Lewisham has a namesake in the south western Sydney suburbs named after its south east London equivalent. The New South Wales Lewisham, was given the name in 1834 from the estate of Jacob Josephson, which was sold after his death by his son, Joshua, in the 1850s for development.
Jacob was transported for 14 years in May 1818 for having forged £1 notes in his possession. His son Joshua and his mother made the same journey to New South Wales in 1820. Jacob had been on the run before his arrest and running up considerable bank debts and absconding with church silver whilst working as a clerk to a parish church. He seems to have never been charged with the theft as his punishment could have been considerably greater. Once in Australia he set himself up in his former trade as a silversmith but again got into considerable debt and ended up in a debtors’ prison.
Once out of prison he seems to have made a large amount of money as a publican in several locations in New South Wales, it would be appear that part of this money was used to buy land, including what was to become Lewisham.
So where does the link to south east London come from? Sadly, it isn’t clear, the church that Jacob Josephson was clerk to and ran away with the silver from was in Bethnal Green. The offence for which he was transported was tried in Oxford and at the time of the offence was living just north of Oxford.
The land in the area had been ‘granted’ by the first Governor, Arthur Phillip (who had been educated at what is now Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College) by around 1809. This was a decade or so before Josephson arrived in the colony, so one possibility might have been that an earlier owner had a link to south east London. Sadly, nothing is obvious though – the two largest parts of the Lewisham estate were ‘granted’ to an the emancipated convicts, George Gambling, who had been convicted in Hampshire in 1797, and to John White from County Fermanagh, So, sadly, it remains something of a mystery where the link to Lewisham.
Transportation began to be used as a punishment in the early 18th century – Running Past has covered it before in relation to the Scottish Political Martyrs remembered at Nunhead Cemetery – see below.
It continued until 1857 when it was replaced by the slightly more enlightened penal servitude, which those who have been reading the blog for a while may recall was the punishment meted out to the Deptford anarchist and Post Office bomber Rolla Richards.
The Old Bailey’s on-line archives offer a fascinating insight into crime and punishments – by modern standards many of the sentences seem incredibly harsh – transportation for ten years for burglary without any aggravating factors would perhaps warrant a custodial term of 2 years now. Some of the theft cases that saw the perpetrators Australia bound may only have seen community orders.
The cases below all have a Lewisham (south east London) link in either the crime and/or the residence of the perpetrator, sadly with all of them it isn’t clear what became of them once they reached the Antipodes.
James Moore – Theft of Flutes from Colfe’s School
Moore was convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ the home of Joseph Prendergast, at Lewisham, who then head of Colfe’s School off Lewisham Road, his will was to enable the founding of the Prendergast School. He and an accomplice stole two flutes, with a value of £5 and £3 and a hat valued at 2/6d (13p). Moore was transported for 15 years in 1837.
William Skilton – Bigamy
Skilton (Skelton) was convicted of bigamy in 1837; he had married Mary Ann Wyld in Newington in 1820, Anne Sarah Wilkinson in Islington in 1826 and finally Esther Pink at St Mary’s, Lewisham (below) in 1829. On arrest he was reported as having said “What if I have had three wives, two of them turned out bad ones, and now I have got a third I suppose you won’t let me keep her.” Skilton was sentenced to seven years for each offence – seemingly to run consecutively.
George Baker, George Bassett & John Grant – Burglary
The three men were convicted of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ the home and business of a Lewisham grocer, taking coins and notes of almost £100 along with various goods of some considerable value one night in February 1844. The trio then went on a drinking spree taking in Deptford and Poplar, before heading to the brothels and bars of the Strand area. Baker, Bassett and Grant were sentenced for 10 years transportation.
Samuel Ewins – Robbery
Ewins was indicted for a robbery, with violence on Loampit Vale, close to the former Hope Tavern, stealing from a 15 year old a watch and chain, value £14 along with around 6/2d (31p) in cash. He was transported for 10 years in 1853.
Henry Pickett – Burglary
Henry Pickett was found guilty of ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ and stealing two coats, a cap and a pair of boots from George Selby of Ravensbourne Park in Catford. Based on the 1851 census, George Selby was a solicitor who lived on a farm which appears to have been managed by one of his sons. Ravensbourne Park was to become an extremely desirable location with the arrival of the railway at Catford Bridge six years later, but already had a small number of large houses in the early 1850s. The postcard below (eBay April 2016) was from a few decades later, but the look of the area, other than the station, would have been little different. Pickett was apprehended after his accomplice tried to sell some of the goods in Deptford.
While his accomplice was sent to prison for two years, Pickett was sentenced to be transported for 10 years. However, he never made to long voyage to Botany Bay as he seems to have ended up with a lesser prison sentence and was released from Portsmouth prison in 1855.
Thank you to the ever helpful Julian Watson for being able to rule out the theft of the silver being from St Mary’s, Lewisham and pinpointing it to Bethnal Green. Thank you also to Aleem Aleemullah, Local Studies Librarian at Inner West Council (which includes the ‘other’ Lewisham) in the Sydney suburbs who was very helpful in providing some Antipodean local knowledge and getting me a little further along what proved to be a dead-end in trying to work out the link Jacob Josephson or his estate had to south London’s Lewisham.
The 1851 census data comes via Find My Past.