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Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

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Broken families: the impact of poverty and transportation on mid-nineteenth century York lives

Over 160,000 people were transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868.  We know from National Archive records that some came from York. Transportees faced a long sea voyage, and a new life on arrival in Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales, where many worked in often harsh conditions. What is less appreciated is how families in the UK experienced financial hardship and emotional separation as a result of that enforced exile.  

What can we discover of the lives of wives and children of men transported in the mid-nineteenth century? On 30 May 1846 the central poor law authority – the Poor Law Commission  (PLC) – wrote to Poor Law Unions (PLU) asking for details of families on poor law relief: the names of wives, number, age and gender of children, names of convicted husbands, dates and places of conviction and the colony to where husbands were transported.

York PLU replied to the PLC on 29 June. Their records categorised relief recipients, category six designating deserted wives or those whose husbands were transported. Five convicts and their families were identified. Dates of conviction range from July 1834 to October 1842. Three convicts were sent to Van Diemen's Land (VDL, now Tasmania), and two to New South Wales (NSW), one of whom was later sent to Norfolk Island.

Transported convicts' wives and families in receipt of poor law relief in York



first name


 first name

Colony where husband is

Date of conviction

Number and gender of children




Norfolk Island


2M 1F






3M 3F 






1M 2F






2M 1F






3M 2F

Children's data is available in three age cohorts: under seven; seven to fourteen; and over fourteen.

Source: TNA  MH 12/14399, Correspondence between the Poor Law Commission and York Poor Law Union.

Families of transported convicts

Little has been found about Ann Fowler. Her husband Henry was sentenced to seven years and transported on the Westmorland to New South Wales in 1835. He left England on 3 March 1835, arriving in NSW on 15 July. He was subsequently convicted in 1844 at Maitland to a further fourteen years on Norfolk Island, when it featured unrest and mutiny. Henry received a free pardon in 1851.

More is revealed of Elizabeth Hudson, whose husband William was sentenced to seven years on 1 January 1838 at North Riding Quarter Sessions, and sailed to New South Wales aboard the John Barry on 12 November 1838. Elizabeth had six children: Mary (1823-76), Henrietta (b 1828), William (b 1829), Priscilla (b 1832), Joseph (b 1834) and John (b 1838).

St Dennis St with Malt Shovel YardIn 1841 Elizabeth (47) was living in Malt Shovel Yard, Walmgate in St Dennis parish with William (12), Priscilla (9), Joseph (7) and John (3). Neighbours have skilled occupations – e.g. blacksmith, cabinet maker, and hairdresser – perhaps hinting that the family did not occupy the most basic housing. The 1851 census records Elizabeth, a charwoman, now living nearby in St Dennis Street. Joseph is a glass blower's apprentice and John a labourer at the glassworks.  William Hall -  a journeyman joiner (55) – lodges with them, supplementing the household  income.

St Dennis Street, Walmgate, showing Malt Shovel Yard at the top (OS  town plan York, 1852, David Rumsey Historical Map Collection)

Elizabeth's eldest daughter Mary may have financially supported her mother, having married Robert Lumley Hind, a tailor in 1846, and, by 1861, a Gillygate publican. Mary's uncle, Sidney Johnson, lived with them. He was a shoemaker and, subsequently, a house agent, suggesting entrepreneurial flair. Priscilla and Henrietta were baptised into the Roman Catholic faith, and may have accessed charitable church support. By 1851 Priscilla was lodging with Emma and John Clifford at 2 Eldon Street. The census records Priscilla as 19, unmarried and a dressmaker. No trace is found of her after 1851.

glass blowerJoseph progressed from apprentice to glass blower, then bottle maker by 1901, living in Hope Street, Walmgate, with his wife Jane. They do not have any children and may have been in a position to contribute to the wider family income. John progressed from glassworks labourer in 1851 to glass blower in 1861, remaining in that job until at least 1901. He married and had a family.

Men are blowing glass and shaping it in a glass house (Wellcome Collection)


Despite fractured early lives, evidence suggests most of Elizabeth's children sustained families and livelihoods. There is no evidence they retained, or resumed, contact with William after his transportation to New South Wales.

House of Correction againFrances Hughes was born in 1814, St Mary Bishophill Senior her parish of settlement. In 1841 she is in the workhouse with her three children William (9), John (5) and Frances (1). In June 1841, three months after admission, she is sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment in the House of Correction in Bishophill. Her daughter goes with her.

House of Correction, Bishophill (OS map York, 1852, National Library of Scotland)

The press reported the case, under the heading Disorderly Pauper: Mr Brearley, solicitor, appeared on behalf of the Poor Law Guardians to make a complaint against Frances Hughes for misbehaviour in the workhouse of which she is an inmate.  Mr Grimshaw, workhouse master, stated that on Thursday evening last, the defendant made a great noise in the workhouse and would not be quiet for him. On Sunday morning, he heard a tremendous noise in the kitchen – he went up and saw her fighting, he succeeded in taking away the defendant. But in a short time after, she returned and threatened she would break all the windows. Mr Grimshaw again took her away when she struck at him.  Afterwards she sat on the roof of the house and made a noise. Yorkshire Gazette, Saturday 5 June 1841.

Frances was already separated from her husband, Thomas, when he was arrested on 17 August 1841 for stealing a pair of boots. He was sentenced to seven years transportation at York Quarter Sessions on 18 October 1841.

In 1846 Frances is living with her three children in Hungate, one of the poorer parts of the city, and in receipt of outdoor relief. In 1848 she remarries - to Joseph Boddy (21). In 1851 she is living with him, and with three children from her first marriage, William (18, a tile maker), John (15, a brickyard labourer) and Frances 10, a scholar) at 23 Low Dundas Street, Hungate. William Pratt (19, a shoemaker) lodges with them.

Gas works better

Map showing Dundas Street, Union Gas Works and the Foss, Hungate (OS  town plan York, 1852, David Rumsey Historical Map Collection)

Ann Fell and George Hare married in St Saviour's in 1830. In 1841 Ann (29) and George (31, a labourer) are living with their children Stephen (10), George (7) and Mary Ann (6) at Smith's Buildings, Hungate. In October George was convicted of highway robbery, assaulting William Archer and stealing 22 shillings from him. He was sentenced to fifteen years transportation at York Quarter Sessions on 19 October 1841. Convict records in Van Diemen's Land note that he was literate, and chalked up three convictions for drunkenness.

In 1851 Ann appears with her children in two sets of census data. In one she is head of household, living in Banbridge's Yard, St Saviour's. In the other she lodges with her children in Merrington Buildings, in Minster Yard with Bedern, and a brother, Alfred Fell, is head of household. Ann is a charwoman.

Bedern again

Map showing Minster Yard with Bedern (OS  town plan York, 1852, City of York Council Archaeology)

In 1861 Ann (48) is living on St Andrewgate, her occupation comb polisher. She shares the house with her three children, Philip (16), a comb maker; Thomas (13) and Henry (7), scholars. It appears her daughter Elizabeth has died. Charles Richardson (25, a carter) lodges with them, supplementing the household income.

Elizabeth Reed was born in Stillington, ten miles north of York, in 1799. and living in Gillygate with her four children when in receipt of outdoor relief in 1846. The 1841 census records her children as James (15), an attorney's clerk (though the accuracy of this description may be challenged), Charles (11), Joseph (9), Reuben (6) and Mary Ann (4). Her husband, John, had been bailiff to the Sheriff of York, a role involving collection of debts. He was convicted of forging a promissory note, and sentenced to fifteen years transportation at York Assizes on 1 June 1838. 

Ingrams betterIn 1851 Elizabeth was in Wilson's Passage, Gillygate, generating income as a charwoman. Charles (20) was a confectioner's apprentice, Reuben (16), a tailor's apprentice and Mary Ann, a scholar. Ten years later Elizabeth is an upholstress, a widow living alone at 42 Bootham. By 1871 she had moved nearby to Ingram's Hospital, Bootham, an almshouse for ten poor widows, built between 1630 and 1640. In 1881 she is there (her address 71 Bootham), with her grandson John James Reed (24, a tailor) and Elizabeth (10). 

Map showing Ingram's Hospital: the Almshouse for Widows (top left) (OS  town plan York, 1852, City of York Council Archaeology)

Elizabeth's youngest child, Mary Ann,  married Andrew Glover in 1858. Three years later he was a coachsmith in York, and subsequently in the Bradford area. Elizabeth died in 1885, and left £31.18s probate. Mary Ann Glover was executrix.

Living conditions

Nineteenth century York was an unhealthy place for its poorer residents, underlined by cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1848. The local water supply was very poor, with York Water Company drawing water unfiltered from the polluted Ouse. In 1847 an outbreak of typhus prompted the opening of a temporary fever hospital, its surgeon noting insanitary Walmgate parishes of St George, St Dennis (where Elizabeth Hudson, and children lived) and St Margaret provided 45% of pauper fever cases although they comprised only 21% of the town's inhabitants. This illustrates the link between environment, sickness and pauperism, as noted by Digby.

Thomas Laycock, physician to York Dispensary noted '...slaughter-houses, dung-heaps, pig-sties, etc, which unfortunately subsist in the heart of the town...generate contagion. The dampness of the dwellings … is … prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants'. (Board of Health Report quoted by T. Laycock in the Report to the Health of New Towns Commission on the State of York, 1844, p.5).

Families researched (with the exception of Elizabeth Reed and her children) lived in poorer districts such as Hungate and Walmgate with insanitary conditions. Houses in low-lying areas, especially Hungate, were periodically flooded by that 'great open cesspool ', the River Foss. Laycock cited findings of District Visitors relating to Smith's Buildings, Hungate, where Ann Fell and her children lived. They noted 'much complaint of smell and gas-work etc.; effluence in yard; several houses cold and damp; all use two common privies in backyard; open soil-hole; and general appearance of both courts very dirty'.


Families of those transported developed a range of survival strategies, informed by different phases in the life cycle. They drew on poor relief, kin support, and employment - most frequently as charwomen – though Higgs notes that women's employment was often under-recorded in the nineteenth century census. Other potential sources of income were lodgers, charities, and use of pawnbrokers. Elizabeth Reed – the one woman whose husband had a professional life – accessed an almshouse. Life was not easy for any of these women, nor for their children, fractured by the emotional and financial impact of husbands and fathers forced faraway. However, children received an education, and most later found  employment, some securing occupational advancement. Despite dislocation, unhealthy neighbourhoods and deprivation, it is determination, hard work, and resilience that is revealed.

Further research

There is potential for family historians to further investigate the lives of those cited, and their descendants in the United Kingdom and  Australia. Potential topics include housing conditions, clothing worn, and consideration of their thought processes. e.g. evidence of what they knew of their 'rights' and how these they established.

Researchers in England and Wales can trace responses to the 30 May 1846 circular from the PLC to Poor Law Unions, requesting details of families of transported convicts. The source is the National Archives (TNA) MH 12 series consisting of Poor Law Union correspondence between the unions and the central authorities (1834 - c1900). It is arranged by Poor Law Union and then by year. Some records in MH 12 have been digitised and/or catalogued in detail, and these are listed below:


Census 1841 – 1901

Laycock T., City of York : report on the state of York, in reply to questions circulated by the Health of Towns Commission, 1844.

Smith, James, Report to the General Board of Health  on the state of the City of York and other towns, 1845, Wellcome Collection.

TNA  MH 12/14399, Correspondence between the Poor Law Commission and York Poor Law Union.

Yorkshire Gazette, 5 June 1841; 18 and 23 October 1841.


Carter, Paul and Whistance, Natalie,  Living the Poor Life: A Guide to the Poor Law Union Correspondence c.1834 to 1871, held at TNA (British Association for Local History, 2011).

Carter, Paul and Whistance, Natalie, ‘The Poor Law Commission: A New Digital Resource for Nineteenth Century Domestic Historians’ in History Workshop Journal 71, Spring 2011, pp. 29-48.

Digby, Anne, 'The Relief of Poverty in Victorian York: Attitudes and Policies' in Feinstein C. H. (ed.), York 1831-1981: 150 Years of Scientific Endeavour & Social Change (Ebor Press in association with the British Association  for the Advancement of Science, York Committee, 1981).

Durey, M., The First Spasmodic Cholera Epidemic in York, 1832 (Borthwick Papers, 1974).

Higgs, Edward, A Clearer Sense of the Census (Public Record Office, 1996).

King, Steven and Tomkins, Alannah, The poor in England 1700-1850: An economy of makeshifts (Manchester University Press, 2003).

King, Steven, Carter, Paul, et al, In Their Own Write: Contesting the New Poor Law, 1834-1900 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2022).

Mantel, Hilary, Reith Lectures (BBC, 2017)

Richmond, Vivienne, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Smith, Carol, The Almshouses of York: Medieval Charity to Modern Welfare (Quacks Books, 2011).

York Civic Trust with Explore York Libraries and Archives, KS2 Education Resource Packs for teachers and students: Life in York's Victorian Workhouse (2018)


This report was compiled by Judith Hoyle, Anne Houson, Dick Hunter and Elaine Bradshaw.