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About the year 1789, when Napoleonic wars raged across Europe, a certain John Wood was born somewhere in England, and was to become my Convict ancestor. On 2 December 1812, at the age of 23, John Wood alias Leach was “indicted for feloniously stealing, on 18 November 1812, a watch valued at £1, the property of Richard Andrews, from his person”. Transcript from the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey in London, under the Second Middlesex Jury before Mr Common Serjeant, that is, the deputy to the senior judge, shows the accusation, defence, verdict, and sentence: [1]

RICHARD ANDREWS: I am an undertaker, in Compton-street.
Q. Did you lose a watch on the 18th of November?
A. Yes; I lost it for about a minute. It was near one in the day. It was a silver hunting watch. The watch was in my fob at the time I was in Church-lane, St. Giles’s. It so happened, on the day stated in the indictment, we had an order for two coffins. My man took the big coffin, and I took the child’s coffin, and where it happened was opposite where the man lay dead. It became me to guide the man in with the coffin. I was giving a Mr. M’Carty the little coffin until I came down stairs again. I felt the watch leave my pocket. No person was near me but the prisoner within five or six yards. I immediately turned round, and saw the prisoner with the watch in his left hand behind him. No person was standing near him but my man with the coffin. I seized hold of the watch and got it away from him. He parted with it rather reluctantly. I then guided the man up with the coffin, and when I came down again the prisoner was in the custody of eight or nine people. I am fully positive he is the man. I never saw him before to my knowledge.
Q. What was the value of your watch?
A. I value it at one pound; it cost me five pounds.
CHARLES M’CARTY. I took in the child’s coffin of Mr. Andrews; (I keep a potatoe warehouse); and on my turning round I saw Mr. Andrews take the watch from his hand. The prisoner said he found the watch among the potatoes.
ISAAC BOWYER. I am a journeyman to Mr. Andrews. I saw the prisoner standing next door to Mr. M’Carty’s house. Mr. Andrews was putting the coffin in M’Carty’s window. He came and took Mr. Andrews’s watch out. Mr. Andrews said, come give me that watch. What watch, he said.
PRISONER’S DEFENCE. They all swear so hard against me, it is of no use for me to say anything.
GUILTY. Transported for Life.

The fact that John Wood alias Leach was tried at the Old Bailey indicates that he was probably living in Greater London at the time of the offence. Using the calculation of average wage earnings, £1 in 1812 would have been worth about $1,200 (Australian) in 2010. For the theft of an item valued just over $1,000, John Wood alias Leach was sent to the other side of the world for the rest of his life. John Wood alias Leach farewelled England on 2 June 1813 from Portsmouth Hampshire, aboard the “Earl Spencer”, never to see his homeland again. The ship carried 200 convicts, over half serving life sentences, and 4 of whom died en route, together with several free settlers and 56 ship’s crew. The Australian Convict Transportation Registers confirm that four long months later, on 9 October 1813, the “Earl Spencer” under Captain William Mitchell, arrived with its cargo of convicts, including John Wood alias Leach, in Port Jackson, New South Wales. The human cargo was disembarked onto a strange soil, with the heat and glare of summer and the pungent eucalyptus assailing them, but never as much as the overseer’s harsh control. The colony was also in the grip of a devastating drought – crops had failed and livestock was depleted. Just five days later on 14 October 1813, John Wood alias Leach, together with other convicts from the “Earl Spencer”, was forwarded to William Cox Esq. at Windsor, in western Sydney for distribution. William Cox was a reasonably humane magistrate in charge of constructing many public buildings for the new colony, as well as the first road over the Blue Mountains. Early records of the colony show that John was later assigned to a work gang in Sydney Town. In papers of the time, “alias” was written “als”, and so our ancestor was listed as John Wood als Leach.

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[1] http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18121202-95-off560&div=t18121202-95

 

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