Poacher Turned Gamekeeper

On 25 July 1818, John Marsh, a 20 year old brass worker from Birmingham, was found guilty at the Warwick Summer Assizes of larceny. It was stated he had stolen nine brass ingots. The sentence was transportation for seven years to Australia. Theft offences were taken very seriously and could on occasion lead to the death sentence, although this was often commuted to transportation or life imprisonment.

An example of a convict ship - pictured here is the Neptune
Example of a convict ship: Neptune

He was put aboard the Baring in December 1818 along with 299 other convicts and deported to New South Wales. Shortly after setting sail the ship was to run aground but with the luck of the tide and by moving all the convicts forward the boat was floated. Damage to the hold meant the ship had to return to Sheerness to be refitted. It finally set sail and reached Sydney on 26 June 1819 with 290 prisoners still alive, 82 of them under 21, and 2 were only 11 years old! Reports of the voyage recorded appalling conditions of overcrowding, limited food supplies and sickness.

Disembarking in Port Jackson, which must have been a relief, saw John transferred to Windsor NSW for distribution. Any personal items were removed from the prisoners and they were dressed in yellow and black uniforms often marked in arrows. Nothing is known of his whereabouts until 1823 where he appears as a stockman at a Government establishment in Bathurst. He continued to serve out his time as a stockman at various estates until finally declared free in 1925.

In 1828 John had a total career change when he put his criminal life behind him and became a policeman. However it was clearly not unusual for poacher to turn game keeper as on the census of that year all 11 policemen were previously listed as convicts, with sentences of seven years to life. Maybe most of the population in the area had a criminal origin, so in order to recruit, the past history of applicants had to be overlooked!

This new life in the police force gave John stability and status which allowed him later to be granted “permission” to marry, going on to have 13 children. John's wife Christiana was also a former English convict - being sentenced to transportation for life after being convicted of stealing fowls. John went on to become the first police sergeant in Bathurst and lived to the age of 77. Lorraine Smith told us: "John Marsh is my 4th great uncle. I would never have discovered his existence had it not been for a match on a DNA test and after exactly 200 years after his deportation I finally met up in Birmingham with one of my ancestors who was visiting from Australia!" Lorraine is on the right and her fifth cousin Linda Binutti is on the left.

John was not the only family member deported. His brother Thomas b1793 was deported in Oct 1818 and also ended up in Bathurst NSW! Many thanks to Lorraine for sharing John's story.