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Thomas Burdeu

Thomas Burdew, one of 230 convicts transported on the England, 06 June 1835

Name, Aliases & Gender

Name: Thomas Burdeu
Aliases: Arthur, Acteson, Burdeu, Burdeu
Gender: m

Birth, Occupation & Death

Date of Birth: 21st October, 1818
Occupation: Store keeper
Date of Death: 7th February, 1898
Age: 79 years

Life Span

Life span

Male median life span was 58 years*

* Median life span based on contributions

Conviction & Transportation

Sentence Severity

Sentence Severity

Sentenced to 7 years

Crime: Pickpocket
Convicted at: Surrey Assizes
Sentence term: 7 years
Ship: England
Departure date: 6th June, 1835
Arrival date: 28th September, 1835
Place of arrival New South Wales
Passenger manifest Travelled with 230 other convicts


Primary source: Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 90, Class and Piece Number HO11/10, Page Number 76 Ancestor, Vol 24, No. 8, Summer 1999, Page 2 - 5 "Thomas Burdeu and the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance"
Source description: This record is one of the entries in the British convict transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Queensland from British Home Office (HO) records which are available on microfilm as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.

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Community Contributions

Jack White on 10th June, 2013 wrote:

A story of theft, murder and injustice, of convicts, lawlessness and freedom follows. It is the story of a man who at birth was named Arthur Acteson but at death was known as Thomas Burdeu, a man who at the age of sixteen was convicted of pickpocketing and was transported to New South Wales for seven years; a man who was twice married but who ‘lost’ his first wife; a man who suffered terrible fears as he awaited execution for a crime he did not commit; a man who became a respectable storekeeper on the goldfields of Ballarat.

Arthur Acteson was born in 1818, the third son of Thomas Penrose Acteson and his
wife Jane. The family lived in the East End
of London where Thomas worked as a
cooper on the London Docks having moved
from Cork, in Ireland, where Actesons had
lived from the mid seventeenth century.His ancestors had been Church of Ireland clergy, of humble origin and humble means, one or two of whom had made ‘good marriages’. Thomas’ father, Arthur, was a master cooper and Freeman of the City of Cork, but for some reason Thomas Penrose Acteson left Ireland’ about 181112. Jane Acteson gave birth to two daughters after Arthur but then she faded from history as Thomas later married Frances and had another family of nine children. Arthur would have been twelve or so when his first half sibling was born and three or four years later he was arrested in the street for helping hit ’ himself to a lady’s scarf. Horrified, Arthur gave ‘the name Thomas Burdeu which he used for the rest of his life, except for one significant occasion.

In the late 18tth and early 19tth centuries, over one hundred offences carried the death penalty. Embarrassed by the large numbers of prisoners in gaols and hulks, the government decided to transport criminals to New South Wales and Van Van Dieman’s Land, because the United States settlements refused to take any more convicts after the Revolutionary War ended in 1781.

The despair of his family when the teenager Arthur Acteson/Thomas Burdeu was transported to seven years servitude in the colony of New South Wales can only be imagined.

Four years were spent as an assigned servant, probably in the Windsor district of New South Wales, and then, in 1842, Thomas Burdeu was granted a ticket ofleave. Using the name Thomas Arthur Acteson, Arthur/Thomas married Emma Arnold in 1843, in the parish of St. Matthew, Windsor2. The church became famous, being one of a few designed by Francis Greenway, an emancipist, who was the architect of so many highly regarded buildings erected in and around Sydney under the governorship of Lachlan Macquarie. At present, however, very little is known about Emma.

In December 1848 and during 1849 news began to filter through to the colonies of eastern Australia that gold discoveries had been made near San Francisco, in California. There was a rush of eager men to the ports of Sydney and Newcastle, though it was not easy to obtain money to pay for a passage3 and the press tried to discourage people, particularly women, from leaving4. The population of free settlers in New South Wales was small and the authorities did not want to lose them. Cut throat competition between shipowners caused problems for passengers: costs were high and conditions were deplorable. Unqualified doctors and inexperienced sailors put passengers’ safety at risk and great were the sighs of relief when ships finally reached San Francisco.

Together with a few friends, early in November 1849, Thomas Burdeu boarded the vessel Victoria; a barque built in Nova Scotia in 1848. Weighing 589 tons the ship squeezed in over two hundred passengers. Arguments between passengers and the captain, and port regulations, delayed its departure until 14 November. The voyage to San Francisco took ninety six days, and their stores barely lasted. On reaching Honolulu on 21 January 1850 the ship’s complement was put onto half rations which caused great anger. The Victoria dropped anchor in San Francisco harbour on 18 Februarv5, the crew and passengers delighted their journey was over.

California was settled by the Spanish who moved northward from Mexico in the 17th century, Finding Indians, they set up missions to try to convert them to Catholicism. By 1846 San Francisco was a small trading village. At the end of the war with Mexico, in 1848, California was ceded to the United States of America, Immigration to California began almost immediately and when news of gold discoveries trickled out immigrants from all over the world hastened to the state. By July 1849 more than 5000 had arrived6.

A group of rogues and ruffians known as the Hounds caused fear among the honest citizens of San Francisco during 1849. They swaggered about, picked fights, and committed robberies and murders. A series of incidents culminated in the people taking the law into their own hands in July 1849 when a people’s court punished the Hounds severely for their bad behaviou7.

By the end of 1850, the year in which Burdeu had arrived, 25,000 people lived in that ‘wild, active, excited city’.8 More brazen crimes occurred that year, carried out by violent men who banded together: tried by corrupt juries they were freed to commit further atrocities.

The mining areas of California stretched over seven hundred miles and fugitives would disappear, to be sheltered by fellows only too happy to provide alibis for them. They became unrecognisable by growing beards, wearing different clothes and adopting aliases. They soon became known as Sydney Coves or Ducks. Unruly and reckless, with no respect for law and order, they attacked people with impunity, many fearing ‘nothing but the gallows.” Because the judicial system was in its infancy and because it was so lax, there was little chance that any of them would in fact face the gallows. Collected in an area known as Sydney Town, the Ducks were feared by the good citizens of San Francisco and were despised for their low living, drinking, gambling, lewd dancing and depravity.10 Much was exaggerated at the time, in the press and by word of mouth, but there is no doubt their behaviour was disgraceful. Some were hardened criminals from Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales: others were their acquaintances, but they gave a very bad name to people from Australia: often unfairly.

San Francisco was incorporated by an act of the legislature on 15 April 1850 and on 1 May the citizens approved its charter and elected its first officers.” An almost complete lack of infrastructure and a wave of huge fires, combined with general mismanagement of affairs, caused severe upheaval and disruption during the 1850s. Seventy five police, only, tried to control 23,000 people ‘from all the ends of the earth’12

Thornas Burdeu and his mate William Windred, together with other men from New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, set up camp in the dry diggings near a settlement called Auburn,13 where they began prospecting. Thomas managed to collect a significant amount of gold dust, but his association with the Sydney Ducks did him a great disservice, when, on the night of 19 February 1851, a popular storekeeper, C.J. Jansen, was bashed and robbed by two assailants. Neighbours claimed to have seen a fellow known as ‘English’ Jim Stuart making off with another man. A search failed to find them but as ‘English’ Jim was wanted for a murder near Sacramento several men were taken, by the police, to Jansen’s bedside for identification. He pointed out two   both Australian   Burdeu and Windred.

Protesting their innocence Burdeu and Windred were hustled off to the basement of San Francisco’s new City Hall which was quickly surrounded by shouting men demanding they be hanged.

Burdeu was in an invidious position: he was identified as ‘English’ Jim Stuart, so was suspected of murder. Such was the anger over the assault on Jansen, there was a real fear the pair might be dragged out and lynched, as a fellow called Sam Brannon urged. They were probably saved from lynching when one man, William Coleman,14 managed to persuade the mob that instead of hanging them there and then, the people should form a court and

Susan Patterson on 22nd October, 2013 wrote:

Refer to Actesons In Ireland and Beyond by Susan E Acteson Patterson.
He went to California where he was arrested for assault which he denied and then for a murder which he didn’t commit. Fortunately for him the real murderer was found before Burdeu was found guilty. He was born Arthur Acteson, son of Thomas Penrose Acteson and his wife Jane. His descendants believe he changed his name when arrested for pickpocketing! When he first married in Windsor NSW he used his birth name.

Susan Patterson on 25th October, 2013 wrote:

Yes Jack White has copied directly from the text of my book Actesons in Ireland and Beyond! Susan Patterson

Convict Changes History

Jack White on 10th June, 2013 made the following changes:

source, alias1, alias2, alias3, alias4, date of birth 21st October, 1818, date of death 7th February, 1898, gender, occupation, crime

Susan Patterson on 22nd October, 2013 made the following changes:

surname Burdeu (prev. Burdew), alias3 Burdeu (prev. Burdue)

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