John Camplin was aged 15 when he was tried at the Old Bailey in June 1818 for stealing a watch. John’s defence in court was not terribly convincing:
I found a brooch, took it into the shop to ask if it was gold, and found the watch on the floor. I was going to knock, and the prosecutrix took me.
John was convicted and sentenced to death. Perhaps because of his youth, the sentence was subsequently commuted to transportation to Australia for life.
The transportation registers tell us that John was one of 160 convicts who left England on board the Surrey in autumn 1818, bound for New South Wales or Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land).
John arrived in Tasmania in March 1819 and a number of records document his life there.
A description list [C128-157] records that he was 5′ 3″ tall, with grey eyes and brown hair, and that he came from Tottenham. It gives his age on arrival as just 14 (it’s very common for ages to vary from one record to another!). It also notes that he received a conditional pardon in 1828.
But his conduct record shows many episodes of bad behaviour including theft, insubordination and other abuses, which resulted in whippings, hard labour and an extension of his sentence, so he was still in Tasmania at least until 1839. He was described as a “confirmed thief” and his master complained about his “wanton” destruction of property. [NB: large image, may be slow to load]
We don’t know any more about John in Tasmania or what ultimately became of him, though we may find out more as the Founders and Survivors project progresses.
But we do have one other record, one that provides a more personal perspective than the administrative trail of criminality and punishment. John had left behind him in England a memento for his family, an engraved convict love token:
Dear Father Mother
A gift to you ~
From me a friend
Whose love for you
Shall never end
Do you know anything about John Camplin? If so, we’d love to hear from you!
[This post is the first in a planned series of Convict Tales, in which we post about individual convicts whose lives the project has begun to link together. It may be updated as we learn more!]