Family History

Eventually I hope to write a book about my ancestor Edmund Greenfield who was transported to Australia in 1828. This is not part of the book, more a draft of a possible chapter. I would welcome any comments. Please e-mail I hope to finish my research on the part of Edmund's life on my forthcoming coming to the West Sussex Record Office

Edmund Greenfield appeared before the Mayor of Chichester, recorder and a full bench of magistrates on Friday 18 January 1825, at the City’s quarter sessions. Unfortunately the records for this particular session haven’t survived. The report of the session in the Sussex Advertiser on the following Monday (21st January) merely says he was convicted of stealing three geese and sentenced to seven years transportation.  The UK Prison Hulks Register and Letter Books gives a little more information, he stole one gander, two geese and two ducks.


The session were held in the ancient Guild Hall situated in what is now Priory Park just outside the City walls. It is likely he had been walked there from Chichester prison which was situated on the south side of East Street, near to the East Gate, which had held the old gaol.


The others before the bench at the same Session were Ruben Collins and James Overington, stealing six geese (in fact 2 ganders and four geese); F Foster a boy charged with robbing his master;  Charlotte Goodyer  charged with a similar crime, stealing divers articles of dress from her mistress; Sarah Smith charged with obtaining goods under false pretences and finally a Mr Champion gun-maker, charge unrecorded. The two females both pleaded guilty and were given prison sentences, for Charlotte two months and for Sarah three months.  Francis Foster likewise pleaded guilty and his punishment was six months imprisonment and a whipping. Mr Champion’s sentence was three months imprisonment and a whipping, He doesn’t appear in the Register of Prisoners.


Collins and Overington are interesting as their crimes are so similar to Edmund’s.  Reuben Collins was 30 at the time and was sentenced to transportation for life, Overington was 28 and like Edmund transported for seven years. Reuben’s sentence was severer as he had a previous conviction.  In Chichester twelve months before he had been given two months imprisonment for larceny.  A few months before that on  17 October 1826 he had appeared before the magistrates for the first time, the offence stealing in Boxgrove two pigs,  the property of John Dyer. On that occasion he had been found not guilty. Both Collins and Overington appear next to Edmund on the Prison Hulks Register for the York in Portsmouth.  Collins was transported on the Phoenix and we will meet him again in New South Wales. There is no record of Overington ever being transported.  In 1832 he appears on a list of prisoners on The York “who are on account of their orderly and uniform good conduct are selected by Overseers with the approbation of the Chaplain as the best behaved men in the hulk…for Royal Mercy”. He had then served four years, two months and thirteen days.  The report of his conduct was not known [prior to time on the hulk] good in gaol. Only three out of every hundred on the list were selected and it doesn’t seem James was one of them. He was released from another hulk The Hardy 15/5/1832 and from then on I haven’t been able to trace him.


With Greenfield, Collins and Overington having committed such similar crimes  is it possible that they worked together, a fowl stealing ring?  I have not been able to find out to date anything about Collins’s background {but next month will be going to WSRO and will look up the papers for his previous trials].  It is likely that the James Overington was the James baptised in Pulborough 15/1/1797 the son of James Overington and Ann. This James Overington senior was parish clerk and witnessed many weddings in Pulborough Parish Church between 1816 and 1843. I have been unable to find either James senior’s marriage to Ann or her death, but as a widower he remarried in Henfield Sarah Yeates on 30 December 1817. Interestingly one of the witnesses was a S Collins. On the 1841 census James Overington senior he was the landlord of the Red Lion Inn Pulborough as well as Parish Clerk, Edmund Greenfield having spent most of his life in Pulborough would have known the family well.


Families of men (and women) sentenced to transportation often appealed to the Home Office for either repeal or reduction of the sentence or permission to accompany the convicted person to Australia. I have found no such appeals (at least none that have survived) for Edmund, Collins or Overington.


Families and communities viewed transportation in varying ways. There could be lot of sympathy if the transportee had previously been law abiding and obviously committed the crime out of desperation, given the level of poverty at the time.  In rural areas there was particular sympathy for poachers.  Some young men treated the prospect of transportation with bravado, and there were many ballads at the time warning against this


My country men take warning e’er too late

Lest you should share my hard unhappy fate


Altho’ but little crimes you have done


Consider seven or fourteen years to come


Now young men with speed your lives amend


Take my advice as one that is your friend


For tho’so light you make of it while you are here


Hard is your lot when once you get there


This reflects the debate that went on throughout the time of transportation to Australia. On the one hand it was seen as an inhumane punishment but on the other hand it was seen as too comfortable an option once the convicted arrived safely on the other side of the world.


How did Edmund view his conviction and prospects? When I first learnt he had been sentenced to transportation for seven years for such a minor crime as stealing a few geese I felt a great deal of sympathy. My natural assumption was that it was carried out to feed his family, with no other means of supporting a wife and five children.  However I was to learn that Edmund’s situation was more complex than I had imagined throwing into doubt whether he deserved our unreserved sympathy.