BLAZELEY, Norton, near Baldock, early 19th century

October 2001

Roslyn Burke of Leeton, New South Wales, is searching for information on Reuben Blazely who was transported to Tasmania, Australia in 1834, age 21years. He was sentenced 14 Oct 1833 to 7 years trans. for stealing a bag of barley. By his description he had several tattoos and my research on tattoos has led me to believe that he may have had a "common law wife" (maybe 2) and at least one child. These are the descriptions of his tattoos.

Can you please advise how I go about finding if there was a child born in 1831 and where can I find more information on the Blazelys.

Whatever the current customs and practice may be, I think it very unlikely that anyone would have been tattooed in rural Hertfordshire in the early 19th century (although if anyone has definite evidence that it occurred I would be most interested to hear details). All the 19th century dictionaries and encyclopaedias in my library suggest that among Europeans tattooing was confined to seamen, and sometimes soldiers. If it was used to indicate fidelity at that time I would guess it was confined to mobile, mainly illiterate, working class men who were in a position to have a "wife" in every port. Clearly there would be no need for such a display in the small towns and villages of North Hertfordshire where everyone knew everyone. If Reuben's tattoos mean what you say he may well have been a sailor or in the army and moved around. As such the names may have no association with Hertfordshire - and I don't really think I can make any useful comment about the information they contain.

Blazeley would appear to be a rare surname strongly associated with Hertfordshire - and over 40% of people with that name at the time of the 1881 census were born in Hertfordshire. Most are linked to the Baldock/Hitchin area, including Norton, which you mention in your title.

The only information I could find in my files about Reuben Blazely relates to his conviction, as recorded in Transported beyond the Seas, and this shows he was sentenced to 7 years transportation at the Michaelmas Herts Quarter Sessions, in 1833, then aged 22 (slightly different to your information) for stealing 4 bushel of barley worth ten shillings, the property of Thomas Peacock, yeoman. The offence apparently took place at Willian (also near Baldock). He was one of 11 Hertfordshire prisoners transported to Van Diemen's Land on the John Barry (captain John Robson, surgeon John Osborne) sailing on 4th April 1834 and arriving on 11th August. There may well be further relevant court records at HALS.

Reuben was not the only Blazeley to be transported from the area. In 1842 20 year old Squire Blazely was transported to Van Diemen's Land for 7 years stealing some lead from Vickris Pryor, at Baldock. Perhaps he was a brother - and it might be possible to find him (hopefully still living with his parents?) in the 1841 census.

Using familysearch and the British Vital Records Index I located two other Reuben in the area and, bearing the comparative rarity of the given name, they may well be nephews or cousins of your Reuben - and hence possible leads to his ancestry. They were:

Reuben BLAZELEY, son of Poulton Blazeley, baptised at Baldock on 4th April 1836

Reuben BLAZELEY, son of William Blazeley, baptised at Hitchin on 28th July 1837

The sources may well contain details of siblings, etc. It could be useful to look in the parish registers to check the fathers' occupations and possibly address of the parents - and also track them down in the 1841 and 1851 census to see if this gives ideas as to how to find out more about your Reuben's relatives and hopefully parents.

As you live in Leeton, you should be able to get access to all the documents I have mentioned (except the court records) on microfilm at your nearest LDS Family History Centre which is at 69 Yambil St., Griffith, New South Wales. (For some reason familysearch does not give the phone number.)

May 2002

Roslyn Burke writes saying Firstly I would like to thank you for the information you gave. It has been very helpful. Since then I have had a few Blazely descendants email me and we have built up quite a lot of information. The Squire Blazely you mentioned turned out to be Reuben's nephew. We have obtained his Tasmanian convict record but sadly have been unable to find out what happened to him after his release.

Australian Convicts and Tattoos

Regarding the matter of tattoos. I found an article by David Kent from a University in N.S.W. who has done an extensive study of convict tattoos. He studied all convicts who arrived in NSW in 1831 and found that 33.7% of males from England had at least one tattoo, very few of these were seamen or sailors. A lot of them appeared to be done after sentence and while awaiting transportation, the most common being their own name or initials. These were frequently combined with those of loved ones or family and sometimes with a symbol such as an anchor (a symbol of hope and constancy rather than having a nautical meaning), a heart, a cross etc. He also found that many already had the tattoos when they were arrested and that those convicts with tattoos were more likely to come from industrial areas rather than rural. Another interesting thing was that tattoos of symbols on the hands often identified the wearer as belonging to some group or society. Also 11.5% of female convicts from England had tattoos. It appears that the study of convict tattoos has been overlooked by many scholars and a lot of information is to be gained from them.

This is a most interesting bit of information and I am cross-referencing this under "Topics." Further information is available on the  Convict Tattoos page of the Convicts to Australia Site although the links to further information appear to be broken.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

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