Friday, 4 March 2016



James Bennion, a potter, and the youngest son of John Bennion and Mary Child, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour after being found guilty of stealing four fowls from a cote in Burslem, Staffordshire.

The police had traced a trail of feathers from the cote to the house of John Bennion. And when James saw the police he ran off but was captured by Constable Cope who found feathers in his pockets.

The police also searched his brother-in-laws house, where John was running to at the time of his capture. There they found two fowls concealed under the bedclothes and two others stuck up the chimney. William Bloor denied all knowledge of the fowls exclaiming “Oh dear, dear that’s Jim”.

Whilst John Bennion and William Bloor were also arrested and tried they were given the benefit of the doubt and discharged by the magistrate.

In the 1861 Census records James is recorded as an inmate in the District County Prison at Stafford (RG6; Piece 1907; Folio 143; Page 8; GSU roll: 542885)

A full report of the incident can be found in the Staffordshire Advertiser, Saturday 2 March 1861.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Charles Docking

A respected county-court bailiff and sexton appears to be the mastermind behind a robbery of money and jewellery from a tomb in Mildenhall, Suffolk.

Charles and wife Mary and their five children are recorded in the 1861 census in Mildenhall; he is a bailiff for the county council and a sexton of the local church.

In January 1863, a local resident, Mr. Childerstone was buried with property belonging to his son who had died in 1859. This included  £40 in gold, some watches, chains, rings and other jewellery as well as a corkscrew, comb and tin shaving box. The parents resolved that no one else in the world should possess their son’s items and agreed that they would be buried with whichever parent died first.

In July that year stories started to circulate around Mildenhall that the vault had been broken into and the police investigated.

They discovered that this was indeed the case and arrested local man Charles Bird. He soon told them the whole story and pointed the finger at the County Court Bailiff, Charles Docking.

It transpired that Charles Docking had recruited others to do the actual “dirty work” for him, and then took all the spoils to sell in London.

When the facts became known Charles Docking and the other main accomplice William Grayham immediately absconded and though warrants were issued for their apprehension the police had no idea where to find them.

There is a wonderful description of Charles in the Police Gazette 12 August 1863:

“- A native of Mildenhall, about 40 years of age, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high, very stout, large fat face, very large reddish-brown whiskers meeting under the chin, a wart or wen about the size of a horse bean (and which is always very red), on the cheek, supposed to be the right, very bushy dark brown hair, and hazel eyes; generally wears a high-crowned black hat, loose alpaca coat, and dark waistcoat and trousers.”

Charles Docking and his family had moved to Islington, London where he lived out his days and was never brought to trial for the offence. Islington is about 62 miles as the crow flies from Mildenhall.  Charles and family are detailed in the 1871 and 1881 census.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Robert Carver (1793-1884)

Two Hundred years ago today (14th February 1816) our ancestor Robert Carver was tried at the Old Bailey for "burgariously breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Michael Stephinte, with intent to steal, and stealing three gold seals, one snuffbox, one letter-case, nine pieces of foreign gold coin, three 10 pound bank notes, and thirteen promissory notes for the payment of 10 pounds each, the property of the Rev. John Helyar."

So was Robert a master criminal, was this how he made his living?

No - life in London at this time was particularly hard for poor families - Robert was married with two infant children and whilst he was a shoe maker by trade he was forced to apply to his local parish for relief. In order to prove your parish for them to accept responsibility to provide assistance, you had to be either born in the parish applied to, served as an apprentice there or worked for the same employer for more than 1 year.

We know from Robert's evidence at his trial that he had unsuccessfully applied to two parishes for help, but both declined, which ended up with him committing a crime as an act of last resort.

Whilst I have not been able to find evidence of him applying to any parish - the parishes were most likely St James,  (he was living at 99 York Street, Westminster) and perhaps Portsmouth (this place is stated on his Ticket of Leave and death certificate as his place of birth). So it seems that the Rev. John Helyar who he had burgled was his local vicar who had declined his application for assistance.

Robert was sentenced to death but due to his "good character" this was changed to transportation for life. Elizabeth, Robert's wife and their two children left London and returned to her home parish of Finchingfield in Essex.

Robert was transported to Australia on the convict ship The Fame, arriving in 1817.

To read the full trial at

Friday, 12 February 2016

James Coffee Docking

How does that old saying go - "You can choose your friends but not your family?"

Over the course of the past few years I have discovered rather a lot of so called Black Sheep in both my and my husband's ancestors. This blog will be devoted to sharing their stories. Maybe they are your ancestors as well - it would be good to hear from you and hear your stories too.

Newspapers are the source for most of my learnings about my Black Sheep as well as trial and court records.

James Coffee Docking seemed an ordinary sort of person - he was born in October 1824 in St Margaret, King's Lynn, the son of William Docking, Victualler and Mary Wilkin. William and Mary had baptised 2 children prior to James with this name - so third time lucky. He had an elder sister Mary Ann born in 1813.

James and his sister Mary Ann are living together in the 1861 census in St Margaret, King's Lynn - I have not been able to find death records for his parents but presume they are deceased. James occupation is that of a Wine Merchant's Clerk, and spinster sister Mary Ann is a dress maker.

In 1866 James' story  appears in newspapers up and down the country - and he is declared an embezzler and forger. So what happened?

James Docking was confidential and managing clerk to one of the most respected wine merchants in King’s Lynn, namely Everard & Sons. He had held this position for a number of years and was a highly respected member of his local community.

James Docking had managed the business for approximately five or six years but after the death of the proprietor, Mr. Everard in 1866 the business and the property fell into the hands of Mr. Everard Hutton who decided that we wanted to sell the business.

James Docking said that he had support from a local Baronet so wanted to buy the business himself. None of his friends thought that this was unusual although they were taken aback by his failed suicide attempt shortly after this.

As the time approached to conclude the deal Docking proceeded to London to the London & Westminster Bank to obtain the £3,000 to pay for the business but due to some hitch he had to arrange a further visit to the bank.

On the subsequent visit to the bank, the solicitor entered the bank first, but James Docking turned tail and ran so the solicitor had to return to Lynn with no money and no James Docking.

An investigation into the company’s affairs then took place revealing that James Docking had falsified accounts and embezzled four thousand pounds from the business. A warrant was issued for his arrest and Lieutenant Reeves of the Borough Police was sent to apprehend him.

James had written to a friend trying to borrow money and it said he was staying in St Ives, Huntingdonshire. Lieutenant Reeves set off to capture him and bring him back to King’s Lynn to stand trial.

We don’t know what transpired when the policeman arrived in St Ives but in the newspapers it said he was in such a state when he returned he couldn’t tell them anything and he was subsequently dismissed from the force.

Another policeman was put on the case but James Docking simply vanished and the missing money was never recovered.

There does not seem to be any follow up story in the papers - and nothing is known of his whereabouts. His poor sister Mary Ann continued to live in Lynn making ends meet by working as a dressmaker and she died a spinster.