Harriet Davis (1805?-?)

by Douglas Wilkie


When twenty-three-year-old Harriet Davis appeared before the Sergeant Arabin at the Old Bailey on 11 June 1829 she was facing a charge of stealing one half-sovereign, and one half-crown , belonging to Thomas Wright, on 16 May.

According to the transcript of the Old Bailey, the complainant, Thomas Wright, told the court, ‘On the 16th of May I met the prisoner at the corner of James-street, and gave her something to drink at the White Lion public-house; I then came out, and went to Mrs. Porters, No. 3, Legg-alley.’ Wright was probably referring to Three Legg Alley, St. Brides, which was a street of ill-repute. Nevertheless, he continued,

‘I was quite sober; it was about half-past eleven o'clock—I gave her 2s. for the bed, and went to bed; at two the next morning the prisoner got up, and went away unknown to me—I had had half a sovereign and half a crown in my trousers, which I put under my head; Mrs. Porter came up and asked if I had not been robbed—I said Yes, and told her to go for the watchman; in going to the watch-house half a sovereign fell from the prisoner—she took it up, and put it into her mouth; she had said she had not a farthing, but at the watch-house they found half a crown in the heel of each of her stockings—one of the half-crowns I had given her; she swallowed the half-sovereign.’

At this point Harriet Davis asked Wright, ‘Were you not tipsy?’ to which he replied, ‘No, not at all—I was not sick; I had not had any oysters—I gave you a shilling, and you went and got bread and cheese and raddishes for supper; I did not bolt the door.’

John Shields, a night-watchman then told the court, ‘The prisoner was brought to the watch-house—the prosecutor said she had robbed him of half a sovereign and half a crown; I saw a piece of gold in her mouth, and tried to get it, but she swallowed it—I found a shilling in her purse, half a crown in her bosom, and half a crown in each of her stockings.’

Again Harriet Davis interjected, ‘Did you not put your finger into my mouth?’

'Yes, but I took it out again pretty soon, for I know you of old.’

Having heard the case against her the Court then asked Harriet Davis what she had to say in her defense.

‘I met the prosecutor in Longacre; he asked me to get him something to drink—I had 6s.; I took the prosecutor to the White Lion, and had a glass of—wine he asked if I had a room; I said I had not, but took him to No. 3, Legg-alley—he gave me half a crown to stop with him; I scrupled to take it—he then gave me a shilling to get some bread and  cheese and raddishes, and he took my bonnet lest I should go away; he shut the door, and bolted it the landlady went up and knocked at the door, and then he opened it and said “It is all right;” he then said he had lost his money— he had been sick on the bed; I gave him back the half-crown, and said I would not stay with him.’

Although Harriet Davis’s case sounded quite reasonable, the jury found her guilty of stealing Wright’s money and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation.

Arriving in Hobart on board the Eliza in February 1830, Harriet told officials she had worked as a cook and servant and had been born in Calcutta. She admitted to stealing 12/6d and that she had once been charged with ‘being disorderly in the watch house’. Over the next few years Hariett was regularly admonished and punished for being drunk, disorderly, and even for ‘Gross & willful prevarication before the magistrate’ — which may have been what she had done at the Old Bailey. Nevertheless, after April 1833 there are no more entries on Harriet’s record at all, and this coincides with a similar change in behaviour on the record of another convict, Joseph Hodgetts, some ten years older, who was within a year of gaining his freedom.

After eighteen months of uncharacteristically peaceful behaviour, on 11 November 1834 Harriet Davis and Joseph Hodgetts applied to marry. The application was approved and the marriage took place on 10 December 1834.

In March 1820, when he was 24, Hodgetts, a jeweler, from Birmingham, had been found guilty of being part of a large gang dealing in forged bank notes. He spent several months on the hulk Justitia at Woolwich before being transported to New South Wales for fourteen years. Arriving at Sydney on board the Shipley in September 1820 Hodgetts was soon assigned to work for John Manning, but in January 1824 he was found guilty of stealing a medal belonging to a soldier in the 40th Regiment and was sent to Van Diemen’s Land on board the Guildford, arriving in Hobart at the end of May, before being transferred to Maria Island. By May 1827 he was in Hobart but accrued a fairly constant record of being drunk, disorderly, and absent from duty over the next ten years. Nevertheless, he was granted his freedom in March 1834, and married Harriet Davis in December.

Nothing more is heard of Harriet and Joseph Hodgetts. They appear to have had no children, and even though he had once worked as a jeweller it is unknown what he did with his freedom. Harriet Hodgetts died at the Colonial Hospital in Hobart early in 1849 and was buried on 10 January at the Trinity Anglican Cemetery. She was 44 and had died of morbus cordis—heart disease.

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