South Shields Local History Group

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Daglish, William Australian convict

On July 30th 1858 there was a report of a burglary at Westoe. It stated that William Daglish, a powerful, thick set young man of 25, was charged with having committed a burglary in the home of Mary Anne Wood, Westoe Villa, Wood Terrace, Westoe on May 11th and a burglary in Gateshead at Mr Carr’s. Mr Blackwell was for the prosecution and the prisoner was not defended. The prisoner admitted another robbery at Westoe village in the home of Mr Marshall. He was said to be the leader of a gang of burglars who had caused much panic in the north for three months. Daglish had spent 4 years in prison for shoplifting in Sunderland and 18 months for burgling the Parsonage of the Holy Trinity in South Shields and had been imprisoned for three other offences.   On the evening preceding the robbery, the premises of Mrs Wood, whose family owned the Brewery, Matthew Wood & Son Ltd in South Shields, had been secured by one of the servants and the family went to bed.

At 2:30am one of the domestics had to get up to make a cup of tea for Mrs Wood and realised that 2 silver spoons had been stolen. After a search it was discovered that an intruder had entered the house by the pantry window, as one of the panes of glass had been cut out. It was then realised that a Spanish Doubloon and an old guinea had also been stolen. “On the same morning at 10am the prisoner was apprehended in Sunderland, on another charge and after a stout resistance, was taken to the police station. The old guinea was found in his possession and the Spanish Doubloon was hidden in his sock. It was also proved that the same morning the prisoner went to the shop of a jeweller named Cohen in Sunderland and tried to sell him the silver spoons. These spoons were of a distinctive design and it was known these were the stolen items belonging to Mrs Wood”. William Daglish was found guilty. He had a previous conviction and the judge condemned him to 6 years penal servitude. On hearing his sentence William told those present in the court “I can sleep that and come back and start again”.

This was not the first time he had targeted Mrs Wood’s home as he had also stolen fruit from the garden. On April 3rd 1850 William was taken into custody for stealing lead from Mr Swinburne’s works in Shields. In September the following year he broke into Rev Dixon’s on Laygate Lane for which he was given 18 months hard labour, having stolen a silver watch, 10 gold seals, a gold tooth pick, 2 silk handkerchiefs, a gold brooch, gold pin and other articles. In the article reporting the crime he was described along with George Atkinson, his accomplice, as “loose characters”. Atkinson had tried to sell a ring inscribed with the Reverend’s name on at Mr Joel’s on Shakespeare St, Newcastle. Daglish in turn attempted to sell a gold seal with a crest on it. It wasn’t long before the police picked them up. Atkinson was arrested on the Dark Stairs in North Shields.

In the 1851 Census William Daglish was living at 8 Thornton St, Westoe, South Shields. He was 18 and described as a labourer and had been born in Jarrow. He was living with his parents William aged 48 and born in South Shields also a labourer and Isabell his mother aged 43 born in Middleton. He had 5 siblings, James, Margaret, Elizabeth, Isabella and Mary Ann. Ten years before they had been living at Hedworth. In 1861 Dad, William was a widower and was living at 22 Hill St also at Westoe. He died in 1869. William’s sisters were domestic servants and brother James a labourer.
Some years later on April 18th 1863, another burglary was reported as having been committed.

 “The residence of Mr John Henderson, principal partner in the firm of Messrs Henderson & Co carpet manufacturers, called Leazes House and situated immediately behind Claypath, Durham was broken into early Friday morning. The mansion is detached, and although surrounded by a high wall, is comparatively open and easy to access. The thieves got into the grounds and went deliberately to one of the dining room windows and broke in. The dining room is on the ground floor, and all the windows are within a couple of feet from the ground. The window in question has not been opened for two years as it was fastened by paint. The burglars used chisels and jemmies and those marks were clearly visible on the wood. The iron bar which fastened the shutter on the inside was removed with ease and the burglars entered the house. They searched the dining room and took several articles of silver plate, valued at £20, which the family had used at dinner the previous evening and had left on the sideboard. The thieves then went to other parts of the house and visited the bedroom occupied by one of Mr Henderson’s daughters and did so without creating any noise which would disturb the household. Mr Henderson had gone to bed shortly after midnight and although he slept immediately above the dining room he heard nothing.”

The burglary was discovered by a housemaid who wanted to open the dining room shutters. At once Superintendent Beard of the Borough police was sent for and on his arrival made a minute examination of the house. The police discovered a broken glass on the lawn and then it was discovered that a decanter of wine and a bottle of brandy had been taken outside onto the lawn and drunk with relish by the thieves. The glass had been thrown against a wall and smashed. A terrier belonging to the Hendersons, which was normally a good watch dog, was found in the kitchen in a stupor on Friday morning and appeared to have been drugged by the burglars.

It wasn’t long before those responsible were captured after a long and bloody fight, the likes of which, according to the newspaper, had never been witnessed before.

“A party of notorious thieves, amongst them a recently released convict named Daglish, had been living in Gateshead but they had been so closely watched by the police that they left for Newcastle and had taken up residence in Hindhaugh St near the Barracks. Detective Leitch of Gateshead Police called in at the Manors Police Station in Newcastle on Sunday morning and told them he was going to pay the gang a visit. Detectives Parker and Thorburn at once offered to accompany him and they set off together reaching the house between 12 and 1 o’clock.”

The detectives knocked on the door and it was eventually opened warily a crack by a woman who looked out furtively and became alarmed at the sight of the policemen pushing past her. Reacting quickly, she picked up her skirts and made her escape by sprinting down the street. Meanwhile the three detectives tiptoed up the stairs and found Daglish in the first room, along with another newly released convict who said he was called Brown. Whilst this was going on two other men and women hurried to get out of the house. One of the male gang got out of the back window, slid down the drainpipe and into the back yard and was able to get clean away. As soon as Daglish saw the officers he grabbed a poker which was lying in the fire and aimed a vicious blow at the head of Detective Leitch. Detective Parker reacted quickly and rushed forward to catch the poker before it struck his colleague and was severely burned in the process. Daglish dropped the hot poker and picked up a brace and bit and hit Leitch over the head with it, inflicting a severe wound from which blood gushed down the policeman’s face. Undaunted, Leitch grabbed Daglish, as did Parker and a tremendous struggle ensued with Daglish like a cornered animal resisting forcefully, kicking and wrestling with extraordinary strength. In the confusion Leitch managed to wrench the brace from the thief and inflicted heavy blows on Daglish until in turn his face was also streaming with blood. It was an extremely bloody scene with blood flowing freely from all involved. Parker got Daglish round the neck and almost choked him, whilst Detective Thorburn sprang into action against Brown the gang member who was a big powerful man, and resisted savagely but Thorburn got him restrained. What a sight they must have looked bloodied and bruised with Detective Leitch’s clothes torn to shreds.

The policemen searched the premises and discovered all of the stolen silver plate, as well as a quantity of valuable property from other burglaries. Picklocks and a skeleton key were also found. Daglish was suspected as having been involved in most of the burglaries in the area, including one at Boldon which had taken place not long before. Finally, the two men were taken to Westgate Police Station and the bedraggled and bloodied group were followed by crowds of onlookers who had heard the desperate struggle going on in the house. Once at the station all the men’s wounds were attended to.

No time was wasted before a battered William Daglish with a bandaged head and John Brown with a badly cut face were in  a packed Durham court room, along with the two other men and Margaret Connolly, all charged with burgling the home of John Henderson, stealing 12 silver teaspoons and the silver plate. The case was adjourned because the officers were suffering from their injuries made during the arrest. The prisoners were taken to back to jail to await the trial.

On July the 24th 1863 William Daglish aged 29, a tailor, John Brown aged 40, a sailor, Margaret Connolly, 23, spinster, Thomas Christie aged 28 and a labourer, Robert Hoy a 28 year old boilersmith and lastly Isabella Steepley a 23 year old married woman were ushered into court to face burglary charges. The first witness in the dock for the prosecution was Catherine Ward, the housemaid who had discovered the infraction and she timidly described her actions that morning. Mr Henderson took the stand next and told the court that along with his wife and five children there were 6 servants in the house and he went on to describe how boxes had been broken open and the library ransacked. He then went on to say how footprints were found in the flower border and the police covered them with boards. Superintendent Beard told the packed court that the boots Daglish wore corresponded to the footprints in the flower bed and all eyes swivelled to stare at the stocky burglar with a defiant look on his face. The chisel and screwdriver taken from the gang were found to match the marks made upon the dining room window and the same chisel marks were made on furniture. At this point the prisoner John Brown, got to his feet and cross examined the policeman about the footprints not matching his boots when he was arrested. Next up to make a statement was PC Thomas Nicholson who had overheard the prisoners Daglish and Christie speaking in jail.

Daglish “Tom have they copped you?” Christie “Yes” Daglish “Where?” Christie “Hartlepool” “Did the tramp catch you?” “No, I had a run for it, I nearly got away, I was out of wind and had to stop” Daglish “We have made a bad job of it, we might have done it better if you had taken the basket off the table when I told you; they could have made nothing of us ” Christie ” I did not understand you, I wish I had stopped, we would have all got away” Daglish ” You will not get much, you have not been committed before. I’m sure to get it this time. We’ve been up today, they traced my boots to the very spot. There’s a 10 or 15 years for me at the very least” Christie ” Has Meg split,” Daglish “Not a word – Is there anything about the ticker?” Christie “No.”

Detective Leach told the court they had been in civilian clothes when they went to the gang’s hide out and that the female prisoner Steepley, a married woman who was living with Daglish opened the door. Daglish had been in bed with Christie and the other prisoners when Leach found the chisel and screwdriver near a basket filled with broken up silver plate in the corner of the room. The detective then went on to describe the fight and told the court that Connolly and Hoy got away and Christie was caught in Hartlepool and Hoy and Steepley in Barnard Castle.

Prisoner William Daglish was led to the witness box and proceeded to make a long rambling defence. He said the only thing the police had against him was that he was an ex convict. He had £7 1 shilling on him when he left Chatham prison in january of that year and had been working for 5 weeks at Gateshead and had kept out of bad company. The police, he said, had hunted him like a dog.

The Jury retired and after 45 minutes returned with their verdict. They found Daglish and Brown guilty as charged. Hoy and Christie were found guilty of receiving stolen goods and Connolly and Steepley were acquitted. Several previous convictions were taken into account with Daglish being sentenced to 12 years, Brown 10 years, Christie 6 years and Hoy 18 months hard labour.

William Daglish was given bad news in 1865 – he was to be transported to Australia and would in all likelihood never see the North East again. The date was set for the 19th May and the convicts were taken on board the ship the Racehorse docked at Portland, bound for  the Swan River Colony in Western Australia. The Racehorse was built in Jersey in 1853 and was a vessel of 1077 tons and was owned by John Smurthwaite a Sunderland merchant. Her captain was M.H. Seward and the Ship’s Surgeon (doctor) was Alexander Watson.The voyage took 76 days and they arrived in Freemantle on the 10th August 1865 with 172 passengers and 278 convicts on board of which 3 died on the voyage. William was convict No.8249 and his profession was ‘moulder’. He was described as single and childless. His height was five feet one and three quarter inches. He had light brown hair and hazel eyes with a sallow complexion and a long face. He could read and write. His build was noted as middling, stout. He had the following distinguishing marks – a scar on the right of his chin and two moles on his chest. The Perth Gazette & West Australian Times announced their arrival on August 11th “The Racehorse convict ship anchored in Gage’s Roads yesterday morning, having made a fine passage of 78 days from port to port”.

William had other Geordies to accompany him on that long journey away from everything he knew. William Carnaby a French Polisher had been given a sentence of 10 years in November 1863 in Newcastle for setting fire to a marine store shop where his wife worked. The fire caused little if any damage and was valued at £1. George Heal, a joiner was given 20 years at Durham for the rape of a schoolgirl in 1863. Thomas Miller got 10 years for manslaughter at Newcastle in 1862. William Richardson also 10 years for robbery with violence at Newcastle Court in 1863. Jacob Skelton again 10 years for horse stealing at Durham court in 1863 and James Trubshaw 10 years for pickpocketing at Newcastle court in 1863.

The Swan River Colony had been established on the Swan River, Western Australia in 1829. The first convicts arrived in Freemantle in 1850 and up to 1868, 9,721 convicts were transported to Western Australia on 43 convict ships. The population became concerned

“There were times indeed when Perth seemed to be a society under siege, with strengthened doors, fitted locks, restricted movement for women and children and feeling of anticipated personal violence, alienation and degradation”

It has to be said, with William about it was wise to lock up the silver!The convicts spent very little time in prison. In Freemantle they were kept in the Convict Prison only if they were being punished for misbehaviour. Most convicts were sent to other parts of the colony, usually in remote areas. They built roads and public buildings. There were many opportunities for escape but in one direction was the sea and the other the desert so there was no hope of freedom, unless you could board a ship. Many escapees surrendered to avoid starvation. If you were well behaved you could be given early release and could work for money but had to stay in the district. Eventually they could be given a pardon but they could never return to England. However, I’m pleased to report that our rogue William Daglish was given his ‘ticket of leave’ on August 16th 1869 (a provisionary release) and received his certificate of freedom July 22nd 1875. He was described in Freemantle as a labourer, general servant, cutter firewood and fence maker. Who knows, he may have even eventually made it home to South Shields….

William Carnaby the arsonist died April 17th 1877 in Perth of natural causes aged 55. George Heal, rapist became a self employed carpenter, joiner in 1876. Thomas Miller who had committed manslaughter and was originally a glass maker moved to New South Wales in 1873 where he was a Boot Closer, Labourer, Grubber. William Richardson who had committed robbery with violence had been married with 3 children when he was transported and he became a self employed blacksmith and moved to South Australia in 1877, and from there he returned to London! Jacob Skelton the horse rustler was a married farmer with 3 children when sent to Australia where he became a stock keeper, teamster and shepherd. He was reconvicted in Western Australia. Finally, James Trubshaw the pickpocket was set free in 1873 and was a general servant, labourer and sawyer. Hopefully they all managed to find happiness in their new country.

Written and researched by Dorothy Ramser

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