K/NIBB/S ONE NAME STUDY
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William NIBBS 1809 - 1884
(Contributed by Anne GODDARD, via Lee CHAMBERS, with minor editorial amendments
Also see CREDITS at end)
William NIBBS was born in Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire to Job and Mary NIBBS. He was baptised a Protestant on 9 July 1809. William had a brother John and a sister, whose name is unknown at this stage. William and his siblings received some form of schooling as William could read and write, which would indicate the family was not of the poorest standing.
Father Job worked as a woodman and brother John as a paper maker. William
was a labourer.
A look into the 1830 riots as a whole, gives a good insight into what life would have resembled for a labourer such as William and his family in a small farming village in England during the early 1800's.
1830 saw a three tiered pyramid permanently in place within the social and economic life of a typical village of the southern English counties. At the top sat the land owners who directly and indirectly shaped the way of life for those beneath them. Second were the tenant farmers and on the bottom rung came the labourers. The tenant farmers had their rents pegged at an annual amount rather than a percentage of the harvest profits. A good harvest resulted in the land owner raising the tenant's tithe the following annum, but neglecting to compensate on subsequent poor harvests. The tenant farmers made ends meet by reducing costs of labour either by cutting pay rates or introducing labour saving devices such as threshing machines or chaff cutters, the labourers being the ultimate losers in the hierarchy.
Labourers rarely had steady employment, relying on ploughing and crop gathering seasons, being paid on a daily or weekly basis by the farmers. In between the seasons they were left to fend for themselves, many forced to rely on Parish Relief during the long periods of unemployment.
Crop prices had been steadily falling in the years up to 1830 thus putting enormous pressure on the farmers and more so, the labourers. Many farmers turned to agricultural machinery to cut operating costs. Three bad harvests in a row by 1830 and the winter of 1830 being abnormally severe, heightened the labourers' anger and frustration. Doomed to poverty, starvation being imminent for many labourers and their families, it is accepted that this triggered the 1830's riots.
They occurred over many southern counties and widely varied in the course of action taken. The most common form of protest or outrage was, a large number, sometimes hundreds, of labourers would gather together in a village and head off to a pre-targeted farm. Usually an appointed spokesman for the group would demand some amount of monetary compensation. Refusal to pay led to threats of violence and invariably the money was paid. If the farm possessed a threshing machine, chaff cutter, or other labour saving device, it was unduly destroyed.
The least common, but best known, form of outrage was the "Swing Letter" a message threatening severe violence unless money was paid or wages were raised or machines dismantled. The letters were signed "Captain Swing" (an analogy derived from the Irish protests led by Captain Rock), hence the name the "Swing Rioters". He was a mythical figure and it is said that the name also related to the 'swing' (a moving part) of the flail used to thresh harvested grain.
In general the riots were non-violent though clearly threatening, however
low level violence did occur when the farmers or their men tried to prevent
machinery or property from being destroyed.
Prior to his conviction for Machine Breaking, William had been prosecuted for stealing turnip greens spending one month in prison. This throws a very dim light on his living standards at the time, having to resort to turnip greens for sustenance. Convict records also state that William's Grandmother (maternal?) was alive at the time of his transportation.
In 1830 William was 21 years old and being a farm labourer by trade his own anger and frustrations drew him to become involved in a riot in the village of Loudwater in the Parish of Chepping Wycombe.
The charge against him documented as follows:
Reports of the Trial proceedings show the riot did get a little out of hand with many threats of violence being flung around, along with rocks and other missiles. Special constables had also arrived at the scene resulting in many physical altercations as they tried to make arrests.
William receives special mention for his part in the riot. James GEORGE, a special constable, who was at Mr DAVIS' on the day of the riot, described the proceedings of the mob and identified William KNIBBS as having been at the front of them when there was a cry of "break the machinery". He continued,
One of the party who had an axe in his hand at the time, threatened to split
the head open of one of the special constables. Another threatened a
constable that he, having a long memory would blow the constable's brains
out the next time he sighted him.
The first of the rioters arrested received lenient sentences. Some were released due to the ordinary evidence posed against them, many received one to two months imprisonment or a very young offender may have received just a warning, but as the riots escalated the British Authorities took a harsher stance.
From November 1830 to early January 1831 some 2000 rioters were arrested. In December and the following January punishments handed down had changed dramatically, to that of transportation for life, fourteen or seven years, or the ultimate penalty, the death sentence. Appalling as it may seem, one theory posed by historians is the Government may have seen it as an opportunity to get skilled persons over to the newly established colony, Australia, as their emigration incentive schemes were failing. By late January 1831 the riots had subsided and so did the deliberations handed down to the accused. Most of the rioters sentenced to death, upon petitioning by their families and village folk, had their sentence reprieved to transportation.
It was evident that the Machine Breakers were devastated by the severe penalties they received. It was relatively a non-violent form of protest and they may have anticipated only a token punishment for their involvement. This is demonstrated by an excerpt from a letter by a Wiltshire rioter, Peter Withers, to his wife on the eve of his departure to Australia aboard the "Proteus":
After all the evidence had been given, William and eighteen other fellow rioters were placed in the dock to receive sentence. Mr Justice PARK, overseer of the trial addressed them;
Minor participants in the riot received sentences from 18 months imprisonment to transportation of 7 years depending on the evidence against them and their character references. Two main offenders in the riot received the death sentence with no reprieve.
Fortunately for William (and his descendants!!!) the final punishment handed
down to him was transportation to Australia for 7 Years.
Most of the Swing prisoners' sentenced to transportation first port of call were one of the Prison Hulks on permanent moorings at the port of departure. Here they were held for days to months awaiting allocation to a ship. William was received from Aylesbury prison aboard the Hulk "York" at the port of Portsmouth on the 9th March 1831.
The Swing Rioters or Machine Breakers came out to Australia aboard three
vessels; 136 rioters on the "Eleanor" to New South Wales, 224 on the "Eliza"
and 98 aboard the "Proteus", both to Van Diemen's Land (VDL - Old name for Tasmania by TASMAN after Anthony Van DIEMEN 1593 - 1645 Governor of Java). William
KNIBBS arrived in Hobart Town, VDL in 1831 on the third and smallest
contingent, the "Proteus".
Information of interest
The Machine Breakers were viewed differently from that of common criminals,
in that the authorities and the public thought they were generally decent
men, skilled and hard working, whose crime was to only try to get better
working conditions. During the voyage they were not required to wear the
normal convict garb, and were not under lock and key at all times, being
given free access of the ship frequently. Ominously, however, the
"Eliza's" list of stores unloaded in Hobart Town included 224 sets of leg
irons which were recorded as having been used during the voyage.
Arrivals in VDL
By 1831 the Assignment System for handling the arrival of convicts was in place. This system involved the convicts, upon their arrival, being assigned to land owners, farmers and businessmen, who undertook to clothe and feed their assignee to a regulated standard. It was felt that under this system the convicts could immediately start making a contribution to the essentially rural colony. The Government's Public Works Department always took first pick of any new convicts, and the VDL Company received second choice. The remainder were then allocated out to the public.
The Machine Breakers were highly sought after due to their agricultural skills and experience, as compared to the common unskilled convict from the city slums. They were so good a catch in fact, that it is documented the VDL Co had already earmarked which Machine Breakers they required before they had even arrived in VDL.
The Governor of VDL at this time was Governor George ARTHUR, a staunch
supporter of convict transportation. In England there was mounting concern
and criticism of transportation system as an unjust and overly cruel form of
punishment. Governor ARTHUR took a keen interest in the Machine Breakers,
unfairly using them as examples to vindicate his views. The Machine
Breakers were not your average convicts, they were protestors not criminals
and were less likely to re-offend. Skilled and experience convicts would
offer a far greater contribution to society than the common criminal, and
were therefore more likely to do well in the future. His use of these
convicts to promote the success of the transportation system was misleading
giving false results as to the effects of transportation.
What did William look like?
Upon each convict's arrival in Australia their description was recorded,
being the only form of identification the authorities had. Photographs did
not come in to the system until the 1860's. A conduct record was kept for
each convict documenting any misdemeanors, assignments and relevant details
during their term of imprisonment.
Convict William NIBBS' details
|Description||-||Age - 22 years|
|Native place||:||Little Marlow|
|Height||-||5' 6 1/2"|
|Scars||-||mole on right cheek bone|
|WW and JM||-||inside right arm|
|WL||-||inside left arm|
Record of William NIBBS' Conduct
|Date||Assigned to:||Charge - punishment|
|28 Nov 1832||J Hone Esq||Absent without leave and going to Bodeans Public House on Sunday - admonished.|
|23 Sep 1834||J Hone Esq||Gross immoral conduct in the service of his master - Westbury Road Party 12 months recommended.|
|12 Nov 1834||Road Party||Absconding - 6 months hard labour in addition to his former sentence in chains recommended.|
|20 Dec 1834||Road Party||Absconding - 50 lashes.|
|16 Jan 1835||Road Party||Idleness - to sleep in the cell 7 days and to work 4 Saturday afternoons.|
Nothing is known of William from his release in 1836 until his marriage in 1845. I can only make the assumption he remained in the Westbury district being there at the end of his sentence and then in 1845.
On 22nd September 1845 William married a Mary Ann Timoney at the Westbury
Church of England.
NB. The Hobart Gazette on the 1st September 1845 records an approval of a marriage application for William and Mary Ann. That day the Convict Department issued nine approvals of marriage, one being: "William KNIBBS, free, and Mary Ann TUMENY, East London, in private service, both parties residing at Westbury" In 1845 William was of free status and therefore no convict details would be required to be noted, and therefore tells us nothing.
Mary Ann Timoney was the last Tasmanian ancestor of whose past had eluded me. Her surname really being "Tumney" not Timoney threw a spanner in the works as did William altering his name. I must say though I do not wonder why. The Government paper of the time, the "Hobart Town Gazette", report absolutely every movement of each and every convict. Any subsequent misdemeanors, Ticket of Leave Approvals, Marriage Application Approvals, pardons, etc, etc, etc were all made public knowledge. A new colony of small population, name change and a move to a new town would be the only way to escape.
Pioneers of the North Coast.
William worked as an agricultural labourer in Westbury after his marriage to Mary Ann. By 1856 the NIBBS family, now blessed with five children, had relocated to the newly established district of Port Sorell in Northern Tasmania. I have conflicting information as to when the relocation actually took place, as the following points illustrate:
a) Mary Ann was the informant for birth records of their three children born in 1849, 1850 and 1852 and stated her residence as Westbury, indicating she was still living at Westbury until at least 1852.
b) The Devonport Historical Society informed me that William was the overseer of a large primitive property at Torquay (now East Devonport) owned by a Rev. John BISHTON in the mid 1840's and the 1850's.
c) Local history book "With The Pioneers" by Charles RAMSEY states that a Frank NIBBS was the overseer of Rev. John BISHTON's property at Pardoe (which would be classed as part of Torquay) during the 1840's and 1850's. The Corrigenda at the front of this book corrects the above christian name to William.
I now know the reason Mary Ann remained in Westbury whilst William established himself at Pardoe. She did not receive her Certificate of Freedom until 29th January 1850, and therefore was forced to remain there until that time. Mary Ann and her young family were to join William, between 1850 and 1856. Interestingly, William's boss at Pardoe, the Rev. John BISHTON, was also the Minister who married William and Mary Ann in Westbury in 1845.
Their sixth child born in 1856 was registered in the Port Sorell District, William being the informant and stating his occupation now as farming and residing at Folly Farm (where???). Records of 1857 and onwards show William as a farmer living at Pardoe.
William must have seen the potential of Port Sorell, Torquay and the North Coast in general. By the 1860's the primarily agricultural district had become highly prosperous, attracting a good percentage of the immigration quota of Tasmania. Many businesses were being established e.g. sawmills, ship building, ship trading and hotels. Torquay (or Devonport) is currently the third biggest city of Tasmania, but Port Sorell's popularity would decline by 1900 and is now just a small seaside town whose main source of local employment relies on the holiday crowd.
Historian Charles RAMSEY, in his book "With The Pioneers", retells an account of four bush rangers who made an uninvited stop at Pardoe in 1848. It gives a wonderful glimpse into William as an individual:
In January 1848, four bush rangers named John RILEY, Micheal ROGERS, Peter REYNOLDS and Patrick LYNCH, who were supposed to have absconded from the Fingal Depot, made their appearance in the neighbourhood of Port Sorell, their intention no doubt being to seize some vessel and effect their escape from the colony.
Four police constables who were in pursuit of them incautiously entered a hut occupied by a man named STARKEY on the 20th, and were immediately fired upon by the bush rangers, who shot one of the constables dead and wounded another. The other two constables, after a vain endeavor to discharge their pieces, which were wet, escaped in the bush, and with the wounded man reached Port Sorell.
On the 21st at about 3am these outlaws entered the "Plough Inn" at Moorlands (near Pardoe) which was owned by John MOORE, and they stated that they were constables from George Town. Upon gaining admittance, three of them presented their guns at Mr MOORE, and ordered him in his bedroom, where they tied him up, and they also rounded up both house and farm servants, and had them tied up as well. They ransacked the house, but only got about 3 pound in money, and after carousing a considerable time, they seized tow horses and carried off a quantity of clothing, one gun, two watches, wine, spirits, etc.
They then went to Rev John BISHTON's farm. His men were in the fields and were chased by the bush rangers. NIBBS, the overseer, sent a man off to MOORE's and then went towards the house with a fork in his hand. He was met by a man who told him to lay down the fork, which he did, but went up to the man and seized his gun and tried to take it from him. He had nearly succeeded when the bush ranger pulled out a pistol and told him to let go. A man named HART, coming to NIBBS' assistance, was snapped at four times, so he took to his heels and escaped. The bush rangers entered the house and had tea, and when six men came up from MOORE's, they were seized, tied up, and the outlaws swore they would go back and shoot MOORE. After brutally abusing NIBBS and others, they returned to MOORE's but not finding him there they proceeded to SMITH's.
The bush rangers moved on along the North West Coast causing more havoc and late March made their escape to Kangaroo Island, South Australia, aboard an American Whaling ship.
The Rev. John BISHTON purchased his Pardoe property of 500 acres in
1843. In 1850 records show that he also leased large areas of land in the
vicinity of, and including "The Torquay Reserve", and in the vicinity of
Latrobe Reserve. It appears that William was involved in the management of
these additional areas also. John BISHTON died in 1856, and would probably
have been about the time William took up tenant farming. Many farmers had
to lease land in the hope of one day being in a good enough financial
position to purchase their own land. William leased 100 acres at Pardoe
from approximately 1862 to 1878. The owner of this property was an H. REED of
England. Harold THOMAS' publication on "Northdown" shows this property to
be situated on the coastline, opposite Moorlands Beach. I have not yet
delved into land records to see if William was ever able to purchase his own
And now, with many thanks indeed to John MORROW and Lynette WATSON (descendants of William's daughter Susannah who married Thomas RAY), via Anne GODDARD, we do have a picture of William to go with the description above.
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