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The Cautionary Tale of Thomas Easterby

Wednesday 11 December 2019

A trawl through the Easterby family archives unearths a proper scallywag

Although blacksmithing and farming have put bread on the Easterby table for centuries, the Easterbys have turned their hand to many a trade over the years. Researching the family history has yielded publicans, butchers, gunsmiths and even a few race 'oss trainers.

However, it was to my astonishment when I found two of the more unusual professions lurking in the Kirbymoorside branch of the Easterby family tree.

The village of Kirbymoorside lies on the southern edge of the North York Moors, and it was there that I discovered the Reverend Richard Easterby, once the Vicar of Lastingham. However, on the other side of the law, hidden away in the old censuses and registers was a scallywag by the name of Thomas Easterby.

Thomas's occupation, albeit part-time, was as a thief. But Thomas wasn't just any old thief. He was a bad thief, and he was no stranger to being caught.

It is the tale of Thomas Easterby that I will now tell.

Thomas Easterby was born in 1812 in Lastingham, near Helmsley, North Yorkshire. He was the son of whitesmith William Easterby and his wife Elizabeth. Thomas married Mary Ann Holroyd in Lastingham on 19th December 1833 and the couple lived together on his mother-in-law's farm with their three children, Elizabeth, Ann and Mary. As a young man Thomas worked as a gunsmith but on the side he supplemented his income through theft and burglary. Eventually his crimes would catch up with him, and on 19th October 1847 Thomas was arrested for what would prove to be his final misdemeanour in England.

Thomas and his friend John Atkinson had one afternoon spied an open window at the house of Christopher Sonley in Lastingham and climbed through the window and stolen his coat and trousers. When apprehended Atkinson had had little hesitation naming Thomas Easterby who was duly apprehended.

Thomas was also a poacher, and his success at poaching had been no better than his success at thieving. He had been previously caught ten times poaching on the lands of the local establishment.

Tried at Northallerton Sessions in 1847 Thomas was found guilty of the Lastingham burglary.

The sentence handed down was 14 years and transportation to Australia.

Thomas's first taste of incarceration was in York Castle Prison, but after a few months he was moved away from Yorkshire and spent five years in a prison hulk, a ship moored off the coast holding convicts ready for deportation. The 1851 census lists him as living at Greenwich, Kent on the "Warrior" Convict Hulk, Woolwich dockyard.

Eventually Thomas's time would come and on 9th March 1852 he was one of 294 convicts who set sail on a prisoner ship called the Fairlie from Portsmouth, bound for Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania.

On 3rd July 1852 The Fairlie docked in Hobart Town. A total of 293 prisoners disembarked from the ship, the four month voyage having seen two deaths and one baby being born.

Thomas Easterby would now serve the balance of his 14 year sentence in the penal colony. The order of the day for Thomas would now be hard labour.

In 1861 Thomas was released and set about making a new life for himself. He met and married a girl by the name of Bridget Stanton, who was originally from County Clare in Ireland and they had one child who was named Albert.

Thomas lived near Gunning in New South Wales and worked as a gunsmith and later as a farmer. He died on 5th April 1890 of a heart problem. After his death his wife lived on with her son and they ran a sheep farm nearby at Oolong.

Bridget died in 1925 at the age of 95. Her son Albert and his wife Annie Ryan carried on with the farm. Albert and Annie had five children - three girls and two boys. Two of the girls became nuns one boy called Tom did not marry. The other boy, Albert junior, married but disappeared in the 1940's, leaving his wife and three children (two boys and a girl). No further trace of Albert was ever found.

And so, the reason for my tale.

I am now trying to find any relatives that I may have in Australia. Are you an Easterby or do you know any Easterbys who can be traced back to Yorkshire? If so, please do get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.

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