Stories and People

John Richards

Family Story
John Richards 1823 - 1897 Convict No. 453
Written by Maggie Speak – Speak of the Past
John Richards was convicted of burglary at Liverpool Assizes on the 9th December 1848 and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for stealing two hams (1). This was the era of the potato famine in Ireland, which caused mass starvation, disease and emigration.
John was about 23 years old, an ex soldier from Dublin, Ireland, whose parents were Thomas Richards, a merchant and Mary G nee Kirwin or Kirwan(2). It was his first conviction. He was sent to Wakefield Prison after sentencing and then transferred to Kirkdale Gaol on 17 August 1849. Nine months later, he was transferred to the prison hulk "York" in Gosport (3), Hampshire on 1st May 1850. From there he was sent to Portland prison to await transportation to Western Australia (4).
He arrived in Fremantle on the convict ship Pyranees on 28th June 1851, which departed Torbay, England 30th March 1851. The ships register described John as single, a boot maker by trade, who was 5'8 1/2" with dark hair, hazel eyes and an oval face with a sallow complexion. He had 3 scars on his right hand and back. He was convict number 453 (5). Two weeks after his arrival in Fremantle, he was granted his Ticket of Leave (6), where he wasted no time setting up a business as a boot maker. The quality of his workmanship became well known, with notables such as the Governor of WA and other gentry being his patrons.
However in 1853 he was arrested for pick pocketing from a lady attending an auction (a marked coin of hers was found in his mouth) and sentenced to 3 years hard labour and his Ticket of Leave revoked.(7) But a point of law was raised because at that time he had become a free man and should have been tried as such, with a far less harsh penalty than that of a convict. Six months later he was again free and back in business.
In June 1854, John Richards announced in the Inquirer newspaper that he was relocating his business to Toodyay. From 1851 -1861 John had employed 10 Ticket of Leave men in his boot making business in Perth, Toodyay and York. It was in Toodyay on 8th July 1854 that he married Julia Tighe, an Irish girl from Kildare, who had arrived in Western Australia on the ship Clara in 1853 and commenced working for the Wheelock family of Toodyay. They married again, on 20th Jan 1855 when St. Mary's Catholic Church was established.(8)
John and Julia had at least 9 children: The first, Thomas Kirwan Richards was born in Toodyay in April 1855, but survived only a year. They had a second son, also named Thomas b 1857 York; Maria b 1858 York; Stephen b 1861 Perth; Mary (twin) b 1865 Perth; Michael (twin) b 1865 Perth; John b 1866 Perth; Esther Mary Clare b 1869 Perth; Teresa b Perth. 1871. At some stage, the couple moved to York where the first 2 surviving children were born, but had moved back to Perth by the early 1860's, where John's boot making business was set up in Murray Street. His son Stephen also worked in the business.
It was in 1875 that the semi-literate John or more likely his better educated son Stephen (his mother had worked as a needlewoman to put the children through school), penned an advertisement which appeared in the Inquirer in 1875 (9):
"I'll thank my patrons in verse (and proud of the notion)
For nineteen years' favor complete;
During that time they have kept my hands in full motion,
Making and supplying boots for their feet.
And now beg to tell those who favor me with a call,
From city and country together,
That I can supply for the forthcoming ball
Dress Boots of the best patent leather.
For Richard's boots are yet first in proficiency,
Patronised and worn by those who are grand;
He had the honor of being Boot-maker to two of their Excellencies,
FitzGerald and Hampton, who governed this land.
To Governors, Commanders, and grave politicians,
Judges, Queen's Counsels, and learned physicians.
Magistrates, attorneys, and all men of birth
In fact, to be short, all gentlemen of Perth.
To Richards's Boots your attention is invited
The materials are the best and the work is not slighted,
They give no pain to the feet to make you excited,
Nor lameness from corns to leave you benighted ;
But you can take a long walk and feel really delighted
To find the feet and the boots so happily united ;
And of a damp foot you need not be frightened.
So I sincerely trust my hopes will not be blighted
But I hope to the day I am called from my labors
To hold a continuance of gentlemen's favors.
Sadly, it appears that from the mid 1870s, John Richards succumbed to alcohol and was arrested for loitering and drunkenness. From 1891 and on many occasions after that, he was arrested for vagrancy and either sent to Fremantle prison (for his own protection) or admitted to Mt Eliza Depot, an institution for old and destitute men. By 1892 he was nearly blind.(10)
In 1895, his son Stephen (who was already supporting his mother Julia by then) was charged with neglecting to support his father. He had explained to the Magistrate that "He'd tried to keep the old man, but he was cantankerous and drunken." He offered to allow 6 shillings a week towards the support of his father, with the Magistrate accepting this and remarking that he was a good son.(11)
On 21st July 1897, John Richards died of senile decay at Mt Eliza Depot (12). He was buried in the Catholic section of East Perth Cemeteries, plot number 110. His wife Julia died 16th June 1899 and is buried in the same grave.
©Maggie Speak 2019
1. British Newspaper Archives: Liverpool Mail, 16 Dec. 1848, p.6
2. State Library of WA; Battye Library, MN 812, Catholic Church records, ACC 4363A
3. Registers Of Prisoners In The County Prisons Of Wakefield; Series HO23; Piece No. 14
4. Home Office: Convict Hulks, Convict Prisons And Criminal Lunatic Asylums: Quarterly Returns Of Prisoners; series HO8; piece No's 104, 106, 107
5. Convict Records. State Records Office of Western Australia; Reel No. FCN42; Reference No. ACC 128/40-43
6. The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 - 1864) Fri 18 Jul 1851; Page 2; TICKET-OF-TEAVE-MEN.
7. Inquirer (Perth, WA / 1840 - 1855), Wednesday 2 March 1853, page 2.
8. State Library of WA; Battye Library, MN 812, Catholic Church records, ACC 4363A
9. The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times (WA : 1864 - 1874) Fri 6 May 1870; Page 2; Classified Advertising.
10. State Records Office of Western Australia; John Richards expiree 451 a Colonial pauper for admission to Mt Eliza; Reference code AU WA S675- cons 527 1891/2159
11. The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950) Fri 6 Dec 1895 Page 3 POLICE NEWS.
12. Australia Death Index; Western Australia; Dept. of Justice; Registration No. 2119.

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