My Heritage - Arlene Louisa White - Australia:Information about Susannah Holmes
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Susannah Holmes (b. 01 March 1764, d. 06 November 1825)Susannah Holmes (daughter of Joshua Holmes and Eunice Brooks) was born 01 March 1764 in Surlingham, Norfolk, England, and died 06 November 1825 in Windsor, New South Wales, Australia.She married Henry Kable on 10 February 1788 in Sydney Cove, First Fleet Colony, Australia, son of Henry Keable and Dinah Fuller.
Notes for Susannah Holmes:
Extract taken from Convicts to Australia
Transport: Convict Ship - Friendship
Place & Date of Trial: Norfolk Lent Assizes, held at Thetford on Friday, 19th March, 1784 before sir George Nares Knt. and Fleetwood Bury Esq. (1)
Crime & Sentence:Susannah Holmes Spinster, aged 19 years: 13 November last about 12 in the night at Thwilton: Burgl. D:H: of Jabez Taylor and stealing one pair of linen Sheets value 10s. One linen Gown value 5s. one linen shift value 2s. four yards of Irish linen Cloth value 6s. three linen handkerchiefs value 3s. one Silk Handkerchief value 2s. three Muslin Neckcloths value 18d.two black Silk Cloaks value 10s. two silver Table Spoons value 12s. two Silver Tea Spoons value 2s. goods of said Jabez (1)
"Jury say Guilty no goods to be Hanged by the Neck until she is dead. Reprieved." (1) 14 years.
Occupation: none (2) Age: 19 years (1784) (1); 22 years (1887) (2)
Appears inOrder in Council No.2, p. 10(a); Ross's Returns (Holme), p.248;
Richards's Returns, (a) p.277, (b)p.293; Clark's List (Holms - has 7 years), p.10.
References: (1) P.R.O. Assizes 33/6; (2) Clark, R., Journal, p. 10.
Extracts taken from 'The Australian' 26th January, 2000
A Seventh-generation Australian on her fathers side, Hilda Maclean is a direct descendant of Henry Kable, a petty theif who was transported to Australia on the Alexander, which arrived in Sydney Cove 26th January, 1788.
His soon-to-be wife Susannah Holmes was also transport on the first fleet for stealing bed linen, arriving seperately on the Charlotte (and then the Friendship during voyage) wich the couple's infant son Henry, who had been born in prison before they left England.
Two weeks after landing in Australia, Henry and Susannah were Married along with four other couples in the new settlement.While Henry and Susannah went to to produce 10 more offspring, none of the other couples had children.So Maclean can say with some confidence that she is a member of the first non-indigenous family in Australia.
While Kable's life in the new penal colony was well documented and books have been written about his life, there is little information on his wife in the official records.All Maclean knows is that Susannah died 21 years before her husband in 1825; with other women in the Kable family losing their name through marriage and fading from the picture.
Ó Cambridge University Press
David Neal, The Rule of Law in A Penal Colony -Law and Power in Early New South Wales (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991), Chapter 1.
In 1786 Susannah Holmes gave birth to a son in Norwich Castle Jail. Both the child's parents had been sentenced to death. Susannah had been in the jail since 1783, convicted of breaking into the house of Jabez Taylor and stealing 'one pair of linen sheets value 10 Shillings, one linen gown value 5 shillings, one linen shift value 2 shillings, four yards of Irish linen cloth value 6 shillings, three linen handkerchiefs value 3 shillings, one silk handkerchief value 2 shillings, three muslin neckcloths value 18 pence, two black silk cloaks value 10 shillings, two silver tablespoons value 12 shillings, two silver teaspoons value 2 shillings, goods of said Jabez'. The law prescribed the death penalty for burglary and the Norfolk assize judge, Mr Justice Nares, put on his black cap and sentenced Susannah to death.
It must have been awesome to stand in court as a defendant and have the death sentence imposed. But Susannah probably knew that she would be included in the judge's list of those who would be recommended for reprieve. After the court room rituals had been completed, the judge stayed the punishment and wrote the standard letter. '.... [S]ome favourable circumstances appearing on her behalf ...', the judge wrote to the king, [I] humbly recommend her to Your Majesty, as a proper object of Your Majesty's Royal Mercy upon the several conditions following ... being transported as soon as conveniently may be to some of Your Majesty's Colonies or Plantations in America for the term of Fourteen Years'. Susannah had been fortunate enough to have her name included in the judge's letter along with one other woman and nineteen men who had been convicted of [p 2] capital offences on the Norfolk Circuit in March 1784. Those whose names were not included in this deathly form letter might use whatever patronage connections they had to approach the king. Friends and neighbours petitioned on behalf of Thomas Dunn, for example, convicted of stealing two fat sheep from his employers. But when the king asked the trial judge whether Thomas might be deserving, the judge replied that his character and position of trust aggravated rather than mitigated his crime. His Majesty was 'graciously pleased to extend his Royal Mercy' to Susannah. Death waited for those, like Thomas Dunn, whose names did not move the monarch to suspend the seemingly inexorable processes of the law.'
Susannah was 19 at the time of her crime in 1783. The baby's teenage father, Henry Kable, had also been convicted of housebreaking. Early in 1783, Henry, Henry senior (the child's grandfather), and a friend, Abraham Carman, had stolen goods from a Norfolk country house. They were all convicted and sentenced to death. The trial judge, Baron Eyre, wrote the standard letter seeking the King's mercy on behalf of young Henry and fourteen others convicted at those Norfolk Lent Assizes in 1783. The names of Henry's father and their friend did not appear on the letter. Nor do they seem to have had people who could or would petition the King on their behalf. They were hanged outside the jail, just near the market place, on Saturday, 5 April 1783. Perhaps Henry's youth - he was 17 at the time of his crime - had engaged Baron Eyre's sympathy; perhaps the older men had prior convictions. The letter did not say why some would live and others would die. Henry Kable, the younger, had his sentence commuted to transportation to America for seven years.2 But the American War meant that transportation to America was no longer possible. So Henry was returned to the Norwich Jail where he had been held since his arrest.
Norwich Castle jail was a makeshift affair, like many other jails in eighteenth-century England. These were not the high security, single-cell prisons of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There was a great deal more coming and going both between the prisoners within the jail and between the jail and the outside world. In the eighteenth-century jails, prisoners often relied on family and friends to supplement their rations. The mediaeval castle at Norwich had been converted into a jail with rough shelters built up against the castle walls for some of the inmates. The jail was crowded too and food was in short supply. The local residents of Norwich took pity on the prisoners that winter and sent in special food for the festive [p 3] season. But the numbers of people building up in their local jail since the war had ended transportation to America worried the good citizens of Norwich and they petitioned the government to do something about it.3
In the midst of all their troubles - their trials, the convictions, having the death sentence imposed, their reprieves, the execution of Henry's father and the pitiless conditions of Norwich Jail - Henry and Susannah met. Maybe they had known each other before. Maybe love blossomed in their bleak circumstances. Maybe they provided each other with solace in a fearful time. Whatever the case, they formed a relationship and Susannah gave birth to Henry's child in the jail in 1786. They applied for permission to marry but this was refused.
In that year, a fleet of ships was being prepared to transport 750 convicts to a place called Botany Bay. Cook had landed there sixteen years earlier and explored the east coast. Now the British government planned to establish a colony there. Prisoners were being mustered from the overcrowded jails into old ships moored in ports around England. When it was discovered that there were insufficient women prisoners for the fleet, the order came from London to transfer the female convicts at Norwich Jail to the hulks at Plymouth. From there they would be loaded onto the ships bound for Botany Bay. Susannah Holmes was one of these women.4 Henry Kable's distressed pleas to be allowed to marry Susannah and accompany her to New South Wales fell on deaf ears.
Worse was to come. When Susannah and her breast-fed child were delivered to the hulk Dunkirk at Plymouth on 5 November 1786, the captain refused to accept the child on the ground that he had no lawful authority to do so. To his eternal credit, the prison turnkey, Mr Simpson, who had ferried Susannah out to the hulk took the baby into his care. More than that, he decided to take matters into his own hands. With the infant on his lap, he travelled to London to confront Lord Sydney, the Home Secretary. Undeterred by the refusals of a personal interview from Lord Sydney's staff, he decided to wait at the house until his Lordship did appear. When a no doubt surprised Lord Sydney descended the stairs, Simpson seized his opportunity and persuaded him to order that mother and child be reunited. Nothing daunted, Simpson also secured permission from Lord Sydney for Henry to be allowed to marry Susannah and accompany her and the child to New South Wales. Simpson took the news back to Henry at Norwich and then escorted him to the ship at Plymouth where, according to the captain's report, the family was [p4] reunited after 10 days separation. The captain recorded the reunion sourly:
Plymouth Dock Nov 16 1786
Sir, I beg leave to acquaint you that I yesterday afternoon received on board His Majesty's Ship Dunkirk (in obedience to Lord Sydney's commands) a Male child, said to be the son of Susannah Holmes, a woman under my Custody, and at the same time Henry Cabal, a convict from the Gaol at Norwich was delivered to me.
I am very respectfully Sir Your Most
Obedient and Most humble Servant
Simpson's mercy dash, a round trip of some seven hundred miles by coach, and the story of the Cables attracted the attention of the press. The Norfolk Chronicle was pleased to report that 'the laws of England, which are distinguished by the spirit of humanity which framed them, forbid so cruel an act as that of separating an infant from its mother's breast.... it cannot be but a pleasing circumstance to every Englishman to know, that, though from the very nature of the situation of public Ministers, they must, on most occasions, be difficult of access.... when the object is humanity, and delay would materially affect the happiness of even the meanest subject in the kingdom, the Minister himself not only attends to complaints properly addressed, but promptly and effectually affords relief'. The London newspapers were equally fascinated by the story of 'John Simpson, the humane turnkey'. It attracted the attention of Lady Cadogan who organised a public subscription which yielded the substantial sum of twenty pounds - about twice the annual salary of a labourer at that time, and four times the value of the goods Susannah had stolen - enough money to buy clothes and other items for their new life in New South Wales. Their parcel was loaded onto one of the transport ships, the Alexander, before they set sail in 1787.5
The convict ships arrived in Sydney harbour in January 1788; the voyage took eight months. They went ashore in row boats. There was no dock. There were no buildings either so they lived in tents. But the absence of buildings was not going to delay the landing of British institutions, marriage and the Anglican church among them. Along with several other couples, Henry and Susannah were married that February by the Anglican chaplain, in one of the first weddings in the new settlement. But the parcel sent to assist them in beginning their new lives was missing. [p5]
On the first of July 1788, a writ in the names of Henry and Susannah Kable was issued from the new Court of Civil jurisdiction in New South Wales (see illustration p.26). The writ recited that the parcel loaded onto the Alexander had not been delivered to the Kables in Sydney despite many requests, and sought delivery of the parcel, or its value. It named the ships captain, Duncan Sinclair, as defendant. The court, consisting of judge-Advocate David Collins and two civilians, issued a warrant to the provost marshall ordering him to bring the captain before the court the next day to answer the complaint against him.
On the day of the hearing the court received evidence that the parcel had been loaded on the ship but - with the exception of some books which probably neither Henry nor Susannah could read - the contents of the parcel could not be found. Henry Kable swore that the missing goods were worth fifteen pounds. The court found for the plaintiff and entered a verdict for that amount.
This was the first civil case ever held in Australia. It is extraordinary in many ways. In the first place the whole story of the Kables is extraordinary. Their conditions of imprisonment at Norwich jail allowed the opportunity to conceive the child. The intervention of Simpson, his ability to gain access to the relevant minister, and the fact that the plight of Susannah, Henry and the baby could move the minister in an age usually noted for great social distances and lack of sympathy for criminals is also extraordinary. Some were not so fortunate. In 1819, Bennett described the case of a woman whose baby was ripped from her breast at the hulk.6 The fact that the case of Susannah and Henry Kable was taken up in the press and moved people to contribute to a public subscription also speaks of a sympathy not usually associated with the eighteenth-century English views on crime and the dangerous classes. The fact that they went out to Botany Bay together and were allowed to marry also runs counter to stereotyped views about the treatment of convicts. It was not unusual for convicts to be accompanied by their spouses, though usually the spouse was free. Their subsequent history is also quite extraordinary. A couple of years later, Henry became a constable of police, and later chief constable in the new colony and was involved on the prosecution side in criminal cases. After a stint in the police, he moved on to even better things as a merchant and ship owner. Like others in the colony, and perhaps because of his early success, Henry used the courts to ruin his opponents. He seems to have prospered; in 1808 shipping records show Kable and two partners as [p6] principal ship owners in the expanding commerce of the colony. The partnership dissolved in some bitterness shortly afterwards but not before Henry had-managed to divest himself of a good deal of his property in order to avoid the consequences of any court order.7
Legally, the Kables' case is quite extraordinary too. In the place where a writ would usually describe the plaintiffs' occupation, the words, 'New Settlers of this place' have been crossed out and nothing has been substituted. To have described them as convicts would have been fatal to their case. Felons were regarded as if they had already been executed in English law and therefore unable to sue. The fact that Henry and Susannah were convicts and the legal consequences of that fact must have been obvious to some of those concerned; maybe the description 'New Settlers' was too close to a fabrication, and hence this part of the writ was altered in order to maintain a discreet silence.8
Whatever the reason, the omission allowed the case to proceed and the governor gave the orders for the royal letters patent which constituted the new court to be read, convening the court for the first time. Thus, the first sitting of a civil court in Australia and the first civil case to be heard, occurred at the behest of two convicts under sentence. Moreover, it named an important figure in the colony, a ship's captain, as defendant, subjected him to the power of the court's jurisdiction and officers, and made an order against him. It vindicated the property rights of two convicts and publicly demonstrated the ability even of convicts to invoke the legal process in the new colony. Nor was it to be the last time that convicts used the legal system to assert their rights in the colony, despite English law which regarded felons and former felons as civilly dead (i.e., unable to sue, unable to he a witness, to hold property, make contracts, etc.) or, as Blackstone graphically puts it, 'no longer fit to live upon the earth.... to be exterminated as monster and a bane to society.... by an anticipation of his punishment, he is already dead in law.'9 For the situation to have been otherwise in a colony overwhelmingly composed of convicts and former convicts would have created enormous difficulties in the conduct of the colony's commercial and legal affairs. Indeed when this spectre was malevolently raised thirty years later by a legally qualified judge who was prepared to break the tacit colonial amendment of the laws relating to attainder, as it was known, the colony was thrown into uproar.10 By that point, former convicts, including Henry Kable, dominated the mercantile class in Sydney, and held more property than the free settlers. The prospect that they might not be able to rely on the legal system to support [p7] their property rights or use the courts to enforce their contracts, rights assumed since the Kables' case in 1788, shook the foundations of the colony's legal, commercial and social order.11
Henry and Susannah Kable might easily have become Americans. As we have seen, their reprieves specified that they be transported to America. But the great events of the American Revolution meant that England had not been able to send convicts to the American colonies for some years. John Howard's 1777 report on the overcrowding and appalling conditions in English prisons increased the pressure on the government to find an alternative to places like Norwich jail. The residents of Norwich were by no means the only ones to petition the government about overcrowded jails.12
As Home Secretary, Lord Sydney had responsibility for law and order, which included prisons. It was an important responsibility but by no means his only duty. The Home Office still administered most domestic issues at the end of the eighteenth century, while the other great department of government, the War Office, conducted foreign affairs.13 However, in the early 1780s, the state of prisons was becoming a critical issue. A flood of petitions urged the Home Secretary to take action to relieve the pressure on the jails and bridewells now filled to over-flowing with long-term prisoners whose death sentences had been reduced to terms of transportation. England's eighteenth century prison establishment traditionally only catered for prisoners awaiting trial and those sentenced to short-term imprisonment. Corporal punishments - hanging, flogging, branding, the stocks, the pillory, etc. - had formed the central core of the penal system up to and including the eighteenth century, supplemented by short-term imprisonment, transportation and extensive use of the prerogative of mercy.14
After the loss of the American colonies, the government had adopted the temporary expedient of contracting with private operators to 'warehouse' convicts in old ships ('the hulks') moored at various ports around the English Coast. Susannah Holmes was taken to one of these hulks at Plymouth. However, by the mid-1780s the capacity of the hulks had also been exceeded and hundreds of humble petitioners from all over England voiced their fears that the jails would burst asunder and spread the convict contagion throughout 'England's green and pleasant land'. The horror of the meeting between young Pip and the convict who had escaped from the hulks in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations conveys something of the fears and urgency of the petitions concerning prison overcrowding. The [p8] Sheriff of Norfolk and the Grand Jury sitting at Norwich Castle in 1786 petitioned the king about the 40 prisoners held in the Castle:
... your petitioners are well informed and have every reason to believe and fear that the Confinement of so large a Number of Prisoners in the said Gaol may prove extremely dangerous as well because the size and strength of the Gaol are not adapted to their Reception, as also because the present season of the year is likely to produce Infectious Diseases amongst them, and the Apprehensions of your Petitioners are more particularly excited by these Circumstances, because they are credibly informed that Attempts have already been made for the Escape or Rescue of some of the Prisoners notwithstanding additional guards have been lately added, and because one or two of the Prisoners are now ill of the fever.15
Despite a lobby to build new-style penitentiaries in England, Pitt's government judged that transportation to a new colony would be a more effective, speedy and economical solution to the convict problem. Trade and naval strategy influenced the eventual decision to found the colony in the Antipodes, but penal purposes provided, and continued to provide over the next fifty years the predominant rationale for the British settlement of New South Wales.
And it was a big decision for the British government. By comparison with transportation to America, the new penal colony was a huge undertaking. Under the system used for transportation to America, the government simply contracted with private shippers who took over responsibility for the convicts and, on arrival, assigned them for the period of their sentence to settlers in already-established and financially independent colonies.16 By contrast, the plan for New South Wales called for the British government to undertake direct responsibility not only to mount the expedition, but also to establish and maintain the colony itself. In an age of ultra-small government, this meant that the Home Office, with a staff of thirteen for all its business, had to decide which convicts to transport, muster them into the hulks from the haphazardly-organised, locally-administered jails, co-ordinate with other departments to mount the fleet of ships (e.g. the Admiralty for the transport ships and escorts, the Treasury to pay for provisions, fitting out, etc.), make the necessary legal arrangements for establishment and administration of the colony, find and appoint civil officials to run it, and so on through a thousand and one details necessary to establish a settlement on the other side of the world.17
This minimalist approach to government also had a bearing on the internal dynamics of development in New South Wales. Only nine government functionaries accompanied Governor Phillip to assist in administration in New South Wales. The government also sent a company of 212 marines as a garrison to defend the colony against threats from the French, the Aborigines, or both. According to an English tradition of separating military and civil affairs, the marines expected not to be involved in day-to-day administration. Whether this was intended for New South Wales or not, the marines made it clear from the outset that they would not stoop to the policing and superintendence of convicts.18 This, coupled with the absence of free settlers, meant that from first settlement in 1788, and for many years afterwards, many public tasks in New South Wales had to be performed by the convicts themselves, people like Henry, Susannah and the 757 other convicts who accompanied them on the First Fleet. This is how Henry found himself appointed constable in 1789 and then chief constable for the town of Sydney in 1794. As we will see in chapter 6, convicts, ticket-of-leave holders and former convicts made up a large part of police numbers throughout the transportation period. By necessity, these people performed a variety of tasks as minor government functionaries, and where there was no free person with the requisite skills, they performed more important functions too. In the early days, convict attorneys were much in demand with the government and free people; Sydney's finest public buildings from the early period were designed by a convict architect, Francis Greenway. This situation continued throughout most of the convict period.
So what sort of place was New South Wales?
The best description is that it was a penal colony at the start and, little by little, it came to be a free society by the end of the transportation period. I say why I think those are the correct characterisations in chapter 2. Why did it change? Obviously for a lot of different reasons. But not because the British government planned it that way. Many of the changes came about despite rather than because of the British government. This applied, for example, in the sphere of commercial development. Trade in the Pacific was dominated by the East India Company's monopoly; Sydney's merchant traders battled stubbornly to maintain their operations in the face of English legislation and opposition from the Company.19 Political and legal reforms came at the cost of long campaigns, mainly fought by people who started off with multiple disadvantages: they were arguing for the political liberties of ex-convicts, within a colony which London saw primarily as a place for dumping convicts, and at a time when most British people could not vote.
A number of factors affected the British government's receptivity [p10] to proposals for change from the colony. In the first place, the French and American Revolutions had confirmed Tory opinion about the dangers of democracy. The penal colonies were the first example of colonies founded without representative institutions.10 These factors worked against New South Wales. Denial of trial by jury and local legislative councils came about in part because of the potential of these institutions to provide sites of opposition to imperial policy, as they had in America and the West Indies.21 But the loss of the American colonies reconciled England to the practical limits on its power to rule distant colonies. British governments determined to avoid the pitfalls of the American situation. The expense and difficulties of conducting the war across the Atlantic against the Americans had been forcibly drawn to the attention of the government by critics of the New South Wales plan, among them Jeremy Bentham.22 Political actors in New South Wales were prepared to threaten a Botany Bay tea party against British governments which, while prepared to delay, ultimately were not prepared to refuse change outright.23 While some in the colony were frustrated by what they saw as long delays in the granting of free institutions, they were granted at a time when the majority of the population was still convict or ex-convict. Indeed, given New South Wales' character as a penal colony - even without the other factors mentioned - the transition to a free society in fifty years can be seen as a remarkably speedy one.
A second important change in English thinking flowed from America, and was bolstered by the French Revolution. Both revolutions carried with them ringing declarations of the universal rights of man. The egalitarian, democratic ideas associated with these declarations put great pressure on English ideas of civic competence based on the ownership of wealth, preferably landed wealth.24 The right of men to vote or stand for Parliament was tied to the ownership of property not to the fact of adult personhood. Once again, for New South Wales this was a double-edged sword, but one which in the end operated in favour of the liberal cause. Ironically, many of the emancipated convicts were wealthy and would have satisfied a property qualification. But they hitched their cause to the fundamental rights of individuals, rights which revived after the civil death of convicthood. To eighteenth-century English eyes, especially those of a Tory hue, the democratic republican ideas of the two great eighteenth-century revolutions were anathema. Emancipists and liberals in the colony were accused of being covert Yankee sympathisers. Democratic ideas and abolition of social distinctions were [p11] associated with subversion of the natural order based on rank and wealth. Edmund Burke, for example, firmly associated universalist declarations of rights with the Terror in France, Jacobin sympathisers, trade union and radical political associations in Britain met a barrage of repressive laws and practices.
The French Revolution certainly struck terror into the hearts of England's ruling class. There were riots and spies about looking for Jacobins. Some of those caught up in the repression that followed were transported to New South Wales. Four Scottish Jacobins associated with the London Corresponding Society - the Scottish martyrs - were transported to New South Wales in 1794. Fears that they would introduce their radical creed there and join forces with the rebellious Irish convicts caused tension in the colony. Ownership of a copy of Tom Paine's The Rights of Man was grounds for suspicion and persecution by members of the garrison.25 The Scottish martyr, Maurice Margarot, and the Irish rebel leader, Joseph Holt, although allowed leniency in their association, were suspected by the governor of hatching plots against his government. As we shall see, however, universalist declarations and revolution did not prove to be the strategy in New South Wales.
Despite the repression, the ideas of the French and American Revolutions were beginning to percolate into English politics. The first, and for the purposes of this story, most important manifestation of these ideas in England was
More About Susannah Holmes:
Immigration: 1788, First Fleet, Friendship (ship).
More About Susannah Holmes and Henry Kable:
Marriage: 10 February 1788, Sydney Cove, First Fleet Colony, Australia.
Children of Susannah Holmes and Henry Kable are:
- Henry Kable, b. 1787, d. date unknown.
- +Diana Kable, d. date unknown.
- Susannah Kable, d. date unknown.
- Charles Kable, d. date unknown.
- Enoch Kable, d. date unknown.
- Edgar Kable, d. date unknown.
- George Kable, d. date unknown.
- John Kable, d. date unknown.
- James Kable, d. date unknown.
- Eunice Kable, d. date unknown.
- +William Nathaniel Kable, b. 22 March 1801, Sydney Royal Woman's Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, d. 16 November 1837, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia.