Thomas Tattersfield (1815-?) — Convict Transported to Tasmania

Written by John Tattersfield. Details regarding THOMAS in Tasmania have been kindly researched and supplied by my cousin, once removed, Susan Lewin (nee Whittingham), who lives in Tasmania. Her descent is JOSEPH, JOSEPH, GEORGE, JOSEPH, CHARLES PICKERING, DOROTHY->George Cook, Betty->Bryan Whittingham, Susan->George Lewin.

Surely the most reluctant emigrant of them all must have been THOMAS. He was born in York on 17 April 1815, the sixth child of JOB Tattersfield and Mary (nee Bradley), and the grandson of THOMAS and Mary (nee Crossley), who were married in Dewsbury Parish Church on 30 December 1770.

THOMAS was baptised in York St Mary on 20 April 1815.

He was admitted into Class 4 of Fossgate Central School , York, on 24 July 1825. He was aged 10, and his father was JOB Tattersfield of Water Lane.

Nothing else is known of the early life of THOMAS, except that he was a “waterman”, as was his father JOB. York straddles the River Ouse, which would have been a major transport artery in the days before steam trains. THOMAS was not married.

The York Herald of 11 June 1842 recorded a “Serious Assault. Yesterday at the Guildhall in this city…….Thomas Tattersfield and David Dixon were brought up by warrant , charged with having assaulted James Dinsdale, porter, of St. Martin’s Court, Micklegate.” The gist of the case was that they had demanded one shilling with menaces, threats and violent blows to the face by Tattersfield. THOMAS was fined 30s and costs for the assault, or, in default, one month in prison. Dixon was fined 10s and costs.

The Yorkshire Gazette of 11 June 1842 introduced its report on the same event with the words “Two characters well known to the police, Thomas Tattersfield and David Dixon, on Tuesday last, at noon, went up to a man……..and demanded of him a shilling, and threatened to throw him in the river in case of refusal.” Surely a sign of things to come!

The next news found of Thomas was very favourable. The York Herald of 3 June 1843 records that a little York girl named Dalby was playing, and fell into the River Ouse. “In all probability (she) would have been drowned, had not a waterman, named Thomas Tattersfield, immediately plunged into the river and rescued her. She was taken home and did not appear much worse for her immersion.”

The Yorkshire Gazette of 12 August 1843 records how one William Broad was on the road to Market Weighton. A police officer stopped and searched him, together with “a man named Tattersfield, who, he believed, was a suspected person”.  Broad was carrying keys which could be used to pick locks. He was sent to Beverley House of Correction for three calendar months with hard labour. No record has been found that THOMAS Tattersfield was charged on this occasion.

“The York Herald and the Yorkshire Gazette, both of 9 December 1843, report that THOMAS Tattersfield and James Sayer were examined before John Clough Esq. at the Castle on suspicion of having broken into the dwelling houses of the Misses Serjeantson of Heslington and Mr. James Crowther, waterman, of Fulford.  Both men pleaded innocence. Evidence was produced, and they were remanded. The case was heard again on 16 December, and referred for trial to the assizes. Martha Sayer, wife of James Sayer, and Sarah Walker, whom the policeman had found in bed with THOMAS Tattersfield, were remanded for examination on suspicion of having been concerned in the burglary.

The Gaoler Records of the Castle of York show that, on 16 Dec 1843, a delivery of prisoners was received. They included THOMAS Tattersfield, aged 23, and James Sayear (sic), aged 22. A record in York Reference Library states:-

Prisoners for trial (Taken on 12th Dec 1843)

James Sayear (22)

Thomas Tattersfield (23).

Charged for that they, on the 4th December last, at Gate Fulford, in the East-Riding, burglariously did break and enter the dwelling-house of James Crowther and feloniously steal therein one ham, one shoulder of mutton, two shirts, 3 handkerchiefs, and various other articles, his property.

After the two preliminary hearings, they were brought to trial on Dec 29, 1843, in the Crown Court, which dealt with serious cases, before Mr. Justice Maule. The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, Leeds, of Jan 6, 1844, records their trial under the heading Burglary Near York, as follows:- “James Sayer, 22, and Thomas Tattersfield, 23, were charged with a burglary at Fulford, near York, on the night of the 4th of December. Mr. Matthews and Mr. Overend were counsel for the prosecution; the prisoners had no counsel. His Lordship, in summing up, stated that much of the evidence on the part of the prosecution was of a very loose and unsatisfactory character. The Jury, after being absent from the court two hours returned a verdict of Not Guilty against both of the prisoners.”

The trial had not been without incident. The London Nonconformist dated 10 Jan 1844 quoted the York Gazette as follows:- “On Thursday afternoon, in Mr. Justice Maule’s court, the case of “Sayear and Tattersfield” for burglary, was called on, the judge intimating that he would not take a long case. After three witnesses had been examined, his lordship became somewhat testy, and, complaining that the counsel for the prosecution should have commenced with a case of that length at that hour of the day, refused to proceed further with it. This was a little after six o’clock, and the jury found themselves in the pleasant position of being committed for the night to the custody of the bailiff, and locked up in York castle until morning, then to resume the trial.”

THOMAS was never far from trouble. The Morning Advertiser of 15 Mar 1844 records a trial in the Northern Circuit, York, on 13th March. A dealer called Walton was on trial for handling stolen silver. While in custody he took the police to identify two men, from whom he said he had received the silver. He identified THOMAS Tattersfield and Sayer, who were also in prison at the time.

But, the law was not to be thwarted!

On 8 April 1844, THOMAS was tried at the York Quarter Sessions, used for lesser crimes, with the same James Sayer (sic), age 22, a shipwright and sawyer from Boroughbridge. Sayer was married, and THOMAS was single. This time they were charged with larceny, for breaking into a stable of Mr Butler of Middlegate, York, and stealing six fowl. Both were found guilty. Although it was said to be THOMAS’S first offence, and although he gave his age as only 23 (he was actually almost 29), THOMAS and James Sayer were each sentenced to seven years’ transportation.

The England and Wales Crime, Prisons & Punishment 1770-1935 records give Thomas’s details. Height was 5 ft 3 1/2 ins, hair light brown, complexion fair and eyes grey. He was single, aged 23, and both reading and writing were “imp” (imperfect). He was a Waterman, convicted on 8 April 1844 at City of York Easter Sessions. of “Breaking into a stable and stealing fowls”. His sentence was 7 years transportation. He was “Received” on 16 April 1844 from York House of Correction, and his character description was “Twice before imp(risoned) on suspicion of felony.”

THOMAS was convict Number 14076. They were transported on the second convict voyage of a ship called Barrosa, which departed from Downs Port on 17 May 1844, and arrived in Tasmania on 6 September 1844. A copy of the record of his transportation on Barrosa to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), as one of 322 males, is shown below.

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Record of transportation of Thomas TATTERSFIELD to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania)

Thanks to the convict records kept in Tasmania, more is known about the physical attributes of THOMAS than about any other Tattersfield of those days. He was single, and the Surgeon’s report on him was “good”. He could read and write. His trade was waterman, height 5-3 1/4 in, age 26 (still an under-statement!), complexion ruddy, head oval, hair sandy, whiskers red, visage broad, forehead medium height, eyebrows sandy, eyes light blue, nose medium, mouth medium, chin medium! (Surely an identikit picture could be prepared from all that.) He was a native of York, his father was JOB, brothers JAMES and JOHN, and sister SARAH ELIZABETH. There was no mention of his mother who had probably died. Thanks to the magnificent online collection of Tasmanian State records, the arrival record of Thomas may be viewed in its original form at,218,196,L,80 and on the page following. The particular entry pertaining to Thomas, which occupied a 2-page strip in a journal, is shown below:

Record of arrival of Thomas TATTERSFIELD in Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania)

On THOMAS’s left arm was a tattoo of a woman and boy and the letters TTST. On his right arm was a “large brown mark and crucifixion”.

In an article entitled “Identity in the Indents: the Significance of Convicts’ Tattoos” in the Genealogists’ Magazine of December 2001, the author David Kent states that, from a study in 1831, the most common tattoos were an anchor, a woman, a cross/crucifix, a heart, and (equally) a man or a mermaid. Of men with tattoos, 45 per cent had their initials. These were often coupled with the initials of a loved one or family members. Tattoos were often done while in gaol or on the hulks, when a man knew he was to be transported for many years.

THOMAS had a crucifix, a woman and a boy (or was it a man?). Could the letters TTST have been his own initials TT and those of a girlfriend ST whom he had left behind?

THOMAS first served 12 months of “Gang Probation” at St Mary’s Vale. He is recorded in the Australia Convict Musters in 1846 and 1849. In the latter, under a column headed “Position”, Thomas is shown as having a “Ticket of Leave”.

In his seven years of servitude he committed a few offences. On 6 September of an unstated year he “emerged from gang”. On 2 May 1846 he “disobeyed orders in not proceeding to the depot according to his pass”. On 4 August 1847, as recorded in the Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tasmania) on Wed 11 Aug 1847, “THOMAS Tattersfield and John Dean, two pass holders, were charged by Mr. H.S. Bird of little Hampton with disobediences of orders in refusing to go to their work. Seven days solitary”.

On 28 May 1849 he was fined 10 shillings for being “drunk and making use of abusive language”. Sadly the “Remarks” alongside these misdemeanours cannot be deciphered – perhaps it is just as well!

Despite the above, he was granted his Certificate of Freedom on 15 April 1851, as recorded in the Cornwall Chronicle of 26 April 1851. This was seven years and seven days after his trial. Did the seven days of solitary confinement get added to his sentence?

What he did immediately is not known, but he left from Launceston for Melbourne, Australia, on the City of Melbourne, on 12 December 1851, travelling steerage class. His status was “Free by servitude”, and his Emigrant Ship was Barossa.

Records show that he again sailed, apparently from Sydney or Melbourne to Launceston  on 12 September 1852, this time on the Yarra Yarra. Again his status was Free by servitude, and his Emigrant Ship Barossa. What he did in Victoria in the nine months between these dates is not known. His status and movements seem to have been closely monitored.

In December 1852 he sailed from Victoria to Launceston on Clarence 11, and in February 1856 again from Victoria to Launceston on Lady Bird 111. What caused him to make so many crossings between Victoria and Launceston is not known.

The Cornwall Chronicle of 28 March 1855, on page 4, reports that THOMAS was involved in an incident on 9th March with two police sergeants Daniel Ryan and Wm. East, and a policeman Wm. Woodhead. THOMAS was in charge of a horse and dray on the road to Longford, and had stopped on Hand Hill to mend a hook of one of the leader’s traces. Other drays and waggons also stopped, creating a blockage. The three policemen went to THOMAS, and asked who the dray belonged to. THOMAS gave a different name from that on the dray. Sergeant East said he knew the horse and dray belonged to another person. THOMAS called him a liar, so East struck him in the face. THOMAS was taken in charge and detained overnight. He was charged with obstructing, but then discharged.

THOMAS brought a charge of assault against all three police officers before the magistrate. Both parties had legal representation. The upshot was that Sergeant East was fined 20s and costs, the fact that he had been called a liar being mitigation. The other two policemen were discharged.

At least THOMAS was on the right side of the law this time!

The same event was described in the Cornwall Chronicle. Launceston, Tasmania on May 5, 1855, under the heading Cooper v Ryan, as follows.

“This action was brought by Mr John R. Cooper, of Longford, for the recovery of £13 4s, damages sustained by the unlawful detention of his man, horse, man’s dray, in Launceston, on the 9th March last, by the defendant Sergeant Donald Ryan.

For the plaintiff Mr Reeber (?): for the defendant Mr A. Douglas.

It was shown by the evidence of Thomas Tattersfield and Mr Johr (?) a Carter that he had been apprehended on the date in question by order of defendant and lodged in the watch-house all night, charged before the Police Magistrate next day with disturbing the peace, and discharged without fine or imprisonment; that he then charged defendant, and Constables East and Woodland (?) with assaulting him and that in consequence of this, Sergeant East was fined in the sum of £1 by the Police Magistrate.”

On 29th May 1856 the Launceston Examiner carried the following rather surprising notice. “If this should meet the eye of any relative of Thomas Tattersfield, who arrived in this colony in the year 1844, native place City of York, he will be glad to hear from them.” Did THOMAS suspect a relative might be in the area?

However, on 15 April 1864, 13 years to the day after he was freed, he was back at Spring May in Tasmania doing one month’s hard labour for being intoxicated (?) and disorderly.

It is tantalising that so little is known of what THOMAS did, and how he lived after completing his penal servitude.

The Government Gazette of New South Wales of 24 November 1865, lists “Letters returned from the country and now lying in this office (Sydney Post Office) unclaimed.” One was to Tattersfield Thos. Bathurst. They had also been referred to in the Gazette of 15 October.

More sea journeys were to follow. In 1868 T. Tattersfield sailed from Launceston to Melbourne, arriving on 8th September, on the ship Tasmania. He was 21, single and British. The age, leading to a birth in 1847, is a puzzle. Again on 16th December 1868, T. Tattersfield, this time said to be Married, arrived in Melbourne from Launceston on the Derwent. He was aged 45, so apparently born in 1823. No other details are given. No wife accompanied him.

It seems extremely improbable there were two different men, both called T. Tattersfield, making crossings between Launceston and Melbourne at that time. It is concluded that all the sea crossings from 1851 to 1868 were by the same Thomas, despite two inconsistencies in the passenger records.

Alas, there the trail ends. No later record of THOMAS has yet been found in Australia or Tasmania or anywhere else. The search goes on!

And what of the accomplice, James Sayer? It is difficult to read all of his record, and whether he committed any offences. He received his Free Cert on 22 April 1851, one week after THOMAS. Although married before conviction, it seems he either stayed at or returned to Port Cygnet, where he served his sentence, and may have become licensee of the Culloden Hotel and then the Bush Inn.

Were those six fowl really worth it? Perhaps one can derive some comfort from the thought that, if the offence had been committed 12 years earlier, before the liberalising Reform Bill of 1832, the penalty might have been worse – perhaps even hanging!

Post Script

There is a post script to the story of Thomas, arising from studies completed in 2008.

On 23 April 1844, just 15 days after the conviction, and presumed imprisonment, of THOMAS, a woman called Sarah Sunderland gave birth to a boy at an address at Bartliffe’s Yard, St. Lawrence, York. The Birth Certificate gives no name or occupation for the father. The child was named Thomas Tatersfield Sunderland (sic). He was baptised with the same name and spelling in the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, York, on 30 June 1844. The baptism register describes the mother, Sarah Sunderland, as a widow.

Sarah was born Sarah Ann Holmes, about 1810, in either Coventry or Birmingham. She married Arthur Sunderland, probably in Pocklington, East Yorkshire, on 6 Nov. 1826. They had a son, John, about Jan 1827, and then three daughters, the last born about 1835. In June 1836 Arthur died, and was buried at St. Margaret, Walmgate, York. Written records variously describe him as a soldier, shoe maker and labourer.

On 5 Feb 1839, Sarah had another son called James Michael. His Birth Certificate does not name the father, and describes the mother as Sarah Ann Sunderland, formerly Holmes.

In the Census of 1841, Sarah and the two year old James have the surname Carroll, the four earlier children being called Sunderland. The reason for this is not clear. In the 1851 Census, Sarah had two of her original four children with her, plus James and the six year old Thomas, all called Sunderland. In all later written records relating to the young Thomas, the second christian name Tatersfield did not appear.

At this time glass manufacture employed about 25% of the entire work force in York. Young men could be found places as apprentices for 7 years, typically from age 14 to 21, and would then be “freed”. The list of Freemen of York 1680-1986, compiled by John Malden, has two interesting entries:-

  1. -Sunderland, James, of Navigation Road, Glass Bottle Maker, app to James Meek, Joseph Spence & George Wilson, Glass Manufacturers, free 28 May 1860
  2. -Tattersfield, Thomas, of St. John’s Terrace, Fishgate, Glass Blower, app to James Meek, Joseph Spence & George Wilson, Glass Manufacturers, free 16 July 1866.

Evidently, despite the absence of their fathers, the two boys could be given an education and training into the trade of Glass Blowers. They were “freed” at ages 21 and 22 respectively. Why they were registered with different surnames is one of the many mysteries of this family!

Thomas, described as a Glass Blower, married Sarah Gibson in Scarborough, East Yorkshire, on 20 Aug 1865. They had four daughters, and then a son called Albert. He was born in 1879 in Savile Town, part of Dewsbury. Apparently this branch of the family, being descended from the Thomas Tattersfield who married Mary Crossley in Dewsbury Parish Church on 30 Dec 1770 and whose sons moved to York, had come full circle back to Dewsbury. No trace of them since 1881 has been found.

All the foregoing is strong evidence that Thomas Tatersfield Sunderland, born 23 April 1844 in York, was the natural son of THOMAS Tattersfield, convicted on 8 April that year. Was THOMAS, the father, ever allowed to see his baby son?

And what of those tattooed initials TTST? Was THOMAS displaying that Sarah Sunderland would have become Sarah Tattersfield, if only he had managed to keep his hands off those six fowl?

Header Image: No image has been found that is definitely that of the Barossa, the 1811 vessel of the East India Company on which Thomas sailed to Australia as a convict on 9th May, 1844. This picture is variously identified online as the Barossa, the Pemberton or the Timaru, and it may be one or none of these. However, it is broadly representative of the appearance of convict vessels of the time. Thomas's involuntary passage was to be the third and final convict voyage of the Barossa, which was apparently wrecked on a reef in Jamaica on 10th January, 1847. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, UK