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John Wells

John Wells was tried in the Hull quarter sessions on July 14 1825 [1]. He was found guilty of stealing four pounds of mustard from shop of George Consitt of Hull, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. He appealed this sentence unsuccessfully, asking for clemency on the grounds that ‘he was led astray by bad company after the death of his father’ [2], [5]. After sentencing, he was held in Hull Gaol before being taken to the hulk Justitia  on 9 September 1825 [2], [5]. The records for the Justitia state that John was aged 16 and was born c.1809.

Hull from River Humber (Gott collection)
Hull as it looked from the River Humber when John Wells lived here in the early 19th century. Image from the Gott Collection, A1.91 8/30.3.

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John was transported to New South Wales aboard the ship England on 28 April 1826. The medical journals for this ship survive in the Admiralty records in the National Archives, and includes phrenological reports [3]. Phrenology was a pseudo-science which posited that a person’s character and intelligence could be calculated by making measurements of their skull. The England was visited by a phrenologist Mr Deville, who examined all of the 148 convicts heads and wrote reports outlining the suggested character of each [3], [4]. The ship’s surgeon’s journal also records that John Wells was one of several prisoners punished on 18 May for theft and giving false evidence – he was ‘to receive 48 strokes over his bare breech with a leathern thong’ [4]. John Wells was a conspirator in a foiled convict plan to mutiny and take control of the ship, in order to sail it to South America [4].

The England arrived at Sydney Cove on 18 September 1826. Convict records state that John’s native place was ‘Edinboro’, presumably Edinburgh [6]. The same records state that he could not read, was 5’3” tall with a ruddy, freckled complexion and grey to blue eyes [6].

References cited

[1] East Yorkshire Local History Society, Transportation From Hull and The East Riding to America and Australia, taken from the Quarter Session Records (Hull, 1984)

[2] National Archives, criminal petitions, HO 17/25/144

[3] National Archives, Admiralty Records, medical journal of the England, convict ship, for 18 March to 29 September 1826, ADM 101/26/1.

[4] ‘Free settler or felon?’ website, (accessed 18 November 2015).

[5] National Archives, UK prison hulk registers and letter book, 1802-1849, HO9/4.

[6] New South Wales Convict Indents, 1788-1842, accessed on Ancestry.com.

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