A second chance

March 1999  David & Evelyn Street described their recent visit to Pirton in search of their family roots. David tells the dramatic story of these roots and how they forged a link across 12,000 miles in 


Richard Street, my convict ancestor, was born at Norton, Hertfordshire, in 1796, to William and Sarah.  He was married twice.  His first wife, Elizabeth Holland died childless in 1832.  He then married Jemima Miles in 1833 at Pirton and they had William (my great, great, grandfather) in 1834 and Sarah in 1836.  Jemima, a straw plaiter, had two illegitimate children, Charlotte (1826) and James (1831).  Richard’s occupation was a ploughman or kitchen gardener.

In 1835, Richard Street and Francis Davis stole fifteen dozen live dove house pigeons from Elizabeth and John Kempson of Shillington.  Both were found guilty and sentenced at Bedford Court to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land (soon to become Tasmania) for fourteen years.  They were sent on the Elphinstone.  I suppose you could say this was Richard’s first stroke of luck as the surgeon superintendent, Colin Browning, was a man of principles – concerned not only with the physical aspects of a man but also with his spiritual well-being.

On board Richard was taught to read and write and decided to make a commitment to become a Christian.  So the anger and hatred were changed.  He was given a sense of well-being, taught he was a worthwhile person, and there was indeed a reason for living.

His second stroke of good luck was to be assigned to Sir John Pedder the chief justice of Tasmania, as a gardener.  At the time Richard was assigned to him, Pedder lived in a substantial brick dwelling on a large block of land.  In 1839 the Pedder family moved to Secheron House, Battery Point – now the home of the Tasmania Maritime Museum.  In 1842 they moved to Newlands House in Lenah Valley.  This house is used today as a reception facility for weddings and other functions.  All of these homes had large gardens.

Pedder was a fair man and was pleased to see an improvement in Richard’s character.  His convict record states he found a mail sack and returned it to the authorities.  In 1840, persuaded by Pedder, he made application for his family to join him.  Pedder agreed to support his family until he could manage to do so himself.

In the interim, Jemima lived in the poor house at Pirton (now 4 Walnut Tree Road) and was paid two shillings a week by the parish as outdoor relief for herself and four children – Charlotte, James, William and Sarah.  Charlotte remained in Pirton when the rest of the family went to Van Diemen’s Land.  Charlotte had three illegitimate children – one boy, who died as an infant and two girls who journey out to Van Diemen’s Land in 1860 to stay with their grandmother, Jemima.  Charlotte died in Pirton in 1856.

1960s. The workhouse has been turned into a beautiful residence.

Jemima, James 12, William 3 and Sarah 6 sailed on the Royal Admiral in 1842.  There were a few interesting things that happened on the way out.  Jemima had a baby son who lived for only six weeks.  I wonder if she ever told Richard about this!  However, it should be remembered it had been six long years since she’d heard from Richard.  Many convicts never had the opportunity to bring out their families, so Richard was one of the lucky ones.

There were many problems with the crew.  Before leaving England, the steward jumped out of a porthole and drowned.  The first mate tried to kill himself.  A temporary master was appointed but the crew refused to obey him, and a permanent master was appointed.  Prior to the ship’s arrival at the Cape of Good Hope many of the crew were drunk.  The first mate and several of the crew were suspended from duty.  After leaving the Cape, many of the crew rebelled and it was left to the rest of the crew, the officers, and the surgeon superintendent to take active roles in the running of the ship.  On arrival at Hobart Town, thirteen of the crew were taken to prison in irons.  They were subsequently sentenced to three months at the treadmill.

There was no doubt, however, that Richard was delighted to have his family together again.  He had never seen his daughter, Sarah as he was in jail when she was born.  How pleased they would have been to see him too.

Richard got his ticket of leave in 1843.  No evidence has been found that he was granted land, however, he certainly bought several lots which he cleared for a market garden and orchard.  Apples certainly grew very well and some of them probably found their way back to England.  Years later, Thomas his youngest son, used his wheelbarrow to take his fruit and vegetables to sell at Hobart GPO.  Richard and Jemima had further children – Martha (1844), Mary (1845), Richard jnr (1847), Hannah (1850) and Thomas (1852).

St Johns Church Newtown. The South Gallery was for the convicts, who sat on narrow backless benches securely fastened to the floor. A division in the centre of the galley separated male and female convicts. There were also two ‘warders’ or guards’ seats, placed strategically by the stairway and a door which was securely bolted.

Richard worshipped at St Johns Church of England, New Town where the convicts sat in the upper galleries.  In 1992 when we held a family reunion, I was able to sit in those seats and ponder for a while how Richard must have felt all those years ago.  Later the family worshipped at the Melville Street Methodist Church where the children attended Sunday School.  This church ran the Hill Street Cemetery, and it was here in 1871 that Richard was buried.  The cemetery closed in 1872.

Melville Street Methodist Chapel

Jemima lived on until 1883 and was buried at the Cornelian Bay Cemetery, Hobart.  Jemima and Richard had seventy-four grandchildren and over 187 great grandchildren.  (Hannah died eight months pregnant with her first child.

Certainly, back in England they would not have had the opportunity to develop a new country and to own property.  What an exciting time it must have been and so rewarding!  They made good.  A second chance had been accepted.

Share this page: