Hertfordshire Genealogy

Answers to Questions


HILL, Transported to Australia, 1837


July, 2011




David Sinclair (daveandjean @t ozemail.com.au) of  Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, writes: I am trying to trace William Hill who was convicted of stealing sacks of coal at the Hertford Quarter Sessions in June 1836.  His sentence was transportation for life and he travelled to Tasmania on the Blenheim in 1837.

I am unable to find any record of William prior to his court appearance and can not therefore determine where he lived.  On his convict record he states that he was married to Catherine at Hertford and states his home address as near Hertford and occupation as farmer.  Trying to trace Catherine has also proved negative.  "Transported beyond the seas" does not help with his home details and a recent visit to the National Archives (while on holiday) was also fruitless.  Ancestry.com is also proving fruitless without more details.

Can you offer any advice as where I might find some record of either William or Catherine.

Then, as now, there was often confusion between the town of Hertford and the County of Hertford, and one must also allow some latitude in documents from a period when most people could not read or write. The matter is complicated because William Hill is quite a common name - which means I can't be certain the William I have identified below is the right one, although it is very likely.

William was 30 years old when convicted at Hertford in 1836, which suggests that he was born in about 1806. Familysearch is a very important free web site you do not mention having used and which Ancestry would prefer you not to know about. It provides the following information:

William Hills was baptised at Aspenden on 8th April 1807, the son of Thomas and Mary Hills

William Hills married Catherine Warren on 21st April 1832 at Aspenden

There was no suitable William Hill(s) living in Hertfordshire at the time of the 1841 census, and no William Hill(s) was recorded anywhere in England with the place of birth as Aspenden in the 1851, 1861, 1871, and 1881 censuses.

Because we do not know her year and place of birth tracking Catherine in the census is more difficult - particularly as the right one would not have been living with her husband - and may even have remarried. A preliminary search of various records turned up three "possibilities" - which may all prove to be irrelevant.

The Catherine Warren who was baptised at Therfield in 1804 is almost certainly the Catherine who married Thomas Gatward at Therfield in 1825 - and so she can be eliminated.

According to Familysearch Faith Ells, daughter of William and Catherine was born and baptised at Harpenden in 1840. FreeBMD records that this was registered at Hemel Hempstead as Faith Hill in June 1840 (Ref 6 516). Something is very odd here as in the 1841 and 1851 censuses Faith is shown as the daughter of George and Mary Hill. Could Faith be an illegitimate child - and Catherine's absent husband's name was given as the father to make it look respectable when she was baptised - while Faith was passed to relatives to bring up. The birth certificate might clarify the apparent "error". A check of the Harpenden parish register could also be appropriate. It would seem that Faith Hill married in 1869 in the St Albans area and if you want to follow this up this line of research further she should have given the name of her father on her marriage certificate. However if she was brought up by George since the age of 1 she might well give his name even if he was not her true father.

A John Fetstead Hill was baptised and buried at St Paul's, Kings Walden, (St Pauls Walden) in 1845 son of a Catharine Hill. No father's name given - so could the mother be William's abandoned Catherine?

To conclude, the William Hills who was born and married at Aspenden, a few miles north of Hertford, fits the bill pretty well and appears to have been absent from England after the date of his transportation. It is not clear what happened to his wife Catherine. The full marriage register entry might say if she was not from Aspenden when she married William.

I note from Pigot's 1839 Directory that Edward and Robert  Lawrence, from whom the coal was stolen, were barge owners at Old Cross Wharf, Hertford, and are also listed as corn and coal merchants. All coal delivered to Hertford at that time would have been brought by barge up the River Lea. 400lbs of coal is a lot more than the odd bucketful - you would really need a horse and cart to help move it. Perhaps there are details of the trial at HALS - who may also have unindexed documents relating to the village of Aspenden which could mention the Hill(s) family.

David replied: I had not considered the Hills option when looking for William but your rationale explains a lot particularly why I couldn't locate William or Catherine anywhere in Hertfordshire.  I have now started researching the Hills option and if it is our William can trace the family a bit further back.

William did petition for Catherine to immigrate to Van Diemans Land in 1840 but this was refused on the basis that he was "not eligible".  He subsequently remarried (an ex convict from Scotland) and took up farming when he gained his freedom.

As an aside William was convicted of sheep stealing in 1862 (although all indications are he was not guilty of the crime) and incarcerated at the infamous Port Arthur Penitentiary.  We loose him again after his release.

It may be a complete red herring and a different Catherine Hill(s), but in 1840 Catherine would have known William wanted her to go to Australia to join him - which might explain the Faith Ells/Hills baptism - as any child accompanying her would presumably have to be his, and she would have a certificate to "prove it."

By the time of the 1841 census she would have learnt that she would would not be going to join her husband and she went ?where? leaving the child with a possible relative? An interesting mystery! The misspelling of the surname possibly meant that she could not read or write and might not have realised that the baptism certificate (and possible the birth certificate) would have shown that William could not have been the father. Was one or other sent to Australia to confirm they had a family - and this was the reason for him not being eligible? Was approval more likely to be given if there was evidence of a family? Or were most such applications turned down?

August 2011

Carole MacPherson (macs260769 @t btinternet.com) of Cliveden, Bucks, wrote: Faith Hill born 1840 was my great grandmother.  She seems to have had a liaison in the mid 1860s with the farmer George Saunders of Agnells Farm, Redbourn resulting in the birth of my grandmother Jane Faith Hill (later Saunders) in 1866 in Luton Faith married G Saunders in 1869, as you say, but I have never found out what happened to George's first wife Fanny Martin.  They had their last child in 1864, Walter James.

For my comments on this message, and more information (and a picture) on George Saunders, Faith Hills and their family see SAUNDERS, Redbourn, 19th Century

September 2011

David Sinclair (daveandjean @t ozemail.com.au) of  Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, has investigated further and writes: I have revisited the Tasmanian Archives and viewed the register of convict applications to bring out their family.  Unfortunately this is exactly what it says it is - a register - and does not contain associated documentation.  Surprisingly there are not a huge number of applications listed and William Hill's is one of the few that has an outcome recorded in the respective column of the register - this simply says "not elligible".  I have been unable to determine what might have caused this response from the authorities.  The vast majority of names in the register do no have any details in the outcome column.

William Hill's convict record does show that he had two very minor indiscretions recorded about the time of his application so perhaps this was the reason for the refusal.

Unfortunately this throws no further light on William Hill's case, or whether the mysterious baptism at Hemel Hempstead (I have not seen the original documents) is relevant.

The low level of applications may be that most of the convicts were younger unmarried men. The lower courts, at least for the more minor offenses, may have been more aware that sending a husband to Australia could leave a wife and children on poor relief, while the wife might be a pressure for the offender to reoffend. It would be interesting to know if any statistics has been produced, in the UK or in Australia, about the percentage of convicts who were married at the time they were transported, and whether they they already had children. Information on earlier UK previous convictions which did not lead to transportation could also be relevant.

Carole MacPherson (macs260769 @t btinternet.com)  adds: I have this week received the death cert for Frances (Fanny) Saunders and can confirm that it is her, so thank you to the correspondent who pointed me in the correct Christian name direction.  She died of phthisis which I gather is the old name for TB.  This still does not answer exactly what problems beset Agnells Farm at that time, in which Faith Hill was somewhat involved, but it is another fitted piece of the puzzle.

FELLS, Harpenden, circa 1840

Another case of variable spelling


Before Carole purchased the birth certificate for Faith Hills I decided to carry out another check - and this shows that the Faith Ells baptised at Harpenden in 1840 was unconnected with the William Hills, described above. The following index entries suggest a different story:

William Fell (son of William Fell) married Catherine Day (daughter of Abednigo Day) at Harpenden in (no day/month given) 1840 (familysearch)

William Fell marriage to Catherine Day registered at St Albans March 1840 (FreeBMD)

Faith Fells - birth registered St Albans March 1840 (FreeBMD)

Faith Ells - born 9th March 1840, baptised 5th April  at Harpenden, daughter of William and Catherine  (familysearch)

Ruth Fitts - infant buried 16th Jun 1840 at Harpenden St Nicholas (Herts Burial Index)

Ruth Fells - death registered St Albans June 1840 (FreeBMD)

William & Catherine Fells (both aged 20, no children) were living in Chapel Row, Harpenden (1841 census)

It should be noted that "Faith" and "Ruth" have similar word shapes, and that the "Fai" of "Faith" could be confused with the "Ru" of "Ruth" in some untidy hand writting styles.

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