Lincolnshire's Convicts Transported: The Case of Mary Dimoline
Ever wondered what might have happened if you were convicted of stealing a watch and a table cloth 170 years ago? Perhaps you would have received a fine, or at worst been sentenced to a few months in prison? Would you ever imagine such a crime could lead to you being transported for fourteen years to some place half way across the world! This was the fate of one unlucky criminal in 1841.
On the 4 October 1839 Jane, the wife of Robert Speed, found two knives and two ounces of feathers belonging to her husband had been stolen. Suspicion fell on one Mary Dimoline who had been lodging in their house for the night. Unfortunately for the Speeds, the suspect had left before the discovery was made.
On the 7 October Dimoline came to the house of Mr Benjamin Garton of Scredington. Sitting down to some potatoes in Mr Garton’s kitchen with only a servant present in the house, Dimoline took the opportunity that presented itself when she spotted silk neckerchiefs lying next to her and a tablecloth drying by the fire.
Trespassing on the hospitality of Mr Sliton Nash of Heckington, Bar Housekeeper, Dimoline struck again the following day. Finding that she had been left alone, the opportunist helped herself to a watch, seals, a vinaigrette box, and a sum of money, all the property of Mr Nash.
Arrest and Imprisonment
Having been caught and arrested on suspicion of theft, Dimoline found herself in Folkingham House of Correction.
Whilst in Folkingham House of Correction she wrote to various family members including her son, brothers, and daughter. The letters were discovered and appear to have been scrutinised as evidence.
Apparently, her actions provoked such shame that her family refused to visit, forbade her from coming to them, and sold her belongings.
Letters written by Dimoline from Folkingham House of Correction including the sole response received.
When Sarah Naile, Matron of Folkingham House of Correction, searched the unfortunate prisoner on the 14 October, the evidence against her began to mount. The watch, seals, vinaigrette box, and 3 sovereigns, 3 shillings, and 5 sixpences were found cunningly concealed in the prisoner’s stays.
By authority of an official warrant, Richard Pridgeon of New Sleaford, Constable, searched the house of Mr Fountain of Caythorpe on 26 October. There, in a box belonging to John Bowling, he found the table cloth and neckerchiefs stolen from Mr Garton. Upon enquiring after the items, Pridgeon was informed by Mr Bowling that they were given to him by his mother, the suspect Mary Dimoline, for safekeeping.
Witness statements were taken before trial and were recorded by a local magistrate, known as a ‘Justice of the Peace’. Without modern forensic techniques, these statements provided the main evidence against the accused.
With this evidence in place, Dimoline was put on trial at Sleaford Sessions House on the 2 January 1840. The court heard the evidence against her and she was found guilty of theft of goods belonging to Messrs Nash and Garton. As there was no evidence that she had stolen the goods belonging to Mr Speed, she was found not guilty of this charge. Charles Allix, the magistrate presiding over her trial, sentenced Dimoline to fourteen years transportation to New South Wales.
Once compiled, a case was presented in court by means of a document known as a ‘writ of indictment’. The writ stated the name, charge, and plea of the accused.
For crimes such as theft, where the value of the goods stolen was considerable, the punishment was usually transportation to the colonies for seven years. Other crimes punishable in this way included arson, bigamy, manslaughter and murder. As execution declined in acceptability and overcrowding in gaols became a significant problem, transportation was seen by many as a solution.
Whilst awaiting her punishment, the unfortunate convict was sent to the county gaol in Lincoln Castle. Here she caused more than a few problems. In attempting to make her escape on 9 January 1840, Dimoline seized an opportunity of locking Mrs Johnson, the matron of the gaol, in her room. Unfortunately for the prisoner this attempt failed, and Dimoline appears to have resolved to be as much of a nuisance as she possibly could.
Causing great noise and annoyance on more than one occasion, Dimoline was particularly troublesome on 6 February when the governor had to be called as she had spoilt the lock of her cell door in order to prevent Mrs Johnson from entering.
It must have been a relief for the Gaoler at Lincoln Castle when a court order was received shortly after for the delivery of the convict to Mill Bank Penitentiary in London where she would await her transportation.
Whilst awaiting transportation convicted prisoners were usually held in the county gaol. Often crowded and disease ridden, the gaol was an unpleasant place to be. With time to dwell on the fate that lay ahead, many attempted to make their escape before the dreaded event could take place. Such behaviour was frequently punished by solitary confinement and reduced rations.
Having spent a year in various prisons, Dimoline finally set sail from London on 12 October 1840 onboard the convict ship Navarino. On 17 January 1841, after three months on board the 116’ long and 29’9” wide ship, which had only 5’9” between decks and was carrying a further 177 convicts, the unfortunate souls found themselves landed at Hobart.
Whilst dry land and fresh air must have been extremely welcome after such a journey, the prospect of 14 years hard labour thousands of miles from all she had ever known cannot have been a pleasant prospect for the unfortunate Mary Dimoline.
The Transportation Database
The Transportation Database is a great way to search for people convicted in Lincolnshire’s courts and sentenced to transportation. It brings together a list of sources relating to named individuals who are known to have been transported to the colonies between 1788 and 1868. These sources can tell us much about the circumstances of a crime, the people involved, the outcome of a trial, and the experience of the transportee from their arrest to the moment of transportation.