the result of their trial. They have undergone a discipline which combines instruction and reform, with industrial training: entirely separated from communion with any person but the Governor and officers of the establishment for many months, they are now restored to society and the world, and left to their own exertions and good conduct to maintain themselves with credit to their experimental training. The number landed here is 169, of which 91 are holders of tickets.[8]

The 173 ‘exiles’ not landed in Hobart were destined for Port Phillip, leaving the same day.

Despite the optimism recorded in The Courier, by the end of March the Launceston Examiner noted in its news of Hobart Town that ‘Six of the exiles by the Sir George Seymour, in service, have been sentenced at the police office for drunkenness, indecent conduct, or refusing to work; and it is said an equal number have been punished at their barracks.’[9]

There appears to have been much debate about whether Port Phillip would accept these ‘exiles’ but by June that year The Observer reported that none of those in Port Phillip had been punished for an offence in that colony. It goes on to say that it can hardly be a surprise that those who remained in Van Diemen’s Land had not fared so well given the ‘depraving contact to which they have been exposed — the contact of men hardened in crime, — of a class, moreover, who are united in using the dangerous weapon of ridicule against all whose ameliorated character seems to express a censure upon themselves.’[10] Other articles reported on the disappointment for those who remained in Van Diemen’s Land on finding that the demand for their labour and the reward they could expect in return was not as high as had been expected.

James’s convict conduct record is fairly sparse. He was granted a ticket of leave on 7 March 1845, just days after The George Seymour arrived and possibly on the day of disembarkation. While that was undoubtedly good news for James, it unfortunately means that the record of James’ early days in VDL is sparse indeed. It appears that he went to work for a Mr John Buck in Hobart for six months from 28 April 1845 (but there are a number of short-hand references in the remarks section of James’ conduct record which I don’t understand).

Marriage and children

It is not clear what happened to James once the six months was up but at some point he met a young Irish woman, Catherine Lowry, who had arrived aboard the Rajah in 1841 and been in and out of service and the female factories in Launceston and at Cascades in Hobart ever since. On 3 June 1846 James and Catherine were granted permission to marry and the service took place at St George’s Church of England in Battery Point on the 22nd of June.

Unfortunately Catherine’s days of rebellion and misconduct were far from over. I will write her story separately in the future, but suffice to say that married life could not have been a particularly happy one as Catherine was regularly charged with drunkenness and disorderly behaviour, resulting in various fines and short periods of imprisonment.

Indeed, soon after the pair was married, on 29 July 1846, both James and Catherine faced separation for misconduct. Catherine was sentenced to five days solitary confinement at Cascades for ‘misconduct in being out’ and James was admonished for ‘misconduct in resisting a constable in the execution of his duty’ in Hobart. Then, on 30 September, James was in trouble for disturbing the peace and for assaulting a constable in the execution of his duty. For this he was sentenced to three months imprisonment and hard labour and sent to Oyster Cove.

In December Catherine was again sentenced for ‘misconduct’ but this time the period of separation was considerably longer as she faced three months hard labour at Cascades. Being in the early stages of pregnancy, this sentence must have been particularly difficult to bear, and probably dangerous for the young baby, a son, delivered on 5 June 1847 in Hobart. Not that parenthood was to have much of an impact on Catherine’s conduct, at least not according to the official records.

When baby Joseph was just two months old, James and Catherine were in trouble again. On 2 August 1847 James was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment at Bridgewater and hard labour for having been out after hours. And Catherine, who was described as in service to Deveureaux, was sentenced to eight days solitary confinement at Cascades, again for ‘misconduct’. Presumably she was able to take Joseph with her.

On 19 March 1850 James’ Ticket of Leave was again revoked because he was absent from Muster. There are no further entries until he was granted his Certificate of Freedom on 31 May 1853, ten years and two months after his original conviction.

James and Catherine are known to have had nine children. Joseph, referred to above, was the eldest, followed by Eliza in 1849, Ann in 1850 and James in July 1853.  It seems the family moved to Black Forest, near Deloraine, some time after James’ birth.

Sadly, James died when he was only five months old, on 2 December 1853, from inflammation of the intestinal canal; and five year old Eliza died just five months later, on 16 May 1854, from inflammation of the lungs. Ann died from diphtheria on 7 August 1861. She was eleven. Quite a deal of tragedy for James and Catherine and for their eldest, Joseph. With a string of convictions already behind her for drunk and disorderly behaviour there was little indication that Catherine had the resilience to deal with such tragedy and nor was she likely to receive much in the way of assistance from the local community.

On 10 December 1855, my Great Great Grandmother, Eliza was born. Then followed another James, on 19 June 1858, Thomas William Joseph on 12 December 1860, John on 14 January 1864 and William on 1 July 1866.

While James’ conduct record remained clear, the same cannot be said for Catherine and the marriage clearly suffered. On 1 May 1858 the Cornwall Chronicle carried a notice that read:

I JAMES DEVEREALL do hereby caution all persons particularly residing at Deloraine from harbouring my wife Catherine (well known by the name Catherine Lowry) as I will prosecute all persons, according to law that may be found harbouring her after this notice. James Deverall. Deloraine 1st May 1858.[11]

Catherine was heavily pregnant at the time the notice was published. We can only speculate about what had occurred and how the other children were faring. Indeed, Catherine is sentenced so frequently right up until the year of her death when she absconded from the Launceston Benevolant Asylum, aged 78, that it seems most likely that she was suffering from some mental health condition throughout her adult life. Catherine died at the asylum on 24 May 1898, suffering from senility.

For James, his wife’s behaviour and regular absences from home presumably meant taking on more of the work of raising the family than would otherwise have been the case, in addition to the demands of farming. How fascinating it would be to learn more about his life and how he and his children coped. Eldest son Joseph married in 1868. Did he and his wife, Alice Death, help out with the younger children? Or was much of the work left to my Great Great Grandmother, Elizabeth? The best clue we have is a brief record of welfare assistance granted to Elizabeth in October 1870. She is granted weekly aid of 5/- (for an unspecified period) noting that the ‘Recipient is the eldest daughter, and has the care of her three brothers, two of who are under 12. The father is in Hospital, Launceston and the mother is under sentence of Larceny, 3 months, from 7.10.1870.’

Elizabeth was to marry four years later and have children of her own. Married life was not easy as her husband, Jeremiah Sheehan, was convicted in 1877 for stealing sheep and sentenced to three years prison.

I wonder if any of James and Catherine’s surviving grand-children have heard stories about their parent’s childhood? It would be great to be able to flesh out their story further.

James died on 22 August 1903 at Tongataboo in the Deloraine district. The Examiner simply reported that ‘An old resident of Tongataboo James Deverill, aged 84 years, died at an early hour yesterday morning. His funeral takes place on Saturday’.[12]

[Updated 16 January 2015]

Online resources

James Deverell on my Ancestry Tree

James Deverell’s convict Conduct Record

James Deverell’s Convict Indent

James Deverell’s convict Description Record

Research Tasmania’s Biography of Catherine Lowry


[1] Archives Office of Tasmainia, Conduct Registers of Male Convicts arriving in the period of the Probation System, CON33/1/64, http://search.archives.tas.gov.au/ImageViewer/image_viewer.htm?CON33-1-64,186,39,L,80

[2] Archives Office of Tasmania, Indents of Male Convicts, CON14/1/26, http://search.archives.tas.gov.au/ImageViewer/image_viewer.htm?CON14-1-26,283,162,L,29

[3] Ibid, http://search.archives.tas.gov.au/ImageViewer/image_viewer.htm?CON14-1-26,283,162,L,29; Archive Office of Tasmania, Description Lists of Male Convicts, http://search.archives.tas.gov.au/ImageViewer/image_viewer.htm?CON18-1-44,226,22,L,80

[4] Besley’s Devonshire Chronicle and Exeter News, “Devon Lent Assizes”, April 11, 1843

[5] The Western Times, Exeter, Saturday, May 13, 1843

[6] 1845 Shipping Intelligence.’, The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859), 1 March, p. 2, viewed 14 December, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2949432

[7] 1845 ‘The Courier.’, The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859), 4 March, p. 2, viewed 14 December, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2949408

[8] 1845 ‘The Pentonville Men’, The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859), 8 March, p. 2, viewed 14 December, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2949340

[9] 1845 ‘Hobart Town’, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 29 March, p. 4 Edition: Afternoon, viewed 14 December, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36239545

[10] 1845 ‘Local Intelligence’, The Observer (Hobart, Tas. : 1845 – 1846), 10 June, p. 2, viewed 14 December, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article62134754

[11] “The Cornwall Chronicle,” Launceston, 1835-1880, digitised copy, National Library of Australia via Trove, Wednesday 12 May 1858, p8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65729544

[12] “Examiner,” (Launceston, Tasmania: 1900-1954), digitised copy, Australian Newspapers (1803-1954), Friday 21 August 1903, p2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35560084


2 thoughts on “James Deverell

  1. Hi Lynne,

    I’ve had an email from Mary Steers who recognised the connection between your Catherine Deverell and perhaps my John and Harriett Devereux. Reading “your story” I see that Catherine was “in service to Deveureaux”, then in the same paragraph “On 2 August 1847 James was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment at Bridgewater and hard labour for having been out after hours.”

    My great-great grandfather John Devereux was a convict transported arriving Sydney 30 Oct 1802 on the Atlas II, aged 27. From there to Norfolk Island 23 June 1804 aboard the Lady Nelson. He met his future wife here. Harriet McCathy had been born to First Fleet sailor and volunteer John McCarthy and convict Ann Beardsley (sentenced for stealing a scarf).

    The following is borrowed from a website of the Hartley-Budd clan:

    Harriet as an infant, had accompanied her mother (Ann Beardsley) to N.I. in 1790.
    On the Conclusion of the Settlement at N.I. Harriet now pregnant, departed N.I.(25 Dec.1807) on the Porpoise bound for the Derwent River, Tasmania, arriving 17 Jan.1808.
    John followed on the Estramina, departing N.I. (15 May 1808) arriving Derwent River (5 June 1808).
    Eight days later, on the 13 June 1808, the couple was married by the Rev.Robert Knopwood at St.Davids Church of England, Hobart.
    John came to Tasmania as a free man, being given a Conditional Pardon, on the condition he never return to Ireland.
    He was granted 65 acres of land at Herdsmans Cove near Green Point, Bridgewater in the Derwent Valley, embracing the present town of Bridgewater and the Green Point Estate.

    It appears John forfeited the farm at Green Point, however the circumstances are unknown.
    Circa 1828 the family moved to Black Brush, a few miles south of Green Ponds (Kempton) on the Northern Hobart-Launceston Road.
    In the Hobart Town Courier, 28 Jun.1828, there is an Advertisement from the Sheriffs office, stating that, in the case of Hodgson versus Devereux, the farm at Green Point will be auctioned off.
    On 19 June 1832 their house and land at Black Brush was sold for 600 pounds.

    Although this story does not go on to say where John and Harriet went after Green Ponds (Kempton), I know A Devereux house still stands on the corner of Cobbs Hill Rd.and Sorrell St.Bridgewater. You can view this on Google Maps. The present owners have been doing it up.

    Family believe this was the family home.

    John and Harriet had 8 children with my great grandfather, the sixth child Philip born 1822 at Bridgewater. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only Devereux family that lived in the Bridgwater region..

    Issue of John and Harriet:
    1. Harriet (1808-1869) Died – 19 Mar.1869, Tasmanian Inn, Campbell St. Hobart.
    2. Alexander (1811-) Ended up at Stanthorpe, Qld. where some of his descendants still live)
    3. Charles (1813-)
    4. Mary Ann (1815-1857) Died Hobart
    5. Ann (1818-c1840) Died Melbourne
    6. Philip (1822-1910) Ended up in Cygnet, tas
    7. John William (1823-1870) died Branxholm, Vic.
    8. Peter (1825-1886) Died Brighton * * * * * * * * * * *
    Died – 14 July 1886 (Aged 69 yrs.& 6 mths.), Brighton Tasmania.
    Buried – Brighton Plains Cemetery. (Headstone moved to St.Marks, Pontville).

    So perhaps Catherine worked for my GG-Grandparents.

    Hope this helps.

    Regards Jennifer

    • Thanks very much Jennifer. It would be great to confirm the connection – I’ll let you know if I discover more. In any event, I am sure your ancestors knew a number of mine as there are a few who were part of the first settlement on Norfolk Island and who subsequently moved to Bridgewater and Black Brush. Thank you for sharing so much of your story. Cheers, Lynne


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