Sunday, March 1, 2015

A family of emigrants - William Heaps and his sons

The Neptune, a convict ship similar to
the one on which William was transported
While I was researching Matthew Cragg, I came across another migrant in the family, though not a willing one. William Heaps (born in Garstang in 1809), who was married to Matthew's oldest sister Mary, was transported to New South Wales in Australia in 1838 for stealing cheese.

There was perhaps more to it than just stealing a few slices of cheddar. An article in the Manchester Courier and General Advertiser, June 17 1837, listed a William Heaps of Garstang among several prisoners who had escaped from custody in Preston while awaiting trial. Then on August 2, 1837, the Blackburn Standard reported that William Heaps had been recaptured with another prisoner not far from Garstang. He had stolen goods (a few articles of clothing) in his possession. He was returned to the Preston House of Correction.

William was convicted in October 1837 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. He was sent to New SouthWales, Australia, on the convict ship Bengal Merchant, arriving in July 1838. He left behind his wife Mary and three children, Henry (born 1832), John (1836, died 1840) and Thomas (born 1837).

In 1844 he received his Certificate of Freedom, but as far as I can tell he never returned to England. Which is perhaps just as well, since his wife Mary had another child, Ellen, in 1840 and a son, Joseph, in 1843. They were both baptised with the surname Heaps but no father was listed. (Ellen died in 1843). Mary remarried in 1844, to a Joseph Spencer. Another son, Robert Spencer, was born 1848.

Since William Heaps was still alive, this marriage was technically bigamous. However, under English common law, ‘a person could be presumed dead, who had not been heard of for seven years by those who would be most likely to hear of them if they were alive.’ This was used both by the wives of men transported, and by the convicts themselves, as a justification for remarriage without falling foul of the bigamy laws.

Mary, her new husband and family moved to Swallowhill, near Darton, Yorkshire. Mary died there in 1853. It seems that three of her sons, Henry, Thomas and Joseph, converted to the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and with their families they migrated to Escalante in Utah, USA, where they were notable pioneers. Their history can be found in several places online, one with the charming but fanciful story that their father William Heaps fled England after killing one of the King's deer, and another that he was banished from England with a load of cheese for killing a chicken on the Sabbath. 

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