Here you will find a selection of articles, reviews and various information sources, that can be used by genealogists to assist in their research. Contact us if you require any further details about any information on this page.
Some convicts arrived in Australia in the 1830’s as a result of being tried as “machine breakers” or “swing rioters”. These terms came into existence during an interesting but rather short period of unrest in England. What was it all about? Basically it was rioting precipitated by the introduction of threshing machines at a time when agricultural labourers were having difficulty making ends meet. Low wages, three years of rather poor harvests (with the 1829 harvest being followed by a severe winter), and poor living conditions were difficult enough to contend with. When the threshing machines were introduced, they threatened to take away the winter employment of the ploughmen who were traditionally employed as threshers during the winter months. The steam powered threshing machines, as well as horses, were taking that winter work away from the worker.
As a result of the combined factors, riots began to break out and spread across the English counties, the main targets of course were these despised machines which included chaff cutters, draining ploughs and other implements used by agricultural labourers, as well as the threshing machines.
The first machine attacked was at Lower Hadres in Kent on 28 th August 1830, although prior to this there had been reported cases of arson. In February 1830, a threatening letter had been sent to Mildenhall in Suffolk. The trouble spread northwards and westwards from Kent and peaked in mid-November. Further letters were sent to both farmers and manufacturers, and were signed by the mythical “Captain Swing”, who supposedly took his name from the 'swing' (moving part) of the flail used to thrash the grain from harvested cereal crops. These became known as “Swing” letters, and they threatened the destruction of property if the machinery was not removed or wages not increased.
Apart from riotous assemblies forming, and demands for reductions in the payment of tithes, hay-stacks and barns were being set alight. There were attacks on workhouses and overseers. In Hampshire, the workhouses at Selborne and Headley were attacked, the latter being completely destroyed. At Brede in Kent, the assistant overseer was so unpopular that a group of labourers bundled him into the parish cart and wheeled him across the parish boundary to unceremoniously dumped him.
Not only threshing machinery was attacked. At Hungerford in Berkshire the iron foundry was targeted. In Buckinghamshire and Norfolk several paper mills had newly installed machinery attacked. Also hit were a sawmill, a woollen cloth factory, carpet weavers, etc.
In some cases mobs demanded money, beer or food in return for “their services”. Many of these were later charged with robbery when they came to trial. The following excerpts show cases around Burbage -
At about 4 o’clock twelve people returned to Mr. Fulbrook’s farm in Hippenscombe and having inspected the dismantled thrashing machine, demanded food, drink and money. The farmer refused and Shadrack Blake told him that he would be sorry as he would return with a large mob and burn the house down at which Mr. Fulbrook threatened them with his gun. "It was between eight and nine o’clock in the evening when a mob of around 300 people returned to Mr. Fulbrook’s They broke the doors and windows, which had been fastened against them, and about 20 people got into the house through the broken windows. Shadrack Blake, William Holt and Thomas Vivash were recognised among these. A lanthorn was taken out to the men in the yard so that they could see to break the thrashing machine. When the mob left it was found that a tea caddy, two tea ladles and a linen table cloth that had been on the table in one of the rooms was missing."….
"The mob that was so active yesterday in Great Bedwin area yesterday had gathered again by eight o’clock this morning. William Barnes, the elder, a farmer at Shalbourne, had already taken down his thrashing machine but when the mob, of about 800 people, arrived at his farm they destroyed the pieces of the machine. Shadrack and Robert Blake were recognised among the mob. The latter was seen to put the brass spindle box into his pocket and he took it away with him when the mob left. The mob also demanded money and Mr. Barnes handed over a sovereign and some other money.
"Mr. George Philips handed over money to the mob that visited his farm in Shalbourne. They had threatened to destroy his house if they did not get the money. James and Robert Baker were recognised among the mob. The same mob also destroyed thrashing machines belonging to Anthony Kingstone and William Baverstock and forced John Butcher to give them some money."…..
"A mob has been levying money in the Burbage area. They received a sovereign from Mr. William Westbury and one shilling and sixpence from Mary Pye. Job Blundy was recognised amongst the mob. A mob of about 150 and 200 people came to the premises of Mr. Thomas Gale, of Burbage. Mr. Gale had taken down his thrashing machine, intending to put it back again when the trouble was over. Some of the mob carried the machine out into the road where they destroyed it and Mr. Gale was forced to hand over two half crowns. Two thrashing machines were destroyed at Milton, one belonging to Mr. Edmond Somerset and the other to Mr. Richard Litten.’
"When the mob reached the house of Miss Elizabeth Penruddock, at Fifield in the parish of Milton, they numbered between 400 and 500. They told her they had come to break any machines she had. Miss Penruddock told them that she was not a farmer but would give them 5/- if they would go away. They demanded two sovereigns and one of the men climbed up onto the wall, level with the window Miss Penruddock was at. He knocked an ornament from the wall and threatened to throw down the others. Someone else in the mob threatened to knock down the chimneys and beat in the windows. A second man climbed onto the wall and said ‘We don’t stand shilly shally here, my lady.’
"Miss Penruddock grew alarmed and handed over some money. Having received the money the men climbed down from the wall and the mob went off up Fifield street."….
"Between three o’clock and four o’clock this afternoon a mob of around 30 people, arrived at the house of Samuel Watts, at Wootton Rivers. The door was opened by Mary Hodding and James Tucker, Mr. Watt’s house keeper and serving man. Maurice Pope, who appeared to be the leader of the mob, asked for their master and said they wanted victuals, drinks and money. Mary Hodding said she would not give them food or drink but handed over two half crowns. Pope said, ‘We must have two sovereigns.’….
Although the riots were short lived in most of the counties, what was alarming was the contagiousness with which the disturbances spread. By the end of 1830 the main wave of rioting had been quelled and around 2000 men and women were awaiting trial, but demonstrations and cases of arson continued into the following year.
It was the local magistrates who had to deal with the cases as they saw fit, but they were criticised by the government for being too lenient. As a result, a Special Commission was set up to deal with offenders in the worst affected counties. Petitions for reductions in sentences began to appear and still exist, but 19 men were executed, more than 600 were imprisoned and 481 were transported to Australia. The prisoners were taken to the ‘ York’ hulk at Portsmouth. They were held for only a short time, as on 6 th February 1831, 244 men were placed on the ship Eliza bound for Tasmania. Shortly after more left on the Eleanor and the Proteus and arrived in NSW.