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The extraordinary tale of the escaped convict

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: December 26, 2002

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The Bugle has been able to avail itself of many interesting local anecdotes from the year 1857, via old copies of the Brierley Hill Advertiser.

But some interesting narratives have also come from further afield, or even overseas, which must have all warranted a good read by an open-hearth fire, 145 years ago. One such story published on Saturday 12th December, 1857, is just as fascinating to read today and tells of the extraordinary tale of a convicted criminal who travelled the world after a series of successful escapes from custody. This is the convict's story.

"The following narrative of a convict named James Ainsworth, who was indicted at the York assizes for being unlawfully at large in the United Kingdom, after being transported for life in March 1844, for a burglary at Lincoln, exposes a remarkable career.

Ainsworth is now only 29 years old, and being in Hull in August last, went to the police station and, asking for the inspector, said he wished to give himself up as an escaped convict, and then made to Inspector Cockin the following extraordinary statement."

"My name is James Ainsworth. I am 29 years of age and a native of Leeds, born in Grantham Street, near the Selby railway bridge. I was transported from Lincoln on the 12th March 1844, along with a man named William Johnson, for house-breaking at Great Limber in Lincolnshire. We were both sentenced for life. I was removed to the Millbank prison, and was sent out in the ship Hyderabad to Norfolk Island (off the western coast of Australia) seven months after I was convicted. I landed there in January 1845. I served there two years and eight months, and there was tried and convicted of trying to kill my overseer, whose name was Skinner. I was sentenced to two years and nine months extension on the island for that offence. I was also sentenced to two years' more extension, and was flogged several times for other offences. I remained on the island nine years, and was then removed by order of Government along with others to Port Arthur (south Tasmania), a penal settlement. I remained there four months and was then transferred to the barracks at Hobart Town. I was shortly after handed over to a master at Spring Creek. I remained with him about a month and then assaulted him. I was tried and sentenced to three months in a chain gang and removed to another part of the settlement.

I shortly afterwards made my escape and took to the mountains and worked for myself splitting timber and made about 80 guineas. I then got myself disguised and went to Hobart Town and Launceston to try to get a ship, but couldn't get one. I then returned to Hobart Town and paid 60 guineas to go in a ship to Melbourne in Australia with thirteen others. I went from there to the diggings and made a little money there. I then returned to Melbourne and got a ship to go to Calcutta. When there I shipped in the bark Ocean Eagle, under Captain Somers, for New York. I went from New York to Boston and paid my fare to come in the Niagara steamer to Liverpool. She put in at Halifax the next evening to receive the mail bags. I went on shore there and fell in with two men, one of whom I had known as a convict. They proposed that we should go to Windsor to rob a schooner that was lying there that had money on board. We went but did not succeed in robbing her. Then I got engaged on board to assist her getting down the river, and when at Black Rock I robber her of 175 guineas. I then went to Halifax, and was taken there and committed for trial at Kentville. I was sentenced for three years at Halifax Penitentiary. I remained there thirteen days and then made my escape. I then came to New York and joined the American Union, Black Ball line packet, for Liverpool, and arrived there three months ago. I have been travelling about the country ever since. I came then to Hull from Grimsby. A reward of ten guineas has been offered for my apprehension."

"The judge said the prisoner's statement was a most extraordinary one, but he had only one duty to perform. The sentence of the court was that he be imprisoned one week, and he then be sent into penal servitude for life. Any application in reduction of the sentence must be made to the secretary of state."

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