|The 'Neptune' ship|
Although John was convicted in York on 18th October 1845, it was almost four years later before he was actually put on a Transportation Ship. It seems likely that he was held in the south of England for all this time in what was known as a ‘Hulk’, which was a decommissioned ship, no longer capable of going to sea. The Industrial Revolution had led to an increase in petty crime due to the economic displacement of much of the population, putting pressure on the government to find an alternative to confinement in overcrowded gaols, at one stage holding over 80% of criminals who had been convicted of theft. The overcrowding situation was so dire that hulks left over from the Seven Years’ War were used as makeshift floating prisons. This practice was gradually rescinded in the 1800’s because Judges and Juries considered its punishment too harsh, but since lawmakers still wanted punishment to deter potential criminals, they increasingly applied transportation as a more humane alternative to imprisonment or execution.
|A Hulk [Prison Ship] moored on the Thames|
|Below deck during Transportation|
of transportationew SouthIn early transportation, convicts were taken aboard in chains and shackles. Once aboard these were unlocked. A hatch was opened and the convicts went below to the prison deck and the hatch was locked. Sometimes, however, they were kept in chains and behind bars even on board.
The convict quarters had ventilators to let in light and air. The port end would be reasonably light but the bows dark and gloomy. On some ships, in the early days, convicts were kept below most of the time. In many cases they were restrained in chains and were only allowed on deck for fresh air and exercise.
The cramped, unhygienic conditions on the early convict ships were very difficult. As the 19th century progressed, the conditions began to improve. By the 1840s, the routine was more enlightened. Surgeons were no longer in the pay of the ship's master and their sole responsibility was the well-being of the convicts. Daily life even included a Religious Instructor who could both educate the convicts and look after their spiritual needs. Importantly, a bonus was paid to the ship charterers for the safe landing of the prisoners.
The filthy conditions gave way to a more ordered layout, as described by John Acton Wroth, a literate young man who was transported in the 1840's. He describes an area with bunks along either side of the deck, each separated from its neighbour by a ten inch high board. Four berths of the lower and upper tiers formed a mess, constructed so that four men could sit round a table. Those men occupying mid ship slept in hammocks, slung up each night over the tables. Younger men had these. Each bed had a mattress, pillow and two blankets. The hammock had two blankets only.
Little is known about John Bancroft after he arrived in Tasmania, other than the fact that, along with virtually every other convict on the ship, he was given a ‘Conditional Pardon’, which may well have been due to the fact that he had spent his sentence largely in a Hulk Ship in England and then spend a further 12 months at sea in transit. A Conditional Pardon freed convicts, and was granted on the condition that the convict did not return to England or Ireland, meaning they could never return to their homeland. Many freed convicts often took off for the Victorian gold fields, as this was one of the few places in the colonies where an ex-convict could find work. It seems likely that he did not re-offend, as he does not show up on any further records after his arrival in 1850, although it is possible that John may have altered his name, so as not to appear on any records, as many convicts did, in order to try and make a new start in their new country.
There is also evidence of a different and unrelated 'John Bancroft', born in Manchester around 1840, who travelled legitimately from Liverpool to Melbourne in Australia, landing in February 1862, and then marrying an Elizabeth Griffin in 1866 at Sydney. He may also have been the same person who worked as a Commercial Traveller and died in a place called Woonana, New South Wales, although I have not been able to confirm all this.
Here is a register of Conditional Pardons from the time, together with a copy of a Conditional Pardon from New South Wales. Neither refer to John Bancroft unfortunately
|Conditional Pardon register|
|Conditional Pardon - New South Wales.|
And finally, here is an extract from the local newspaper, the Hobart Courier, commenting on the arrival of the Neptune and it's cargo of convicts, which does not show any real hostility to them, even holding out the hand of friendship to the new arrivals: