The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

George Sole - Convict

By Don Steel

This article was originally published in the April 1995 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

When the Society was formed Glad Willis sent us material about her ancestor George Sole. He was born at Buntingford, Hert­fordshire, about 1797.

We haven't found his baptismal record but Glad reckons he was the eldest son of Joseph Sole of Buntingford and his wife Margaret Sole nee Lodge. She may well be right. She points out that although on his death certificate his father is given as Henry, Joseph gave his consent to George's underage marriage to Sarah Hart by licence at Layston (the parish church of Buntingford) in 1813, when George was described as of Aspenden. So the death certificate is probably a mistake, but it could be that he was an orphan and that his uncle Joseph was his legal guardian, though at the moment we have no Henry that fits.

George and Sarah had a son Thomas born in London c.1816‑17, so the young couple would appear to have spent some time in London and then returned to Buntingford.

Glad said that George was transported to Australia convicted of either horse stealing or sheep stealing.

It so happens that in the early 1950s, I had searched the early files of the Hertfordshire Mercury and so had already discovered the report of 10 March 1827 regarding George's conviction at the Hertfordshire Assizes. It runs as follows:


GEORGE SOLE was indicted for stealing a Bay Gelding, of the value of £15, the property of Mr. James Merchant of Layston.

The Prosecutor stated that he did not see the horse in question be­tween 27th and 29th December. The Saturday following he saw it at Epping (then, a small town in Essex on the outskirts of London).

The horse had a star in its fore­head, a saddle mark and the left front leg was white. The horse was worth £15.

Francis Kindon examined. I am servant to Mr. Merchant. On 20th December I was in his employ. I put the horse into the yard on the 28th. I know the prisoner. He lived at Layston about three years ago, I saw the horse again on the following Sunday night. His master brought him home.

James Parties constable at Ep­ping sworn ‑ I met the prisoner with the horse on 29th December in the Town of Epping. The horse appeared to have been rode hard. I asked if he would sell him. He said "No". He was going to Hoy's at Laytonstone (another place in Essex near London) with him. I said I did not know such a man, that I believed there was a man named Hoy at Woodford. I asked him where he bought it and he said, "From Marshall at Stortford". (Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire). The Waldon coach came up at this time and I asked the Coachman if he had heard of any person having lost a horse and if there were any person of the name of Marshall at Stortford. He said, "No". I then searched the prisoner and found a halter in his pocket. On Saturday prosecutor came to Epping and owned the horse. I first saw the prisoner and the horse for the first time on Friday at 10 o'clock.

Cross‑examined ‑ Prisoner does not say he would not sell the horse, as it belonged to another person. He said before the Magistrate that a man asked him to lead the horse while he went into a public house and who said he would soon overtake him. Pris­oner was in the White Hart public house about ten minutes before the Walden coach came up.

Some discussion here took place between the prisoner's Counsel (Mr. Jessopp and Mr. Clarkson) and the bench, as to whether the admission made by the prisoner but not signed by him, could be received in evidence. The Court ruled that the case of the King v. Lamb was a case in point, where the prisoner had acknowledged the accuracy of the admission, but refused to sign it. Evidence being given that in this instance the prisoner had allowed the admis­sion to be true, it was received and read. He denied the actual theft and averred, as stated in the cross‑examination of one of the witnesses that the man gave it to him to lead on while he went to take a pint of beer.

The prisoner's master gave him a good character.

The jury found the prisoner GUILTY, but recommended him to mercy on the grounds of his previous good character. Death recorded.

I used to think that death recorded meant that the person was hanged, but of course we know George wasn't, and in fact it actually means that the sentence of death was passed. The assize records for each county held at the Public Record Office at Kew do not record changes of sentence and you have to look at the Court Process Book to find out what the final sentence was. In the majority of cases the death sentence seems to have been commuted to transportation for four­teen years as it was in George's case. Just as well or the Sole Society would have one member fewer. We're glad, Glad!

With the memories of the confessions of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six. Ste­phen Kishko, the alleged Carl Bridgwater murderer and others fresh in the minds of those living in the UK, and doubtless there have been similar cases in Australia or North America ‑ we may well be sceptical about George's alleged confession, particu­larly as he refused to sign it. However, having said that, his story was decidedly unconvincing so doubtless he was guilty. Maybe some descendant knows the details from what he told his children and grand­children though in later life ex‑cons often kept very quiet about their wayward youth.

I am also interested in the KITCHENER surname and an Elisha Kitchener of Tring was convicted of theft on the same day and was transported on the same ship. He and George must have got to know each other in the hulks and then on the voyage as there were only 7 convicts from Hertfordshire on that transport out of 100.

Bateson's The Convict Ships 1787‑1868 shows that the Prince Regent left Deal, Kent on 11 June 1827, sailed via Teneriffe and arrived at Sydney on 27 September, the journey taking 108 days. This was a good time, as the record was 97 days. As I have mentioned, the ship transported 180convicts.

Some months ago I gave a talk to the Hertfordshire Family History and Popu­lation Studies Society and there met Ken Griffin who is indexing Hertfordshire As­size Records 1784‑1853. He has very kindly given me further information about George. His date of conviction was 7 March 1827. Of course I knew the charge already from the newspaper report ‑ Horse‑stealing: a bay gelding worth £15. l also know it was stolen from a James Merchant of Layston. The Assize Records show he was a farmer. George's age was given as 30.  

At Kew under ADM 101 61/3, Ken found the Surgeon's record. It was written by Surgeon William Rae and dated 1 May 1827 to 15 October 1827. He describes the more serious cases he has to deal with ‑ successfully, as there were no deaths on board, which says something not only for Rae but also for the master of the Prince Regent., William Richards, compared with those of many convict ships. Rae also records the Hospital diet. The full diet was a breakfast and supper each consisting of a pint of gruel made of 2 oz rice or 3 oz oatmeal and 1 oz sugar and a dinner of a pint of good soup made of the preserved meats (presumably mostly heavily salted beef) boiled with barley and half a pound of bread. For the half‑diet, breakfast and supper were the same as for the full diet but dinner was half a pint of soup and 6 oz bread. For the "spoon‑diet", breakfast and supper were still the same but dinner consisted of 1/4 lb. flour made into pancakes, 3 oz sago and 1/4 oz sugar. If these were the hospital diets which were presumably a bit special, one dreads to think what the ordinary diet was like! They probably emerged at Sydney very thin, but at least nobody died.

During the voyage the convicts had to en­dure two gales and sailed through thunder and lightning. They were shackled with ankle chains known as bazzles, which of course meant that if there should be a shipwreck they stood little chance of es­caping. George must have had his anxious moments.

In 1828 there was a Census for New South Wales which, unlike all other Australian Censuses, has mercifully survived. George appears as George Soles. He was 31, a "Government Servant having arrived on the Prince Regent in 1827. His religion was Protestant. He was sentenced to 14 years and was a labourer employed by Archibald Bell living at Windsor, New South Wales.

Glad Willis tells us that in 1831, George applied for his wife and his son Thomas to come to Australia at Government expense and this was granted.

The published 1837 Master for New South Wales shows that George, described as aged 36, was then working for George Cox of Penrith, NSW.

This is presumably the same listing as the General Return of Convicts in New South Wales, 1837 published for the Society of Australian Genealogists in 1987 from which Janet Hurst has abstracted entries for all our surnames. George is the only SOLE, though there is an Edward Soil aged 26 who might be one of us, though it’s not on Geoff’s variants list. Edward came over on the Sarah in 1829 and was residing at Maneroo on ticket of leave. George was not on ticket of leave at this time.

Glad's data shows that George died at Bankstown, near Liverpool, New South Wales on 13 November 1862. A death notice in the Sydney Morning Herald of 19 November 1862 described him as aged 65, a farmer. He was buried at Liverpool NSW on 15 November 1862 with a Church of Eng­land service. Like many industrious ex­convicts. George had clearly made good, probably better than he ever would have done had he stayed honest in England. 

George's son Thomas, a fruit merchant of Bankstown had, with other issue, a daughter Caroline who married first John S. Gardiner, who died at Christchurch, New Zealand in 1883 and secondly Henry Codrington. Caroline died in 1929 aged 72. By her first marriage she had, with other issue, a daughter also called Caroline (1880‑1970) who married Henry S. Coburn. They were Glad Willis's parents. So Glad is George's great‑great‑granddaughter.

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