Working on the many thousands of petitions for clemency in record series HO 17 can be a sobering experience. We find accounts of families torn apart by transportation, descriptions of upsetting crimes, stories of individuals driven to criminal actsÂ in desperate circumstances, and sometimes we come across unsettling accounts of someone who appears to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Edward Ashford is just such a case.Â I have chosen to focus on himÂ for this blog because his petitions provide an unusuallyÂ detailed account of how events overtook him, and his life was turned upside down:Â a trip to a fair led to an accusation of theft and the prospect of never seeing his family again.
Ashford was convicted at the Winchester Assizes in March 1822 for stealing and sentenced to transportation for life. The petitions on his behalf reveal his helplessness as events appeared to conspire against him.
Ashford was a baker who worked in Portsmouth making ship bread until 1814, when the winding down of the war economy saw demand for ship bread drop;Â Ashford found himself out of work. 1 No longer able to make a living as a baker, Ashford bought a horse and cart from which he sold fish or undertook carting work. After seven or eight years he heard that a public house was to be let in Salisbury and decided to try his hand as a publican.
While in Salisbury makingÂ enquiries, Ashford visited Wickham Fair. Having walked round the fair he stopped for refreshment in a local pub, where:
‘About three oâ€™clock a farmer looking man came in and states he had just been hustled in the fair and fourteen pounds, in cash and bills taken from his pocket, after remaining some few minutes and studiously observing all the company he left the room’
Heading back to Salisbury later that day Ashford stopped in a nearby town for a pint of ale, but finding ‘more company here than I expected, among whom mirth and good humour seemed the “order of the day”‘, he booked a bed at the pub. Continue reading »
- 1. Ship bread was a type of inexpensive, long-lasting biscuit or cracker used as rations. ^