Black Sheep Sunday – Yorkshire Sheep Rustlers part IV

(For Part I click here)
(For Part II click here)
(For Part III click here)

The last time we met John & William Richardson, they had admitted their guilt to the York Assizes and were on their way to Millbank prison in London to await transportation for ten years.

Following their stay in Millbank they were moved to the prison hulk York moored off the Portsmouth coast. I found a record of them there on Ancestry:



The register notes they are men of ‘good character’ and also reveals that John was a joiner and William worked as a farmer and was married, which probably accounts for his distress on hearing his sentence. The register also records whether they were literate, but I can’t quite decipher that.

HMS York was launched in 1807 in the middle of the Napoleonic wars and had been involved in the occupation of Madeira and the capture of Martinique.  In 1819 she was moored in Gosport harbour, where she was stripped of her masts and guns and converted to a prison ship.  Prison ships or hulks were introduced as a response to increasing numbers of criminal convictions in this period and as a ‘holding pen’ for those awaiting transportation.


On arrival William & John would have been shackled in irons, apparently to discourage any ‘swimmers’.  They may have been put to work in the dockyards during the day, returning to the York every evening.  Conditions on board were dreadful. The York held up to five hundred prisoners in cold, cramped, dark and insanitary conditions.  Diseases such as typhoid and cholera were rife and it is thought that as many as one in three prisoners died.  In 1848 a serious rebellion broke out, resulting in the ringleaders being sent to land based prisons and the York being taken out of use and broken up in 1854.

However, according to the hulk register, the Richardson brothers had already left the York.  On 20th of April 1844, they had sailed for Bermuda on another prison hulk, HMS Thames.

Part V

Picture Credit: Creator: Edward William Cooke  Date: 1807  Credit line: National Maritime Museum, London

Black Sheep Sunday – Yorkshire Sheep Rustling Part III

(For Part I click here)
(For Part II click here)

So John and William found themselves in York Castle prison, charged with two counts of sheep theft.  On 23rd of December 1843, the York Herald reported that they had pleaded guilty to both counts and William also admitted to having stolen a bay gelding from Robert Williamson the previous September.

Since 1742 theft of sheep and cattle had been a capital offence, but fortunately for the Richardson brothers by the 1840s capital punishment was reserved for only the most serious crimes of treason and murder.

At the York Winter Assizes, on 30th of December 1843, both brothers were sentenced to transportation for ten years.  The Herald noted that William was very distressed by this; and who could blame him?  It must have been a terrifying prospect.


At the end of January, William and John were taken to Millbank Prison, on the banks of the Thames in London, to await transportation.

Millbank Prison was the largest of the London prisons, and was frequently used as a ‘holding pen’ for those awaiting transportation.  Henry Mayhew, the social researcher, visited the prison in 1856 , and later published a vivid description of it:

Ahead is Vauxhall bridge, with its open iron work at the sides of the arches, and at its foot, at the back of the dismal Horseferry Road, lies the Milbank prison.
This immense yellow-brown mass of brick-work is surrounded by a low wall of the same material, above which is seen a multitude of small squarish windows, and a series of diminutive roofs of slate, like low retreating foreheads. There is a systematic irregularity about the in-and-out aspect of the building, which gives it the appearance of a gigantic puzzle; and altogether the Millbank prison may be said to be one of the most successful realizations, on a large scale, of the ugly in architecture, being an ungainly combination of the mad-house with the fortress style of building, for it has a series of martello-like towers, one at each of its many angles, and was originally surrounded by a moat, whilst its long lines of embrasure-like windows are barred, after the fashion of Bedlam and St. Luke’s.
At night the prison is nothing but a dark, shapeless structure, the hugeness of which is made more apparent by the bright yellow specks which shine from the casements. The Thames then rolls by like a flood of ink, spangled with the reflections from the lights of Vauxhall bridge, and the deep red lamps from those of the Millbank pier, which dart downwards into the stream, like the luminous trails of a rocket reversed.

Mayhew was given a tour of the prison and the procedure for admitting new prisoners was explained to him.  this must be fairly close to what William and John were faced with when they arrived:

The governor, on learning the object of our visit, directed one of the principal warders to conduct us through the several wards, and explain to us the various details of the prison.
“Millbank,” he said, in answer to a question we put to him, “is the receptacle for all the convicts of England, Wales, and Scotland, but not for those of Ireland, which has a convict establishment of its own.”
Males and females of all ages are received here, the prison being the depot for “convicts” of every description. When a man is convicted, and sentenced either to transportation or penal servitude, he remains in the prison in which he was confined previous to his trial, until such time as the order of the Secretary of State is forwarded for his removal; and he is then transferred to us, his “caption papers” (in which are stated the nature of his offence, the date of his conviction, and the length of his sentence) being sent with him. From this prison he is, after a time, removed to some “probationary” prison (to undergo a certain term of separate confinement) such as that at Pentonville, or to some such establishment in the country; and thence he goes to the public works either at Portland, Portsmouth, or the Hulks, or else he is transported to Gibraltar, Bermuda, or Western Australia, where he remains till the completion of his sentence.
On the arrival of the prisoners at Millbank, the governor informed us, they are examined by the surgeon, when, if pronounced free from contagious disease, they are placed in the reception ward, and afterwards distributed throughout the prison according to circumstances, having been previously bathed and examined, naked, as at Pentonville.
“If a prisoner be ordered to be placed in association on medical grounds,” added the governor, “the order is entered in the book in red ink, otherwise he is located in one of the various pentagons for six months, to undergo confinement in separate cell.”
On entering his cell, each prisoner’s hair is cut, and the rules of the prison are read over to him, the latter process being repeated every week, and the hair cut as often as required.

Millbank Prison

This must have been daunting to the brothers who probably hadn’t been out of Yorkshire before, but more was to follow….

Part IV
Part V

Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, December 23, 1843; pg. 6; Issue 3717. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II

Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, January 06, 1844; pg. 3; Issue 3719. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

Newspaper Credit: The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, February 03, 1844; pg. 6; Issue 3723. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.

Griffin, Bohn and Co. London 1862

Black Sheep Sunday – Yorkshire Sheep Rustling Part II

(For Part I click here)

William and John Richardson’s freedom following their discharge by the York magistrates was short-lived.  The following Saturday a warrant was issued for their arrest; evidence had been discovered of further sheep thefts carried out by the brothers.  John was arrested at a farmhouse in Wheldrake, while William had arrived at the Station House of his own accord.

They appeared before the magistrate, Mr. Laycock, who heard a deposition by the superintendent of police, Mr. Chalk. Mr. Chalk explained how and why the Richardson brothers had been arrested and requested that the hearing be adjourned for a few days while further evidence was collected.  The brothers were remanded to York castle prison.


On 4th of November the York Herald reported on the latest hearing of this case at York Castle.  There was a possible five charges against the brothers, but the magistrates concentrated on just two, beginning with the charge of stealing four sheep from William Fell on Thursday 12th of October.

William Fell deposed that he had missed four out of his five sheep from Moorsholm Moor and had later seen two of them in the possession of William King and the other two in York with the prisoners; the sheep still bore his mark.

The owner of The Black Horse inn at Thirsk, Emanuel Teasdale, stated that the prisoners had stayed overnight at his Inn on 13th October with fifty or sixty sheep.  After they had left the following morning, he found they had left four sheep behind.  William Fell then identified one of those sheep as his.

William Winterbottom, a policeman, said that he had found six sheep in William Richardson’s field and had brought them to York.  Fell again identified one of the sheep as his, stating that he had last seen it grazing on Moorsholm Moor.

Mr. Chalk said that the Richardson brothers had been originally arrested due to having fifteen sheep in their possession which they couldn’t account for.  Following their previous appearance in court when they were told not to sell the sheep, they had made no attempt to run away or dispose of the sheep despite being at liberty for three days.

Further depositions came from James Grey, who had seen the brothers driving a great many sheep towards Gusiborough at Slaits Wath – three miles from Moorsholm, but fifteen miles from Stockton where they claimed to have bought them.  William Harding, who knew the family from Liverton had also lost nine sheep that same week  and Michael Bradley, an innkeeper from Newton under Roseberry Topping, had sold the prisoners a pennyworth of rum as they were passing through, driving the sheep.

A second charge of theft from William Lewis was also heard, his shepherd, John Foster had missed twenty-eight or thirty sheep from Moorsholm Moor, which he next saw in York market on the 19th October, in the possession of the prisoners.  George King and Thomas Wilson of Beningborough had both purchased sheep from the brothers which had since been identified as belonging to Mr. Lewis.

William and John Richardson were then commited for trial at the next assizes.

Part III
Part IV
Part V

Newspaper Credit: “A Calendar,” The York Herald (York), 16 December 1843; online archives (: viewed January 2013); The York Herald, and General Advertiser (York, England), Saturday, December 16, 1843; pg. 5; Issue 3716. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II..