"Pluck is a man of the most abandoned character & has
long been at the head of a Gang of Thieves by whom
every species of depredation to an alarming extent
has been committed during the two last years ... "

This is from a letter written to the Home Secretary by Lord Braybrooke of Audley End. Read the story for yourself and make up your own mind whether John Pluck would have been your favourite neighbour.

The story as reported by the Chelmsford Chronicle

John Pluck, a shoemaker, and well-known Poacher, underwent an examination on Wednesday se'nnight, before T A Cattlin, Esquire, Mayor of Saffron Walden, charged with a burglary in the house of Mr. Middleditch, a miller residing a short distance from that town, It appears that the family were all out and on Mr. Middleditch's return home about 10 o'clock at night he found his door open, and seeing a man making his escape, he followed him, when the fellow dropped a bundle, containing various articles of apparel which he had stolen from the house. The prisoner was fully committed for trial at the quarter sessions.

The Court Records

Quarter Sessions Minutes 13th July 1827

Town of Saffron At the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace of our
Walden in Essex Sovereign Lord the King holden in and for the said
Town on Friday in the first week next
after the Translation
13th July of St Thomas the Martyr (to wit) the thirteenth Day of
1827 July in the Eighth Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord
George the Fourth by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and Ireland King Defender of the Faith
and in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred
and twenty seven before Thomas Archer Catlin Esquire, Mayor
Nathaniel Catlin Esquire and officers Justices assigned, etc.

The Jurors for our Sovereign Lord the King

Robert Paul T. George Archer
John Allen William Burrows
Henry Burrow Charles Brown?
William Shelford? Barnes John Clark
John Clayden Robert Clark
Hannabal Dunn John Emson
Thomas Joyce John King
Scamer? Spicer Waite? Spicer
William Wiseman William Ward
Joseph Ward

The King on the On an Indictment for Felony
Prosecution of William A True Bill Pleaded "Not Guilty"
Middleditch against Guilty
John Pluck To be transported for 7 years to such
Parts beyond the Seas as his Majesty
In Council shall think proper
The Jury present "All is Well"
and it is ordered by the Court that the
expenses in the above Prosecution be
allowed by the Parish

Some Local Lobbying

Following the trial a local landowner, Lord Braybrooke, wrote to the Home Secretary ...

Private                               Audley End
                                        July 22 1827

My dear Lord
          The Magistrates and
Inhabitants of Saffron Walden have expressed
a strong desire that I should call your
attention to the case of John Pluck
who has just been convicted at their
Sessions of felony, & sentenced to seven
years transportation.
          They wish me to represent that Pluck
is a man of the most abandoned character
& has long been at the head of a Gang of
Thieves by whom every species of depredation
to an alarming extent has been committed
during the two last years. & they are
very anxious that he should be actually
transported instead of going to the Hulks
from a conviction that the example would
produce a good effect.
          As I am fully acquainted with the
circumstances of the case I can have no
hesitation in adding my recommendation
to the request of my neighbours.
          It would further be matter of
great convenience if you [smudge]
issue an order for Plucks removal to
some more secure place of confinement
than Walden Gaol.
                                      I am
                                      My dear Lord
                                      Yrs very truly
The Marquis of
Lansdowne                        Braybrooke
etc etc

There is a short manuscript note in the corner of the document:

Ld L- has written to Ld B"

"Ld L" is Henry Petty-FitzMaurice, the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne, who was Home Secretary from 16 July 1827 - 26 January 1828 and "Ld B" is Lord Braybrooke

The letter quoted above is in the Public Record Office at Kew.

John Pluck's Criminal Record

It seems that John had a criminal record. The details from the Quarter sessions records are:

Year Date County Parish Person Offence/Judgement
1810 2 Oct Essex Saff Walden John Pluck Assault on Samuel Day - no true bill (not enough evidence)
1813 27 Apr Essex Saff Walden John Pluck the younger Obtaining money under false pretences - plea not guilty - prison 1 month at House of Correction
1814 22 Apr Essex Saff Walden John Pluck Junior Assault on the Constable - fine paid
1827 13 Jul Essex Saff Walden John Pluck Wm Middleditch v JP - indictable felony, true bill, plea not guilty, transported 7 years

There is also evidence of some lesser offences in the records of the Saffron Walden Town Sessions:

A Move to the Prison Hulks at Woolwich

Lord Braybrooke's request that John should be taken to somewhere more secure than the Saffron Walden jail seems to have had its effect, because the following records have been found in the Quarterly Returns of convicts in prison hulks (decommissioned naval ships used as prisons while the convicts awaited a ship to transport them to the colonies)

From the Quarterly Returns of convicts in prison hulks:

Justitia Hulk at Woolwich Dec 1827 (10Oct - 31Dec)

John Pluck age 40 Stealing Coat & Trousers,13th July 1827, Healthy & of good behaviour

Justitia Hulk at Woolwich Mar 1828

John Pluck age 40 Stealing Coat & Trousers, 13th July 1827, transported 20th Feb 1828

So John must have spent several months in the hulks at Woolwich, before being moved to the ship that was to take him to Australia. We don't know whether prisoners were moved overland to Plymouth or were taken in a coastal ship. The records in Tasmania show that John was transported in the Bengall Merchant and landed in Hobart, on the 10th of August 1828 after a voyage of about four and a half months. They were routed via Rio; in those days a sailing ship had to follow a route that made maximum use of the prevailing winds and, with a large number of mouths to feed a 15,000 miles non-stop journey would be impossible. It was usual to call in at Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town to take on board water and provisions.

Arrival in Australia

From the Convict Transportation Registers:

John Pluck Saffron Walden Quarter Sessions 7 yrs sailed in Bengall Merchant 13 March 1828, Carried 170, 4 deaths. Landed Hobart Van Diemans Land arrived 10/8/1828

Bengall merchant 503 tons built Calcutta 1812

Master Alex Duthie Surgeon Jos Skeoch

sailed 25/3/1828 from Plymouth routed via Rio - 138 days

From the Van Diemans Land - Nominal Return of Convicts for 1830:

John Pluck, 1828, Bengal Merchant, Assigned to Mr J Owen

At the moment we know nothing about Mr Owen or how John Pluck was employed in Tasmania.

The following records are from photocopies of original documents supplied by the Archives Office of Tasmania.

Entry in a book ref. Con 31/34

489 Pluck Jn. Bengal Merchant 1828 Essex 13 July 1827 = 7 Transpd. For "stealing a coat & trousers" Goal report "Convicted before, Bad character & connexions" Hulk report "Very orderly"
Stated, this offence stealing wearing apparel from a Dwelling house prosr. Middleditch a Miller at NP (Native Place) Saffron Walden - once a month for an Assault - In 10 weeks I made it up - wife & 8 children Eldest Boy John a shoemaker youngest 2 yrs old - I was last working for Mr Barrow a Master Shoemaker at N.P. - w & 8 ch

Some Personal Details

A picture of John Pluck emerges from other documents obtained from the Tasmania Archives. He was aged 40, height 5ft 2inches, dark brown hair, dark hazel eyes, with "a deep indent on centre afforehead and scar on thumb knuckle left hand". He was a shoemaker in the town of Saffron Walden in Essex, of the protestant religion, married with a wife and eight children.

A Free Man

He served his time and in due course received his Free Pardon or Emancipation: Free Certificate Number 279, dated 30th September 1834.

The final record is an entry in the Register of Deaths ref. RAD 35/18

1845 DEATHS in the District of Horton

When Died 8 October
Name and Surname John Pluck
Sex Male
Age 50
Rank or Profession Shoemaker
Cause of Death Delirium Tremens
Informant John Lee Archer, Police Magistrate

So it would seem that he drank himself to death.
He is PL40 in Tree 6.  He was a half-brother of my great great grandfather Nehemiah Pluck.


Derrick G Porter
19 April 2002

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