©️ Anne-Marie Fawcett 2022
When 75 year old Joshua Pickersgill died in Australia in 1897 he had lived there for almost half a century. Joshua was born in Ossett so how did he come to spend two thirds of his life in one of the largest countries on Earth?
Joshua was born in 1822 and was christened at Holy Trinity Church. His father David Pickersgill, who was a shoemaker, died in 1826 at the age of 25, leaving his young wife Martha (née Gomersal) bereft of income. They had been married for less than seven years. Martha’s young family included George b1819 and two more sons: William b1823 and Edward b1824. Joshua and George were put to work in one of Ossett’s many textile mills.
Ten years later Martha married engineer John Lucas and in 1837 they had a daughter: Emma. John Lucas died in 1840 and, once again, Martha was left struggling to keep a roof over the heads of her family. The 1841 census records Martha Lucas living at Low Fold with her four youngest children and her mother, Fanny Gomersal. George Pickersgill, Martha’s oldest son, was recently married and had moved to Dewsbury.
What’s left of Low Fold runs down the side of the Ossett United football ground.
Joshua Pickersgill married Ann Bolland (1821-1886) in 1845 at Dewsbury Parish Church. Both were residents of Ossett and Joshua was now a clothier. Ann, who was from Stanley and was the daughter of a butcher, already had a five year old son, William Bolland, whom Joshua took as his own.
After they married they lived in Horbury where Joshua worked as a weaver. They had two children: George Thomas b1846 and Elizabeth b1849. Joshua never saw the arrival of his daughter as he was convicted of theft on January 3 1849 and, due to a prior conviction for felony, was sentenced to seven years transportation. His crime? Stealing four hens from Thomas Harrop. His family were clearly hungry. At his trial Joshua pleaded guilty.
The first nine months of Joshua’s sentence were spent in solitary confinement at Wakefield Prison, before being transferred to Pentonville.
He was then sent to Portsmouth where he worked on the docks (fettered with heavy chains and overseen by armed guard) and was held on the convict hulk ‘Stirling Castle’ until he was transported to Western Australia in 1850.
The fear of incarceration in a prison hulk was an all too dreadful prospect. It must have haunted the memory of many a criminal awaiting trial, transportation or the prospect of facing a life sentence on board a prison ship. They were created following the 1776 statute which ordered that male prisoners sentenced to transportation should be put to hard labour improving the navigation of the Thames.
In 1849 the British Government authorised the conversion of Western Australia from a free settlement to a penal colony. On 9 January 1868 the convict transport Hougoumont arrived at the port of Fremantle. On board were 269 convicts, the last to be sent to Western Australia.The ship’s arrival marked the end of 80 years of continuous penal transportation to the Australian continent.
When Joshua embarked on the convict ship ‘Minden‘ for Australia he was 29 years old, and a convicted felon. By the time he arrived in Fremantle his good behaviour whilst imprisoned had earned him a conditional pardon and his ‘ticket of leave’, which allowed him to ‘live at large’. With good conduct, a convict serving a seven year term usually qualified for a ‘ticket of leave’ after four or five years, whilst those serving 14 years could expect to serve between six to eight years. ‘Lifers’ could qualify for their Conditional Pardon after 10 or 12 years. One has to wonder how Joshua earned his pardon so soon. I suppose we’ll never know. He took with him some of the money he had earned whilst incarcerated – a total of £3 and sixpence.
Back in Ossett, Ann Pickersgill was destitute and living on Parish Relief and the meagre wages of her 12 year old son William who was working as a factory boy. Joshua applied for permission to have his family join him and sought references from the two parish vicars, Rev Collins and Rev DC Neary.
After sailing from Plymouth in November 1852, Ann Pickersgill and her three children arrived in Western Australia in April 1853 on board the ‘Palestine’.
Joshua went on to own farmland in Bunbury, a new town just south of Perth founded in 1843 and named for Lieutenant Henry William St. Pierre Bunbury, who had explored the area. Over the years Joshua employed a dozen or so ‘ticket of leave’ men.
Ann and Joshua contributed to the growth of the new colony and had five more children in Australia – Martha b1854, Jane b1856, Emma b1858, Joshua b1860 and Ann b1862.
An article in The Western Australia Police Gazette an article on December 31 1880 described Joshua as 50 years old, 5′ 10″ tall, grey haired with dark complexion, round visage and sallow complection. It said that was indebted to the Bunbury Timber Company for thirty pounds. According to the Gazette there was some concern that he may have been going to leave the country and if so he was to be arrested on the ship he was on.
Ann died in 1886 and, after a fatal heart attack on May 4 1897, Joshua was buried alongside her in the East Perth Cemetery.
I’m grateful to the family of Joshua Pickersgill for relating to me some of their family history. Any errors are mine. If you have any further information you’d like to add to this story please contact me at: email@example.com