Joseph, c1816

c1816 (Tewkesbury?) –

This Joseph Pitman is something of a mystery. We know a lot about him, from a short period of his life, but before and after are both uncertain. Our knowledge of him begins in 1830, where he is first recorded in Tewkesbury Gaol Register: 15 years old, and charged with stealing two pistols. He is recorded again, in 1831 and 1832, for being drunk and disorderly, and in March 1832 on suspicion of stealing a fowl. The crime which attracted the attention of several local newspapers occurred in October 1832, when he was 18: he was charged with stealing a pocket book, a £5 note, and two and a half sovereigns, convicted, and sentenced to transportation for seven years. Jackson’s Oxford Journal describes it:

“On Thursday se’nnight the attention of the police officer Serjeant Burnell, of Cheltenham, was directed to a man named Joseph Pittman, who, notwithstanding having a quantity of silver in his possession, had offered a 5l. note in exchange for sixpenny worth of oysters. This circumstance induced the serjeant to be a little more inquisitive than was altogether agreeable, and upon searching his bundle it was found to contain a black lace veil, six women’s caps, a pocket book containing six sovereigns, 28s. in silver, a handsome prayer book, and other articles, all of whom he stated belonged to a female who had entrusted him with the care of it, and promised to meet him at the fair. In the course of the same evening, however, information reached the police that a robbery had taken place in Tewkesbury of property answering the above description, and on the following morning (Friday) the prisoner was conveyed before the Magistrates, who were then holding the general quarter sessions of the peace for the borough of Tewkesbury, and who soon recognised Pittman as an old offender, and by noon the same day he was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. The prosecutrix, it appeared, was a young female named Bradley, a native of Tewkesbury, who had been living at service in London, and was come down to her native place for the benefit of her health, and by the above act was near being deprived of all her hard earnings, but which, through the activity of the Cheltenham police, were entirely restored to her, with the exception of 2s.”

[Interestingly, there was a marriage between Joseph Pitman and Elizabeth Bradley at Tewkesbury Abbey on 26 December 1853, but as both were born in the mid-1820s, they cannot be the two in this account.]

A prison hulk on the Thames, early 19th century
(© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)

After his conviction Joseph was held for several months on the prison hulk Justitia, moored at Woolwich. He sailed from England on board Atlas on 27 April 1833, bound for Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). From his entry in the Convict Description book we have a mental picture of him: moderately tall for the time (5′ 5″), with a small head and chin and retreating forehead, a dark complexion, with brown hair and grey eyes. He had tattoos on both arms: the descriptions are difficult to decipher, but it seems he had a star and something else on each arm, as well as a man, a woman and two children on the left arm.

The Convict Musters from 1833 show that he was assigned to Captain Barclay, while in 1835 he was assigned to Public Works, and in 1841 he is shown as Free by Servitude. There is more detail in his Conduct Record, which shows that on several occasions he was threatening and abusive, or drunk, and was given periods of hard labour as punishment. It seems that the Public Works mentioned in the 1835 muster was six months hard labour on the public roads after threatening to commit violence against his master.

His Ticket of Leave at the end of his sentence commenced on 19 April 1840 – but what became of him after that? He seems to disappear, but in all probability he remained in Australia. The name Joseph Pitman/Pittman is not distinctive enough to enable us to trace him: while he was a convict the word Atlas followed his name, but once a free man there is nothing to pick him out.