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Alfred Horscroft

Alfred Horscroft, one of 294 convicts transported on the Fairlie, 09 March 1852

Name, Aliases & Gender

Name: Alfred Horscroft
Aliases: none
Gender: m

Birth, Occupation & Death

Date of Birth: 1831
Occupation: Shoemaker
Date of Death: -
Age: -

Life Span

Life span

Male median life span was 60 years*

* Median life span based on contributions

Conviction & Transportation

Sentence Severity

Sentence Severity

Sentenced to 10 years

Crime: Housebreaking
Convicted at: Sussex. Lewes Quarter Sessions
Sentence term: 10 years
Ship: Fairlie
Departure date: 9th March, 1852
Arrival date: 3rd July, 1852
Place of arrival Van Diemen's Land
Passenger manifest Travelled with 305 other convicts


Primary source: Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 92, Class and Piece Number HO11/17, Page Number 351 (178)
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

David Hynes on 11th April, 2019 wrote:

A Convict in the Family
Between 1788 and 1868 over 160,000 convicts from all corners of the British Isles were transported to the penal colonies in Australia. One of them, Alfred Horscroft, an apprentice shoemaker born in Brighton about 1831, was a relative of mine. He was a younger brother by seven years of my great-great-grandfather Michael Horscroft. Alfred was convicted of housebreaking at the Lewes Quarter Sessions on 29 November 1848. At the time he was 17 years old.

It wasn’t his first conviction. Even though very young, he was no stranger to the courts and had previously been sentenced to various prison terms. The Brighton Gazette reported on March 26th 1846 that two boys, Alfred Horscroft and James Wood, had ‘pleaded guilty to embezzling, at Brighton, certain sums of money, the property of their master, William Grant.’ Each was given six months hard labour, and in addition were sentenced to be ‘privately whipped.’ The following year Alfred was again in front of the Brighton Magistrates, this time for theft from the railway. He and his accomplice John Hubbard were each given three months. Other charges were garden robbery, not convicted for lack of evidence, and vagrancy, for which he was given six months in prison. The sentence at the Lewes Quarter Sessions for housebreaking and stealing silver plate, however, was much tougher. Alfred got 10 years transportation to the penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land, which was renamed as Tasmania in 1856.

On the evening of Sunday, November 19th 1848, George Heath, a chemist, was a dinner guest in the home of Henry Samuel King, a Brighton bookseller. On arrival at King’s house, 44 East Street in Brighton, George’s overcoat had been hung in the lobby. But later that evening around 11 o’clock, when it was time to depart, the coat was nowhere to be found. It had been stolen while the party sat at the dinner table, along with other valuables. An inventory showed that 10 silver plated forks were missing, as were 16 spoons, one fish slice, and a pair of German sugar tongs. The total value of the stolen goods was estimated at £30.

Four days later, Albert Vine, a beer-shop keeper in Malling Street, Lewes, had his eye on four suspicious-looking youths who were sharing a pot of four-penny beer in his pub. They had a bag with them and sharp-eared Albert overheard one of their number say “Who will carry the swag?” The questioner should have lowered his voice because when the company left the beer-shop Albert followed. He noted that they were heading in the direction of Uckfield, and then informed the police.

Police constable Henry Realff gave evidence at the Lewes Quarter Sessions when the four culprits – David Clark (19), a labourer; Alfred Horscroft (17), a shoemaker; John Hubbard (16), a labourer; and George Gardner (14), an errand boy – were brought to trial on November 29th. The Sussex Advertiser of December 5, 1848, reported that Constable Realff, ‘having got the scent’, had first changed his clothes and then (once properly attired to make an arrest?) watched the prisoners coming out of a house in Uckfield.

‘Clark looked out of the door’, the newspaper article continued, ‘and observing no one about, the other prisoners came out.’ Clark was carrying the ‘swag’. Officer Realff approached the furtive four and arrested the whole gang. Their story was that they had come from Worthing, and were going to London. ‘Witness stopped them,’ wrote the Advertiser, ‘and took them to the station house.’ There the youngest of the group, Gardner, said he didn’t steal it, and pointing his finger at the ringleader, my great grand uncle Alfred, announced “’twas Horscroft did it!”

Alfred Horscroft had previous convictions for felony and must have masterminded the whole operation. He knew the layout of the house at 44 East Street because he had been employed there by King. It was surely Horscroft who broke into the house that Sunday evening in November and stole the silver and the coat. The punishment handed down to him by the bench was severe: 10 years transportation to a penal colony. It would be Van Diemen’s Land on the other side of the world.

John Hubbard who also had a previous conviction for felony was given 7 years transportation. Clark got 6 months imprisonment with hard labour, and Gardner, the youngest member of the gang, who had only ‘carried the swag’, got 8 months. His father appeared in court on his behalf and told the bench that his son was “a little inclined to bad company.” The bench was harder on another youth that day. Frederick Adams, 15, convicted for larceny, got 14 days. Not a lot, you might think, but this was 1848 – the bench threw in a whipping for good measure.

Nearly three and a half years were to elapse between sentencing and transportation – Alfred probably spent them on a prison hulk – but his ten-year sentence was computed to start on 6 December 1848. He was transported on the Fairlie, a barque of 756 tons armed with two guns, which was built in Calcutta in 1810. The ship, the oldest and largest of the Lacemakers, sailed from Plymouth on 11 March 1852. Captain Edward Pavey had under his command three mates, a bosun and a crew of 45.

There were 294 convicts on board, which number included 30 boys from Parkhurst, the juvenile offenders prison on the Isle of Wight. Overseeing them were guards and pensioner guards, who were accompanied on the voyage by their wives and children. Pensioner guards were soldiers who had served in such places as China, the Crimea, South Africa, India, Persia, New Zealand and Afghanistan, who had been awarded pensions for long service and good conduct, wounds or meritorious service. Many remained on as settlers in Australia after they had completed their military duties. By the time the 114-day voyage of the Fairlie ended at Hobart on 3 July 1852, there was one more child on board. A baby girl was born during the voyage. Another child was stillborn, and two convicts had died on the high seas. The health of all on board was in the charge of Surgeon Superintendent RN Edward Nolloth, the ship’s doctor.

Nearly 1500 boys from Parkhurst Gaol on the Isle of Wight were transported to Australia and New Zealand between 1842 and 1852. Paul Buddee describes what happened to them in his book Fate of the Artful Dodger. The ages of the 30 Parkhurst boys on board the Fairlie range from as young as 13 to 17. They came from all over England and Scotland. All were undernourished and under-cared-for. Thomas Barton, age 15, from Manchester was sentenced to 10 years transportation for stealing two sixpences. John Gill, age 14, from Exeter, 14 years for stealing a mare. Saul Sheepwash, age 14, from Middlesex, 7 years for larceny. Many of the boys had previous convictions. None had received the help that they needed. James Harvey, age 14, from Taunton, 7 years for stealing apples! Hugh Collins, age 14, from Glasgow, 7 years for housebreaking, listed as having a reckless disposition. Martin Curly, age 13, from Stafford, 7 years for housebreaking, listed as a vagrant who was once whipped.

Alfred was not the first Horscroft to be sentenced to transportation. George Horscroft, born about 1799, (a Sussex Horscroft, he was probably a relation but I haven’t been able to establish this) was found guilty of housebreaking at the Sussex Summer Assizes held in Horsham. He was convicted on 9 August 1817. The sentence was death. Of the 17 people tried at that Summer Assizes in Horsham, five were acquitted, three were given prison sentences, and nine were sentenced to death. Their crimes, deemed at the time to deserve the severest penalty that the law afforded, were housebreaking (5 cases), burglary (2), and one case each of sheep stealing and cattle stealing.

Sentence of death was usually commuted to transportation for life and a little over five weeks after the trial, George Horscroft, aged 17, along with four other Sussex men who had been sentenced to death at the same Assizes, was transferred to the prison hulk Laurel, moored in Portsmouth, to await transportation. The four who would be on the same ship to Australia were Richard Burgess (22), convicted of burglary, James Young (22), housebreaking, John Curtis (24), cattle stealing and John Thomas (32), housebreaking.

The Laurel was originally the Dutch ship Sirene, captured at the battle of Saldanha Bay in South Africa in 1796. It had been renamed HMS Daphne before being made a prison ship at Portsmouth in 1798, where it remained in service for some 28 years. Prison hulks were acknowledged even at the time as places of appalling misery and disease. HMS Laurel was 118 feet in length and probably held about 275-300 prisoners.

There are no surviving pictures of the Laurel, but typically the masts, rigging and rudders would have been removed. The guards lived in barracks built on the deck. The dockside ports on prison hulks were usually secured shut to prevent escape by the prisoners. This only made the ventilation worse and increased the spread of disease. Escape by swimming was impossible as prisoners were shackled with a 14-pound iron riveted to the ankle. The prison diets were very poor consisting of ox-cheek, salted meat, oatmeal, bread or biscuit. Water was drawn from the river, so dysentery was common.

During the first 20 years of their establishment from about 1776, the hulks received some 8000 convicts. Almost one in four of these died on board. Hulk fever, a form of typhus that flourished in dirty, crowded conditions, was rife, as was pulmonary tuberculosis.

The horrors of the hulk were eventually followed by the rigours of the voyage. Between 1787, when the First Fleet sailed, and 1868, the year of the last convict transport, 825 shiploads of prisoners had been sent from England and Ireland, an average loading of about 200 convicts per ship. Death on board in the early days of transportation was commonplace. Of the 1006 prisoners who sailed from Portsmouth with the Second Fleet 267 died at sea, and at least 150 after landing.

By the time Alfred Horscroft was transported in 1852, conditions for the convicts onboard had improved considerably. Prisoners were no longer shackled below decks; their irons were struck off as soon as the ship reached blue water. The ship’s doctor would get the convicts on deck for fresh air and exercise as often as possible and there they would holystone the deck, swab and scrub and launder. Against scurvy, the convicts got lime-juice, sugar and vinegar, and for a bonus they received a nightly half-pint of port wine to keep their spirits up.

The ship’s doctor, Edward Nollloth, kept a medical journal during the voyage in which he recorded the name, age and status (convict, guard, etc.) of each person he treated and his diagnosis. Diarrhoea (22 cases), catarrh (14) and seasickness (10) were the most common afflictions. Bucking the trend was George Nutt, a 17 year-old Parkhurst boy, who was suffering from ‘obstipatio’ (constipation). Two decades later in the 1870s, Nutt, an unreformed character, was one of the habitual offenders photographed by the Tasmanian photographer Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923). Nevin was one of the first photographers to work with the police in Australia and his Tasmanian prisoner vignettes (mugshots) are the earliest to survive in public collections. The Nevin family was on board the Fairlie and the then10 year-old Thomas would have met many of the convicts he was later to photograph. He took some 3000 convict portraits, most are lost, but 300 or so of these remarkable images have survived.
An early selfie – Tasmanian photographer Thomas J. Nevin holding a stereoscopic viewer, late 1860s.
When the ship finally docked at Hobart the general health of those on board was described in the port ledger as ‘good’. But 7 of them were sent immediately to the Hobart Colonial Hospital, two of them virtually blind from opthalmia.

Descriptions of convicts were kept on record in Australia, and photographs were taken, so that should they escape they could be more easily tracked down and identified. No photograph of Alfred Horscroft has survived, but we can get some idea of what he looked like from the description in the Fairlie convicts ledger kept in the Tasmanian archives. An ‘imperfect shoemaker’, he was five foot six-and-a-half inches tall. His complexion was ‘fresh’, head ‘large’, hair ‘brown’, no whiskers, an oval-shaped visage, dark blue eyes, black eyebrows, small mouth, nose and chin. There was a scar on the right side of his chin and he had an anchor and three dots tattooed on his left arm. He could read and write, was protestant, and he was single.

What happened to Alfred Horscroft? The ledger shows that he was no model convict. On July 19 1852, 16 days after the Fairlie had docked in Hobart, Alfred was in trouble again. ‘Neglect of Duty’. The punishment: seven days solitary confinement. And so it went on. September 6, it was misconduct in receiving a bribe: 14 days solitary. October 25, he was punished for larceny under £5: 12 months hard labour. December 1 1853, Disobedience of orders, absence without leave and being under the influence of liquor: 9 months hard labour. And when the nine months were up, August 25 1854, larceny under £5 again: 18 months hard labour. Perhaps when he finally earned his ticket-of-leave, he returned to England. Perhaps he settled down in Australia, married and had a family. I like to think that after his shaky start in life in distant Brighton he eventually made good, found happiness and became a useful citizen in the young nation.

  * * * *
Come all you gallant poachers that ramble free from care
That walk out of a moonlight night with your dog, your gun, and snare
Where the lofty hare and pheasant you have at your command
Not thinking that your last career is on Van Diemen’s Land.

Oh when that we were landed upon that fatal shore
The planters they came flocking round full twenty score or more
They ranked us up like horses and sold us out of hand
They yoked us up to plough, my boys, to plough Van Diemen’s Land.

Often when I am slumbering, I have a pleasant dream
With my sweet girl I’m sitting down beside some purling stream
Through England I am roaming with her at my command
Then waken broken-hearted upon Van Diemen’s Land.

(English folk song collected by Lucy Broadwood around 1900)

Convict Changes History

David Hynes on 11th April, 2019 made the following changes:

gender: m, occupation, crime

Iris Dunne on 12th April, 2019 made the following changes:

date of birth: 1831 (prev. 0000)

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