Henry Armstead

Henry Armstead
Born in St Ives in 1830 to George and Elizabeth, Henry lived in Poor Folk's Square with his brother and two sisters in the most deprived part of St Ives. Henry's father was a porter. Somewhat unusually for the time, his mother also worked, as a labourer.

In trouble early in his life, Henry, recorded as aged 11yrs, was convicted at Huntingdon Assizes in 1843 of larceny and imprisoned for three weeks. He had four further convictions. On 5 January 1846, aged 16yrs, he was again convicted of larceny, caught stealing butter. The penalty for this second offence was much harsher. He was sentenced to transportation to Australia for ten years.

Henry was initially sent to Millbank prison. The conditions he experienced were atrocious. Kept in solitary confinement and imposed silence, rations were the minimum bread and water. Exercise was limited to five minutes a day and there were regular outbreaks of choleramalariadysentery and scurvy.

Millbank Prison
Millbank Prison
Due to his youth, Henry was transferred to the Young Offenders Prison at Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight. Conditions in the newly renovated prison were better, with inmates being taught a trade.

Shipping of newly convicted criminals had effectively ceased in 1842. Australian prisons were overcrowded and convicts who had earned a Ticket of Leave were unable to find work. The British answer to its own gaol overcrowding and unemployment was to transport between 1844 and 1849 only the 'better class of prisoners', being those who had served their minimum term. Classed as 'convict exiles', on arrival in Australia they received an immediate Conditional Pardon or Ticket of Leave.

Henry boarded the Randolph in April 1849, one of 83 Parkhurst inmates and a further 217 male convicts from Millbank. They arrived in Australia four months later, but things didn't go smoothly. Refused permission to land at their port of arrival, Port Phillip, Melbourne, following public demonstrations, after five days they sailed on for another week to Port Jackson, Sydney.

Henry was recorded as being 4ft 10ins tall, of fair complexion with light coloured hair and grey eyes. He received his Ticket of Leave as soon as he arrived at Port Jackson. Aged 19yrs, he worked as a labourer in the area of Gwidir, some 200 miles north of Sydney.

A condition of his freedom was that he would not leave the area without permission. Less than a year after arriving in Australia, Henry was found absent on 13 March 1850. His Ticket of Leave was cancelled, but it's unclear whether he was ever recaptured.

There is a record of an A Armstead sailing alone from Sydney to London on 3 April 1883 aboard the SS Iberia. If this was Henry, he would have been aged 53yrs. Maybe Henry did return home.

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