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Snowden Dunhill

Snowden Dunhill was an East Riding resident transported for seven years in 1823. His life is particularly well documented because he wrote his memoirs whilst living in Tasmania. Snowden Dunhill was something of a criminal celebrity in the East Riding, where he had lived on the proceeds of well-organised criminal activities for many years, and both unabridged and abridged versions of his memoirs published in the 1830s by a Howden publisher sold very well here. The details of his story reproduced below are taken from a 1987 reprint of the abridged version of the Life, and from the introductory essay by historian David Neave that appears in that edition [1]. An unabridged edition can be seen in Goole library.

Snowden was born on 14 September 1766, son of William and Rosomond ‘Dunning’ of Knayton, near Northallerton. His mother died when he was about six years old, and the young Snowden accompanied a farmer and his family to Spaldington, near Howden. In his Life, Snowden recalls playing by the moat of Spaldington Hall as a child, and claims that he saved the life of another child who fell in. According to the Life, the two met again as old men in Australia, and it was this childhood friend who took his memoirs back to Howden for publishing.

As a young man, Snowden was a farm servant  in Spaldington, and claimed that petty crime was ‘generally practised by farmers’ servants’, who were not educated to know that this was wrong. It was on his marriage to Sarah Taylor, eight years his senior, and widow to a man who had been shot whilst committing a crime, that Dunhill turned more seriously to a criminal career; ‘had it been my fortune to have met with an honest and industrious woman’ he wrote, ‘my destiny might have been different’. Snowden and Sarah had several children, and the Dunhill family were often blamed for petty crimes which took place in Spaldington. To escape the suspicion and accusation, they moved to a small cottage outside of the village. Dunhill became involved in burglaries, although his most lucrative line of criminal activity was stealing grain from farmers, which he sold on through ‘a secret understanding with two or three millers’. Dunhill did well out of his criminal activities, living a prosperous lifestyle and even becoming a money lender to farmers in the area. He led a local gang of criminals and became notorious in the East Riding.

The Beverley magistrates fined Snowden for minor offences in 1800 and 1807 [2], and he received his first custodial sentence in 1812, when he was caught stealing wheat from Barnard Clarkson of Holme House, Holme on Spalding Moor. Snowden was sentenced to seven year’s transportation by Mr Justice Le Blanc at York Lent Assizes in March 1813, and was sent by coach to the hulks on the Thames. However, for reasons that are not clear, he was not transported, instead serving six years of his sentence aboard the hulks.

Whilst he was imprisoned, most of Snowden’s family were caught for various crimes and transported. In 1819 Snowden’s wife and daughter Rosanna were convicted at the East Riding quarter sessions for stealing geese, with Snowden’s wife Sarah sentenced to transportation and Rosanna, who was pregnant, sent to York Castle. Snowden and Sarah’s son George was sentenced to seven years’ transportation at the same sessions for stealing wheat. Snowden’s son William was also transported for thieving.

Therefore upon his release from the hulks Snowden had no family to return to. He moved to Hull and resumed criminal activities. At the Lindsey quarter sessions on 15 April 1823, Snowden and an accomplice, James Edwards, were found guilty of stealing linen, cloth and lace from a Brigg grocer, John Brown, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. Just over a week later, Snowden was transferred to the hulks at Woolwich. The records for the hulk Justitia lists Snowden Dunhill as a prisoner, and states that he had ‘been transported before’ – but it is likely that the entry means ‘been sentenced to transportation before’, since we know from Snowden’s Life that his previous sentence of transportation was not carried out [3]. Snowden was one of the 150 prisoners the ship’s surgeon’s journal records being transferred from the Justitia to the convict transport Asia on 15 July 1823 [4]. This was the full complement of the ship’s convict passengers, and Asia departed on 19 July 1823 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 19 January 1824 [5]. The New South Wales convict ship muster rolls record that Dunhill was born c. 1764, was aged c.60, 5 feet 11 inches tall, with blue eyes, grey hair, and that his native place was Northallerton. Snowden’s trade is recorded as farmer’s labourer [6]. The journey was eventful – Asia suffered a fire on board during the voyage, and the convicts had to help put it out.

Dunhill was no longer a young man - 57 years old when disembarking at Hobart on Van Diemen’s Land – but was in trouble a number of times during his Tasmanian captivity. He gained extra punishments for drinking, gambling and being absent from work without leave.Snowden claimed to have sought transportation in order to find his family, and he began the search for them when he had completed his sentence in April 1830. One son, William had died, and another, George had been executed for theft of lambs. An article in The Hobart Town Courier on 28 June 1828 reported:

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Dunhill ballad
Exerpt from a published ballad about Snowden Dunhill, held by the Bodleian Library.
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Snowden Dunhill indictment 1807
An East Riding quarter sessions criminal indictment for Snowden Dunhill in 1807 (ERALS QSF/402/F/7). Records for the East Riding quarter sessions are held by the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies Service.
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Snowden Dunhill conviction 1800
Quarter sessions document from East Riding Archives and Local Studies collection showing that Snowden Dunhill was convicted in 1800 for selling ale without a license.
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Dunhill register entry
Extract from New South Wales Government convict musters (CGS 1155, reels 2417-2428) giving details about Snowden Dunhill, including his trial date and place (Linsdey Quarter Sessions, April 15 1823), his sentence (seven years) his age (60) his occupation ('farmer's lab.'), height (5'11”), eye and hair colour (blue and grey).
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Sarah Dunhill's indictment
The East Riding quarter sessions indictment for Sarah Dunhill, Snowden's wife, who was found guilty and transported. ERALS QSF 446/B/5.

"Sarah Stanhope, another daughter of the notorious Snowden Dunhill, was sentenced to transportation at the last Hull Sessions for stealing a pocket book with money. This, including George Dunhill who was lately executed in this town, makes the tenth member of the same family who has committed crimes and punished by transportation."

A description of George Dunhill’s execution in the Hobart Town Gazette, 7 July 1827, suggests that Snowden Dunhill was there when his son was executed. George was hanged at the same time as eight other men. Regarding Dunhill it reads:

"George Funning or Dunhill, aged 24, a handsome young man, about 6 feet 3 inches high, with a fine regular countenance. He had lately become free and was observed during the session of the Criminal Court to be present at many of the trials. His father Snowden Dunhill, who is now in the Prisoners’ Barracks, a prisoner for life, for returning from transportation, was lately tried for stealing in a dwelling- house, and his unfortunate son was observed to pay the most marked attention during his whole trial. The old man visited his son on Monday night to take a last farewell. Both at first bore it with considerable composure, but when the moment of parting came, the son laid his head against the wall and sobbed bitterly. Dunhill’s family and connections were numerous and most of them have been either executed or transported, having been long the dread of Yorkshire, noted as Snowden Dunhill’s gang."

Snowden met up with his wife Sarah in Hobart, who had also served her time. For some of their time together in Hobart, the Life records that Sarah baked pies for Snowden to sell, whilst she taught in a day school. However, colonial records suggest that Snowden was sometimes involved in criminal activity. On 6 March 1834 he was convicted of receiving a stolen coat and put in prison in Port Arthur. During this imprisonment, Snowden’s Life, written earlier during his time in Tasmania, was taken back to England by an East Riding man Snowden had met by chance. The manuscript was published in Howden, became popular and was reprinted many times. The account given by Snowden of his own life is corroborated by such documentary evidence as exists and appears largely reliable. Snowden became a part of folk memory in the East Riding – in addition to the stories contained in the Life, stories were passed down orally. Snowden died in prison in Port Arthur, Van Diemen’s Land, on 2 June 1838.

The crimes and punishments of the Dunhill family were widely reported in England at the time, and the family appeared to exemplify ideas about a 'criminal class'. For example:

"Committed to the East Riding Prison, at Beverley, Yorkshire, Mrs Snowden Dunhill (wife of the once celebrated Snowden Dunhill) and her youngest daughter, for having in their possessions, knowing them to be stolen, two geese, belonging to Mr. Watson, of Newland, near Howden. On her committal she bewailed much the misfortunes of her ancient family, as she termed it, and said, she thought the very name of Dunhill that was unlucky. Her husband was transported for stealing wheat, her eldest son for a burglary, one daughter was imprisoned for aiding therein, and now herself and another daughter are committed for trial, leaving only a son and daughter who have not suffered some punishment (Manchester Mercury, 24 November 1818):

At the late East Riding Sessions, held at Beverley, in Yorkshire an unusual number of atrocious criminals were brought up for trial, and sentence of transportation passed on the greatest part of them. Amongst them was the mother of Snowden Dunhill, whose gang was for many years the terror of the East Riding, and who owed the greatest part of their crimes to her instruction- her first husband having been hanged and her second transported. At the bar, she presented something of the grotesque and dreadful figure of Meg Merrilies, and after sentence was passed on her by the Chairman, she threw up her hands towards heaven, and hoped “the Almighty would sink the whole Bench to perdition!!” In this profligate state she was taken back to the gaol, to receive her future punishment, should her advanced age allow a continuance of life to undergo it (Hampshire Chronicle, 25 January 1819)."

References cited

[1] Snowden Dunhill The Life of Snowden Dunhill of Spaldington, East Riding (1766-1838). Abridged.  Edited with an introduction by David Neave (Howden: Mr Pye, 1987). For an online transcription, see: http://www.bubwith.net/people/famous-bubwits/snowden-dunhill.html.

[2] East Riding Council Museums Service ‘Criminals, Courts and Correction. A History of Crime and Punishment in Beverley’ (ERYC).

[3] National Archives, index to register of prisoners on Justitia, HO9/5.

[4] Ancestry.com community page.

[5] ‘Convict Records’ website (based on Home Office records from the National Archives), (accessed 17 November 2015).

 [6] Copy of New South Wales, Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls and related records, 1790-1894, accessed on Ancestry.com., (accessed 18 November 2015).

NEXT CHAPTER: Sarah Ann Sharpe