Edward Youngman Cotton: Exile and Gardener

Grave memorial for Edward Youngman Cotton, his fourth wife, Harriet Follett, and their grand-daughter Bessie in the Cheltenham Pioneers’ Cemetery, 2010.

In 1844 Edward Youngman Cotton found himself before a judge at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, charged with theft. This was the beginning of a radical change in his life that ultimately found him with a family in a colony more than seventeen thousand kilometres from his home town. By 1891 he had had four wives, fathered ten children and followed the occupation of gardener. It was in that year that he died at Brighton, Victoria, from senile decay and fatty degeneration of the heart. [1]

Born in Wortham, Suffolk , England, to William Cotton, a farmer, and Miriam (Jolly),[2] Edward was christened in the Two Archdeaconry of Sudbury on 20 April 1817. [3] By 1844 he was employed as a footman by Edward Driver in Parliament Street, St Margaret, Westminster, and had been in that position for a little over three years. Two years previously he had lived with Edward’s mother and came to this new position with an excellent character reference.

On the afternoon of Saturday 4 May 1844, Edward Driver, accompanied by his wife, left for a weekend in the country. Edward Cotton accompanied his master and mistress in the carriage to the railway terminus but then returned to the house where he had a bed in the pantry. On the Sunday evening he went into his room and lit a gas lamp. On leaving the room he recalled locking the door but was not sure whether he extinguished the lamp. He admitted that he had had ‘a little drop to drink’. The next morning Margaret Weale, the cook, observed smoke on the kitchen stairs and gave the alarm. With the assistance of the coachman the pantry door was forced open because it was feared that Edward was trapped inside. They were relieved to discover he wasn’t there. [4]

Later on the Monday Edward Driver and his wife returned to the house to discover the result of the fire and that Edward Cotton was not present. They also discovered that some of their property was missing and some furniture damaged. Edward Youngman Cotton was subsequently indicted at the Old Bailey with stealing one decanter, one wine glass, one butter dish, two plates, four cloths, one bag, one night shade, two double sovereigns, four seven shilling pieces, fourteen sovereigns, five half sovereigns, nine shilling and five £5 bank notes. On the same occasion Henrietta Sharpe, the Drivers’ housemaid, was charged with feloniously receiving part of the property knowing that it had been stolen. There was a second conviction in which Edward Cotton was indicted along with Stephen Chandler for stealing six spoons, one pepperbox, one butter knife, one skewer, two pairs of boots inscribed with Master Edward Driver’s name, two plates, two wine glasses, twelve napkins and seven guineas. [5]

Henrietta Sharpe had been employed by the Drivers as a housemaid for approximately seven months up until September in the previous year. Fanny Medlicott, a lodging house keeper in Westminster, told the court that Henrietta and Edward Cotton had stayed with her from January 1844 occupying the same room as man and wife. Henrietta was there constantly but Edward ‘came backwards and forwards’. (Edward and Henrietta had in fact married at St John the Baptist, Hoxton which is part of Shoreditch, London, on 20 December 1843 although he was already married. He married Sarah Earles on 16 July 1840 in Kennington, Surrey. They had two children – William Edward 23 September 1840 and Sarah Caroline) On Monday 6 May Henrietta left the lodging saying she was going into the country for a day or two. Tapley Simmonds, the keeper of a public house near Maidstone, recounted that the two individuals arrived on the Monday afternoon in a one horse conveyance with baskets containing a decanter, wine glass, a night shade, butter dish and plate. Three days later both Henrietta and Edward were arrested, at a time when some of the stolen goods were found in their possession..

Stephen Chandler was observed accompanying Edward Cotton on several occasions and was known to several employees of Mr Ravenor, a pawn broker. James Baster, who worked for Ravenor, said that Chandler was in the habit of pawning things. He pawned on different days spoons, a pepper castor, butter knife and a pair of Wellington boots, all of which he claimed belonged to his brother. Chandler was arrested on 22 May 1844. [6]

The charges against Edward Cotton and Henrietta, and Edward Cotton and Stephen Chandler were heard at the Old Bailey on 10 June 1844. In his defence Cotton said he left the house in Parliament Street and did not return because he was aware of missing spoons and was concerned he would have to replace them, something he could not afford. He took the decanter with a pint and a half of gin as Henrietta was not very well. The lamp was taken with a pint of oil to burn in case she took ill at night. He indicated he meant to take it back once she was better. The wine glass was taken with the decanter because they didn’t have one. The money found in Henrietta’s possession Edward claimed, he had had for some time and that he had given it to her, a claim which Henrietta confirmed. He denied knowledge of the other items listed as stolen. [7]

At twenty seven years of age Edward Cotton was declared guilty on the two charges of stealing. Henrietta was dismissed from the court as being not guilty while thirty-year-old Stephen Chandler was found guilty. Both men were sentenced to transportation; Edward for twenty years, ten years for each charge, and Stephen for ten years.

In England in the 1840s a new prison system was introduced to deal with the growing number of individuals convicted of crime. Pentonville, a new model prison, was opened in 1842 and it was there Edward Cotton underwent his probationary period of incarceration. The new system called for inmates, known as Pentonvillians, to be separated from each other in every possible way. They were kept in separate cells, sat in separate stalls in the chapel and marched in single file at intervals of 15 feet whenever they left their cells. They dressed in such a way to prevent future recognition. [8] A feature of the system was education. Many were literate and some were taught trades such as bricklaying, weaving, tailoring and shoemaking. Edward Cotton was taught the trade of shoemaking. [9]

On 22 June 1846 Edward Cotton was transported as an ‘exile’ on the Maitland with the destination being Van Dieman’s Land. [10] Exiles were neither convicts nor free men but on arrival at their destination they were given a conditional pardon and permitted to carry on their affairs as though free men but were not permitted to return to England until the period of their sentence had expired. [11] They were neither quite free nor quite convict. [12] The Maitland on arrival at Hobart was not permitted to discharge its complement of 291 exiles but was redirected to the Port Phillip District. Van Dieman’s Land had received many convicts from England and at the time of the 1840s had a large number of unemployed people and did not want the number boosted. On 9 November 1846 the Maitland arrived at Hobson’s Bay.

While the Pentonvillain exiles were generally not well received by many Melbournians some were welcomed by the squatters who were desperate for labour. [13] A Melbourne paper reported that the public was much excited and divided on the introduction of the exiles to the colony. [14] Melbourne had experienced a depression in the early 1840s with high levels of unemployment but by 1845 commerce and agriculture were rapidly improving. [15] Superintendent La Trobe reported to London that the Pentonville probationers were being received and absorbed at Port Phillip and Geelong as fast as they arrived. [16] A meeting of settlers in the Portland Bay Hotel recommended to the authorities that it was ‘highly desirable to employ every means in their power to obtain people lately arrived or about to arrive who were Pentonvillains. They respectively asked that a fair proportion of the exiles be sent to Portland Bay.’ [17] Yet Melbourne citizens read in the Argus of exiles in Melbourne returning to their former life of crime; gambling and drinking their time away and supporting themselves by theft or immoral earnings. [18]

Edward Youngman Cotton disembarked in Geelong and was employed by Major St John for one year on a wage of £20 with the promise of a bonus of £5 if his services were completed satisfactorily. The nature of his employment is not known although many exiles were hired by squatters as shepherds and labourers where their prison-learned trade was no use to them. In May 1851 Cotton remarried at the Wesleyan Chapel in Geelong. He had previously married Henrietta Sharpe in London but only months after this event he was incarcerated in the Pentonville Penitentiary. However, there was provision for exiles to bring their married partners to Port Phillip with the government defraying part of the cost. While the actual final cost could not be predetermined the applicant for financial assistance was required to submit a deposit of £10, a large sum given the level of income paid to a labourer like Edward Cotton. [19] Nevertheless that stage was not reached as Henrietta had died in 1846 the year Edward arrived in Australia. At her death her name was recorded as Henrietta Sharpe, not acknowledging her relationship to Edward Cotton.

Margaret Conners was Edward’s third wife. Their marriage in Geelong took place seven years after his conviction and imprisonment. Margaret born in Kilkenny, Ireland arrived in Melbourne on 31 March 1850 on the immigrant ship Eliza Caroline, when she was eighteen years of age. The shipping records note that she was a member of the Church of Rome and could neither read nor write. Most of the girls on the ship were mid to late teenagers who were Irish orphans having lost their parents during the potato famines. The first child, of Margaret and Edward was William Henry who was born at Geelong in 1852. The birth of the second child, Margaret Ann, was not registered but in 1891 on her father’s death certificate her age was given as 38 which suggests she was born c1853. The second son, Edward, was born at Carisbrook near Maryborough in 1855 at the time of the gold rush that brought many people to the area. Perhaps Edward Cotton was there prospecting for gold and hoping to make his fortune along with thousands of others. A few years later Margaret and Edward separated with the two boys going with their mother while Margaret Ann remained with her father. [20] [21] Margaret Ann married William Tilley in 1876. The Tilley’s were a pioneering market gardening family of Cheltenham, arriving in 1853. [22]

In 1860 Edward Cotton married for the fourth time. The wedding to Harriett Follett took place at St Peter’s Church of England, Eastern Hill on 6 March 1860. Edward who was living at 38 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, gave his occupation as shoemaker, a trade he learned while imprisoned at Pentonville. He also stated he was a bachelor having no issue. Harriett at the time was living at New Brighton. [23] She was born in 1832 at South Petherton in Somerset, England, to Robert and Elizabeth (Male) and at twenty two years of age arrived in Melbourne on 11 April 1855 on board the Persia. Shipping records note she was a member of the Church of England and could read and write. On her arrival she joined her uncle, Simeon Male, initially a sawyer and later a butcher at Brighton. [24] She married Axford Male, a thirty four year old widower of New Brighton on the 5 January 1859 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Moorabbin. His first wife and two children were dead. He died in 14 June 1859 of congestion apoplexy leaving Harriet a widow of 26 years. It was nine months later that Harriet married Edward Cotton who was fifteen years her senior. [25]

Edward Cotton and Harriett had five children, four of whom were recorded as being born at Mordialloc while the fifth birth was registered at Cheltenham. The children were Elizabeth (1860), Mary Jane (1862), Ellen (1864) and Harriett (1866). The four girls were enrolled as pupils at the Heatherton Common School c1870 [26] with two continuing until c1875. The birth of the sole boy, Edward Charles, was registered at Cheltenham in 1871, by which time the family were living in Heatherton where their father was a market gardener. [27]

By 1884 Edward Youngman and Harriett Cotton were living on the corner of Male Street and Wilson Street Brighton on the opposite corner to the local primary school. Edward continued to work as a gardener and it was at his residence in Wilson Street that he died at almost 71 years of age on 11 March 1891 suffering from senile decay and fatty degeneration of the heart. The Rev Alfred Caffin, vicar of St Matthew’s Church of England at Cheltenham conducted the burial service at the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery on the 13 March 1891. [28] Harriet died one year after her husband, also at Brighton, when she was aged 60 years.

18 September 2011
24 September 2011
  1. Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
  2. In some documents named Marian.
  3. International Genealogical Index.
  4. Papers Old Bailey.
  5. Papers Old Bailey.
  6. http://www.oldbaileyonline.org Reference t18440610-1585
  7. http://www.oldbaileyonline.org Reference t18440610-1584
  8. Wynd Ian, Victoria’s Own: The Exiles, Ancestor, Spring 1988.
  9. Disposal List of 291 Exiles from Pentonville prison Shipping Manifest.
  10. Edward Cotton’s partner in crime, Stephen Chandler, was also exiled on the same ship, later becoming a gardener at Preston where he subsequently died.
  11. Port Phillip Government Gazette 19 January 1848.
  12. Sydney Morning Herald 17 January 1845.
  13. Wynd Ian, Victoria’s Own: The Exiles, Ancestor, Spring 1988.
  14. Sydney Morning Herald 7 January, 1845.
  15. The Courier, January 25 1845.
  16. The Courier, ibid.
  17. Sydney Morning Herald 1 February 1845.
  18. Wynd I., op.cit.
  19. Government Gazette 16 November 1847.
  20. Gidney, B., correspondence.
  21. What happened to the boys and their mother is not known. The death certificate of their father indicated that both were dead by 1891 but records of their deaths have not been found.
  22. See Kingston Historical Website - Article No447.
  23. Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
  24. See ‘The Male Family and the Spring Grove School at Beaumaris’ Kingston Historical Website, Article No 231.
  25. Certificate, Victorian Registry Births, Deaths and Marriages.
  26. Heatherton Common School Register.
  27. After Edward Charles Cotton’s married Jessie Jennings Christie they had five children.; Jessie Ellen ( 30 April 1896), Alex (23 March 1898), Annie Elizabeth (16 September 1899) Emma (18 July 1901) All attended Heatherton School in Old Dandenong Road, which was half a mile from their home. Emma reached grade VI in 1914 demonstrating the presence of her father in the area as a market gardener over many years. Bessie Margaret (1909 – 28 April 1911) was the fifth child. She died at Clifton Hill and was buried with her grandparents in the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery].
  28. Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery Grave 177 Row E in Church of England section.
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