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Joseph Cromack

Joseph Cromack, one of 200 convicts transported on the Hercules, 14 June 1832

Name, Aliases & Gender

Name: Joseph Cromack
Aliases: none
Gender: -

Birth, Occupation & Death

Date of Birth: -
Occupation: -
Date of Death: -
Age: -

Life Span

Life span

Median life span was 61 years*

* Median life span based on contributions

Conviction & Transportation

Sentence Severity

Sentence Severity

Sentenced to 7 years

Crime: -
Convicted at: York West Riding Quarter Session
Sentence term: 7 years
Ship: Hercules
Departure date: 14th June, 1832
Arrival date: 16th October, 1832
Place of arrival New South Wales
Passenger manifest Travelled with 199 other convicts


Primary source: Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 89, Class and Piece Number HO11/8, Page Number 362
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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Anonymous on 23rd July, 2011 wrote:

Joseph Cromack 1801-1882

Joseph, the ninth and youngest child of James and Grace Cromack, was born on 18 November 1801 at Little Preston in the parish of Kippax, where the family had recently moved from Rothwell, and baptised in Rothwell parish church on 3 December.  He became a miner and in 1825 married Ann, the daughter of John Smith, a local waterman.  Their first child, Abraham, was born the following year.  At this point Joseph’s story diverged from that of his brothers.  William, John and Thomas Cromack remained in their neighbouring miner’s cottages in Little Preston for forty years, with children, then grandchildren, and then lodgers to share their homes.  Joseph and Ann moved to Woodlesford, in the parish of Rothwell, where Joseph began to associate with local criminals.  The first crime to bring him to the attention of the local constable was a raid on a henhouse belonging to James Rawling, a shoemaker of Rothwell, on the night of 23 August 1829.  Rawling later described the break-in to the local magistrates:  “I and my Wife were awoke about two o’clock in the morning by a great noise – We got up and opened the chamber window and looked out and saw four men coming from the Hen Roost I can’t say exactly who they were but I think the two Prisoners William Bowers and John Bean the younger were two of them.  It was not very dark, there was a moon but it was rather overcast.  I called out to them but received no answer – The four men then went away and I and my two apprentices went and examined the Hen Roost and found it broken open.  The door posts and door were pulled out and some of the Bricks – and we found five Hens & a Cock and a Gander missing”.  His wife Mary testified: “I recollect the morning of last Sunday three weeks when our Hen Roost was broken open – I and my husband were awoken about two o’clock in the morning by a noise – We got up and saw four men – the Prisoner William Bowers was one – He was standing close to the House Door and I was looking out of the Chamber window over him and saw him clearly – He had two Stones in his Hand – He came under the window & looked up at me for a considerable time before I could speak for fear, at last I said to my Husband there was a man – I am certain it was the Prisoner that man”.

James Rawlings traced three of his hens to Brotherton, where John Bean had given them to a local woman, Mrs Maskell, in return for board and lodging.  Joseph Cromack, perhaps feeling it would be better for him to confess his crime rather than wait for the inevitable arrest, went to a Rothwell gamekeeper, Abraham Stead.  Stead told the magistrates “yesterday morning week I was present at William Walton’s at Rothwell with the Prisoner Joseph Cromack – He came to my house in the morning about five o’clock and called me up and said that he would inform about Mr Evans’ sheep being stolen and other things – We then went together to Mr Evans of Fleet ….. and after that we went to Mr Walton’s to inform them about a sheep they had had stolen – After telling Mr Walton about his sheep – He then began about some fowls that had been stolen from a house between Carlton and Rothwell a shoemakers – Mr Jamison of Rothwell asked him if he had anything more to tell – He said he had – “John Bean the younger of Woodlesford William Bowers John Ellis and myself stole five hens and a cock and a gander from a house in Carlton Lane between Rothwell & Carlton.  We pulled down the doorposts some time in the dead of the night”.  There were Thomas Walton, John Walton and William Walton and Mr Jamison present besides myself – Mr Jamison told him both before and after he had said this that he need not expect anything for telling nor to be let off for it – and the Prisoner then said he did not want anything”.

Joseph, along with John Bean and William Bowers, were tried at the West Riding Quarter Sessions in Leeds on 22 October 1829 and sentenced to six months’ hard labour in the Wakefield House of Correction.  It must have been a period of great hardship for his young family, who would have lost their home as well as their breadwinner, as miner’s families lived in tied cottages.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after his release before Joseph reoffended.  One morning in January 1832 the parish constable, Joseph Howson, arrived at Joseph’s home with a search warrant, and found a ham and part of a flitch of bacon, which had been stolen from the home of Matthew Watson, a Swillington labourer.  The constable took Joseph back to the House of Correction, and it was probably the last his family ever saw of him.

The record of his examination before the magistrates reads: “The Examination of Joseph Cromack of Woodlesford in the said Riding being charged with having feloniously entered the House of Mathew Watson of Swillington on Sunday morning the 15th Day of January 1832 and stealing and carrying away a Gun, part of a Flitch of Bacon and some Bread.  Upon the Execution of a Search Warrant a Ham & other Bacon being found upon the premises of Joseph Cromack and being asked how he came by the Ham which is produced and identified by certain marks made by James Watson – says that He bought the Pig from which it was taken and fed it – bought it in Leeds, can’t justly tell when – knows nothing of the Gun.” However, at his second trial at the Quarter Sessions in Pontefract on 2 April 1832 he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.

While Joseph was imprisoned at Wakefield awaiting trial, a new threat to the poor working class people of England had arrived in the country.  Asiatic cholera had first struck a house near the quay in Sunderland in October 1831, and for the next twelve months it gradually spread throughout the country.  All arrivals from Russian ports were quarantined, but as no-one at the time understood how the disease spread they were unable to contain it.  It was reported that children playing in the streets at midday could be dead by evening, and the poor in their squalid unsanitary housing were its main victims.  The cholera reached Wakefield in June 1832, with the first case at the House of Correction during the night of June 24, dying the following afternoon.  Bodies were carried through carts in the middle of the night to a pit in Vicarage Close, into which quicklime was poured.  On July 27 Dr Crowther reported 72 cases of cholera in the House of Correction, with 15 deaths.  At that time, 405 people were in custody, but 125 were released to avoid infection.  In Wakefield town there were 62 deaths out of a population of 12,250; in Leeds 702 people died, the total for the West Riding being 1,416.

Joseph Cromack was at least fortunate enough to leave the House of Correction before the cholera struck.  He was transferred after his trial to York Castle, from where he was sent to the prison hulks moored on the Thames.  He arrived at the hulk “Cumberland” at Chatham on 21 April 1832, where the register notes “conduct and disposition bad”.  The only protection that weak and vulnerable prisoners had from the more violent and depraved ones during the hours of darkness when they were locked up below decks was that they were graded according to their perceived character, but Joseph was unfortunately classified towards the lower end of the scale.

The prison hulks undoubtedly represent the lowest point in Britain’s penal history.  Living conditions were filthy, food provided was inadequate both in quantity and quality (for several days a week prisoners were made to drink the river water) and the work was hard.  During the day, prisoners were led ashore in irons to work on the enlargement and refurbishment of London’s docks, a never-ending task due to the rapid expansion of the British Empire.  Some social commentators of the day were of the opinion that many working class people would gladly commit crimes to get themselves transported to Australia, a land of opportunity, if it were not for the one or two miserable years that most prisoners had to spend in the hulks.  Joseph was extremely fortunate in spending less than two months on the Cumberland, not least because the cholera had arrived in Chatham.  Letters to the Admiralty around 20 June requested that the Cumberland should be towed to a place of quarantine, as the cholera was raging on board and the ship’s doctor was unable to prevent it spreading further.  An additional letter reported that the ship’s doctor, David Conway, had himself died of the cholera.  Joseph had already left by this time: on 9 June he was transferred to HMS Hercules, which left Chatham for the Downs to await favourable winds, and on 19 June the ship sailed for Australia.  Two hundred male prisoners were on board, of whom only two died during the journey.  The Hercules arrived at Port Jackson, later renamed Sydney, on 16 October 1832.

The only report of the voyage which has survived is that of the ship’s doctor, John Edwards.  He wrote: 

“Whilst fitting out at Deptford we were fortunate in totally escaping from the Prevailing Cholera.  To what cause this immunity may be attributed it is not easy to say: for the predisposing causes of disease were not at that time wanting.  The Guard at Deptford embarked under the unfavourable circumstances of being thoroughly drenched for hours in the rain, and the weather which on board too damp to give them the means of keeping themselves dry.  Irrefutancy of living also exposed them to disease.  Three cases of Diarrhoea Rapulosa did occur, and at first caused considerable alarm, but, as will be seen in Numbers 1, 2, and 3 they required merely a few doses of opium &c to subdue the fight very soon passed away.

At Sheerness the weather was also of the same unfavourable description while the ship lay there.  It was extremely difficult to keep the decks tolerably dry; this circumstance and sudden change in the quantity and quality of their diet brought into the sick list about 11 cases of diarrhoea of the simplest description, No. 8 is a type of the malady, and as the others were so perfectly similar in symptoms, treatment and result, I have thought it superfluous to file the journal with repetitions of the same complaint.  Amongst these cases, not one assumed the slightest appearance of the essential character of Cholera.

On leaving Port, while sea sickness prevailed on board about half a dozen cases of Diarrhoea occurred of the same description as the last mentioned and no. 10 will serve to show the lowest form. In truth they might have been left to themselves without much risk.

We were unfortunate in embarking one case of Ph… Pulmonals (No. 11) who continued to pass muster without suspicion, these man are so anxious to get away from the rigid discipline of the Hulks that they endeavour to conceal their complaints.  He was however soon obliged to apply to the hospital, but the progress of the disease was rapid and fatal.

Another unfortunate case occurred of a prematurely old and imbecile creature (No. 12) who sunk under a general breaking down of the Constitution – the immediate cause of his death was effusion into or Oedema of the lungs.

No. 6 is a chronic case of what is treated as syphilitic iritis : Contraction of the nis and spacity of the capsule of the lens so as the consequence of the long sub inflammatory action without I fear much chance of improvement.

One case of Scurvy (14) occurred more remarkable for its obstinacy than its severity, it yielded almost immediately on arriving in Port and getting a supply of fresh meat and vegetables, a case of scorbutic gums also appeared but gave no trouble, a few ounces of lemon juice topically and internally removed it.

The numerous cases under different titles in the daily sick book which do not appear in the Journal were for the most part of so ephemeral or slight in character as to require scarcely any medical or surgical treatment, and would not under circumstances of an ordinary nature been exempted from duty.

Slight dyspeptic afflictions, obstipations, and simulated cases of the same description were very general and caused a large demand in our laxation class of Medicine.”

The convicts carried on the Hercules were listed in the indenture of all the ship’s cargo rather than a passenger list.  Joseph’s description on the indent is: Age 28, Protestant, married with four children, native place Yorkshire, miner; height 5’6 ½”, ruddy complexion, sandy brown hair, light blue eyes, nose small, scar right thumb, scar back of middle finger of left hand.  On arrival in the penal colony he was set to work on Camden Park, then the largest sheep farm in the country, belonging to John Macarthur and his family.

John Macarthur was the son of a Plymouth mercer who had joined the New South Wales Corps and arrived in the colony in 1790 as an ensign.  With land and convict labour freely available he started up a small sheep farm.  Following a quarrel with Governor King, he was sent back to England for trial, and had the presence of mind to take with him his wool samples, leaving the farm in the capable hands of his wife Elizabeth.  Macarthur was acquitted at his court martial and, as the wars in Europe had made it impossible for England to import wool from Spain and Saxony, he received permission from the Treasury to take back home some merino sheep belonging to George III.  Back in New South Wales he found the ideal place to raise his sheep.  When the First Fleet of convicts had arrived in 1788 to establish the new penal colony, they had brought with them some livestock from England.  By the time the Second Fleet arrived two years later (over a quarter of whom had died on the journey), the first arrivals were on the point of starvation, one reason for this being that their cattle, two bulls and five cows, had escaped their pen one night.  Six years later, when the colonists ventured inland and crossed the Nepean river they found a herd of 61 wild cattle, the descendants of their original herd.  John Macarthur recognised that this land, originally called Cowpastures, must be ideal grazing land, and persuaded Lord Camden, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, to grant him 2000 acres to raise his sheep here.  He renamed his estate Camden Park in gratitude.  However, this was not the end to John Macarthur’s troubles.  On his return to New South Wales he managed to quarrel with the new Governor, Captain John Bligh, late of The Bounty.  Governor Bligh lost no time in putting John Macarthur back in prison, from where he organised a mutiny by his fellow New South Wales Corps officers against the unpopular Governor.  The mutiny was successful, and Bligh was sent back to England to explain this turn of events for the second time.  John Macarthur died in 1834, so for most of Joseph’s time there the estate was run by his two sons, James and William.  The brothers did not have direct contact with the convicts assigned to them, delegating this work to the estate overseer, Joseph Goodlucke, and his staff, many of whom were ex-convicts.  The Macarthurs were enlightened employers who believed in rewarding good behaviour in their convicts and rarely had to discipline them. They even maintained a respectful friendship with Boodbury, the local Aborigine chief, and his tribe.  James Macarthur described his experiences with convict labour to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transportation in 1837:  “when a lot of convicts were received from a ship, they were at once put to some very hard labour, such as felling timber and burning it off, which was a severe punishment to them; we kept them at that kind of work for a considerable period, according to their conduct, and so broke them in, and made them well-disposed; taught them the difference between good conduct and bad, and the advantages of regular and orderly behaviour ….where a man behaves well …[we] make him forget, if possible, that he is a convict”.  A bell at 6.30am marked the beginning of the working day.  There was an hour’s break at midday, and then work continued until sunset.  The convicts’ weekly food ration included 11lb of flour and 7lb of meat, which probably compared favourably to the average labourer’s diet in England.

Joseph Cromack was one of many convicts at Camden, and he is recorded as working on a stumping gang, removing tree stumps from land to be turned into new grazing land.  In 1835 the Sydney Gazette listed his name among those who had mail from England waiting to be collected, but there is no record of who the mail was from, and if he ever received it.  In 1836 he received his Ticket of Leave as a reward for staying out of trouble, which meant that he was no longer tied to one employer but could look for his own employment as long as he remained in the Camden area, attended church regularly, and continued his good behaviour.  In 1839 he received his Certificate of Freedom at the end of his seven year sentence, but at first remained in Camden and was working on the foundations of St John’s Church, endowed by the Macarthur family, in 1840.  A site on top of a hill, dominating the new village of Camden, was chosen and the work to level it took two months in the winter of 1840, with the brickwork commencing in September.  In 1849 it was consecrated by the Bishop of Sydney, who considered it the finest church in his diocese.

Joseph spent almost fifty years in Australia, but once his sentence was over there are very few records of his life there.  He did not commit any further crimes in Australia.  He does not seem to have remarried, but as the men in the new colony vastly outnumbered the women this was quite common. With his mining experience it is quite likely that he tried his luck in the gold fields of New South Wales and Victoria when gold was discovered in the 1850s, but if he did he was unsuccessful, as the next time his name appears in any official records was when he entered the Liverpool Asylum for Infirm and Destitute Men, in December 1875, when he is described as a miner.  He was discharged the following month and managed to support himself as a labourer until he was readmitted in December 1877.  He died there of senile decay in January 1882.

This record was discovered and printed on ConvictRecords.com.au