52 Ancestors #21- A Convict Story – Samuel Mansell

I dropped the ball last week when life got a busy. So here I am with another resurrected blog post and this time for the blog prompt “military”. I’ve chosen my husband’s Great Grandfather, Samuel Mansell to be the 21st Ancestor. Also, it is a timely blog post as we launch the Convict Tracks of the Victoria District. A community-driven project that involves the museums and convict sites in this district. Read more about that here.

Samuel Mansell, a convict from Shropshire, England, arrived in Western Australia and when he had served his time he went on to become the overseer at the Wanernooka Mine at Northampton.

My research into the life of Samuel Mansell began back around 1990. We knew that he lived in Northampton, WA from our family connections to the area and his death certificate. A photo of his memorial stone reads “In Loving Memory of Samuel Mansell, who died at Timperley Farm, Northampton On the 29th day of April 1902. Aged : 78 years. Gone, but not forgotten”.

Samuel Mansell 1826-1902 Headstone

Headstone of Samuel Mansell, Gwalla Cemetery, Northampton

However, his arrival in Australia could not be found using the usual methods of researching shipping records that were at this time on microfiche. It was a chance discovery to find Samuel Mansell was a convict when reading through Convicts in Western Australia 1850-1887. The entry read: Mansell Samuel (3205) 1825 – Unm collier, lit Prot, conv Salop 1852 escaping from convict hulk 20yrs; arr Ramilles, 10 October 1854. 7.8.1854 TL 12.8.1857 CP15.12.1860 CF4.2.1875 Champion Bay. [1]
Transported for escaping from a convict hulk!! There had to be more to this…

In those early days, the only records that were obtained from the County Record Office were the trial for Samuel’s conviction of stealing and his Character Record from the WA State Record Office. The microfilm printout was barely readable, but in recent times these records have become available online through Ancestry and Find My Past.

The Character Book record [image below] says Samuel Mansell, No 3205, was received from Portsmouth Prison, 10th August 1854. He was aged 26, collier, single, reads & writes well and that he had been convicted 5 previous times, for larceny, assault & stealing for which he was sentenced to 10 years transportation, and convicted of escaping the convict hulk at Woolwich for which he was sentenced to another 20 years transportation. It goes on to say that he was “Very Good”, but did spend time in solitary confinement for being Indifferent!! Wine stopped for 7 days for fighting!! Was given bread & water for 7 days, otherwise, he was of excellent character for the whole time he was in Fremantle and Port Gregory where he was sent in September 1855. Samuel was entitled to his Ticket of Leave 27 January 1858 however due to his good behaviour, he received it about 6 months earlier on the 12 August 1857. [2]

Mansell, Samuel 1858 Character Book

Samuel Mansell was born the third child of Benjamin and Maria Mansell, an Iron Founder’s Model Maker, on 7 September 1826 at Coleham, Shrewsbury, in the county of Shropshire, England. His baptism took place on the 1 October 1826. [3]


St Julian Shrewsbury, County of Salop, Baptism

The County of Shropshire was originally known as Salop (meaning Salopesberia). Salop had a considerable population in the early Iron Age and was settled by Romans. Near Shrewsbury was fought the battle of Henry IV and the Percys (1403) at which Hotspur was killed. There were no fewer than 32 castles, of which only fragments now remain.

Coal was formerly mined in the district with the chief industries being iron-founding, brick-making, agriculture and general engineering. A greater part of the County is devoted to agriculture.

At the age of 17, Samuel was first found in court, at the Salop County Sessions, January 1843 for Larceny. He had been working in a colliery at Welbatch, near Shrewsbury, and during the evening of the 25 November 1842, he stole a watch, seal, watch key and chain from another employee, John Mansell. Samuel was sentenced to 3 months in prison at the County Gaol. [4]

Mansell, Samuel 1843-01-02 HO27 Criminal Register Convict Transportation Registers Larceny - Copy

Register of Persons charged with Indictable Offences at the County of Salop Assizes and Sessions, 1843

Mansell, Samuel 1844-03-13 Newspaper Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser pg 1 Col 6 Not Guilty stealing from Sarah Lucas

Over the next several years Samuel found himself in front of the court a number of times. However, on a good note, in 1844 he was found not guilty to the charge of stealing a box containing a sovereign and other money’s and articles belonging to Sarah Lucas. [5] [6]

In the Evening Mail newspaper of 28 October 1844, Samuel was a witness at the inquest of 11 colliery workers who were killed in an explosion in a mine at South Staffordshire. The workers had tried to escape and ran towards the bottom of the pit. In about a quarter of an hour Samuel and another man, Richard Scrivener had descended into the pit. The sulphur smelt so strong that another worker couldn’t stand it, so he came up again, leaving Richard and Samuel at the bottom. There were 17 men and boys at work in the pit when the explosion took place. The bodies of 11 workers were eventually recovered. [7]

For over 12 months, Samuel continued working as a collier in Madeley. Shifts were 12 hours a day, working in an area no taller than the height of the seam which was often less than 24 inches and lit by a single candle. Most workers would start their shifts between 5am and 6am and worked a 12 hour day, six days a week with days off on Sunday and holy days. [8]

What happened to Samuel to have this entry listed in the Eddowes journal and General Advertiser for Shropshire? They reported in their columns on 4 February 1846, that Samuel was found guilty of assaulting a police officer and was committed for two months in prison? [9]

Mansell, Samuel 1846-02-04 Newspaper Eddowes Journal and General Advertiser for Shropshire, and the Principality of Wales pg 2 British Newspaper FMP

No sooner was he released, when he was found back in front of the judge on the 25 March 1846 for cutting & wounding with intent to maim and received a 6-month prison sentence. To date, I haven’t been able to find a newspaper report as to what this was about. [10]


Things seemed to go from bad to worse, when Samuel found himself at the Wenlock Borough Sessions 30 December 1848 for Robbery and was sentenced to 10 years transportation. [11]

While at the Salop County Gaol awaiting transportation, Samuel wrote a letter of Petition [12] dated 11 August 1852, to the Secretary of State, giving reasons for escaping. In the letter he described how he’d been in the County Gaol for five weeks, removed to Millbank Prison in London for 28 weeks and 3 days. Millbank was a disgusting filthy prison in its early years, however by the time Samuel was imprisoned there, it was made into a holding facility until more room became available on one of the prison hulks. The conditions still would have been repulsive. Usually, convicts were only held here for 3 months, however, it appears he was unlucky and spent 7 months and 3 days there.

From Millbank, Samuel was removed to the Justitia hulk for two years and seven months with an exemplary character. Due to good conduct on the hulk, he was placed in the Boats Crew and was instrumental in capturing two convicts. Owing to this, he was bullied by the other prisoners and applied to be removed. This didn’t happen, so Samuel escaped and was recaptured nearly 3 months later. Read here, some of the letters from warders and surgeon, all stating they didn’t believe he was being bullied. Samuel pleaded guilty to being at large before the expiration of his sentence and received another 12 months in the County Prison and was to be transported to Western Australia for 20 years.


A Shropshire newspaper of 31 July 1853 reported on the case: [13]


Shropshire paper 1853

RNED TRANSPORT – Samuel Mansell, collier, 20 pleaded guilty to being at large before the expiration of his sentence of transportation, but stated he had not done so without sufficient cause for it. Mr. Whately, Q.C. stated that he was instructed on the part of her Majestry’s government to appear as counsel against the prisoner.
The Judge then said the prisoner had pleaded guilty but he had cause for doing what he did. He had received a statement from the prisoner in which he asserts that having assisted in the capturing two other convicts who had escaped, he was led such a dreadful life by all his fellow convicts, that it became unbearable. He had applied to the governor to be removed, but no notice having been taken of his applicatoin he ran away. His lordship observed that he had no means of ascertaining the truth of prisoner’s statement, but if he made a proper representation to the secretary of State, and it was found to be true, he had no doubt that the sentence he felt it his duty to pass upon him would be considerably mitigated. The prisoner was then sentenced to be imprisoned in the gaol of this county for twelve months, and at the expiration of that time to be transported for twenty years. His lordship ordered Wm Henry Baxter to be called; and after remarking on the dexterity displayed by Baxter in the apprehension of the escaped convict, he ordered a reward of £20 to be paid him. [13]

Samuel’s experience on the hulk would have been similar to William Derricourt’s in this excerpt from his memoirs – “On the Hulk Justitia at Woolwich. Before going on board we were stripped to the skin and scrubbed with a hard scrubbing brush, something like a stiff birch broom, and plenty of soft soap, while the hair was clipped from our heads as close as scissors could go. This scrubbing we endured until we looked like boiled lobsters, and the blood was drawn in many places. We were then supplied with new ‘magpie’ suits – one side black or blue and the other side yellow. Our next experience was being marched off to the blacksmith, who riveted on our ankles rings of iron connected by eight links to a ring in the centre, to which was fastened an up and down strap or cord reaching to the waist-belt. This last supported the links and kept them from dragging on the ground. Then we had what were called knee garters. A strap passing from them to the basis and buckled in front and behind caused the weight of the irons to traverse on the calf of the leg.” [14]

Justitia Hulk

Convicts from the hulk Justitia at work in Woolwich.

Samuel’s mental and physical health was constantly being checked by the Millbank Prison Medical Superintendent as this letter reports.

1853, 3 August – Millbank Prison Medical Superintendent
Sir, In compliance with your instructions that a Medical Report on the bodily and mental health of Samuel Mansell should be furnished at this time, I have to report that this Prisoner does not appear to have suffered either in body or mind from his imprisonment and that, with the exception of a slight affection (sic) of his bladder and urethra which existed when he was received here, he is now in good health.
I have the honor to be, Sir, Your obedient Servant, Wilm Baly MH, Medical Superintendent. Capt D.O’Brien. [12]

Samuel spent 4 years as a prisoner at Millbank Prison from 1848 and on the prison ship the “Justitia” hulk until he escaped. He was found “being at large” and sentenced to another 12 months imprisonment and transportation for 20 years in 1852. Samuel spent some time in the Salop County Gaol and it was noted by J.H. Heathcoth, the prison surgeon that if his imprisonment was prolonged any further, it would seriously affect his mind as he had suffered a severe attack of mania a few months previous in the gaol caused by the dread of what he considered his severe sentence of 12 months imprisonment and 20 years transportation. The surgeon remarked that he was also of the opinion that his bodily health was not so good as before the attack of insanity.

One can only imagine what must have been going through Samuel’s mind all this time. The prisons were harsh and the pending trip to an unknown destination must have been very daunting. and it was still another eight months before the Prison Ship “Ramillies” left the shores of England from Portsmouth on 14 April 1854, bound for Fremantle, arriving on the 10th August 1854. On board were 280 convict men along with 30 Pensioner Guards plus their wives and family. Sailing via Gibraltar they landed 160 prisoners and took on another 157. [15]

It was noted in the surgeon’s report on the “Ramillies” that ‘measles had been prevailing epidemically amongst the children and 5 were actually suffering from the disease on their embarkation. The fact that a contagious disease existed was considered a serious objection to their being received, but after weighing all the circumstances I came to the determination, not to offer any impediment.” They all made a sound recovery by careful ventilation and a patent solution and isolation. [15]

On the voyage, dryness of the decks and clothing was firmly demanded and no water was permitted to lodge about the decks, so they were constantly swept and mopped with brooms, squigeas and swales. Exercise of the body and mind was secured as far as practicable by permitting during the entire day when the weather was dry, from sunrise to sunset, free access to the upper deck and by engaging during the forenoon one-half the prisoners at school and in the afternoon the other half, while those not employed were sent on deck and kept there. Little sickness was encountered on the voyage and if it was, it was seldom of a serious nature. With the exception of those sent to the hospital, for chronic ailments contracted previously to embarkation, all landed in a fair state of health giving due allowance of a long voyage. [15]

Convicts were an escape risk, so the authorities took note of their physical description. Samuel’s record from the “Ramillies” reads – Age 29, 5’5-1/2″, light brown hair, blue eyes, oval visage, fair complexion, tolerably stout, a heart, cross, 2 flags, left arm; burn scars all over the body, collier, single, no children. [16]

Samuel Mansell 1826-1902

Samuel Mansell 1826-1902 Photo courtesy of Neville Thomas

On his arrival in WA, Samuel went to the Fremantle Prison, and during that time he probably worked on the road or works party. The registers of the Superintendent at Fremantle, show us that Samuel Mansell, number 3205 was on 9 July 1855 held in Range E, Hall A, Ward 3 Cell 5. [17]


The Daily Medical Journals by the Medical Officer of prisoners at Fremantle Prison reported on Friday 4 January 1856 that Samuel Mansell, Prison Number 3205, aged 31, miner, from Shropshire, was suffering from Dysentery and was taken to the infirmary. His previous health had been good. [18]


It was 3 years from the time Samuel arrived in August 1854, to when he was granted his Ticket of Leave 12 August 1857. A Ticket of Leave was granted if a convict was of good behaviour and this permitted them to seek employment within a specific district, but could not leave that district without permission of the government or the district’s resident magistrate. Each change of employer or district was recorded on the ticket. The convict had to do jobs to get money to get a ticket of leave and were often required to repay the cost of their passage to the colony. [19]

However, like our current parole system, Samuel would have been required to attend muster and church services at the depot that he was hired from. In this case, it was the Lynton Depot near Port Gregory, however when that closed in 1856, he would have had to return to the Geraldton Depot.

On the 15 November 1858, Samuel married Sarah Darling, a free woman, who had arrived 25 May 1858, on the Bride Ship Emma Eugenia. [20] The marriage took place at the Registrars Office in Champion Bay [Geraldton]. Samuel worked at the Geraldine mine near the Murchison River when their first child Emma was born in September 1859. His Conditional Pardon was granted on the 15 December 1860 when he would have been working at the Gwalla mine at Northampton and late as the mining overseer at the Wanernooka Mines also near Northampton.

Mansell, Samuel 1858 Marriage and Sarah Darling 15 November 1858 (2)

Marriage Certificate from Private Collection

Sarah died in childbirth on 24 February 1875, just 20 days after Samuel recieved his Condition of Freedom at Champion Bay, 4 February 1875. It must have been a bittersweet moment, knowing that he was finally free from all his convictions and then to lose his young wife. They had 8 children from 1859 – 1873, the youngest being only 2 years of age when her mother died.

Samuel lived with his daughter Meriah and son in law Daniel Thomas at Timperley Farm, Northampton and passed away there in 1902 at the age of 77 years. He is buried with Sarah at the Gwalla Cemetery, Northampton although there is no headstone marking his grave.

For some time now, I’ve been wanting to prove that Samuel Mansell was at Lynton Station as the information at the ruins of the depot do not have him listed. His Character Record shows Samuel was sent to Lynton Station at Port Gregory 11 September 1856. [2]


References for Samuel Mansell’s Convict Story

Read the Letters of Petititon here

About Jenny MacKay

Just a person who is looking forward to retirement and enjoying the golden years!
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10 Responses to 52 Ancestors #21- A Convict Story – Samuel Mansell

  1. Eilene Lyon says:

    Jenny, this is an exemplary post!! You have done an amazing level of research, written a captivating narrative, and brought to life a young man in full color. I think Samuel must have been a man of exceptional intelligence who found himself confined to a harsh life he felt beneath his abilities and destiny.
    This is a commendable piece of work that you should seek to get published. I had no idea you could get this much detail about an “average” citizen (or even criminal) from the 19th century from public records. I can’t praise this highly enough. Kudos!!

    • Jenny MacKay says:

      Thank you do much. I really appreciate your comments. He was an interesting exercise to find what else he’d done before being sent out here. We thought it was ‘just’ a watch stolen!!

  2. Judith Carter says:

    Hi. Great read. Samuel Mansell was present at the death of my Gt Grandmother Catherine Johnson in Northampton in 1890. Glad to put a story to the name.

  3. tashalou81 says:

    Hi Jenny, WOW this is my great great great grandfather. So wonderful to read

  4. luvviealex says:

    Phew! What an extraordinary amount of research you have completed Jenny! I was kind of wondering who John Mansell was when Samuel was first arrested. Do you think he was a relation?

    • Jenny MacKay says:

      I haven’t found that he was as yet Alex. Now that more information is available online, I must do a bit of researching. I have the court records of one of Samuel’s crimes and he stole from a John Mansell!!

  5. Great detail of Sammy’s life and times Jen… these wonderful men who made a life for themselves in Northampton have made our lives a breeze. I wonder where he got his burn scars???? In the mine at the time of the explosions? On the hulk? When he escaped?

    • Jenny MacKay says:

      Many thanks for your comments Sue. I’m thinking the burn scars came from the mine explosion. Nothing has shown up in my research to date and I’ve not been able to find any newspaper reports into the assault on the police officer. Work in progress.

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