Archive for the ‘Fame & Infamy’ Category

Crimes & misdemeanors

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. Here are a few Purseys who got caught!

Perhaps the one who received the stiffest sentence was one Edward Pursey. In March 1828, at the age of 19, he found himself aboard the William Miles bound for Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania). He had been convicted the previous September of having stolen a watch from Thomas Larke. His sentence: transportation for 14 years! He was moved to the prison hulk Dolphin at Chatham in October 1827, prior to transportation.

The reason, I suspect, for the harsh sentence, was that it was not his first offence. Two years previously, he had found himself in court for having stolen a quality of rags, value 2/6.

It has taken me a long time to find out whose child Edward was. With the recent publication of various convicts records, I now believe him to be the son of Edward Pursey and Martha Francis Barling. His prison records show Edward junior to have been born in the Royal Naval dockyard town of Sheerness (on the northwest corner of the Isle of Sheppey in northern Kent). Sheerness was also the birthplace of mother Martha. (See Benjamin of Great Castle Street tree.)

In 1839, William Pursey found himself up before the mayor and magistrates at the Basingstoke petty sessions, charged with keeping his beer house open between 10 am and 1 pm on a Sunday. It turned out that whilst there were people in the house, it could not be proved that he had sold an liquor to to them. The case was thrown out. It is no surprise that the informant was the church-warden!

However, the following year, he was convicted for allowing drunkenness in his house on a Saturday night – the second time he had been caught within three months.

Spare a thought for one Francis Pursey who in in the summer of 1851 was caught stealing a spade from a Mr Robert Studley of Uffculme. At the Devon Sessions, he received two months’ hard labour for his pains. [Francis b 1829, was the son on James Pursey and Jane Canniford. His wife’s name was Rhoda.]

Maybe John Pursey of Clayhidon was hungry. In November 1859, he was charged with killing a duck at the Divisional Session’s in Tiverton’s Guildhall. He was examined by the magistrates who were ready to pass sentence but instead he opted for a trial at the Devon general sessions at Exeter Castle. It didn’t help as the following month he was sentenced to six weeks in prison.


Saturday, November 21st, 2015

When 19-year-old Edward Pursey got up one July morning in 1827, little did he realise that he would experience a life-changing moment.

The son of Edward Pursey and Martha Barling, Edward, junior, worked for George Mills of 14 Grove Street, Camden Town, a gardener and nurseryman. Out walking near Union Place, Stepney at about midnight on July 14, he bumped into one Thomas Larke. Apologising, he withdrew from the encounter. The only thing was that he had Larke’s watch in his hand. Unfortunately for Edward, Larke was alert. He grabbed his hand and held him fast.

The police were called and particulars noted with the result that Edward found himself before an Old Bailey judge at the September Sessions. Again, it was Edward’s bad luck that he was not one of the more lenient ones. The trial on September 17, was short and once the evidence had been heard, the dreaded word ‘guilty’ rang out. Edward was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation!

Edward, it seems was not a robust person. At 5’4” with dark brown hair, he was described as slender. His defence of his actions was similarly fragile. He said that Larke “was in a mob and seemed in liquor”. He suggested that Larke had grabbed him and taking the watch from his own pocket, accused him of robbing him.

Edward’s mother Martha, by then a widow, was distraught and the judge heard a plea for clemency. He heard it was Edward’s first offence*, that he was from a respectable family and further, that his former masters would employ him again. Even Larke, the prosecutor, recommended mercy. To no avail and he was taken down to the cells.

On October 22, he was taken to join some 650 or so other prisoners on the prison hulk Dolphin at Chatham. He spent six months incarcerated before beginning his long journey with 191 other convicts on board the convict ship William Miles, bound for Van Dieman’s Land. It left Downs, Ireland on March 24, 1828. The journey lasted 127 days with the ship arriving, seven convicts lighter, in Hobart on 29 July, 1828.

Edward did not have a happy time of it and is mentioned repeatedly in convict records from the island. Amongst them:

OFFENCE – 17 February 1831: Idleness & general bad conduct
Sentence: Ch Gang 6 Mos & retd to PW
OFFENCE – 7 January 1832: Neglect of duty & insolence
Sentence: 50 lashes & retd to his party
OFFENCE – 5 March 1835: Gross misconduct in having thrown an Axe at One of his Masters Bullocks by which it received a severe cut on its hind leg
Sentence: 50 Lashes and to be retd Grass Tree Hill Rd Party
OFFENCE – 20 September 1837: Disordy conduct in Striking his Master on Sunday
Sentence: 48 hours soly impt on B&W
(With thanks to

Edward was still serving – though nearing the end of – his sentence, when in March 1841, he received 10 days’ hard labour for misconduct.

He eventually obtained his certificate of freedom on September 13, 1841 – fourteen years almost to the ill-fated day, that he received his sentence for stealing a watch.

Despite his troubles with the authorities, Edward remained in Australia, eventually settling in Newmarket, near Carisbrook, Victoria. He was listed a householder there in 1857.

* Not strictly true as the previous year, Edward spent three months in a house of correction for stealing, on the 28th of January, 8lbs. weight of linen rags, value 2s., and 1 piece of carpet, value 6d. from Ann Hyde , widow .

(Altogether, 73,000 men women and children were transported to Van Diemen’s Land.)

Ann Pursey – Sentenced to death

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

The Purseys are no different from the rest of the population – some of them at various times, found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

The most serious punishment handed out to a Pursey was “death”! And that sentence was passed on a woman.

Ann Pursey married Richard Cuerton on March 27, 1768 by licence in Tottenham’s All Hallows church in Middlesex. She signed her name Ann Cuerton, late Pursey.

Either they had fallen on hard times or they were professional criminals, for in May 1805, an Ann Percy alias Cureton was up before the judge at the Old Bailey charged with “robbing her lodgings”.

The charge was that “ANN PERCY, alias CURETON , was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 13th of April , a set of bed-furniture, value 5 l. and a pair of sheets, value 20 s. the property of Penelope Drummond , widow , in her dwelling-house”. This was not the first such occurrence as a note in the assize records states that there were four indictments against her.

Essentially Ann came to rent a furnished apartment, saying that she and her husband were on their way to the West Indies. It seems that while the landlady was out checking Ann’s reference, she had left the boarding house having left the bed “stripped of all the furniture; the whole of the curtains and trimmings, and the sheets”. Ann then went to two different pawnbrokers and pledged the items in return for cash.

The police were soon on the case and it transpired that husband Richard had been working in one of the shops as a carpenter. Repeated questioning of Ann revealed the whereabouts of the stolen items.

The judges obviously did not take a lenient view as having heard the evidence they handed her the death sentence. (A record of the whole proceeding of the trial can be found in Old Bailey Proceedings Online.)

A further note in the assize records records that she was later pardoned and the sentence was transmuted to be transported for life. Another comment of 14 July 1805 says that she suffered “detention on board the Wm Pitt for N S Wales”.

On 31 August 1805 , the William Pitt sailed from Cork in Ireland bound for Australia. Ann was amongst the 120 women on board. The ship arrived over seven months later in April 1806.  (An account of the journey of the ship can be found on the Free Settlor of Felon website.)

I don’t know what became of Ann but a last detail from the assize records notes that she came from Suffolk. Is she in your family?