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
|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.|
|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|
|The King on the||On an Indictment for Felony|
|Prosecution of William||A True Bill Pleaded "Not 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|
|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|
|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.|
|My dear Lord|
|Yrs very truly|
|The Marquis of|
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:
|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:
- 31 July 1815: James Wisbey v John Pluck the younger - swearing, conviction, commitment 10 days; conviction John Pluck tippling at Greyhound this day, fine 5s.
- 6 Aug 1816: George Bainbridge v John Pluck, assault
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
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|
|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.
I am indebted to Pat and Bob Pluck for providing this mass of
information about John Pluck which they have gathered by research
at the Essex County Record Office, at the Public Record Office at
Kew, and from the Tasmanian Archives.
- I am also grateful to Jacqueline Cooper the author of "The Well-ordered Town: a Story of Saffron Walden, 1792-1862", published 2000, (ISBN 1 873669 06 2), which has provided me with much information about life in Saffron Walden during this period, and for providing further information from her research notes.
Derrick G Porter
19 April 2002