Elias Sargeantson 1778-1812

Researching my father’s ancestors led me to my first brick wall: who were my three times Great Grandmother, Mary Sarginson’s (1825-1902), parents? After much research I identified them: John Sarginson (1802-1876) and Hannah Fletcher (1804-1844). John’s parents also proved challenging. His baptism recorded his father as Elias; however there were two possible couples where the male partner was called Elias with variously spelled surnames. I decided to see what other siblings I could find for John and built up a picture of both families. I believe I now have enough evidence to show which Elias was my five times Great Grandfather although I haven’t so far found a baptismal record for him, so his parents are my current brick wall!

Elias Sargeantson was born about 1778 in Yorkshire and married Mary Gray (1783-1851) on 20th September 1801 in Holme-on-Spalding-Moor in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The parish record for their marriage described them both “of this parish” and they made their marks on the page. Unfortunately Elias’s occupation wasn’t given. (The image at the top of this page is All Saints Church in Holme-on-Spalding-Moor.)

Elias and Mary went on to have at least four children:

  • John Sarginson (1802-1876), my four times Great Grandfather, who was born in Melbourne.
  • Thomas Serginson (1806-1888) born in Eastrington.
  • Joseph Serginson (1809-1889) born in Eastrington.
  • Mary Sarginson (1809-1809) born in Eastrington.

Whilst searching through the East Yorkshire archives in the Beverley records office I came across a record of Elias’s conviction for larceny. He was convicted on 1st May 1810 at the Beverley assizes Easter Session for stealing from Thomas Claybourne of Eastrington: a bushel (8 gallons) of maslin (mixed grain probably wheat and rye), corn, two pecks of wheat (1/4 bushel, 8 quarts) and 2 pecks of rye. In the indictment Elias is described as a labourer and he was sentenced to seven years transportation. Thomas Claybourne was a farmer in Eastrington of some wealth who left a will when he died in 1827. Also, until about 1810 the East Riding Quarter Sessions were held in the Beverley Guildhall courtroom.

york-prisonOnce he had been convicted Elias was at some point moved to York Castle and a newspaper report in the Hull Packet dated 19th June 1810 records that Elias, together with 10 other convicts, left York Castle on Monday 11th June 1810 so that they could be “delivered on board the Laurel Hulk at Portsmouth”. According to a prison hulk record from the National Archives (series HO9/9 UK Prison Hulk registers and letter books 1802-1849) Elias was received on the ship Laurel at Portsmouth on 13th June 1810 from York. Finding further records for him was challenging as his surname was spelt in a variety of ways.

Prison hulks in the 18th and 19th centuries were primarily intended as holding places before prisoners were transported; however, in many cases they formed the main method of punishment. They were often ships which had been decommissioned, and/or were unseaworthy; often were moored in estuaries and rivers and fitted out as floating prisons.

Prisoners were subjected to hard labour often in the associated dockyards or working on the adjacent river banks. The prison regime was harsh and the conditions on the hulks cramped with poor sanitation, leading to outbreaks of disease, including hulk fever.

The Laurel prison hulk was moored at Portsmouth. It had started life as the Dutch sloop Sireene; launched in 1786 and captured by the English in 1796. It was renamed the HMS Laurel in 1798 when it was fitted out for service as a convict ship. Laurel was sold in 1821 and broken up. (The image below is of the HMS York which was another prison hulk moored in Portsmouth about the same time as the Laurel.)


HMS York at Portsmouth

When Laurel served as a prison hulk it was run, like all of them, by a private contractor who had to make regular quarterly returns to the Treasury in order to get paid. Prisoners on hulks were expected to work. A House of Commons report into prison hulks published in 1811 said that in that year the Portland and Laurel prison hulks combined had 541 convicts on board; however it seems that on average during the year “only” 372 labourers and 16 artificers (skilled military mechanics) were working for the Ordnance Department in Portsmouth.

Records for Elias do appear in the Treasury: departmental accounts, convict hulks (T38/320 for the ship Laurel dated 1810-1812). These quarterly returns to the Treasury list the convicts by name and provide information on what provisions, clothing etc they had received. Elias was listed in four of these records and received between 90 and 93 days worth of victuals depending on the number of days in the period covered. He also received a variety of clothing including: a jacket, breeches, shirt, shoes and handkerchiefs, although not all in the same quarter.

Although Elias had been sentenced to seven years transportation that did not happen. He died in the hospital ship on 11th April 1812. According to the hospital book he entered the hospital on 1st April 1812. It does not record what he died of and I’ve not been able to determine that. Prison hulks were often overcrowded and disease rife. I did find one suggestion that there was an epidemic of measles in 1812 but can’t confirm if that was what he suffered from or the more likely hulk fever.

Elias left behind a family in Yorkshire and I don’t know if they found out what had happened to him. I have though traced his wife and three sons through census records. I have already written about my four times Great Grandfather John Sarginson who was a cordwainer, although I don’t know much about who he was apprenticed to. John’s two brothers Thomas and Joseph, and probably his mother, appear in the 1841 census.

Eastrington map

Eastrington and surrounding villages

Thomas Serginson was born about 1806 and baptised on 4th September 1806 in Eastrington in the East Riding of Yorkshire. His father Elias’s occupation was not given on the parish record. Thomas married Mary Shepperdson (1807-1871) in St Martin’s, Coney Street, York on 8th February 1834. They went on to have at least seven children: three boys and four girls. By the time of the 1841 census Thomas was described as a shoe maker and publican and the family were living in Full Sutton and had two apprentices. They continued to live in Full Sutton and in the 1851 census Thomas was described as a master shoemaker and his son Alfred (1837-1901) a shoemaker. In 1861 both are shoemakers and by 1871 Thomas was described as a cordwainer. Thomas’s wife Mary died in 1871 and the most likely death record for him is dated 1888 in Middlesbrough where at least one of his son’s, Isaac (1842-1904), was living at the time.

Elias’s wife Mary is probably the Elizabeth Serginson who appears in the 1841 census with Thomas and his family; although there is little additional information given which can positively confirm that. It is likely that she died before the 1851 census although a death record for her has not yet been found.

Bishop Wilton view

View of Bishop Wilton

Joseph Serginson was also born in Eastrington and baptised on 21st March 1809, together with his twin sister Mary who died in May 1809. Joseph married Mary West (1809-1886) on 26th October 1835 in Nunburnholme; the place of Mary’s birth. Together they had at least nine children: six boys and three girls. In the 1841 census the family were living in Bishop Wilton and Joseph was also a shoemaker. The family continued to live in Bishop Wilton and by 1861 Joseph was a master shoemaker. In 1871 he was described as a cordwainer, as was his son Henry George (1845-1913); and again a cordwainer in 1881. Joseph remained in Bishop Wilton until his death in 1889.

All three of Elias’s sons became shoemakers (cordwainers) and so far I have been unable to find any apprenticeship records for them. The family must have had difficult times between their father’s conviction in 1810 and the 1841 census. All three sons do though seem to have made their way in the world. It is also interesting that they have varied their surnames from their father. If anyone who reads this story has more information about them then do please contact me.

Addendum – recent research has revealed that, according to the York Courant newspaper dated 7 May 1810, Elias’ sentence of seven years transportation was given because he was thought to be a member of the Snowden Dunhill (Dunning) gang operating in the local area. Snowden and a number of his family members received transportation sentences during the period 1810-1825. Perhaps more of that later!