Ex-Convict Killer comes to Kentish
Richard & Christina Boothman

The oldest surviving gravestone in the Kentish Municipality is that of Richard Boothman who died 9 Aug 1876, aged 56, and his wife Christina Boothman who died five years earlier, on 30 Sept 1871, aged 57. Originally erected in the old pioneer cemetery in King George V Park, Sheffield, it was one of several historic headstones relocated to the Sheffield General Cemetery, two kilometres out of town, and made into a memorial row. Richard & Christina Boothman were probably the first genuine settlers along Railton Road, Sheffield, selecting the property 2711 Sheffield Rd, Sheffield. Their old headstone provides no hint of the lamentable circumstances that bought Richard Boothman to this convict island.

Rebellious Lancashire Lad

Born in 1820, Richard Boothman’s hometown of Colne, Lancashire was full of weaving mills. Situated in the heart of England‘s new textile industry, this thriving area was fast becoming the financial backbone of the country. Its wool and cotton barons had become rich and powerful, the poor millworkers, exposed to exploitation, worked long hours for little pay. When the Industrial Revolution broke out in 1840, young Richard was a 20-year-old weaver. It ushered in a period of mass riots across the English Midlands as thousands of spinners and weavers began to strike for better wages and working conditions. Special policemen were brought in from Scotland and Ireland to help quell insurgencies and maintain law and order. These revolts gave birth to the Chartist Movement, most active in the 1840s, and committed to advancing the lot of the working man.

After work on 10 August 1840, two Chartists with prices on their heads addressed a crowd of several thousand millworkers in Colne. Later that night, after the 9pm curfew commenced, a core group of about 200 men planned a protest march through the centre of Colne. On several previous marches over the last six months shop windows were smashed and acts of violence perpetrated. That night three or four of the rebellious ringleaders broke spear-shaped iron pickets from the fence railings surrounding Colne‘s historic Christ Church. When the riot erupted, property was again damaged, and many shop windows smashed. But after the crowd dispersed, one special policeman lay dead on the pavement. He had been struck over the head with an iron picket. The town magistrates immediately posted a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

Eventually four young men, including Richard Boothman (20), were arrested and charged with his murder. They were kept in Lancastle Castle until their trial began. The other three were released, but Richard Boothman was found guilty and sentenced to death. Boothman protested his innocence. He had many witnesses ready to testify he was not the person, but they were not permitted to give evidence. Most town people believed it to be a miscarriage of justice. After a petition his death sentence was changed to transportation to Van Diemen‘s Land. On 11 June 1841 he was moved to prison bulk ‘Justitia’, moored in the Thames River at Woolwitch, east of London.

Convict Career in VDL

Two months later, on 30 August 1841, Boothman was one of 350 male convicts who sailed aboard the 730 tonne Barossa, arriving in Hobart 13 January 1842. The ship’s surgeon gave a glowing report of Boothman‘s assistance during the voyage. Richard was sent to Impression Bay (now Premadena) on Tasman Peninsula, a semaphore station that transmitted messages between Port Arthur and Hobart. After his two-year probationary period ended in 1844, Boothman was granted a ticket of leave and spent 9 years assigned to various employers mainly in the north of the State. On 30 June 1853 he was granted a conditional pardon. His convict records reveal Richard was 5’9” tall, could read, single, Protestant, ruddy complexion, brown hair, blue eyes. They consistently said he was of good or very good behaviour.

His Letters Home

What is so unusual about Boothman’s story is that 14 letters he wrote home to his father have survived and reside in the Lancashire Records Office. Written from jail in Lancaster Castle, the prison hulk in the Thames and Van Diemens Land, they provide an incredible insight to his character and disposition. He freely admits bad behaviour but denies the crime for which he was punished. He begs his father to work for his release. Nevertheless, he plans to fully co-operate with all prison authorities and any future employers in VDL. He became a model of good behaviour and eventually gained his freedom. Here are a few summarised extracts from his letters:

23 Feb 1841 (pre-trial from Lancaster Castle)

Dear Father: I thank God I am much in health which I assure you is an invaluable blessing and hope with the assistance of Almighty God to meet my fate whatever it be with that fortitude, meekness and humility which was so striking displayed by our Saviour on the cross. If I be so fortunate as to regain my liberty, I hope to show you and all my friends that my imprisonment has been conducive to every good in amending my morals and shewing me the error which I had fallen. Your affectionate and devoted son Richard

16 April 1841 (from Lancaster Castle after been found guilty)

Dear Father: I am shortly to leave my native land for life, for a crime I know nothing about. My principle grief is for you but hope that you will bear my loss with fortitude. Keep up your spirits as well as you possibly can. I will never cease to ask a blessing for each of you and entreat you to remember me in your evening devotions. I remain, dear Father, your truly affectionate son – Richard Boothman.

18th July 1841 (aboard the hulk Justitia, Woolwich)

Dear Father: I write you these lines hoping they find you in good health, as thanks be to the Lord I am at this present time, for which I bless His holy name. I am so grateful to be in the land of the living, where mercy may be found and pardon obtained through Jesus Christ, God’s only son. I am now aboard the Justitia hulk at Woolwich and I thought it my bounden duty to tell you, not knowing how long I may be here or how soon we sail from England. Dear Father, I wish you all the happiness this world can give and the hope to gain everlasting peace and happiness. If we should not meet again in this world I hope and trust we both shall meet in heaven where parting will be no more. Remember me to my brothers and sisters, I wish them all well. – Richard Boothman

17 Apr 1845 (four years later from Launceson, VDL)

My Dear Father: Since my probation finished in June 1844, I have been working for different masters, although many of my shipmates are still in Government employment which is their own fault because of their misconduct. I can say I have never been in trouble since I have been on this island. As the Government’s book can prove, my conduct has been good. Dear Father, if you think you can do anything to mitigate my unfortunate sentence, I should be grateful. I solemnly declare my innocence of the charge I was sent here for, but I must trust in the Almighty that His will be done.

14 Dec 1846 (from Launceston, VDL)

Dear Brother: I was at first much hurt to hear from you of the death of my dear Father. But have now accepted that it was the will of Divine Providence to take him out of this troubled world for a place of bliss. Dear Brother don’t be offended with what I am about to say as I have found the benefit of it by experience since I have been in this country, but I hope you will be true and just in all your dealings, and walk upright and humbly with God. Please make this known to my brothers and sisters as it is the greatest blessing one can enjoy in this world. This I can speak by experience since I have been on this island. Tell them all that it is my sincere hope they attend to their religious duties as far as in their power. Please give my love to each of them. Your affectionate brother – Richard Boothman

Did Richard Boothman commit the gruesome murder on the night of the 10th of August 1840? Colne’s historian Henry Foulds wrote, “the trial and subsequent conviction of Richard Boothman was the worst miscarriage of justice in the town‘s near 2000 year history.”

His two marriages in Launceston

On 4 March 1853 Richard Boothman (33) married Mary Ann Brown (42) in St Andrew’s Church of Scotland, Launceston. Mary was also given a ticket of leave, having been sentenced in Forfarshire, Scotland to 7 years transportation for stealing blankets. Richard worked as a quarryman and on 13 February 1856, purchased a property between Esk St and Invermay Rd, Launceston, for £125, but sadly, shortly afterwards, Mary Ann died. Four years later, on 2 May 1859, the 39-year-old widower now married Christina Jeffrey, a 44-year-old widow in Mrs Jeffrey’s East Tamar St house by a Presbyterian minister.

Coming to Kentish

Planning a new start with a new wife, on 21 January 1862 Richard Boothman purchased 100 acres just east of the surveyed township of Sheffield for £100 cash. It was located on the northern side of the Kentish track just before its junction with the newly surveyed track that comes up over the Stoodley hill from Tarleton. Owners of this same property in the recent past have included Bruce Skirving, Neil Lillico and Wayne Brown.

Richard and Christina sailed aboard the 56-ton schooner Elise from Launceston to the Mersey River on 20 March 1862. Boothman finally obtained his title-deeds on 13 May 1863, by which time he had built a cottage, a barn and established a good garden. The settler who was joined on his eastern side was William Wade, and on his western side Robert Masterman. Across the Kentish track on the south side was William Jeffrey who seems to have been related to Richard‘s wife.

The surveyed road, from Tarleton up through the scrub to join Kentish’s track near Boothman’s property, was never properly formed or bridged. Bullock hoofs and wagon wheels soon churned this rough track into miles of muddy ruts. After every rain, extensive quagmires formed where loaded wagons sunk to their axles. Regularly they had to be completely unloaded to be extricated. Boothman joined 10 other early Kentish landholders who met in John Powlett’s Sheffield Inn on 15 September 1865 to write and appeal to his Excellency the Governor to recognise their vital need of a good access road. Co-signers were Robert Manley, Thos Johnson, James & John Powlett, James Husband, Edmund Lord, John Mc’Farlane, Wm Bilham, Wm Morris & James Dugan. But their efforts appear to have achieved very little, for, nearly two years later, in April 1867 on the Governor’s first visit to Kentish, the landowners were able to argue ‘no portion of the money granted to any Board of Works has been expended in this district.’ On occasions Boothman was paid small amounts by the Road Trust for bridge work. The richness and fertility of the soil on Boothman’s farm became apparent when he began growing potatoes. One weighed nearly 5lb, another 4lb and several from 2lb to 3lb each. Richard also had a dairy selling tubs of butter down to Tarleton. Boothman appeared to have been well accepted by the emerging Kentish community, but did they know his real story?

On 30 September 1871, Christina (nee Jeffrey) Boothman (57) died of dropsy and was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in High St, Sheffield. Richard continued their close relationship with his wife’s Jeffrey relatives across the road. One of them was a young woman in her twenties also named Christina Jeffrey whose own father Robert had died when she was young and was apparently raised by her uncle William Jeffrey. Richard became very fond of her and on 5 June 1873 offered his home for the marriage ceremony of Christina Jeffrey (29) to William Morris Jrn (31). When the newlyweds had their first child Christina Morris born 8 April 1874, the childless widower Richard idolised this young toddler as if she was his own granddaughter.

Richard Boothman died from a stone in the bladder at his residence along Railton Road on 9 Aug 1876 aged 56. The executives of Richard’s will were three prominent settlers in Kentish: John Hope (later MHA), John Duff and Alexander Turnbull. The beneficiaries were a couple of Richard’s nephews and his tiny two-year-old idol Christina Morris – the money to be held in trust until she was of age. William & Christina Morris eventually moved out to West Kentish and took over his father’s farm Rosebank, the same property farmed in recent times by Des & Dianne Brown.

When Richard‘s little girl grew up, she married Alfred Excell of West Kentish in 1897 and had five children: Elizabeth (Mrs Cliff Willie) Jean (Mrs Vern Wyllie), and four sons James, William, John and George Excell. So, while checking out our oldest gravestone may have uncovered an ex-killer convict, it was his exemplary conduct and kindness to others that eventually bought him acceptance and friendship with Kentish’s original settlers.

Next time: John Silvester Nottage: Kentish’s prolific novelist