Lydia Rackham Revisited: Part 3


David CrippsDavid Cripps, The Man from Tasmania

Jo HylandJo Hyland, from Western Australia

Last July, shortly after starting the Trimley St. Martin Village Recorder’s Blog, I posted two articles about a Trimley woman called Lydia Rackham, who was transported in the middle of the nineteenth century to Van Diemen’s Land, better known to us as Tasmania. In many ways it was a story typical of the mid-nineteenth century, when poverty and crime were often interlinked and the state of the ordinary labourer was frequently notable in its hardship. Lydia’s story was a researcher’s delight, not because of her condition but because of the way the digital records allowed the researcher to follow her story and that of her family. So many aspects of her life unfolded themselves in front of my eyes, enabled through the digitisation of a range of different records.  The difficulties, privations and precarious situations Lydia found herself in make for fascinating reading. It was a comparatively complex story and was covered in two separate Blogs.  Because it was written in the early days of the Recorder’s Blog, I have no idea how many people read it. It was offered to a wider audience in October 2018 when I added it to my main Blogging site. I didn’t forget about it but it stayed there waiting for any virtual passers-by who might be interested.  If you would like to remind yourself of Lydia’s story, or if you have yet to read them, you may be access them here:

Lydia Rackham’s Story Part 1

Lydia Rackham’s Story Part 2

The story ended in Tasmania and when I cast the two blogs on to the wider global waters, nothing much happened. They were content to quietly drift along, basking in the Tasman Sea, where the odd reader fished them out of the water and then returned them again.  Then, suddenly, just after Christmas 2018, I received an unexpected communication. A man called David emailed me to say he had been researching the Rackhams for many years and had just discovered the Rackham Blog. His email continued,

‘…both James & Lydia Rackham were my 3rd Great Grandparents, so I can lay claim to a direct descendant line back to them, but I must say researching them over the years has been rather tortuous and painful…’

Such is my naivety, I had not anticipated receiving such a positive response. David lives in Hobart, Tasmania, which is on the east side of the country and where Lydia Rackham died. Some two or three dozen emails later, the story of Lydia and her family has expanded. His enthusiasm and generosity provided further insight into the story.  The emails took on a triangular nature in February 2019, when another email appeared out of the blue. Jo Hyland, a professional genealogist and former Curator of the Western Australian Museum contacted me, because she also was interested in the Rackhams. She told me,

‘These days I am a museum consultant and project historian, most recently for a small volunteer run NFP Museum known as the Museum of Perth, not related in any way to the Western Australian Museum.  I  haven’t been in paid employment for the past 12 months as I have been busy focusing on research for the WA Convict Publication Project and travelling.Also, I am editor for the Convict Special Interest Group of the WA Genealogy Society – recently renamed Family History WA. WAGS (or FHWA) have their own newsletter called Western Ancestor’

The society produces a newsletter entitled, ‘Convict Links’ and the story for the March edition was James and Lydia Rackham.

Many emails have flowed backwards and forwards between the three of us and the story of Lydia’s family has expanded. Both David and Jo have been open-spirited and generous in sharing their findings and information. In return I have contributed information from the Parish Records and Quarter Session documents found in Suffolk Record Office as well as some photographs of our area. Through their contributions, two fresh characters emerged, one from Wherstead and the other from Trimley St. Mary. The stories of George Powling and his father, Samuel Powling revealed themselves.  George was Lydia’s Son-in-Law; Anna was Samuel’s daughter-in-law. Because their stories reflect the times in which they live, a third blog relating to the life and extended family of Lydia Rackham begged itself to be presented; David’s contributions have enabled  us to expand our understanding of Lydia’s life.

George Powling of Wherstead and his father Samuel

Lydia Rackham’s children were separated from her when they all reached Hobart and sent to an Orphanage. They remained there until Anna, Lydia’s eldest daughter, came to their rescue with her husband George Powling. George and Anna had married in Fremantle and initially, I supposed they had travelled from England together. But the truth is, George was already in Fremantle, where he was a Convict George Powling was one of the children of Samuel Powling and Hannah Powling, née Spink. Samuel was born in Bildeston, Suffolk, which is little inland. The Census returns Hannah contributed show her birth parish to be  either Bramford or Holbrook.  As they are neighbouring parishes, it may have been her family moved between them when she was a girl; neither parishes are far from Trimley by river and in fact Shotley is a contiguous parish to Trimley St. Martin.  Samuel and Hannah married in 3rd February 1817 in Wherstead, Suffolk.


Throughout their married life, Samuel and Hannah moved between Wherstead, Holbrook and Freston. As you may see by looking at a map[1], these are all neighbouring parishes barely two or three miles apart. The largest landowners in the area were the Berners family in Woolverstone, Suffolk. Again, if you look at the map[2], you will see Shotley at the bottom of the Holbrook Peninsula, a short ferry ride to Harwich and Dovercourt which only take about 20 minutes. And if you should gaze across  across the confluence of the Orwell and the Stour from the marsh area of Trimley St. Martin and Trimley St.  Mary you can see Harwich on the distant shore. In fact, an old and long established ferry close to Fagbury Point was the embarkation point for Harwich.

George Powling was the first child of Samuel and Hannah Powling born in 1828, but  his baptism was delayed until 16th January 1831 in St Mary’s church, Wherstead, when his sister Sarah, was also christened. Other children were also baptised there; Susanna in 1830, Robert in 1836, Emma in 1838 and Eliza in 1841. Samuel’s occupation  was always recorded as a Labourer in the baptismal registers and indeed, that was how he remained until his dying day.

As the oldest child, I imagine George assumed a responsibility for his siblings as he worked to support his parents raise their family. The 1840s were hard times for the labouring classes. You could say all times were hard for them but in the depth of winter when there was only spit to eat, a family would be stretched to capacity to sustain themselves. I think this is why George, aged 19, committed the  crime  of sheep stealing for which he was arrested, something I discovered in the Ipswich Journal, a hundred and seventeen years to the day after his crime was reported. It was a cold, dark, wet night on the 27th January 2019 and I have no reason to suppose the climate was any kinder when George set out to find food for his family. There is a degree of speculation in my thinking, but poaching and sheep stealing to provide food for starving families, were common practices at the time, frequently leading to transportation. Jo Hyland wrote to me that,

‘..I agree with your sentiment about how difficult life was for people in the 1840s especially in rural areas of poverty.  Many of our other ‘Scindian’  (The ship used to transport James Rackham) convict stories have shown that poaching happened around Christmas/New Year in the height of winter and I agree that they were possibly just trying to feed their families and were pushed to theft and poaching to do so. To be honest, what we would today perceive as “real” crimes… were few and far between…’

The sentence for George was was no exception to the transportation rule. The entry in the Quarter Sessions book[3], reinforced by a short mention in the Ipswich Journal[4], informs us he appeared before the bench on 17th March 1848. The Chair was Sir Augustus Riyder Henniker, Bart. and  he determined George was to be,

‘convicted of felony and sheep stealing to be transported for twelve years.’

 Two other  prisoners who were being charged at the same time were  also to be transported. Their sentence was seven years each; their crimes were simply larceny. Clearly, Sheep stealing trumped such minor offences.

On 28th April 1848 shortly after the trial, George was moved to Millbank[5]  on the banks of the Thames as had James Rackham and the entry in the Prison Book[6] states no previous offences are known. Perhaps this was where he met James for the first time or maybe it was when he was moved to his next punishment centre. He spend  eight months  in Millbank before being moved to the House of Correction in Wakefield. His final move in England was on 30th October 1849 when he was sent to a prison hulk, probably the ‘Owen Glendower’ at Portland. Subsequently he was  transferred to the ‘Hashemy’[7], which sailed from Portland on 22nd July 1850, arriving at Fremantle on 22nd October 1850 after a journey of ninety-five days. This was the same colony James Rackham had arrived at six weeks previously on 1st June. 1850.

George must have been a well-behaved convict for he gained his freedom on 1st May 1853 and a Conditional Pardon in February 1854. On the 30th January 1854, he married (Lydia) Anna Rackham. A few days later and after his pardon was secured, the newly married couple set off for Van Diemen’s Land. As the colony in Western Australia was one that didn’t admit women, George’s marital condition was very fortunate.  I asked Jo Hyland why they didn’t transport female convicts to Western Australia and her answer provided additional insight into the state of the Convicts lives. Through the medium of email, she replied,

‘… convicted women were considered to be morally worse than their male counterparts and the male convicts had been so successful as a labour source (and a guaranteed injection of ongoing British funding into a failing economy!) that they thought the introduction of women would distract the men from their good work…

…they didn’t have any prison facilities that would suit for housing female convicts (one of the main reasons why Lydia Rackham was not permitted to join James in Western Australia). Also, female emigration was ramped up to try and address the problem of the marked gender imbalance – at one point a ratio of 11 men for each woman.

In reality the opinion of one senior member of colonial government held a lot of sway and he didn’t want to invite the ‘depravity’ of female convicts into a colony where he was raising a family of fourteen children.  The colony was completely divided on the issue. The British government twice sought colonial approval on the issue of introducing female convicts to redress the gender imbalance and the second time the colonial government actually agreed. Unfortunately, it coincided with other financial impacts on the Imperial purse such as war in the Crimea and conflict in India (1857) so it was shelved and then transportation officially ended about ten years later (1868)

 In my opinion the convict men who married lived far more settled and prosperous lives and for the men whose wives chose not to join them or they did not marry, they often indulged heavily in drink and died sad, lonely deaths.

 Imagine how different the outcome may have been for the Rackham family if Lydia and the children had been allowed to join James in Western Australia!’

George was described as a carpenter on the marriage certificate, a valuable and transferable skill and I was given additional insight into his later life from my Tasmanian correspondent.David. He informed me George died 30th April 1919, and sent a photograph showing him being cared for by a nurse in Highbury Hospital in Hobart. His wife Anna had died almost ten years before in Hobart. The photography suggests a solidity about George, despite the frailty of old age. I can’t help but think he had created a new and comparatively successful life out of the punishment of transportation, dying in comparative comfort.  This was in marked contrast to his parents who, of course, remained behind in Wherstead. I hope letters were sent between the two distant Powling households but it is only a hope and not an actuality. If letters were sent, then 1863 would have proved a sober year for George…

Samuel Powling of Bildeston and Wherstead.

The story surrounding Samuel Powling focuses entirely on his death. It received considerable reporting as sadly, it was both sensational and melancholy. It first appeared in The Ipswich Journal on 7th November 1863 and referred to an incident which had occurred the previous Wednesday on 4th November..  It was described as a ‘fatal’ and ‘deplorable’ accident[8]  and related the tragic end of Samuel Powling who had worked for Mr Sexton, of Red-Gate Farm for fifty years and possessed[9],

…the steadiness characteristic of the Suffolk Labourer …’.

(Coincidentally, Mr Sexton was the same employer from whom George had stolen the sheep in 1848.) Redgate Farm, in Redgate Lane, is half way up the hill from the Strand. In front of the Farm the wide waters of the River Orwell  flow smoothly:


21:03:2019 Redgate Farm 2Redgate Farm 21st March 2019

21:03:2019 Redgate Farm 1A view of Redgate Farm from the Strand at Wherstead. 21st March 2019

21:03:2019 View of the Orwell from the Strand (180 degrees around from Redgate Farm view)View of the Orwell from the Strand exit of Redgate Lane. 21st March 2019

On the day of his death, Samuel was working with Ebenezer Sage, James Peck and Mr. Peck. Mr Peck was driving the Threshing machine, Ebenezer and James were untying sheaves. In addition, James was also feeding the machine, together with Samuel.  The accident took place at about 11 o’clock in the morning.  Ebenezer was to provide a vivid description of what happened when he attended the Coroner’s Inquest[10] into the death of Samuel.

‘I work as a labourer for Mr. Alfred Packer of Woolverston. I was employed at Mr. Sexton’s at the Red-gate Farm yesterday, attending the machine. It was my duty to untie the sheaves for the “feeder”. Deceased was doing the same work. I knew him very well and he has worked for Mr. Sexton for many years. James Peck was the feeder, and it was necessary to have two of us to untie the sheaves in order to keep the feeder supplied. I stood by the feeder’s side and the deceased stood before him. Deceased appeared to be very well able to do his work and was a hale man for his years. We had been shifting the stage and making it wider when the accident occurred, and the speed of the engine was reduced about half. There was nothing in the drum and the feeder had got down to the barn-floor. Deceased was on the stage and I was with him. I was about to lay some sheaves of corn to keep the small corn from falling though the stage, when the deceased got up on his feet and made a false step sideways, and his right foot went into the feeding hole with his back to the drum. As soon as deceased fell in I called out to my mate, the driver and he threw the strap of directly and we drew the concave part of the engine back and got deceased out…deceased lay with his head and shoulders in the drum…head was much injured…’

Death was instantaneous. Samuel’s body was taken to,

“…the first cottage on the left hand side of the road at Freston Brook…”,

where it was subsequently viewed by the Coroner and Jury. After Samuel’s three co-workers had given their evidence, the Jury returned a verdict of ‘accidental death.’  According to the National Burial Register[11], the burial took place the following Sunday 8th November 1863 in Freston Churchyard. Samuel was seventy.

21:03:2019 Freston Church North side

21:03:2019 Freston Church South sideFreston Church. 21st March 2019

By 1871 his wife Hannah was living alone and according to the Census for that year was, ‘crippled with rheumatism’. I’m inclined to think that if it was mentioned in the Census, it is likely to have been quite acute.  She died aged 77 in 1875, according to the entry in the General Register for Deaths. After the death of Samuel, her life must have been difficult, particularly if she lived alone. I don’t know whether she had to turn to the cold comfort of the Workhouse at Tattingstone or whether enough of her family were able to make provision for her. Hannah and her family lived the hard life of the nineteenth century labourer, prone to accidents, disasters and near starvation. Lydia and George suffered prison and transportation but I am comparatively confident their life may have taken a slight turn for the better after George received his Pardon and married Anna.

Although I have truncated the stories of George and Samuel Powling I felt it was important to add them to the story of Lydia Rackham. Poverty, hardship and deprivation of basic human resources drive people to desperation. Sadly, nothing much appears to have changed since George stole the sheep. However, safety at work has improved since the sad demise of Samuel, whose end was one of many such accidents of the period.

My  gratitude to David in Hobart for sharing his information about George Powling and for alerting me to the shocking death of Samuel Powling.  My thanks are also due to Jo Hyland in Western Australia and her valuable insights into the conditions and politics surrounding convict life. Both have enabled part of Lydia’s life to return home to Trimley.



[3] B105/2/90 Quarter Sessions. p.639 Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch

[4] 17th March 1848 Ipswich Journal


[6] PCOM 2/29 Millbank, Middlesex, register of prisoners 1848-1849 The National Archives.

[7] Details of ship:


[9] Ipswich Journal 7th November 1863

[10] Ipswich Journal 7th November 1863

[11]  The National Burial Index commenced in 1994 and was first published in 2001. It contains 5.4 million records. The burial records are taken from parish registers, bishop’s transcripts, earlier transcripts or printed registers by local family history society volunteers


2 thoughts on “Lydia Rackham Revisited: Part 3

  1. I read the first two pieces about Lydia and it is wonderful that you have had contact from Australia and have been able to share more about her and her family. As ever, compelling reading. Thank you Liz.


    1. Thank you, Lydia’s story is fascinating. Every convict’s story is different and her’s had so many twists and turns in the telling!


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