Henry Peever - his family of origin

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For many years we have sought the family of origin of Henry Peever, also known as Edward, who was transported from Worcester in 1831, fathered our great grandmother Catherine with Mary Ann Clarke, a convict then known as Mary Ann Ray (see the articles Mary Ann's Tattoo and Dromore and more on Mary Ann). He died in Launceston when he was living at the home of Catherine and Thomas Beswick at Derby in 1890. From recent research, without actually finding a record of his birth or baptism, I believe now that he was born in Birmingham, probably in 1815, the son of John Peever and possibly but necessarily his wife who was Catherine Colemore. I think I understand at least some of the circumstances which made it so difficult to find his family earlier and which give us an interesting picture of his family and cultural background.

The convict records for Henry Peever in Hobart give us the place and date of his trial. The form which normally gave the "native place" of convicts has not survived in his case, so we are dependent on whatever can be found from the trial to lead us to the locality in which to look for his birth. Although I have previously investigated the possibility that a baptism in Shropshire in 1818 might be his I have been convinced that it could not be. We have had little to guide us in knowing where to look and Peever was a relatively common name near the Welsh border, and especially in Cheshire. The trial in which he was sentenced to death, but then reprived with a sentence of transportation for life, was our best hope, but everyone who has attempted to work back from that point has progressed no further, and I have seen traces of the efforts of many who have tried. I now believe we were unsuccessful because the trial record was misleading in giving his place of abode as the parish where his crime was committed. The trial record, being from the Assizes (of the Crown Court) are at the National Archives in Kew, not in the County Record Office as Quarter Session records are. It states that he was late of the Parish of Dodderhill, a northern part of Droitwitch, Worcestershire, where he had broken into a dwelling house with two (or perhaps three) others. However, when I went to Worcestershire County Record Office on 2 August 2004 to look for him in the parish records and for any clues I might find, I found after searching Dodderhill and the registers of three neighbouring parishes without success that there was a newspaper report of the trial which said that he and his fellow accused came from Birmingham. The report was published in Burrows Worcester Journal, Thursday, March 10, 1831, under the heading of Worcester Journal, Wednesday Evening, March 9, reporting the proceedings of the Crown Court, Monday March 7, Grand Jury. There were some 40 cases listed and among those in this report was the following:-

Henry Peever, 15, John Boulton, 19, Wm Crompton, 18, were found guilty of breaking into and robbing the house of Thomas Jones, at Dodderhill - Sentence of death was recorded. These boys were from Birmingham. Against Geo. Troth, 15, charged with the same offence, no bill was found - A witness was called to speak to Peever's character, but it appeared, upon his cross examination, that the lad had been some months ago in Warwick gaol!

In regard to the unfortunate previous time is gaol, Henry's convict conduct record, in the information received upon arrival in Tasmania, says that he had previously "one month for stealing apple". We did not know before that it was at Warwick that he was in goal previously. Knowing that, I thought the Warwick court or gaol documents might provide a further clue to his abode at that time or perhaps lead to a further source of background information if relevant documents could be found. But the main contribution of the newspaper report of the Worcester trial was that the accused were said to have come from Birmingham.

In Birmingham Central Library I searched the registers of all the old parishes in the city area of Birmingham including two just outside the city, without finding any trace of Henry or Edward Peever. I felt it was important to check the originals in spite of the hours it took, even though I had been advised that all the Birmingham parishes were in the IGI and I knew that our Henry or Edward was not listed in the IGI for Birmingham. Having not had any success with the old parish registers I decided to go Warwick and see what I could find in the Warwickshire County Record Office as no trial records were held at Birmingham for that early period. Birmingham was then, of course, part of Warwickshire. It did not have its own courts until later. While still at Birmingham however I verified what I had been told about a Peever family in Birmingham. There was a William Peever, aged 50, and his family living in Wharf St at the time of the 1851 census:-

At 11 Court 2 House, Wharf Street, Birmingham (which means at the second house in the eleventh court in that small crowded street which no longer exits in Birmingham although there is some trace of it in the name Wharf given to part of the canal system near the city centre; no doubt it was swept away in a slum clearance project, perhaps when the working canal served by the wharf became rather more the place of recreation it is today.)
William Peever, Head, Married, 50, Labourer, born at Birmingham
Mary Peever, Wife, Married, 30, - born Birmingham
Edward Peever, Son, 16, Button Maker, born Birmingham
John Peever, Son, 12, Scholar, born Birmingham.

Warwickshire is one of the few shires for which the 1851 Census has been completely indexed. So I was able to check that there were no other Peevers. Given the names William, John and Edward in this family and that there was no other Peever household in the county, it seemed very likely that if Henry did come from Birmingham then William's household must be part of the same family with a common ancestry not very far back. Henry's son William lived at Derby, Tasmania, and my father used to speak of going fishing with him and one of his grandsons, one of whose descendants in Queensland had given me the information that this family of William was in the 1851 census. Edward was apparently Henry's original name: he had EP tattooed on his arm and he gave Edward as his name at the registration of some of his children, notably the eldest Edward John. My guess was that William in the 1851 Census in Birmingham was likely to be an older brother or perhaps an uncle of Henry and that his son Edward shared a traditional Peever family name with Henry.

The address in Wharf St was in the Parish of All Saints but that parish had been created out of St. Martin's, and it was in St Martin's that the IGI showed the baptisms of the two boys, Edward in 1836 and John in 1840. But searching the actual register around 1800 (1796 - 1805) I could not find the baptism of William their father. I did find him in the Birmingham Workhouse in 1881, said in the census of that year to be aged 79, which seemed to agree with the age of 50 at the 1851 census, but that age was a problem and it was not until I found him again in quite a different place in court records in Warwick that I was prompted to consider a different year for his birth, for Henry was not the only Peever who have seen the inside of a gaol.

The Warwickshire Record Office has a useful index of prisoners brought before Quarter Sessions during the nineteenth century. I was not sure that I could expect to find Henry Peever there even if he had been in Warwick Goal because I thought that he might have appeared before a court of Petty Sessions. I was told by an archivist there that Petty Session cases would have been integrated with the Quarter Sessions and that a case of theft with a penalty of a gaol sentence even if stealing an apple is "petty" in our view today would have been heard at the Quarter Sessions. For whatever reason Henry was not in the index. I also checked the Calender of Prisoners for the Epiphany, Lent and Midsummer Quarter Sessions for 1830 without finding him, and that period from January to July 1830 was the only reasonable one to consider in the light of the report in March 1831 that he had been in Warwick Gaol "some months ago". He could not have been there after 27 July 1830 because that was when he was arrested in Droitwitch. Records of Petty Sessions had not been preserved from the period before 1835. I did wonder whether Henry had been arrested and put in the goal by the Sheriff to be brought before a court but might then have been released without being brought before the Quarter Sessions, perhaps as a result of a Petty Sessions hearing in which a local magistrate had decided not to refer him to the Quarter Sessions for trial. The newspaper report in Worcester did not say that he had served an actual sentence in the Warwick Gaol but that he had been in the Gaol. As to the fact of his being in the goal, the lists of prisoners which would have told us if and when he was there were destroyed years ago and we only have the names of those who came to the attention of the Quarter Sessions. The printed calender for each session included a list of prisoners continuing in gaol which was appended to the list of prisoners whose cases were to be heard that quarter. I checked those lists too for the target period in 1830 and did not find any mention of Henry Peever. (I did find a Joseph Green, the name of my late wife Joan's great grandfather who came from Birmingham, but he would have been from a different generation.)

In order to confirm the association of the group tried in Worcester with Birmingham I checked the index of prisoners for George Troth and William Crompton, two of those who had been before the Worcester court with Henry, and found that both of them had been charged with other offences in Warwickshire. Only two weeks before he was arrested in Worcestershire, William Crompton had been acquitted of a charge of theft at the Warwickshire Midsummer Sessions, 13 July 1830. He had been:

Charged with having feloniously stolen at Birmingham on 2nd July instant, one pair of upper leathers, one pair of shoe-soles, and other goods, the property of William Knowles.

George Troth, who escaped conviction with the others at Worcester in March 1831 when his fellow accused were found guilty and sentenced to death, was committed with Benjamin Edwards, on the 2nd of June following:

Charged with having feloniously stolen at Birmingham, on 31st May six pounds weight of cheese, value 3s. 3d., the property of William Hanson.

They were sentenced to 3 months in the House of Correction with hard labour and once to be privately whipped. These two appearances of Henry's associates suggest that he was part of a group engaged in a life of petty theft, while the location of both these offences in Birmingham confirms the newspaper report that they came from that city.

Most significantly the Warwick Quarter Session records revealed also that William Peever, 23, (N = could neither read nor write), had been before a General Session of the court on 17th March 1835 and was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction with hard labour. The Calender states that he was:-

Charged with having at Birmingham on the 16th of February last, feloniously stolen 28 pounds weight of pearl barley, value 7s., 36 pounds weight of cocoa, value 28 pounds 2s. and other goods, the property of John Tindasley and another.

So we are being given a picture which puts Henry in a group of delinquents in Birmingham which also included another Peever - one who might have been his brother. My hope was that information on William might lead us to their parents. The age of William Peever given there as 23 suggests a much later date of birth than the 1851 and 1881census records, and so I found his baptism some years later than I had searched for him before, but not as late as the age of 23 in 1835 should have placed him.

William Peever born 24 August 1807 and baptized 13 April 1809 at St Phillip's, Birmingham, the son of John and Catherine Peever. His siblings included:
John Peever, baptized 26 November 1804,
Edward Peever, bapt. 30 December 1805, died 17 May 1809,
Elizabeth Peever, baptized 25 May 1810.

Edward b. 1805 could not be our Henry as he died when about three and half, and in any case a man of 25 could not be mistaken for a lad of 15 at the Worcester trial in 1831. So I wondered whether our Edward was given the same name when born as a later child, some years after Elizabeth. After finding them first in the IGI I checked the baptisms of the children and the death of Edward in the registers of St Philip's in Birmingham and found them correct without additional information except that there was no entry for Edward in the register of burials on the date given in the IGI, not at least in the normal sequence, but there was an old index of deaths in the parish which was part of the set of register volumes on micro film and it had "Edward Peever 17 May 1809", and the same information was also in the National Index of Burials which I consulted at the Warwick Record Office. I suppose it must have been entered somewhere out of sequence, but I checked dates around that time and the beginning and end of the volume where omitted cases are sometimes mentioned. I think we can assume that he did die young. The local index would have referred to some entry somewhere in the same parish. The more difficult problem is lack of any record of the baptism or birth of a later Edward. Delayed baptisms were quite common and sometimes children were not baptized at all. William's baptism had been delayed and we don't know when John and Elizabeth were born, or whether there were other children who were never baptized. I did notice some adult baptisms in the Birmingham registers, so the norm of early infant baptism in the Church of England was not followed universally. Just after Elizabeth was baptised there were a large number of baptisms at St Philips on the same day including children up to 13 years of age. These were times of social disruption with a new population moving into the old parishes, and the curate was probably busy rounding up the strays. All we can say is that if Edward, our Henry, was not baptized elsewhere or with a name we have not recognized, then it is not unlikely that his parents never got around to it. There is other evidence of the state of the family which adds credence to this possibility.

John Peever and Catherine Colemore were married at St Barthomelew's, Edgbaston, 20 June 1802, both "of this parish", neither signed their name each making "his mark" and "her mark", in the presence of John Merrick (only one witness named). Edgbaston was a few miles to the south west of the city before Birmingham expanded to make a suburb of the place one now associates with Birmingham's test cricket ground. They lived in the parish of St Philip's near the city centre when children were born between 1804 and at least 1810. After finding that Catherine's name was Colemore, I was struck by the fact that Colemore Row is the street which I walked along from Birmingham Snow Hill station to the civic buildings and central library, going past Birmingham Cathedral. When Birmingham Diocese was established in the late nineteenth century the church then made the cathedral was the parish church of St Philip's where the children of John and Catherine Peever were baptized. St Philip's was built in the English baroque style, quite unlike the medieval churches, between 1709 and 1725 in what was then a new area a little to the west of the old city centre which had developed around St Martin's and the Bull Ring where the big modern shopping centre is today. Catherine's Colemore family went back a long way at Edgbaston, at least to the 1600s, and there is one interesting marriage of an Ann Colmer to George Compton, 22 April 1742: one point of interest is that William Crompton (spelling was always unreliable in those days) was one of young Henry's partners in crime, and I found the Crompton name later in Aston together with Boulton the surname of the other young man convicted with Henry. As noted below there were some other Peever marriages at Edgbaston, but I could not find the birth of John or our Henry in that parish. I looked for Peever baptisms and found none in the period 1772 - 1785, which is when John senior is likely to have been born, or 1802 - 1824, during the marriage of John and Catherine. So the basis on which they could have been said to have been "of this parish" is not clear. It might have been a traditional family home church. Perhaps they had belong to an outlying chapel within that country parish where there might have been a separate register. That people did go out to Edgbaston from the city for certain ceremonies is shown in the fact that there were many funerals on the Edgbaston register with the notation, "died in Birmimgham". That practice, perhaps of "going home" to be buried, was not however followed when Catherine Peever died.

Catherine Peever died in 1824, aged 47. She was buried 21 July that year, at St. Mary's, Whittall St, Birmingham, a neighbouring parish to St Philip's and St Martin's in the central city area. It was on part of the site now occupied by the Birmingham Children's Hospital, which, incidently is where my wife Hazel trained as a nurse when it was the General Hospital. In 1815 when Henry is likely to have been born Catherine would have been 38, so perhaps he was the youngest of the family. She might not have been in good health when he was a young child and she would have died when he was about 8 or 9 years old. Of equal importance is the fact that John the father remarried a month after Catherine died, on 26 August 1824: at St Bartholemew, Edgbaston, John Peever, widower, married Sarah Pimm, widow, both "of his parish", by banns, his mark and her mark, witnesses Joseph Lloyd and Mary Trigg "her mark". As it was "by banns", which were announced for three Sundays before the wedding, the process must have begun immediately John's first wife Catherine died. Whether John Peever and Sarah Pimm were already living together and whether they were living at Edgbaston are things we don't know, but one might assume that a relationship of some kind had already been established. The fact that the wedding was at Edgbaston away from the centre of Birmingham where John and Catherine's family had lived when at least some of their children were born and where Catherine was buried leaves open the possibility that John and Catherine might have been separated for some time. John's marriage to Sarah Pimm was at the same church as his original marriage to Catherine, and two of John's sons were also married there: John to Mary Dixon on 15 July 1824, and William to Mary Lyndon on 20 September 1832, John signed, William made his mark. There was one earlier Peever marriage at Edgbaston: Eliza Peever to John Loyd in 1765; and note the name L(l)oyd: a later generation man of the same surname witnessed the second marriage of John Peever senior. William's children were reported in the census to have been born in Birmingham where we found their baptisms and William was living there in 1835 when he was sent to prison in Warwick and later at the time of the 1851 census. So perhaps they had not moved out from the city to live at Edgbaston but only claimed some old association with the parish to have their marriages there. Sarah Pimm or her first husband could have lived there as I found some Pimm names in the baptismal register in earlier decades, but it is difficult to ascertain which Sarah who married a Pimm she was. The only likely marriages I found were at St Philip's and St Martin's in the city, so for her too the association with Edgbaston could have been traditional.

Whether because of the illness and death of his mother or the separation of his parents, young Henry could well have been neglected in more than his baptism and probably lacked effective supervision in his childhood. He might easily have been led into a peer group with criminal tendencies, and he apparently had the example of his brother William in that respect. He probably did not go to school. It is interesting that John junior, his eldest brother could sign his name, although it appears to me to be in the hand of one not used to writing, while William a few years younger could not sign his name, making his mark in the marriage register, and he was said in the court record of 1835 not to be able to read or write, so perhaps less care was given to children born later in the marriage. Work would not have been easy to find in the depression years after the wars against Napoleon, so young Henry would have been free to roam abroad much of the time. That is the picture that I see. It is coherent and fits the facts but lacks documentary evidence of one vital event, the birth of Henry, named Edward, the son of Catherine and John Peever, about 1815.

However, this conclusion is based on the assumption that the family of John and Catherine Peever was the only Peever family in Birmingham at the relevant time, and it is put in some doubt by the fact pointed out to me by Brenda Peever that that there was another Peever birth in 1812, of Ann Peever to parents John and Ann. The IGI has
Birth: 29 SEP 1812 Navigation St, St Philip, Birmingham, Warwick, England
Parents: Father, John Peever, mother Ann Peever
Christening: 03 JUN 1814 St Philips, Birmingham, Warwick, England
Parents: Father: John Peever. Mother: Ann
There are two IGI records, the one giving the Navigation St address (which was near where William later lived in Wharf St.) gives the mother's name as Ann Peever, and other only as Ann. Although that would not necessarily mean anything, I wonder whether she was known as Ann Peever. There is no marriage in the IGI of a John Peever to an Ann in that period. If the father was John the father of William then his wife Catherine would still have been alive as she died in 1824. That John immediately married Sarah Pimm suggests that the marriage with Catherine had effectively ended some years earlier. The child Ann could have been his and given his surname, even though Ann was not married to him. That happened sometimes. There are no other children of John Peever and Ann in the IGI. Note that there was nearly 2 years delay in the baptism. Unfortunately I missed finding the original record in the St Philips register. One might wonder too whether Ann might have been a Sarah Ann and thus possibly the same person as Sarah Pimm, in which case she, rather than Catherine, is likely to have been Henry's mother, but then that would make less sense of the proposition that his parents named him after an earlier child who had died. We conclude, that while John Peever was most likely still to have been the father of Henry, his mother might not have been Catherine, but rather Ann with whom he had an extra-marital relationship or Sarah (Pimm) who he later married, or perhaps a Sarah Ann.

He was almost certainly of this Birmingham family with John Peever as his father, but one can imagine alternatives to John and Catherine being his parents, even perhaps that he could have been born to Sarah Pimm. I found no relevant baptism under the name Pimm. The 1814 baptism of Ann is suggestive of the possibility that there could have been another John Peever, but that is less likely than that her father of the same name was also Henry's father, and they could have had the same mother, although other evidence points to Catherine being his mother as argued above.

In the course of this research I have been reminded in various ways of the social and political conditions of the time around 1830 when there had been difficult economic circumstances in the post war period. The corn laws made food expensive, many workers were being forced out of cottage industries into the factories, new industrial cities like Birmingham were growing rapidly, there was a great struggle for parliamentary reform, and riots occurred in many places. In the minutes of the Quarter Sessions at Warwick I saw several examples of the court dealing with cases of riot, and in Bristol earlier I had read of serious riots in 1831 in which huge crowds had gathered and many buildings were burned before the crowd was dispersed by a cavalry charge. In the same Worcester newspaper that I found the report of Henry Peever's trial there is an article on the debates in Parliament about proposals for its reform. It was noted in that report that The Times newspaper had called for granting some reform of Parliament to allow wider representation fearing that there would be violence in the streets. This was a time when the London mob was a fearsome creature. Respectable people still recalled the chaos of the French Revolution and Jacobin revolutionaries still had their sympathizers in Britain; it was a time when the struggle for national survival against Napoleon had hardened attitudes towards social and political change, and the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo, was Prime Minister. Some of their fears were reflected in how the courts functioned and in the severity of the sentences they imposed. Crime was seen as a threat to society in general and to the government. The indictment of young Henry and his group literally charged them with disturbing the peace of King William.

The newspaper report of Henry's trial had an introduction which brought out the way in which the Assizes were experienced as major public occasions demonstrating of the power of the establishment against those who would threaten the good order of society. So we are told that Mr Justice Basonquet presided over a court in which Magistrates on the bench included, together with a second professional justice, such notables people as the Earl of Plymouth, Lord Acton, Viscount Deersmith, and several knights, as well as a number of local justices of the peace who were men of standing in the community. There had been a grand entertainment put on by a local gentleman the preceding Saturday and special church services were held on the Sunday. (The date given in the convict records in Hobart for Henry's trial is 5 March 1831, which was the Saturday when the court members gathered, rather than the Monday when they actually heard the case.) At the Cathedral service attended by the two justices and other dignitaries, the High Sheriff's Chaplain, the Rev. Geo. Turberville, Vicar of Hanley Castle, took as his text Ecclesiastes 3:17, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, apparently in the mood of the gathered men of power, " ...saying that even if they eluded the sagacity of human tribunals, the wicked would appear before the omniscient Judge." At the same time the report revealed the presence of another element in society by adding, "We regret to observe that the noise prevailing in the side ailes was so great as nearly to drown the Preacher's voice." The two justices "afterwards dined at the Episcopal Palace together with several leading Barristers, the High Sheriff, his Chaplain," etc. Imagine being a 15 year old accused person from the slums facing this demonstration of power and status in a court very willing to impose sentences of death or transportation for property offences after only a few minutes of hearing your case. Henry might not have had much to hope for then, but no doubt he was able in Tasmania decades later to look back on these circumstances with another perspective.

Whether Henry learned any useful lesson from his conviction may be doubted. He could not keep his sticky fingers off likely looking objects and tried a little trading in firewood when an assigned convict in Launceston, and many years later when he was a free man and married with a family he was sentenced to prison again for stealing a hay fork, a sentence for a year which he served at Port Arthur. His wife, who left him a few years later, conceived a child with another unknown man while he was away, and it was while he was in goal then that his 16 year old illegitimate daughter Catherine became pregnant to young Thomas Beswick, so our grandfather Richard Thomas Beswick was born in 1862 and we stand in that line of descent with the name Catherine being significant in our history. A new thought now arises in regard to that name. It will be obvious that if Henry's mother was named Catherine - which would be a nice fit, but we don't really know whether it was so - then his daughter, our great grandmother Catherine, need not have been named only after her Godmother Catherine Mack, as we had previously supposed. Henry was recorded as her father at her baptism and I wonder if he might even have been present or whether Mary Ann knew Henry's mother's name. He certainly acknowledged the child and kept in touch with Mary Ann sufficiently to be able to take responsibility for Catherine's upbringing: I think that was at the time when he took her from her mother when Mary Ann was no longer able to keep the child with her in gaol in Hobart in 1848. In any case he brought her up, and many years later when he lived at "Florence Vale", Derby, with Catherine and Thomas in his old age, and it seems to me that his mind would at times have gone back to a boyhood at Birmingham, so far removed in so many ways from the new farm being carved out of the bush at Derby, Tasmania, back to the industrial Midlands of England, to his father John, to a brother William with the same name as his son then living also at Derby, and perhaps to the mother Catherine who died when he was a small boy.

DB 18 August 2004, modified 27 May 2005

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