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William Wall - a convict legacy

By Christine Leonard

I am a fifth-generation descendant of William Wall, a surname that William's descendants carried on to the present day. My three-times great-grandfather was 17 when he was arrested in Horncastle, an old Roman town of Lincolnshire, England. Charged with a felony, by the time William was transported to Van Diemen's Land on HMS Layton, the young groom had aged another year, leaving behind a lost youth and a future working with horses. He was adventurous and headstrong, traits that came through in later life.

During the annual horse fair in Horncastle, 29 October 1834, when William was arrested the 17-year-old groomsman come labourer, of Nottingham, Norfolk, gave his name as William Wall to the arresting constable. Whall, oftentimes spelt Wall, was his mother Martha's maiden name. William's father, a lace weaver and framework knitter of Norwich, Norfolk, was William Lamb . We will never know why the younger William used his mother's maiden name and not his father's surname. He was the Lamb's fifth child with two more brothers following, and records indicate that all his siblings used Lamb as their surname.

The arrest report stated that whilst in a crowd watching a fight in the back of the Vine Beer House in Horncastle, William attempted to assault and rob Mr James Scrooby of £60. Such an amount stashed in the gentleman farmer's pocket would imply that until he decided to drop into The Vine for an ale, he had done some excellent trading. In 2018, I visited Horncastle where evidence of its Roman history abounds. Traces of the Vine Beer House building can be seen, albeit with some imagination, but history permeates Horncastle's surrounding buildings, its cobbled stone lanes and arched bridges. William denied the charges, asserting he was leaning over the man's shoulders to watch the fight in the beer house when a gentleman grabbed him by the collar, accusing him of trying to rob him. With the prosecution witness being a police constable, William's case was weak from the start.

Following news of their son's arrest reaching William and Martha Lamb in Norwich, it seems that Martha, in early 1835, travelled alone to Horncastle to set about saving her son. Martha, also using her maiden name Whall, stayed at a guest house on Millstone Street. Having settled in at her new abode for a few weeks, Martha put together a petition of clemency, with 33 signatories vouching for William's good character, who at this point was languishing in a prison hulk at Woolwich.

Grounds for clemency were based on mistaken identity and an assertion that the witness for the prosecution was intoxicated. Martha's efforts did not prevail and her son was despatched to Van Diemen's Land to serve a seven-year sentence. Why did Martha, like William, use her family name and not Lamb when she went to Horncastle? Was her family held in good standing in Lincolnshire? Was there an implacable breach between William Jnr and his father? William's transportation was the catalyst that broke all links to his country and family, and it was only while researching his English records that the 180-year-old mystery about our family name emerged.

Charles McLachlan Esquire had made a fortune by running a shipping service between Scotland and Australia under the auspices of the Australian Company, which brought many of the early free Scottish settlers to the colony. McLachlan was involved in many activities, such as whaling, banking, and politics, which saw him become a member of the Legislative Assembly. McLachlan purchased Newlands House only weeks before William Wall's arrival in Hobart Town, on 10 December 1835.

Newlands House stands proud in Mount Stuart, and in 2019, its owners kindly allowed me and my husband to visit. Having been a venue for wedding receptions for many years, when we visited, Newlands was a private home undergoing major renovations. Even though William Wall, a convicted felon, would not have been allowed near the domains of gentility, it was a moving experience to walk along the stone terrace of the grand house and step into the great rooms where formal receptions were once held for Hobart Town's finest. Detached from the big house at the rear, were living quarters where, as bonded servants, I imagined William with another convict, Edward Roberts, might have lived. Census records confirm that my three-times great-grandfather was still living at Newlands in 1837.

The convict assignment system which saw private settlers and landholders take on a convict, becoming responsible for their food, clothing, and lodging, continued until 1839 (Libraries Tasmania, n.d.). Charles McLachlan was lucky to acquire a skilled horseman, as nothing moved in the colony without horses, and William knew a thing or two about horses. By 1841, McLachlan had obtained extensive land grants on Blackman's River in the Salt Pan Plains, a whaling station at Southport, and several allotments in Hobart Town (MacMillan, 1967), but his sheep farming interests in Victoria were expanding, leading him to move northwards permanently, before passing away in Melbourne in 1855.

Later in 1837, William was re-assigned to a Mr O'Meara. In 1846, (Tasmania Libraries). It is only supposition that the O'Meara of Hobart Town in 1837 and Launceston hotelier, Michael O'Meara (Launceston Advertiser: 1846, p.3), are one and the same. It might explain William Wall's confidence, as within 10 years he was running a hotel in the colony of Victoria.

The retired and widowed Captain Robert Petty Stewart, who lived near Launceston on a property overlooking the Tamar River, was William's final master. With six children to care for following the Michael O'Meara was the licensee of the Hibernia Hotel in Bathurst Street, Launceston death of his third wife, Robert Petty Stewart was assigned several female convicts who helped care for his growing family and manage the household. Stewart also had numerous male convicts working on his estate but not without its complications. In May 1831, the Launceston Advertiser wrote of a scuffle Stewart had with a prisoner. Stewart testified the prisoners were drinking contraband rum in their hut prior to him being attacked by one of their dogs (Tasmanian Heritage Council, 2019 p.2). William also found trouble with Stewart. On 7 March 1839, having been 'found at 11 o'clock at night in the bedroom of his master's servant-maid', he received 36 lashes and was returned post-haste to the government depot, 'services no longer required'.

On 28 May 1840, William was granted his Ticket of Leave. You would think he might keep his head down, but a few days later he was charged with insolence. Luck, however, was on his side, as charges were dropped. A notice listing recipients of full pardons appeared in The Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen's Land Gazette on 5 June 1840, and William Wall's name was on the list. In 1841, while courting Mary Long, a free woman, William was fined 2s 6d due to a breach of the Police Act. Exactly what his misdemeanour was is not known. How Mary, my three-times great-grandmother, came to Van Diemen's Land is another mystery.

William needed permission to marry, a request that was approved, and on 23 June 1841, William and Mary's nuptials were held in Launceston's St. John's Church of England. Seven months later, on 8 January 1842, William received that vital piece of paper, his Certificate of Freedom.

Having shaken off the yoke of servitude, in early 1842, William leased 80 acres at 2s per acre with the view to purchase, at £2 per acre from the Van Diemen's Land Company. The Van Diemen's Land Company was formed in May 1824, when it acquired 20,000 acres at Circular Head amongst other sites, including Emu Bay. The road to development was a violent one though, with documented incidents of settler huts being burnt, and sheep speared, but retaliation by the Company was swift and severe.

On becoming a father William thought it was time to use his correct family name - Lamb, because when his first child was born on 6 June 1842, the infant's birth was registered as William Wall Lamb. Changing his surname to Lamb wasn't going to work, however, and in the census of January 1843, William and Mary are recorded under the name of Wall, living at Circular Head, Emu Bay. William built a small timber dwelling, and along with an indentured servant, they put their backs into farming mixed crops. Child mortality was extremely high, and little William died on 21 March 1843. The next child to come along was Joseph Lamb Wall, born on 10 June 1844. The family still lived at Emu Bay.

Tales of opportunities in southern New South Wales spread around Van Diemen's Land, especially in the north. Dreams of a fresh start where people didn't ask many questions about one's past saw William and Mary join an armada of emigrants for New South Wales. The Walls, with their son Joseph and a small flock of sheep, sailed out of George Town on 29 October 1846 on the 149-ton passenger brig Swan for Port Phillip. As the buildings of the Pilot Station disappeared like tiny dots and Van Diemen's Land slipped behind a blue horizon, standing at the rails, Mary held Joseph close, swaddled against the wind and spray. Locked in a shared silence while thoughts, dreams, and fears, churned. The Walls looked north. If they could survive whatever Bass Strait held in store, they were ready for a new chapter.

Christine Leonard wrote about her Wall family in 2021. The Wall Family: weaving the threads of memories can be purchased as an E-book from Booktopia, Kobo and other outlets.

Image: William's conduct record relating to the March 1839 incident


Launceston Advertiser, available online at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/84772805?searchTerm=michael%20o%27meara%20bathurst%20street%20launceston

Launceston Examiner, available online at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/36246258?searchTerm=michael%20o%27meara%20hibernia

Libraries Tasmania, Convict administration - The Assignment Period 1803-1839. Available online at https://libraries.tas.gov.au/family-history/convicts-in-van-diemens-land-now-tasmania/convict-life/6

Tasmanian Heritage Council: 2019. Available online at https://heritage.tas.gov.au/Documents/Tasmanian%20Heritage%20Register%20Entry_Mount%20Stuart.pdf#search=robert%20petty%20stewart

Related family names:

Wall Whall Lamb Scrooby Stewart

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