SMITH, Ridge, Transportation in 1798

October, 2009




Linda Hanbury (mctag01 @t of Australia writes: My ancestor Elizabeth Smith was sentenced at Hertford Assizes to 7 years transportation to Australia in 1798.  She was about 19 yrs old and I don't know anything of her life prior to that.  What I'm mainly trying to find is what her crime was.

She sailed to Australia on the ship "Speedy" in 1799 and much confusion exists in Australian records as there was another Elizabeth Smith on that same ship and the two are constantly confused..

Hertfordshire transportations to Australia have been indexed in Transported beyond the Sea and this records that Elizabeth Smith was sentenced for house breaking and taking from a locked chest stockings, gowns, petticoats, shawls, shifts, hankerchiefs, sheet, ribbon, cap, linen and cotton to the value of 2 pounds 14 shillings and 3 pence. This was taken from the house of William Prior, or Ridge, and in terms of value of goods taken was well above average.

HALS should have more detailed information on the case - and if so they may be able to supply copies for a fee, and without more information it could be very difficult to untangle the possible Elizabeth Smiths who could be your ancestor. When someone has emigrated from England there are sometimes important clues in the records of their new country (see My Ancestors Emigrated from Hertfordshire) and Australian records are often more helpful than the equivalent UK records in asking for parents' names, place of birth, etc. However, for a young unmarried woman being sent out as a convict, additional information from such sources can be limited.

It is important to realise that around 1800 there are virtually no surviving records which relate to young unmarried women apart from their baptism - but even this is not certain - see Where is my ancestor's baptism before 1837?. The earliest census where names are recorded in 1841 and virtually no newspapers to report any court case.

On the information I have at the moment it is far from clear where Elizabeth Smith was living at the time of the crime (assuming she was not homeless), much less where she was born - and Ridge is on the boundary of Hertfordshire and Middlesex. A 19 year old young woman, if she was in employment, might well be working as a domestic servant some way from her place of birth. Elizabeth could have been working for William Prior and stole goods from his house - but technically that would be larceny and not breaking and entering. Another possibility is that this was not the first conviction and there are further clues relating to earlier crimes. On the other hand someone who was working away from the area where they would be known might well use an assumed name so that previous offences would be unknown to the court.

If you get the information on the court case from HALS, and let me have full details of any relevant Australian records, I may be able to advise further - but the odds of getting a clear cut answer are not very good.

Page created October 2009