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 http://www.founders-storylines.com)
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.)