Hatfield, Hertfordshire Church of St. Mary, Cerne Abbas, Dorset
John Venables and Mary Ann Homer
My great, great, grandfather Christian Falk married Sarah in 1868. My father had always known this but who Sarah was before she married Christian was a mystery. Her death certificate added more details showing she was born in Nangus, near Gundagai, in 1849. Backtracking further through Sarah’s baptismal certificate provided her parents’ names, John Venables and Mary Ann Venables.
An Ancestry search for John Venables and Mary Ann revealed two possibilities. One John Venables married Mary Ann Homer in Goulburn in 1844 while the second John Venables married Mary Sullivan in Yass in 1863. While Yass is quite close to Gundagai the date of marriage was 14 years after Sarah’s birth. Not impossible but less likely than the 1844 union of Mary Ann Homer and John Venables. Immigration lists proved fruitless, but convict lists provided a bounty of John Venables. The ‘Aurora’ arrived in 1833 and with it, John Venables, who was transferred to W.C Broughton of Burrowa, near Young, and not a million miles from Yass. This same John Venables married Martha Hutchinson in 1839. Another John Venables arrived on the ‘Waterloo’ in 1838 and received a Certificate of Freedom in 1845. The only application for marriage for a convict was for the ‘Aurora’ convict and so the ‘Waterloo’ did not bring Sarah’s father as an 1844 marriage would have necessitated a marriage application prior to the granting of a ticket of leave.
John Venables, Sarah’s father, arrived, it would seem, as one of 250 convicts, on the ‘Charles Kerr’ on October 9, 1837, under the control of Harford Arnold the ship’s master. The 123-day journey to Australia for these English convicts began in Portsmouth, England on June 1, 1937.
The convict register for the ‘Charles Kerr’ shows that John, aged 23, was sentenced in the Hertford Quarter Sessions Court. His trial on October 17, 1836, resulted in a 7-year sentence. His convict indents show that he could neither read or write, which is consistent with his marriage certificate marked with an X; he was a Protestant labourer convicted of breaking into a dwelling house. He had 3 previous convictions, each resulting in a 2-month sentence, and thus transportation was probably the only sentence that could be given to a repeat offender. John was just under 5 foot five, with a ruddy, freckled complexion, dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He was born in 1813 in Essendon, a small village close to the larger town of Hatfield, in Hertfordshire, his parents being James and Elizabeth.
The Chelmsford Chronicle for Friday October 28, 1836 gives brief details of the trial in the Hertford quarter sessions, describing the crime that occurred in Bishop’s Hatfield, a small village about 12 kilometres north of London. John stole one pound 19 shillings, about $300 AUD (2018), and was punished by transportation to Australia. His future wife, Mary Ann Homer, arrived in Australia in 1839 and a bounty of ten pounds was paid to bring Mary Ann legally.
Excerpt from Chelmsford Chronicle about the trial of John Venables
John was transferred from the Hertford court to a prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour on November 1, 1836. The Leviathan was launched in 1790 and fought with the British fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar and was then used as a prison ship from 1816 until 1848. His hulk record shown below restates his crime as housebreaking and shows the amount he stole.
Prison Hulk record
Life on a prison hulk was well organised with prisoners in irons working in the dockyards for ten hours a day, returning to the ship at midday for dinner and then resuming their labour. There was also schooling for an hour every evening as well as evening prayers. Prisoners were expected to thoroughly wash on Saturday’s and on Sunday’s clothing was checked and repaired, followed by religious services.
John left the hulk, on June 1, 1837 having spent 212 days on board the Leviathan and was then taken on board the convict transport ship, Charles Kerr, for the voyage to New South Wales. The surgeon, John Edwards, completed a thorough journal, as required by the Surgeons Superintendent of Convict Ships. He notes that all prisoners were in good health at the start of the voyage from Portsmouth.
Having left Spithead Harbour on June 8 they experienced ‘boisterous weather with much rain’ and they anchored at Falmouth on England’s southwest coast until June 14.
Four convicts died on the journey, all reported as suffering from synochus, a prolonged fever. In total 7 cases of synochus were listed with 3 surviving. There were several cases of phlegmasia, swelling and redness usually due to infection, and catarrhus, an upper respiratory illness. The most common non-fatal ailment, however, was diarrhoea.
The voyage was not without its problems. After crossing the southern tropic 12 days of heavy gales, continual rain and heavy seas took its toll on all on board. The surgeon notes that they struggled to keep water out and were unable to provide good ventilation. 81 patients, including some crew, were treated in the ship’s hospital during the voyage.
The General Return of the Colony, 1837, shows John Tenables (sic), a labourer, assigned as a servant to James Carnish of Maitland. The next record of John Venables, prisoner number 37/2250 is Ticket of Leave, number 655, issued March 4, 1843, in Goulburn, NSW.
John married Mary Anne Homer, both from Richlands, on December 13, 1844, at St. Saviours.
Mary Anne Homer was the daughter of Thomas and Mary Homer and was baptised on January 28, 1830, in Cerne Abbas, Dorsetshire, England.
The Homer family were bounty immigrants, supported by Edward Macarthur, son of John and Elizabeth, who worked on the Macarthur’s Camden and Richlands estates.
It is possible that John was part of the large convict labour force utilised by the Macarthur’s to construct buildings on their 38,000-acre property as well as in nearby Taralga.
Records show that John and Mary Ann had 2 children, Sarah and George, who was born in 1856.
Mary Ann married James Marsh in March 1856 at Wangaratta, Victoria, and their marriage certificate states that she had lost two children and that she was widowed on September 11, 1855. George Venables died shortly after this marriage.
No record exists of a grave or a death certificate for John Venables. A sad end to a troubled life.
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