ANN LAYSHAW

(Mary III, 1823)

by Don Bradmore

 Ann Layshaw alias Sarah Wardle, a forty-three-year-old mother of three, arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) as a convict aboard Mary III (I) in October 1823.[1] In the previous year, she had been convicted at Chelmsford, England, of ‘disposing of a forged banknote of five pounds’ and sentenced to transportation for life. Referred to in English newspapers at the time as ‘the notorious Mrs. Wardle’, she had been convicted of a similar offence almost five years earlier. On that occasion, she had been sentenced to imprisonment in England for fourteen years but had managed to escape, in seemingly impossible circumstances, six months later. Continuing to pass forged notes, she had remained at large until re-arrested in 1822. However, for one who had arrived in VDL with such notoriety, she was of surprisingly little trouble to the authorities. She was charged with only two new offences in the colony, both relatively minor. In 1825, she married former convict Charles Sefton and lived quietly until her death by natural cause six years later.

This is her story:

 ‘Ann Layshaw’ was not the real name of ‘the notorious Mrs. Wardle’. On 16 December 1781, she was baptised as ‘Sarah Massey’, the daughter of John Massey and his second wife, Nancy (nee Hooley), at Hale, a village in Cheshire, England.[2] After her father’s death when she was two years old, she is thought to have been taken by her mother to live with Massey relatives at Ipstones, near Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire.[3]

At Ipstones, in 1798, Sarah married a man by the name of William Wardle.[4] According to the marriage licence, she was sixteen and William was a twenty-one-year-old, local ‘husbandsman’ – a small landowner or tenant farmer. In the next seven years, Sarah gave birth to three children: John (baptised 1798), Nancy (1799) and Catherine (1805).[5]

Little is known about the way the couple lived at that time but all appears to have been well in the marriage for the first twenty years. In July 1817, however, Sarah was found guilty at the Staffordshire Quarter Sessions of ‘uttering counterfeit coin’ and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.[6] There is no evidence that she saw her husband again.

Although the details are unclear, it seems likely that Sarah had committed more than one offence that year. On 4 August 1817, Aris’s Birmingham Gazette reported that she had been sentenced to transportation for fourteen years for ‘passing counterfeit money’ in the market town of Leek, about fifteen miles (24 km) from Ipstones,[7] Within days of her trial she had been locked up in the County Gaol at Stafford, presumably to await transfer to London as soon as a convict ship became available to take her off to serve her sentence in one or other of the Australian colonies.

Sarah’s crime was not an uncommon one at that time. By the early nineteenth century, banknotes had become a common form of currency in England and forgeries were a major problem to the Government. By 1817, the number of forged notes in circulation was at a record high level. Deemed a ‘Royal Offence’, and legally a form of treason, the crime of forging was punishable by death until declassified as a capital offence in 1836. The vast majority of those convicted of the offence were poor and, in many cases, women. Their crime was often not the actual production of forged notes but the ‘uttering’ of them into circulation. Simply to have them in one’s possession was a crime. Greatly concerned by the number of convictions for these offences, the Bank of England sought ways to improve bank notes to make their copying more difficult. At the same time, it was building up an extensive network of detectives and informers to help to curtail counterfeiting operations and life was becoming more difficult for those who were engaged in such schemes.[8] It may well have been a member of this network who was responsible for Sarah’s arrest at Leek in 1817.

In any event, Sarah was still in gaol at Stafford awaiting transportation four months later. On 10 January 1818, however, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that she had escaped in mysterious circumstances during the previous night. Describing her as being a married woman, thirty-four years old, ‘of middle stature and size’ and with a ‘rather long visage, fair complexion, dark grey or hazel eyes [and] light brown hair’, the newspaper advised its readers that a reward of ten pounds would be paid to any person who was able to apprehend her ‘and lodge her in any of His Majesty’s gaols.’[9]

Two weeks later, the Northhampton Mercury provided further details of Sarah’s escape, expressing astonishment and disbelief that she could have got away so easily: ‘The apparent impossibility of a female effecting her deliverance from the building has excited much attention and given rise to various conjectures … but nothing has transpired to elucidate the mystery.’ It was suspected, said the paper, that ‘some person in the interior of the prison [had been] concerned in the transaction.’[10] Although a substantial reward of sixty pounds was soon being offered for information leading to her apprehension, nothing more was heard of Sarah for another four and a half years.[11]

Well before that, however, the suspicion of the Northhampton Mercury that Sarah had had help from the inside was confirmed.[12] On 4 April 1818, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that a man by the name of George Walker, an inmate of the prison who had been given special privileges and was acting as a ‘cook and watchman’ while Sarah was there, had been charged with helping her to get away. At his trial, Walker confessed to his part in her escape, telling the court that he had been approached by Thomas Bould, a regular guard at the gaol, who had given him the key to Sarah’s cell and had assured him that he would come to no harm if he let her out. Later, Walker had unlocked Sarah’s cell door, ushered her out, and locked the door behind her. After that, he said, he had no idea what had happened to her. Called upon as a witness, the head guard at the prison, a Mr. Harris, testified that he had never noticed any intimacy between Bould and Sarah but that Bould had admitted to him that he had allowed her daughter Nancy - who would have been about nineteen years old at the time - to visit her in her cell. Harris’s assumption was that Nancy had smuggled in money that Sarah had used to bribe Bould into letting her escape. Not surprisingly, a verdict of guilty was returned against Walker and he was sentenced to transportation for fourteen years.[13] No information about Bould’s punishment, if any, for his part in Sarah’s escape has been found.

Sarah remained free for almost five years. Then, on 23 April 1822, the Birmingham Chronicle informed its readers that she had been taken into custody again at a public house at Gloucester where she had been living for most of the time since her escape. Under the heading ‘The Notorious Mrs. Wardle’, the report revealed that, soon after getting free, Sarah had made the acquaintance of an elderly man and wife who were the proprietors of the public house at which was arrested. At her first meeting with the couple, she had told them that she was a lady’s maid and that she worked for a family at nearby Cheltenham. On that occasion, she had stayed at the public house for only one night, telling her hosts that her employers were away somewhere on a short visit. Afterwards, she had been a more frequent guest, each time paying ‘liberally’ for her board and lodgings and often receiving substantial amounts of money there by mail. As their friendship with Sarah had developed, the innkeeper and his wife had dismissed a serving-girl who had been working for them for some time and had hired Sarah in her place. Later, following the death of the wife, much of the management of the establishment had been taken over by Sarah, and so impressed was the old innkeeper with ‘this kind-hearted stranger’ who had condescended ‘to perform duties which were so much beneath the dignity of a lady’s maid’, that he had soon asked her to marry him - and she had agreed to do so. As it happened, however, just at that time a woman who was passing through the town recognized Sarah and informed a local magistrate that she was a notorious utterer of forged notes - and an escapee from Stafford Gaol. Quickly taken into custody, Sarah was transferred immediately to the Lambeth Street Police Headquarters, London. The Birmingham Chronicle concluded its report with the news that the elderly innkeeper had been so distraught when told that Sarah, the woman he had trusted and wanted to marry, was not only a convicted criminal and an escapee from prison but also already married, that he ‘had put an end to his miserable existence’. There were suggestions that he had cut his own throat.[14]

It is likely that Sarah had been using the name ‘Ann Layshaw’ while she had been living at the public house but why she had adopted that name as her alias remains a mystery. To date, research has failed to find any link in her background to the name ‘Layshaw’.

On 27 April 1822, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that ‘Ann Layshaw alias Sarah Wardle’ had been charged in London with being ‘an extensive dealer in forged five-pound notes. Five cases of uttering had been proved against her. It was noted in the report that she had appeared to be overwhelmed with grief at the hearing. ‘Respectably dressed in mourning’, she had ‘swooned away’ several times and had had to be supported on the chair that had been put in the dock for her. She confirmed to the police that she had not lived with her husband, whom she said was a cabinet-maker, for the last five years. She was fully committed to trial.[15]

The trial of ‘Ann Layshaw alias Sarah Wardle’ for uttering forged notes took place at the Chelmsford Summer Assizes, Essex, on 22 July 1822. Several witnesses were called to give evidence against her. All testified that she had paid them for the various goods and services she had bought from them with notes that were later discovered to be forgeries. In her defence, Ann (Sarah) called only one witness, a man by the name of Edward Turleigh. He swore that she had been lodging at his house and that she had not been out for many months. Therefore, he maintained, it could not have been her who gave the forgeries to the prosecution witnesses as they had claimed. The jury did not believe him. A verdict of guilty was returned and Sarah was sentenced to death.[16]

On 21 October 1822, the Hereford Journal reported that ‘The notorious Mrs. Wardle alias Layshaw … has been reprieved from capital punishment and is to be transported for life.’[17] After her death sentence had been commuted, Sarah – or Ann as she was now known – was to spend another nine months in gaol in England while awaiting her transportation. Her gaol report states that she was ‘well-behaved in prison’. Eventually, in May 1823, she was one of a hundred and twenty-six female prisoners who were put aboard Mary III as it prepared for the long voyage to Australia.  

While on the ship awaiting departure, Ann and three other women who had also been convicted for uttering forged notes begged the authorities for clemency. Their petition read:

Hon’ble Gentlemen We the undersigned Petitioners now on board the Mary Female Convict Ship having been unfortunate enough to be convicted for Uttering Forged Notes, as set forth in the enclosed statement taken from the Government Report, most humbly beg you will be pleased to grant your petitioners the same Donation you so very Humanely have done to others who have been placed in the like unfortunate situation. And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray Elizabeth Webb, Elizabeth Trindle, Ann Rummer and Anna Lasaw.[18]

It is interesting to note that while the other three women signed the petition with their mark, Ann was able to sign her name. – but why her name appears there as ‘Anna Lasaw’ is not understood. Was the petition taken as dictation by some other person, perhaps?

The petition failed. On 10 June 1823, with Mr. J. F. Steel as master and Dr. Harman Cochrane as surgeon-superintendent, Mary III sailed from London with Ann and her co-petitioners aboard. By 5 October that year, the vessel had reached Hobart, where sixty-seven of the women were disembarked. The remaining fifty-nine were taken on to Sydney. One woman had died at sea.[19]

Not surprisingly, it took Ann a little time to adapt to her circumstances at Hobart. Within a short time of her being brought ashore, she was being assigned as a servant to free settlers but, in April 1824, her employer at the time, apparently dissatisfied with the way she was performing her duties, had returned her to the Government for allocation elsewhere. Two months later, she was punished by being sent to the Female Factory for ‘refusing to go to the service to which she had been allotted.’ However, apart from these minor infractions, her conduct in VDL was satisfactory and she managed to avoid further trouble with the law.[20]  

At some time during her first two years at Hobart, Ann met a man named Charles Sefton and they were married at St David’s, Hobart, on 28 November 1825. The marriage register gives Ann’s age as forty-three and Charles’s as forty-two. Ann’s surname appears as ’Lashaw’.[21]

Charles had been convicted of burglary at the Lancaster Assizes, England, in 1811 and sentenced to death. Later, with his sentence commuted to transportation for life, he had been shipped off to New South Wales aboard Fortune, arriving there in November 1812.[22]  In 1816, he had been transferred per Kangaroo to VDL. Although he was charged with quite a number of offences in the colony including neglect of duty (1817), stealing (1818), assault (1821) and disorderly conduct (1822), he had been granted a ticket of leave by early 1824.[23] Because he was a baker by trade, it is not surprising perhaps, that among his offences in the colony were the theft of ninety pounds of flour (1822) and ‘having weights in his possession short of the standard weight’ (1822, 1825)

Little is known about the life together of Ann and Charles but there is some evidence that the marriage was troubled – at one time, at least. On 10 October 1828, Charles appeared before a magistrate charged with an offence against his wife and was ‘bound over for six months to keep the peace towards her.’[24]

On 8 December 1831, after six years of marriage to Charles, Ann passed away at Hobart. She was fifty-one. The register of deaths in the Parish of Hobart Town for 1831 described her a ‘baker’s wife’.[25]

Ann’s story is memorable more for her ‘notorious’ exploits in England than for her eight years in VDL, where she lived in relative obscurity. In fact, records in VDL seem to indicate that the convict administrators had lost contact with her by the time of her death. In 1845, fourteen years after her death, the Hobart Town Gazette reported that she had been granted a ticket of leave and, in 1854, twenty-three years after her death, that her ticket of leave had been revoked.[26] (Such errors in reporting were not infrequent as the transportation era drew to a close.)

In the years following Ann’s death, Charles appears to have done well for himself. His convict documents reveal that, in 1834, he was granted a conditional pardon.[27] By 1837, when he was issued with a free pardon, he was not only a prominent baker but also the licensee of the Brittania Hotel in Macquarie Street, in Hobart.[28] By the time of his death, at fifty-eight, in 1841, he had acquired fifty acres of land in New Town.[29]

There remains, however, much mystery about Charles - and it is difficult to reconcile the ‘lifer’ convict whom Ann had married in 1825 with the relatively well-to-do businessman who died sixteen years later. A headstone on the grave in which he and Ann are buried together at St David’s Park, Hobart, names him as ‘Charles Haywood Sefton’ but there is no indication of him having been known by that name as a convict. Nor is there any indication that he had used his middle name in his time with Ann.[30] Moreover, in the Will that he wrote in 1836 - five years before his death and five years after Ann’s death - he left his entire assets to his married daughter, Elizabeth Haywood (Sefton) Burgess, who had came out to VDL with her husband and brother John Sefton* in 1832 on the 'Duke of Wellington'.[31]  It is hoped that further research will provide answers to these questions.

 

The author acknowledges the outstanding contributions of Eileen Ball (FCRC volunteer) and Geraldine Wardle (descendant of Ann Layshaw) to the research for this article.

 

*John Sefton was tried in 1837 at Hobart Town and sentenced to 7 years transportation. (CON16-1-1 Image 57).

 

[1] Conduct record: CON40-1-5, image 295; police no: 30; FCRC ID: 8569.

[2] Research Notes for Ann Layshaw (ID 8569) in d/base of Female Convicts Research Centre (FCRC) d/base at www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[3] Wardle-Massey marriage: ‘Staffordshire Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, Marriage Allegations and Bonds’ in ‘Research Notes’, Ann Layshaw (ID 8569), at www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[4] findmypast.co.uk via www.femaleconvicts.org.au 

[5] Baptisms in parish register, Ipstones St Leonard, at www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[6] Criminal Register, Stafford July Sessions, 1817; Criminal Register, Stafford Summer Assizes 1817, via www.femaleconvicts.org.au +

[7] Aris Birmingham Gazette, 4 August 1817 at https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results?NewspaperTitle=Aris%27s+Birmingham+Gazette&BasicSearch=Sarah+Wardle

[8] Roberts, M. (1999). ‘Satan’s Bank Note’ at https://www.historytoday.com/miscellanies/satan%E2%80%99s-bank-note; ‘Banknotes: A Short History’ at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/sep/10/banknotes-history

[9] Staffordshire Advertiser, 10 January 1818 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[10] Northhampton Mercury, 24 January 1818 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[11] Reward of £60: Staffordshire Advertiser, 14 February 1818 (p.1) and 23 February 1818 (p.1) at https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/titles/staffordshire-advertiser

[12] Northhampton Mercury, 24 January 1818 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[13] Staffordshire Advertiser, 4 April 1818 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[14] Birmingham Chronicle, 23 April 1822 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[15] Staffordshire Advertiser, 27 April 1822 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[16] Saint James Chronicle (London), 27 July 1822 at https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results?NewspaperTitle=Saint+James%27s+Chronicle&BasicSearch=Layshaw. It is interesting to note that the Saint James Chronicle referred to Ann/Sarah as ‘Joan Layshaw’ in its report of the trial.

[17] Hereford Journal, 21 October 1822 at https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results?NewspaperTitle=Hereford+Journal&BasicSearch=Layshaw

[18] Petition: ‘Ann Layshaw and others, Mary Ann transport ship, Woolwich, 25 May 1823’ [F25/9/85 at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-record-soc/vol42/pp150-186565,

[19] http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/shipsTAS.html

[20] CON40-1-5, image 295.

[21] Sefton: CON31-1-38, image 16; Sefton-Layshaw marriage: RGD36/1/1, no 823.

[22] Lancaster Gazette, 14 Sept 1811, 4 April 1812, 18 April, 20 June 1812 via https://convictrecords.com.au/convicts/sefton/charles/78277

[23] CON31-1-38, image 16; ToL: Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen's Land Advertiser, 6 February 1824, p.1.

[24] CON31-1-38, image 16.

[25] Ann Layshaw, death: RGD34/1/1, no 2526;Deaths in the Parish of Hobart Town, 1831’, image 110 via Libraries Tasmania at https://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/.

[26] Ticket of leave: Hobart Town Gazette, 25 February 1845; revoked Hobart Town Gazette, 25 October 1853.

[27] CON31-1-38, image 16.

[28] Licensee, Brittania Hotel: Colonial Times (Hobart), 18 August 1837, p.5; 25 September 1838, p.8; The Courier (Hobart), 13 April 1841, p.3.

[29] Charles Sefton, death: RGD35/1/1 no 782; death notice: The Courier (Hobart), 24 September 1841, p.2; land: CSO3-1-3_230_S, index S, p.11.

[30] Headstone: https://austcemindex.com/inscription?id=9338803

[31] Sefton, Will: AD960-1-2 {Will No.303); Elizabeth Haywood Sefton, arrival: CSO8/1/60/1347 at https://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au, CUS30/1/1 p. 121

 

 

 


Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].