Thomas Arnott was born in 1781, possibly the son of William Arnott and Mary Quantock who lived in the parish of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate. Thomas lived in a very dire period of London's history where unemployment was exceptionally high and people would do just about anything to acquire a meal.
By the time he was nineteen, Thomas was 5' 6” tall and described as being of dark complexion with brown hair and dark eyes and had completed his apprenticeship as a watchmaker. 1
In July of 1800. Thomas was indicted on three felony charges -
Indictment 85 # 1 - Thomas Arnott from New Prison convicted by N Conant Esq on Oath of Temperance Wife of John Legge for Stealing 4 Loaves of Bread value 10d.
Indictment 2 - Detained on Oath of Alice Wynne for Stealing a Cotton Gown value 10d. her property - dated July 7 1800
Indictment 3d. Detained on Oath of Sarah Welch for Stealing a Cotton gown value 10d. her property - dated July 7 1800
(also Sessions of Peace, Middlesex) 2
On the 9th July 1800, Thomas was tried at The Old Bailey -
519. THOMAS ARNETT was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 5th of July, a gown, value 5s., three handkerchiefs, value 4s. and a pair of shoes, value 1s. the property of Sarah Welch, Spinster.
SARAH WELCH sworn. - On Saturday last the prisoner came up into my room ; he took a bundle off the bed, and went down stairs ; I thought he meant it in a bit of fun ; some of it was my property, and some belonging to another girl; and he went and pawned them.
Q. - Then you suffered him to go down stairs with the bundle, and did not attempt to stop him ?.
A. - I thought it was fun.
Court. - Gentlemen of the Jury, you see the nature of this case. NOT GUILTY.
Tried by the second Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Justice ROOKE. 3
His plea of not guilty was accepted by the jury and he was acquitted by Justice Sir Giles Rooke; ....... but he was again brought before the Middlesex Sessions of Peace and Mr Justice Conant, a week later on 14th July 1800 for petite larceny 4 as a result of which The Newgate Prison Register 5 shows him as being Transferred unto the Sheriff on 28th September 1800 with a sentence of transportation for seven years. 6
Thomas was firstly gaoled at the notorious Newgate Prison and subsequently at age 20 transferred to the rotting hulk HMS Portland at Langston Harbour. 7 Although Lieutenant Tuckey was to query whether a watchmaker could make 100 nails a day, in 1803 he was one of the chosen for a new British colony.
Along with 298 other male convicts, 16 married women, a few settlers and a detachment of 50 Royal Marines, Thomas sailed below decks on the 52 Gun HMS Calcutta, captained by Daniel Woodriff, on 24th April 1803 from Spithead accompanied by the transport ship Ocean under the Command of Captain Mertho.
After stopping briefly at Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and Simon's Bay, on Sunday the 9th of October 1803 at 9.30 in the morning, the Calcutta entered Port Phillip Bay greeted by light breezes and occasional showers. She anchored at Sullivan Bay, which is close to present day Sorrento in Victoria. 8
For the next few months Thomas was required to be part of the parade of the whole settlement to witness the public floggings of the convicts who had routinely escaped into the bush and after having found the surroundings inhospitable, had returned to accept their punishment. He also would have been involved in finding timber on and around Arthur's Seat with the other convicts to provide the cargo for the Calcutta's return voyage, and it is likely that this is where the chair maker, Thomas Bowman would have shared with Thomas, the skill of making chairs.
With the English at war with France and the supposed lack of water in Port Phillip Bay, it was deemed unsuitable for a settlement, so when Collins decided to move his group to join those of Bowen at Risdon Cove. Thomas was put aboard the Ocean to become a First Settler of Hobart Town in February 1804.
Hunter Island 1804 (Mitchell Library, Sydney) 9
In the centre of this cove is a small island, connected with the mainland at low water, admirably adapted for the lands and reception of stores and provisions … The Ocean and Lady Nelson are lying within half a cable’s length of the shore in nine fathoms. 10
One of the first major public works projects assigned to the convicts was to construct a stone causeway joining the island to land.
Thomas would now spread his wings and take on a whole new career ...
- 1. Tipping : Convicts Unbound
- 2. UK National Archives : Central Criminal Court - HO77 - Newgate Prison Calendar
- 3. OB - Trial of THOMAS ARNETT
- 4. Records of the trial are missing
- 5. UK National Archives : PCOM 2/182 - Newgate Prison, London - Jan 1798 - Dec 1802
- 6. London Lives : Home Office Criminal Registers - CR700040002; page 2
- 7. London Lives : Home Office Criminal Registers - Image 1 and Image 2
- 8. Wikipedia - History of Victoria - 1803 British Settlement
- 9. Painting by G P Harris, 1804. Mitchell Library, Sydney. Hunter Island, Sullivan's Cove.
- 10. Lieut.-Colonel David Collins (1804)