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Thomas Whittaker (1808 — 27 March 1878)

This page and its allied content were sent to me by June Vasey, who is a direct descendant of Thomas Whittaker. Copyright, of course, remains with her.

Finding primary information about "ordinary" people who were involved in major events in the United Kingdom is precious and certainly Thomas Whittaker falls into this category. As a case study, his life is both fascinating and informative. I am most grateful to June Vasey for allowing me to use all the information which she most generously supplied for this web site.

Thomas Whittaker, the second child of soldier Joseph Whittaker and his wife Hannah (née Wright [Brownley]) was born 1808 in the central area of Nottingham known as St. Mary's. He was a general labourer but the rest of the family were very much involved in the lace industry as frame work knitters, lace runners, seamers and so on. Thomas married Elizabeth Keys at the church of St. Mary's on 7 March 1827 and later that year their only child Sarah was born at their abode in Fishergate.]

riotsClick here for the full article and transcription

In October 1831, grievous disappointment was felt in Nottingham upon hearing the news of the rejection of the Reform Act, perhaps with not inconsiderate suffering on the part of the working classes. During the week ending Friday October 14th momentum was gathering and meetings were planned in the Market Place. Lord Rancliffe attended one such meeting where he tried to placate the crowd, without success. In fact it only added fuel to an already ignited fire.

The crowd left the Market Place and split into various factions. Towards dusk one such faction which included Thomas Whittaker made its way to Sneinton and then on to Colwick Hall - the seat of John  Musters Esq. They proceeded to ransack the hall and attempted to set it on fire. Considerable damage was done including destruction of windows, paintings — including a Reynoldss — and furniture.

Shortly afterwards, the crowd returned to the city centre and dispersed. Very quickly Thomas was arrested along with Charles Berkins, Valentine Marshall and others and was charged with feloniously setting fire to Colwick Hall. Rioting still continued for many days after the arrests and resulted in Nottingham Castle being razed to the ground and damage done to the properties of some mill owners including Mr. Lowe of Beeston. These mill owners were beginning to introducing special tariffs for framework knitters who would, in effect, have to rent space at high rates to continue working. There were many other grievences against the owners as well, too numerous to mention here. The 15th Hussars were called upon to keep control of the city and eventually the rioting died down.

Trial schedule

Trial schedule. Click here for a larger view.

Special assizes were set up to deal with the rioters and the trials were held between 4 and 14 January 1832 with Justice Littledale and Sir Stephen Gazelee sitting on the bench.

Australian Convict Transportation Registers

Australian Convict Transportation Registers 1831-2. Click here for a larger view.

All the men named above, and many others such as George Beck, George Hearson, John Armstrong and Thomas Shelton had their cases heard, with no mercy being show in the sentencing. The two Georges and John and Thomas Shelton were sentences to hang for their crimes, as was Thomas Whittaker aged 24, along with William Kitchen, David Thurman, Charles Berkin (20) and Valentine Marshall (17). Fortunately the last five mentioned had their sentences  commuted to transportation for life toTasmania.

Sutton's "Correct Sentences of Prisoners" gives details of the full sentences and the Times, over the period the trials were held, gives minute details including all the evidence and statements from witnesses both for the prosecution and defence.

Until the transportation process began Thomas and the others were kept under special supervision which included being housed in ‘The Pitts’  in effect a circular cave cell measuring approx. 3.54m. with grills in the ceiling at Nottingham Gaol.


The description of Thomas Whittaker. Click here for a larger view.

On 31 March the prisoners were taken by canal to a boat on the River Trent which in turn used the river systems to eventually reach the Medway at Woolwich.  From there they were transferred on to a hulk ship to await the arrival of the Justinia which would transport them to Van Diemen’s Land. When the Justinia was boarded it was clear there were too many prisoners and severe overcrowding would ensue. A number of the prisoners including Thomas had to wait for the next available ship which was the England.  The surgeons on board were responsible for the wellbeing of the prisoners and at the outset took down details of their medical history and wrote descriptions of each convict so we are able to know the shape of Thomas Whittaker's face and nose, colour of hair and eyes, height and any scars etc.

They eventually set sail on 5 April 1832 and arrived at Hobart on 18 July. Upon arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, Special Gaol Delivery — Convict no. 75667 Thomas Whittaker, like many other prisoners, was assigned a master to work for. In this case it was a William Woolley who put him to work on his estate. Incidentally William Woolley had once been a convict himself. Things did not go well for Thomas and between 1833 and1844 he spent a lot of time in road parties, chain gangs and back in gaol. He ran away on more than one occasion but was brought back and whipped. Was the behaviour caused by Thomas losing his family and his life as he knew it, therefore he could see no future for himself? He may have felt he had nothing to lose.

There the story may have well have ended. However after a lot of research by myself and three other descendants of this particular branch of the Whittaker family we can now add to the tale.


Thomas's pardon. Click here for a larger view.

On 5 April 1847 Thomas was granted a pardon with the condition that he never returned to Great Britain. A note was also added to the pardon as follows — 'Pardon granted after completing a longer servitude than usual in the colony and having shown that he has at length become sensible of his former errors'. Convicts were often given a grant so they could buy some land for farming etc. so we assume Thomas received the same. After a period of time Thomas moved to Fitzroy, Victoria, and became a news vendor. He worked his way up the ladder and eventually owned many properties which he rented or sold. Thomas even branched out into owning small workshops that produced dresses and cloaks and ultimately owned a company called ‘Masquerade’ a theatrical costume and shoe making company. It appears he became incorporated into everyday life in Fitzroy too, even having a say in local planning issues. Every year he would also show his dog ‘Oscar’ at the Fitzroy dog show every year.

Although his wife Elizabeth never went to Australia we have evidence that his mother Hannah and daughter Sarah certainly did. Hannah and Sarah together with a niece of Thomas — Catherine Whittaker, all emigrated with assisted passage aboard the ship Ann Dashwood in 1853. They too lived in Fitzroy (now a suburb of Melbourne). Sarah married David Glassford the son of a lawyer but they did not have any children. She died in 1892 aged 62 years.

Thomas died on 27 March 1878 aged 67years after a stroke and is buried in Melbourne New Cemetery. So it appears that after a rough 14/15 years he made something of himself and hopefully lived a fulfilling and reasonably happy life.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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