Charles Claxton was born in about 1814. In October 1830, at the age of 16, he was found guilty on 2 counts of fraud at Westminster Quarter Sessions and was sentenced to 3 months’ imprisonment and twice whipped. In May 1831, he was found guilty at the Old Bailey of larceny (stealing) and fined 1 shilling. On 27th June 1831, he was convicted for fraud at Clerkenwell Sessions and sentenced to transportation for 7 years.
We have found information about Charles on a New South Wales historical website where he was described as “Aged 17, Tailor from London. Tried 27 June 1831 and sentenced to 7 year’s transportation for stealing cloth. Note - Later sentenced to 12 months in an iron gang by Maitland Bench.” Maitland is a town in NSW about 100 miles north of Sydney. Convicts who re-offended after arriving in the colony could be assigned to punishment gangs and hard labour of building and repairing roads and bridges.
Prisoners were kept in hulks (old ships without masts) until a convict ship was ready, and Charles was transferred to the ship Hardy, moored in Portsmouth on 31 August 1831. He was then listed on the muster roll for the Asia, the next convict ship to leave England. The Asia was built at Aberdeen in 1819 and she made regular voyages to New South Wales with convicts. She was reported lying wind bound at Portsmouth on 11th October 1831 and did not depart until 16th October 1831. The records show that the ship arrived in Sydney, New South Wales on 13 February 1832, so the voyage lasted 4 months and Charles was 17 by then. The ships may have stopped off for supplies at Gibraltar, in the West Indies, South America and the Cape of Good Hope, or Capetown in South Africa.
Two hundred men from counties throughout England were transported on the ship and most would never see their homeland again. Many were petty thieves and by modern standards, transportation was a most severe penalty for what in some cases, would now be regarded as a minor offence. Records show that Charles gained his Certificate of Freedom on 3 December 1839, for he could marry Catherine Hart, and their daughter Elizabeth Claxton was born in 1845. She became part of the Marchesi family when she married Federico Marchesi in Australia in 1867. Quite often, people who were transported could make much better lives than they might have had if they had remained in England, for there was much work available in Australia at that time. We do not know if there were any other children of the marriage and Charles died in 1869 at Balranald, a small town in NSW.
Catherine Hart – sometimes spelt Catharine in the records - was born in about 1824. She was found guilty of larceny (stealing) at Nottingham Assizes on 22 October 1835 and at the age of 11, and was sentenced to imprisonment for 3 months, which shows how tough were the penalties in those days. It was noted that she could neither read nor write. The punishment for grand larceny was death and was based on the value of the goods stolen, so we presume that, in view of the short sentence, Catherine’s offence was relatively minor. However, on 2 January 1837, she was sentenced to 14 years transportation for “larceny, before committed of felony,” a more serious crime, but which seems extremely harsh for a 13 year old. The conviction was later amended to 7 years. One girl aged 20, was transported for seven years for stealing a handkerchief!
Catherine is recorded on the HMS Henry Wellesley Muster Roll. This ship of 304 tons was built in 1804, and sailed from Woolwich, London, to New South Wales, Australia, on the 17th July 1837, arriving via the Cape of Good Hope, in Port Jackson, Sydney, on 22 December 1837. The ship may have stopped off for supplies at Gibraltar, in the West Indies, South America, or the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
Thus, the voyage took 155 days and there were 139 female convicts on board. We can only imagine the conditions in a small vessel on a voyage of 5 months, passing through the tropics and most probably experiencing some very rough weather. Catherine gained her Ticket of Leave at Parramata, Sydney, and Certificate of Freedom on 6 May 1844. She married Charles Claxton and their daughter Elizabeth, born in 1845, became part of the Marchesi family in due course. Quite often, people who were transported could make much better lives than they might have had if they had remained in England, where poverty was so severe, especially in the big cities.We do not know if Charles and Catherine had any other children. She died in 1861.