Journey from Old Basing to Tasmania
Edward Whistler, a butcher of Old Basing, departed this world in 1817. He was survived by a son Edward Whistler and three married daughters: Ruth, the wife of James Bannister (or Banister, also known as Burniston), a carpenter of Old Basing; Harriet, the wife of Joseph Harris, a carpenter of Old Basing; and Mercy, the wife of John Godden, a labourer of Sherfield, Hampshire (1).
Edward’s son and namesake, who took over the family business, was listed as a butcher of Old Basing in the 1844 Pigot’s Commercial Directory for the Basingstoke area. A view of the community of Old Basing was given in a property survey of 1841 in which Lord Bolton was recorded as the main landowner. Edward Whistler, like many Old Basing residents, was a tenant of Lord Bolton (2).
The 1851 census for Old Basing found Edward Whistler, aged 71, unmarried, still working as a village butcher on Basing Street (3). Edward Whistler, aged 78, was buried at the parish church of Old Basing on 20 October 1858.
Catherine (Kitty) Bannister
Catherine, a grand-daughter of Edward Whistler senior, was the second oldest of the nine children of James and Ruth Bannister (4). In the industrial revolution, employment opportunities in domestic service and other trades attracted young women to move to London. While still a teenager Catherine left village Hampshire for the lure of work in London.
Possibly, on her arrival in the metropolis, Catherine was welcomed by one of her cousins. Her mother’s cousin Ann Whistler, who was born in Basingstoke, married John Luker on 14 January 1821 at St Andrew Holborn, London. On 4 August 1823 Ann Luker was a witness at the wedding of her sister, Harriot Whistler, to John Gillam at St Ann Blackfriars, London. In 1828 John Luker was a labourer living at Lambeth Hill, City of London (5).
Catherine’s story is reminiscent of the London scenes portrayed in the writings of Charles Dickens. On 5 April 1827 Catherine Bannister was convicted of theft and deported to Australia.
Her trial was held at the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court. The trial details record that she was indicted for stealing ‘1 brooch, value 16s, and 1 frill, value 2s’, from Mary Ann Hebert, the wife of Peter Hebert who was a tailor in Broad Street, Bloomsbury (6). At the trial, Mary Ann Hebert testified that, on the evening of 5 March, she was returning from a ‘public-house at the corner of Plumbtree-street’ when she was approached by a person who ‘tore my frill off my neck, which had a gold brooch in it ...; the brooch was found in the passage of the watch-house’. Catherine’s defence was that she was an innocent bystander to the robbery and that another girl was responsible for the theft. In response, Mary Ann Hebert agreed that another girl was at the scene of the crime but she insisted that ‘it was the prisoner who looked so hard at me’. On this evidence, Catherine was found guilty.
Many of the females convicted in London and transported to Australia were migrants from outside London and first offenders (7). It has also been noted that, in the convict settlements, the men considerably outnumbered the women, and, in efforts to correct this imbalance, women ‘who seemed healthy and relatively young were shipped off, whatever their crime or length of sentence’ (8).
In the early nineteenth century, few defendants could afford legal representation at Old Bailey trials and, once in Australia, even if there was a compelling suggestion of innocence, there was likely little hope of a pardon (9). Following an Old Bailey trial, prisoners were led off to Newgate prison where they were confined in yards for transportees. From here they were taken to Blackfriars and rowed down the River Thames for embarkation on the transport ships (10).
Catherine was transported on the Sovereign, departing from the London docks on 14 July 1827 and arriving in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (renamed to Tasmania in 1856), on 20 November 1827 – a journey of 129 days (11).
A document with a record of the 81 Female Convicts embarked on board the Ship Sovereign for Van Diemen’s Land gave details for Catherine Bannister as: (12)
It should be noted that the label of ‘prostitute’ was assigned arbitrarily to young working women. Deborah Oxley, in Convict Maids, states: ‘Many women were labelled whores, not because they were such in any literal sense, but because the term had been appropriated as a reproach to be levelled at women who erred in any one of a variety of ways’ (13).
Catherine married James Jackson in Hobart on 17 June 1829. They had three sons (William James, Frederick Henry, Benjamin Henry) and three daughters (Anne Mary, Ruth Jane and Rachel Jane). She married her second husband, William Dann, in 1847, and they had two sons and a daughter. Catherine received her Ticket of Leave on 19 February 1836 and a Conditional Pardon was applied for on 20 September 1837 and approved on 31 January 1840 (14).
The Conditional Pardon gave the information that Catherine Bannister was given a life sentence on 5 April 1827 and was subsequently transported to Australia on the Sovereign. This is shown in the header of the document:
A transcript of the Conditional Pardon is: (15).
An analysis of convict records from Van Diemen’s Land has found that, on average, women were punished about five times each during their sentences (16). So Catherine’s record seems typical of this.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks for the helpful e-mail correspondence from Dorothy Morrissey and Robbie (Robyn) MacKenzie, both descendants of James Bannister and Ruth Whistler.
Deborah Oxley, Convict Maids – The Forced Migration of Women to Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
HRO – Hampshire Record Office, Winchester.
(1) Edward Whistler, aged 72, was buried at
Old Basing on 26 June 1817. His will, proved in the Archdeaconry Court
of Winchester (HRO), described his family. He was predeceased by his wife
Ann who died aged 66 and was buried at the parish church of Old Basing
on 6 November 1814.
Their marriage was recorded in the Old Basing parish register: ‘Banns
of Marriage between Edward Whisler of the Parish of Basingstoke and
Ann Hale of this Parish were published in this Church on three several
Sundays [as follows] May the 3rd, 10th and the 17th 1772. Edward Whisler
and Ann Hale were married in this Church by Banns May 26th 1772’
(photocopy from Old Basing marriage register ordered from the HRO).
(2) Historical Directories, University of Leicester Special Collections Online;
(4) Biography of Catherine Bannister
by John Godfrey, Jackson Family Notes webpage.
Website: Old Bailey
Proceedings Online , April 1827,
Trial of Catherine Bannister (Ref: t18270405-104).
(11) Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships, 1787–1868, Second Edition, 1969, pp. 358–9 & 385. An excellent history of the convict ships is the website: Convicts to Australia – A Guide to Researching Your Convict Ancestors .
(14) John Godfrey, Jackson Family Notes webpage.