William Tomlinson, alias George Bannister, was 19 when tried at the Lancaster Quarter Sessions for ‘Larceny from a person’.
The date was 1 December 1834, and only weeks earlier, William had been charged at the New Bailey with the robbery of George Gregory, a gardener from Manchester. Mr Gregory was making his way home through Knot-mill when four men approached on foot, threw him down and rifled his pockets. Luckily for him, a cart was approaching and the noise caused the thieves to quickly depart. Unluckily though, they did get away with a silver watch.
A silver watch that William Tomlinson enlisted his sister-in-law to pledge for thirty shillings at a pawnbroker’s in Oldham Road – and that he was later tried for stealing.
This wasn’t William first time in trouble with the law; he had previously been convicted and imprisoned for stealing a handkerchief on two occasions, and for vagrancy on another two. This time however, stealing the silver watch would not only see him convicted, but transported to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania, Australia) for 14 years.
It may have been due to his sentence that William decided to adopt the ‘alias’ of George Bannister as his own. It was the name that he would continue to be known by after that point; the name he would marry under, and pass on to his children.
Perhaps his mother was a Bannister, or the name was related to the Tomlinson family in some way?
That we don’t yet know.
Luckily we do know how George came to Tasmania, and how the ‘Bannister’ family began.
Leaving his ‘native place’ of Manchester, and his father William Tomlinson, a Book Keeper, and siblings John, Richard, Thomas, Sarah and Martha, George Bannister sailed from Downs, England on 18 June 1835 on the ship Aurora. One prisoner died during the 102-day voyage, and the Aurora arrived in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land on 7 October 1835.
By this time George was 20 years old, and described on arrival as being single, a labourer, 5′ 4 3/4″ tall with a ‘fresh’ complexion, dark brown hair and light hazel eyes. He also had a ‘W.T’ tattoo on his right wrist – a permanent link to his former identity, and perhaps even a reminder of his family back home.
Shortly after arrival, George was assigned to a Mr J Bellamy. On 6 April of the following year, still assigned to Bellamy, he was charged for “Absenting himself without leave, being drunk and losing a pair of trousers.” Several more charges appear during his years as a convict, mainly for again being absent without leave, or for misconduct or neglect of duty.
On 19 Aug 1840, while assigned to a Mr Jacomb, he was charged with being in a public house, and absent without leave. For this he received “14 days in a cell, and returned to Government”. At this time, a Mr Jacomb, ale-brewer of New Town, had other servants assigned or apprenticed to him, therefore it’s possible that this was also who George was assigned to.
The last recorded ‘disorderly’ appearing on George’s record was in 1844, for which he received 10 days’ hard labour as punishment.
George received his ticket of leave on 30 May 1842, which was also reported in The Courier Newspaper at the time as being “on the occasion of the anniversary of Her Majesty’s Birthday”.
He was granted his free certificate seven years later on 2 October 1849; his period of transportation having expired. After fourteen years of service George was no longer a convict, and now considered a ‘free’ man.
Earlier that year, on 20 January 1849, the ship Lord Auckland arrived to Hobart Town from Dublin, Ireland carrying 200 female prisoners.
On board was Ann McCabe, an Irish girl from County Leitrim.
Ann was a 19 year-old country servant with dark hair and hazel eyes who could not read or write. She had never been convicted before, and at her trial in Leitrim on 6 July 1848, was found guilty of stealing clothes and sentenced to seven years’ transportation.
Prior to leaving for Van Diemen’s Land, Ann was sent to Grangegorman Female Penitentiary in Dublin. After three months of training in ‘domestic’ skills that would allow her to be sent out to work as part of her sentence, Ann began the journey to a far-away country to serve her time.
Ann wasn’t alone, as also on board the Lord Auckland (and with her at the penitentiary) was her younger sister Bridget, who had been convicted for stealing a heifer. The two teenage sisters departed On 11 October 1848, leaving behind their family at Leitrim – including siblings Alexander, Daniel, Julia, Margaret and Mary – never to return.
Unlike George, Ann had arrived to Van Diemen’s Land at a time where the system of convicts being ‘assigned’ to a master / mistress for service had changed. In 1849, convicts first had to complete a probation period before then being hired out to employers. For female convicts, this period of probation was six-months, and the minimum annual wage set by the government was £7.
Ann’s probation was served on the Anson Probation Station, which was a refitted warship moored near Hobart. During this time she continued her training in ‘desirable skills’, including those for domestic service.
Some convicts were even taught reading and writing, and like Grangegorman prison, much of this was designed to provide them with useful skills in order to become more employable, able to support themselves, and contribute to the growing colony.
Also unlike George, Ann had no offences recorded against her during her sentence. She received a ‘very good’ report during transportation, and appears to have gone about her time as a convict in the same manner with no further charges appearing on her record. On 30 June 1849, Ann completed her probation and became a ‘third class probation-holder’; a class reserved for the best behaved convicts.
With her probation pass in hand, and almost twelve months after her conviction in Ireland, Ann was now able to be hired and start the next stage of her sentence. She then had six years remaining until considered ‘free’.
Not long after her release from probation, Ann McCabe met George Bannister. How and exactly when is unknown, but by early the following year they were very much together, and on 26 February 1850 applied for permission to be married. This was approved, and they eventually married on 8 April 1850 in St Matthew’s Church, New Norfolk.
George and Ann soon settled into married life and began to grow their family. George found work as a labourer, and together he and Ann raised six children over the next 14 years; William Henry, Alexander, Samuel, Martha Margaret, Sarah Elizabeth and George Daniel.
The couple first settled in Plenty, where William Henry Bannister was born in 1851. His birth was soon followed by Alexander in 1854, Samuel in 1859 and Martha Margaret in 1860. By the time Sarah Elizabeth was born in 1865, they had moved to Tea Tree. Their youngest son, George Daniel Bannister, was born in 1868, at which time the family’s residence was “Eldersley, Broad Marsh“.
They remained in the Brighton area, where in 1883 they hosted the marriage of daughter, Sarah, in their Upper Broadmarsh home.
Ann Bannister, the ‘beloved wife of George Bannister’, died on 20 September 1889 at her home in Upper Broadmarsh, and was buried in Pontville St Matthew’s Church Cemetery (Roman Catholic), Brighton, Tasmania. Her epitaph reads:
Pale death could scarcely find another /
So good a wife, so fond a mother /
In all her actions she was kind /
And left her loved ones all behind.
George Bannister died 20 Oct 1897 of ‘Morbus Cordis and Senility’ at Hospital in Hobart, aged 83. He was buried in the Cornelian Bay Cemetery (Church of England).
Sources and Notes
Information on the Anson Probation Station, and details regarding the convict assignment system and wages from the Female Convicts Research Centre.
Ann Bannister Headstone photo from Gravesites of Tasmania.
For a full list of sources and notes, including the full transcript of William Tomlinson’s charge in 1834, click here.