Charlotte Clayton (1811-?)

by Jan Richardson


In May 1835, 23-year-old Charlotte Clayton was acquitted of ‘Larceny from the Person’ at the Central Criminal Court in London. Two years later, however, she was not so lucky. In April 1837 Charlotte was convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing a sum on money, including five sovereigns and three half-sovereigns, from Peter Elisha, a straw salesmen who lived in Bethnal Green. A police constable heard Clayton and Elisha arguing after midnight about whether or not Clayton had stolen money from his pocket. Constable Jones noted that the location where they were arguing was ‘within twenty yards of a brothel’. Charlotte arrived in Sydney on the second sailing of the Henry Wellesley in 1837, sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. The indent recorded her trade as ‘Needlewoman (good)’ and stated she had no prior convictions. Charlotte was described as 25 years old, born in London, 4 feet 10 ¾ inches tall (149.23 cm) with an ‘Olive’ complexion, black hair, and dark brown eyes. The indent also noted that she was ‘Half cast’.

Charlotte’s ticket of leave dated 12 January 1843 was granted for the district of Sydney ‘for so long only as she remains in the service of [name illegible]’. The ticket was renewed and altered to Parramatta, then altered back to Sydney on 5 April ‘for so long only as she remains in the service of Mrs E Thomson’. It was amended again on 30 May, specifying that Charlotte must ‘remain in Sydney in the service of Mr John Spring’. Clearly Charlotte had a troubled employment history. Nevertheless, she received permission to marry a ‘free’ (or perhaps freed) man, Charles Langley, who had arrived in Sydney seven years earlier on the Gulnare ‘from Hobart Town’. In August 1843 they were married at St Andrew’s Church, Sydney. The following month Charlotte was issued another ticket of leave, this time for Parramatta, ‘In lieu of 43/213 Dated 12th Jan[uar]y 1843 returned mutilated and Cancelled’. In November 1844 Charlotte was granted a certificate of freedom in which she was described not only as ‘Wife of Charles Langley per ship Gulnare’, but also as ‘Half cast’ and possessing a large nose, several scars, and tattoos of initials and a heart on the inside of her left arm.

On 3 July 1846, Charles Langley of ‘Kent street South’ placed an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald cautioning the public ‘against giving credit to my wife Charlotte Langley, she having left her home without any cause whatever’, and stating that he ‘will not be answerable for any debts she may contract after this notice’.  Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer filled its readers in on the full story under the heading, ‘A happy couple’:

Charlotte Langley, a sambo angel, applied for protection against her hard-hearted mate Charles, who refused her both support out of doors, and admittance into his domicile. The tawny Venus confessed that after ill-usage and provocation, she had flitted away from the roof of her sworn protector, and extended her peregrinations to Parramatta….

Charlotte spent three days at Parramatta before returning to Sydney, where she survived by climbing through the window of her front parlour to ‘get “what she wanted”’, saying that ‘she could not live upon the “hair”’ and requesting she be granted maintenance. The Bench decided that there was no reason to imprison Charlotte but told her that ‘if she wanted a due maintenance, she must make the application in form’.

Perhaps no maintenance was forthcoming as Charlotte was committed for trial for ‘stealing 30s. from William Weston in a disorderly house’ a few weeks later. The following year, in July 1847, Bell’s Life reported in horror that:

Joseph Grout, a red crested Cockatoo man [a red-haired convict who had served time at Cockatoo Island], stood charged by Martha Hall with mis-lesting [sic] her person. The details revealed a series of the most disgusting facts connected with the libidinous clique, who reside under the same roof in a house in Sussex-street. Mistresses Charlotte Langley (a woman of color) and Jane Blaxted, are among the coterie and may serve to throw some light upon the nature of that unholy alliance which we, in deference to our readers, abstain from exposing.

Two weeks later, under the heading ‘Cutting his ebony’, Bell’s Life reported that Charles Langley ‘was called upon to show cause why he had deserted one Charlotte, a lady of colour and of easy virtue’. Langley was described by the newspaper in the most unflattering terms, saying that his head was:

as unthatched as a bark hut in a whirlwind; his eyes constructed after the manner of the Irish fowling piece for shooting around a corner, [and] his mug presenting warty excresences of a size and shape out-rivalling Oliver Cromwell’s….

Langley tried to argue his case by saying that his wife was a ‘prostitute’ but the Bench rejected this, saying that ‘if all that had been said were true, Mr Langley was performing marital duties elsewhere’.

In February 1848, Charles Langley, ‘the keeper of an eating-house in Market-street’, was charged with ‘stealing a bundle of clothes’ from Mary Rourke but the charge was dismissed. A few months later he was charged with ‘throwing a dead dog out of his house into George-street’. Langley was seen by a witness ‘dashing the dog’s head against the Market wall, until the poor animal expired’ and then throwing the body out into the street. The accused ‘seriously averred that the dead dog had walked into his house, and that he had merely “chucked it out again”’. The Bench, however, admonished Langley in ‘severe terms on the cruelty’ and sentenced him to pay a fine of 20/- or receive thirty days’ imprisonment. It seems that Charlotte’s husband was a very unpleasant man on many different levels.

In November 1848 Charlotte was admitted to the Darlinghurst Gaol under her married name of Langley. She was described as a ‘Female of Color’ with dark hair and dark eyes and also as ‘a Cripple’.

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