The Case of George Fenby
You can see a video of Emma’s slides here: The Case of George Fenby
(Image courtesy of National Archives)
My PhD research explores the lives and criminal careers of convicts in the nineteenth century, specifically juveniles aged 7-14 – who were sentenced at the Old Bailey to either transportation to Australia or Penal servitude at home – in the period of 1816-1850.
After transcribing all juvenile criminals fitting my criteria a sample will be traced using data-linkage between different digital resources. Then through utilising both a quantitative and qualitative approach, the common factors and experiences present in the lives of juvenile offenders will be identified, and biographies of individuals created.
This will allow for a rounded understanding of the context of these offenders, and enable me to approach the broader questions such as: (i) what part did social, economic, environmental and familiar factors play in criminal juvenile lives? And (ii) by comparing both those who were transported and those who served a penal sentence, which route led to greater criminal desistance and why?
Centred on transportation, this blog will use a case study interspersed with some initial trends of the whole transportation dataset. Notwithstanding the estimated 72, 500 convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land alone, in my period there were 1411 juveniles sentenced to transportation to Australia as a whole.
(Image courtesy of photolibrary.com)
Firstly, it is important to point out the disparity in numbers between male and females. There were only 77 females sentenced to transportation, compared with 1333 male. This disparity is clearly seen in this graph comparing age and gender of transportees (shown in Figure 1.0). This graph also shows the proportional increase of transportee sentences and age. But, the key word here is sentence as not all were sent.
Number and Age of Juveniles Sentenced to Transportation
The youngest transportee in the sample is George Fenby. According to some historians, juveniles were not usually transported until “they were a suitable age” – 14 or 15 years old. If they were younger upon conviction they would spend this period of limbo in local gaols or on the Hulks (moored prison ships). Clearly, however, there were exceptions and juveniles were transported under the age of 14. George Fenby is an example.
Description List CON18/1/15
Parish Birth Records
Fenby’s trip on-board the Manlius took four months. While his transportation records suggest that he was 10 years old, it would seem that he was in fact 12 years old when he first stepped foot in Van Diemen’s Land (see figure 1.1 and figure 1.2). Interestingly, whereas transportation officials believed the youngest male transported was 10, the youngest female in my sample – Mary Ann Oseman – was described as 14 when she arrived in Australia. Four years older than the youngest male.
Born in 1818, one of Hannah Fenby’s five children, George Fenby was convicted and sentenced for stealing two pairs of shoes from a shop, with his mother. The court believing him to be 9 years old. Fenby’s mother, age 43, was also transported on board the Eliza for her part in the offence.
Subcategory of Offences
Except the odd coining or fraud offence, all offences were theft. As we can see in the graph above (see Figure 1.3), the most common offences were Grand and Simple Larceny. Grand Larceny involved the theft to the value of at least 1 shilling in the absence of aggravating circumstances. But, in 1827, this offence was replaced by the new offence of Simple Larceny, which also did away with Petty Larceny and the complication of minimum values. Pickpocketing was also prevalent but this is skewed by male offenders, which is highlighted when we break down offences by gender (see Figure 1.4).
Male Offence Subcategory
Female Offence Subcategory
Still, even after breaking down offences by gender the most common offences in both sex remain Grand and Simple Larceny – if taken together. However, as well as some differences between genders it is noteworthy that the offence, shoplifting, is not prevalent in either sex. Yet, if we take into account the ‘spatial environment of the crime’, the most common place to steal from, in both genders, was the shop (see Figure 1.5). The Fenby’s are an example this.
The question is: why was Fenby selected from the Euryalus Hulk for actual transportation at such a young age – when others were not? Perhaps his Conduct and Appropriation Records may shed some light (see Figure 1.6). After being with his first mistress, Mrs. Humphrey’s for less than two years, Fenby was re-assigned to a John Kerr. There Fenby began his misconduct relatively unremarkably, for example, he received twelve lashes for being absent in December 1833. However, just a year later his misconduct took on a new form. It was reported that Fenby took “liberties” with his master’s 6 year old daughter, himself only being approximately 14. As a result he was removed to Port Arthur, and placed in the worst class of boys at Point Puer (a juvenile penal settlement 1834-1849). This event even made the Colonial Times (see figure 1.7). At Point Puer Fenby received a further twelve lashes for “most riotous and improper conduct in the cells”. This was followed by more absenteeism. It is possible that Fenby’s behaviour in the colony is indicative of his behaviour while imprisoned before transportation, resulting in his early selection.
After receiving a certificate of freedom in 1836, he at some point made his way to Victoria, living for period in Geelong where he worked as a sawyer. There he again appeared in the papers in August 1842 having been charged with attempted highway robbery (see Figure 1.8). Unfortunately as yet I have no details of this charge other than a newspaper clipping and so do not know the outcome. However, we can be relatively confident that it was him, because it states his alias was Timms. There is a connection with Fenby and the name Timms. Not only was the name on his mother’s death certificate, but the connection is also shown in a newspaper notice addressed to George Fenby by his mother Hannah Timms (see Figure 1.9).
While there are unknowns in periods of this convict’s life, what is clear is that George Fenby lived an eventful 75 years, living 15 years longer than the average life span. Marrying three times and having children with his first and second wife. Fenby died in 1893 in Corryong, Victoria.
While George Fenby was badly behaved, he was not a repeat offender before he was transported. Notably, only 26% of male juveniles had former indictments or convictions acknowledged at court, compared with 49% of females. This suggests a greater reluctance to sentence girls to transportation unless they were known to be repeat offenders. For males there is a sudden recording of previous convictions just before 1830. While this is probably more of a change in recording, rather than boys suddenly deciding to commit more than one offence – it is of interest both because of its sudden importance – and because when we look at females we can see there is more of a correlation (see Figure 2.0).
This all raises more questions than it answers. On what basis were juveniles sentenced to imprisonment or transportation? And of those sentenced to transportation, how many were actually sent? And how were they selected?
This idea that bad behaviour and previous offences led to a greater chance of those sentenced to seven years transportation actually being transported, is supported by the 1812 Parliamentary Paper. However, in the same paper, while the superintendent of hulks claimed that “probable utility” to the colony was not considered, he then goes on to say he would not send men over 50, and would probably not send women over 42, and definitely not over 45 – because they would be a “great burthen to the colony.” Notwithstanding the fact that Hannah Fenby was 44 on her arrival.
At the other end of the scale, Captain Williams, government inspector of prisoners, believed many juveniles were too “diminutive” to be sent. So, did they base selection on the size and strength of the juveniles, implying utility was considered? Or was it those they perceived as “hardened” that were selected? Or were other factors, such as practicality, influential? Meaning whether ships were available.
Through tracing how many juveniles sentenced to transportation in my sample were actually transported, and using prosopography, I hope to approach these questions of selection.
 Examples of online sources that will be utilised; The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, 1764-1913, Found at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org//; State Library of Queensland, Convict transportation registers database, Found at http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/family-history/convicts /; Tasmanian Government, Tasmanian Names Index, Found at http://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/
 James Bradley et al, “Research note: The founders and survivors project”, The History of the Family, 15:4 (2010), p. 467
 Jeannie Duckworth, Fagin’s Children – Criminal Children in Victorian England, (2002), pp.86-87
 Follow link to original Court Proceeding of George and Hannah Fenby; http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18290716-103-defend808&div=t18290716-103#highlight
 Report from the Select committee on Transportation 1812 (314), pp. 77-78. (p.16 index)
Duckworth, Jeannie, Fagin’s Children – Criminal Children in Victorian England, (London, 2002)
Godfrey, Barry. S., Cox, David J., and Farral, Stephen, D, Criminal Lives: Family life, Employment, and Offending, (2007, Oxford)
James Bradley et al, “Research note: The founders and survivors project”, The History of the Family, 15:4 (2010)
Jeannie Duckworth, Fagin’s Children – Criminal Children in Victorian England, (2002)
K.S.B Keats-Rohan (ed.) Prosopography Approaches and Applications. A Handbook (Oxford, 2007)
Report from the Select committee on Transportation 1812 (314)
Shore, Heather, Artful Dodgers: Youth and Crime in early 19th-century London, (Suffolk, 1999)
State Library of Queensland, Convict transportation registers database, Found at http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/family-history/convicts /
Tasmanian Government, Tasmanian Names Index, Found at http://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, 1764-1913, Found at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org//
Hi Emma – sounds a great project. There is a follow on from George Fenby’s arrest for highway robbery – the following fortnight after the arrest, he was convicted of assault. Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser September 3, 1842.
Great find and thank you for your response David, it really is good to get comments! Below is the newspaper extract located by David for anyone interested, it ties up the Highway Robbery incident;
“Court of Quarter Sessions
Fenby and McCormick, the two men who were charged by Norman McKinnon and Robert Kibble, with intent to rob them, on the night of Wednesday, the 24th ult., on the Bridgewater road, as reported in our last week’s paper, was brought up before the Police Magistrate, and Edward Henty, Esq., J.P., on Saturday morning last, for the hearing of further evidence in their case. Other witnesses were examined, but the bench not deeming the evidence adduced sufficiently clear to substantiate the charge preferred against them, convicted them of an assault, and fined each in the sum of £3, to be appropriated to the Benevolent Society, and to find security themselves severally in the
sum of £2o, and sufficient sureties is the sum of £10. “
Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser (Vic. : 1842 – 1876) p.3
This is great stuff, Emma. Just one question: when you say ‘For males there is a sudden recording of previous convictions just before 1830. While this is probably more of a change in recording, rather than boys suddenly deciding to commit more than one offence – it is of interest both because of its sudden importance’, which records are you referring to–the trial reports, hulk or prison records, or records of transportation? Statistics of previous convictions were first published in 1824 based on gaol reports, so this information was recorded in prison records from that date, and sometimes earlier.
Thanks Bob. I was referring to the Old Bailey trial proceedings – where after 1830 there was an increasing tendency to mention (in no systematic way) former convictions/indictments and appearances in court. There were incidents for both males and females before, from as early as 1822 (in my sample), but the sudden increase for males came in 1830 but began to fall in 1842. I hope that answers your question.
I am a great grandson of George Fenby and have spent many many years researching the Fenby family tree and trying to sort out his roots.
We had found all the information you have shown on your site but if you wish to contact me please do so.
Very much liked your site and the presentation of your research. Keep up the great work.
I am also a descendant of George Henry Fenby. His son George Henry (2nd) who was conceived by his second wife Sarah Hall was my father’s grandfather. My father who is now 91 years old remembers George living at the family home for awhile in Ascot Vale until his death..
Hello John it is fantastic to hear from you.
I would be very pleased to get in contact with you – especially to fill in some details concerning George Fenby’s later marriages. Your great grandfather lived a fascinating life.
Thanks for getting in touch!
I am in the last stage of my PhD through Macquarie University in Sydney, researching juvenile convictism and the institutions of Point Puer and Carters’ Barracks . I’m particularly interested in ideology and subjectivity (which I know sounds much more boring than the personal investigations that you are undertaking). It seems like our areas of research may overlap. Heather Shore (via Tanya Evans) suggested we should make contact. I might have information that would interest you. Would you be interested in sharing research and ideas with one another?
Cheers, Cameron Nunn
Your research sounds very interesting. I would certainly like to share ideas with you. I actually just went to Point Puer last week and was lucky enough to be given a tour by the archeology team down there. It was fascinating. I am still away at the moment but I have your email and so will email you when I get back.
Thanks so much for getting in touch!