The Greenwood Tree – Dec 2021
Posted on 25th November 2021
Crime and Punishment, the theme of the December issue of The Greenwood Tree, prompted members to delve into the unsavoury side of their ancestors’ lives and they came up with a wealth of stories, from the mildly comic to the deeply tragic. Editor Paul Radford previews the edition which will be mailed to members at the end of November and which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.
The front cover shows a Banksy artwork on the wall of Reading Prison, depicting a prisoner escaping on knotted sheets with a typewriter hanging from the end, a presumed reference to Oscar Wilde who served a jail term there.
Gillian Mountford tells the harrowing story of the 5xgreat-grandmother of her husband Stuart who was sentenced to death by hanging for stealing a silver watch when she was just 16. Fortunately, Jane Poole’s sentence was commuted to transportation to the colonies and she left her Somerset home for Australia in 1787 on the First Fleet convoy of convict ships which established the original settlement and penal colony in Botany Bay. The harsh lives of those sentenced to pay for their often relatively minor crimes by being dispatched Down Under features in several other stories, including John Burt’s look at the life of his 3xgreat-grandfather Benjamin Burt, an ag lab from Sturminster Marshall. His various brushes with the law were trivial when compared to the fate of his two teenage daughters who were sent to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing a cap and a handkerchief.
There were hardened criminals who did not suffer such a fate. Anne van Dyk was shocked to discover she was descended from the notorious Rab Channing who was notorious in 19th century Somerset for his range of illegal activities from horse and sheep stealing to poaching, smuggling, arson, assault and manslaughter. He served time in Wilton Gaol.
Nigel Peake’s great-great-grandfather James Peake was the landlord of a rather rowdy pub in the Somerset coalfields who ended up shooting an innocent bystander when he fired his shotgun after a crowd gathered outside to witness a boisterous marital dispute.
Other members with interesting crime stories are Michael Pitfield, Mary Dominey, Jenny Jones, Mary Nichol, George Tatham, Grace Rubery, Richard Smith, Carole Tindall, and Val Messer.
There are other topics too. Jeanette Simpson writes about her father Ray Cousens’ round-the-world trip with the future king and queen. Peggy Fifield reveals some extracts from the diary of a religious young woman in the middle of the 19th century.
SDFHS secretary Ted Udall reports from the Society’s recent AGM and Open Day and David Hawkings, our new president, introduces himself to our readers.
Regular features include Mike Whitaker’s Dorset Spotlight, this time on Glanvilles Wootton, the SDFHS Photo Project, Book Reviews and Letters to the Editor.