James Whiting c.1815-?

Stirling Castle Prison Register entry.(13)

Acquitted of rape.

Sentenced to 7 years transportation.

Parents: Stephen Whiting and Elizabeth Chapman
Born: c.1815
Baptised: ?
Married: None.
Children: None.
Died: ?

Bio: James Whiting is someone we know of exclusively from his criminal activities. There is no record of his birth or baptism that I can find. No mention on the 1841 census that I can trace.

It was only after a trip to the National Archives to examine the prison register of the Stirling Castle convict hulk(13) that I was eventually able to discover that his father was in fact Stephen Whiting of Burton End, Haverhill.

Bizarrely, for someone who had previously been such a shadowy figure, we would also get as full a physical description as it is possible to find from sources of this period.

All we have to outline James' early life is the details of the four indictments (albeit two of them attributed to him are tenuous) that lead to his eventual sentence of 7 years transportation, and his subsequent imprisonment aboard the prison hulks in Portsmouth harbour.

The first and last crimes are the ones that can be most convincingly linked to the same James Whiting of Haverhill, two of the others do not actually refer to Haverhill itself, only the Suffolk area. So there is perhaps 'reasonable doubt' as to whether he was the James Whiting that was responsible for all of these misdemeanours. However, it is particularly interesting that in the prison hulk records it is noted that he had been '4 times convicted before'.(9)

In October 1834 James Whiting was tried at the Bury Michaelmass Sessions and The Ipswich Journal reports: 'James Whiting, convicted of stealing a weaver's shuttle, at Haverhill, was ordered to be privately whipped and discharged.'(1,2) His age is given as 20 in the criminal registers.

At the Bury St Edmunds Assizes of 21st March 1836, James Whiting, 20, was found not guilty of rape and acquitted. He had been 'indicted for a rape, on the person of Sarah Groom, on the 14th of March'. We are told 'witnesses were called, who deposed to the great freedom of manner shewn by the woman at Bury, when the Learned Judge said - It was unneccesary to go on with the case, and three or four of the jury, said they had long thought so.... the young man had done wrong in the sight of his God, and in a moral point of view, but they were not to be called upon to hang persons for that.'(3,4) A dubious outcome by modern standards, then, but in an age when much emphasis seemed to be placed upon the 'respectability' of the victim in such cases. Whether this was the same James Whiting is open to question. An account in the Suffolk Chronicle of 26th March 1836 seems to place him as living in Bury St Edmunds, and in it Sarah Groom asserted that he said he had family there.

The summer Assizes at Bury St Edmunds in 1838 record that a sentence was passed on 'Jas. Whiting, for a malicious trespass at Haverhill; 2 months'(12) We are not given an age for James, but the location and timescale seem appropriate.

In 1841 at the county assizes of 29th July, a James Whiting, age 27, was found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to six months in prison and hard labour. Could this have been 'our' James? He was in the service of Samuel Noller, the proprietor of some London waggons. He withheld payment to Mr Noller - instead of giving him all the money he received after taking some goods to the city, he pocketed 5 shillings of the sovereign he got and gave Noller the rest without telling him. When he was found out, he handed the extra over, but by then it was too late.(5,6) Again, not an obvious connection to Haverhill, here, and this is borne out by an entry in the Bury and Norwich Post of 4th August 1841: 'James Whiting, of Weybread, was charged with having embezzled 5s, the property of his master, Mr Samuel Nolller, the proprietor of some London waggons. A man named Parker paid the prisoner a sovereign for the carriage of goods, and accounted for only 15 shillings..'(10)

It would seem that the Weybread connection rules out this James Whiting, and the 1841 census does indeed show a James Whiting of around the correct age living in Weybread, a village east of Diss in Suffolk and some distance from Haverhill.

Ultimately, on Suffolk Easter sessions of 13th April 1843, James Whiting, labourer of Haverhill, 28, was found guilty of having dishonestly procured five pecks of flour (a peck is equivalent to roughly 9 litres) from Mr Major, of Haverhill, under false pretences. He was sentenced to 7 years transportation.(7,8)

From here, he was placed in the prison hulk, Leviathan, where he appears in its register as being transferred to the Stirling Castle on 31st October 1844.(9) These prison hulks were docked in Portsmouth harbour, and were old ships that although no longer seaworthy were kept afloat to house prisoners. In the register he is described as single, able to read but not write, and his profession is given as labourer. Also, he is referred to as having been convicted 4 times before. This adds up, as he was of course acquitted of the rape charges.

We are presented, then, with a character who was no doubt an inveterate thief. The first crime of stealing a weaver's shuttle, the malicious trespass and the last crime of procuring the pecks of flour can almost certainly be attributed to the same person because of the mention of Haverhill, the matching name, and also the age in two of the cases. We can probably discount the embezzlement, and the rape acquittal could be another person too. His age given at the times of the various crimes seems to be accurate to within a year or so. It must be remembered that at this time, ages on death and marriage registers would not necessarily be any more accurate.

As his punishment, James seemed destined to be transported to Australia. However, it looks like he was left to rot in prison hulks whilst awaiting his fate. An article with a paragraph on 'Convict Prisons' in the Daily News of 20th September 1856 provides a useful description of the nature of the prison hulks. 'The hulks - these are five in number, viz., the Warrior and Defence at Woolwich, for the accomodation of the convicts employed on the public works at the Dockyard and Arsenal; the Unite, hospital ship for the sick from these two hulks; and the Stirling Castle of Portsmouth, invalid hulk for convicts unfitted by disease or otherwise for even light labour, to which the Briton is attached as a hospital ship.'(11) It is not clear whether the Stirling Castle had provided this service since its arrival in Portsmouth harbour in 1844, but if so it might provide an insight into the reasons why James was not immediately transported.

The prison register for the Stirling Castle (13) (click on the bottom image at the left of the screen to view a transcription) confirms the nature of James' final conviction and the fact that he was guilty of 4 others, but most importantly it gives his place of birth as Haverhill and as his status was 'single', and it reveals his father to be none other than Stephen Whiting.

We also get a vivid description of James which, before the advent of photography, was at the level of detail that was obviously deemed necessary to avoid a case of mistaken identity. He was 5ft 4½ tall, balding with pale brown hair, blue eyed, thin and slender with a fresh complexion, light coloured eye-brows and lashes and a pug nose. In 'other remarks' it states he was 'Bald headed, 2 scars in centre of the forehead, one on left side upper part, 2 fingers left hand crooked, 3 scars on side, dark mole upper part of right shoulder.'

Whether these scars and disfigurements were the result of a tough life endured aboard a prison ship we do not know, but James survived because it is revealed in the last column of the register that he was pardoned on the 13th January 1847. By this time he would have served just under 4 years of his 7 year sentence. National Archives series HO13 which contains information about pardons records the following: 'Free Pardon: Whereas the following persons are now under sentence of transportation on-board the Stirling Castle hulk at Portsmouth, they having been convicted of felony at the times and places hereafter mentioned....James Whiting at Bury St Edmunds in April 1843....we in consideration of some circumstances humbly reported(?) unto us are graciously pleased to extend our grace and mercy unto them and to grant them our free pardon for the crimes of which they stand convicted.. dated 2nd July 1847... by H.M. command, G. Grey' (14).

The prison hulk quarterly entries show that James was in and out of the ship's hospital during his sentence, and it reveals his behaviour as generally being very good. Behaviour was noted by quarter and his statistics read: Very Good=10, Good=4,Indifferent=2 and Bad=1. Unfortunately there is no note of what he did that warranted a 'bad' rating.(15)

What happened next remains a big question, but at least now we know how this 'black sheep' fitted in with the rest of the Whitings. Hopefully further investigation will reveal more. Would he have gone back to Haverhill upon release, or elected to start a new life elsewhere?

One possibility as to the whereabout of this particular James Whiting can be found by examining the 1841 and 1851 censuses.

All the Whitings in Haverhill on the 1841 census lived in Burton End with one exception - a James Whiting is listed on the census as being a pauper in the Risbridge Union Workhouse. The Ipswich Journal of 13th May 1848 reports 'committed to Bury gaol.. Wm.Hurrell, James Whiting, Ann Seeley, Emily Cook, Edward Honeyball and Edward Cornell, for misbehaviour in Risbridge Union, by wilfully breaking 197 panes of glass: 14 days'. Although the others involved mostly seem to be teenagers, it is likely that this is the same James as he seems to be the only around in Haverhill at this time, let alone in the workhouse.

On the next census, in 1851 he is still there - again a pauper, but his profession is listed as 'weaver'. His age is given as 33 which would make him born in 1818. Further research may establish James origins, but after 1851 I have been unable to trace his whereabouts. The 1861 census for the Workhouse only lists inmates by their initials so it is almost impossible to establish whether he was still there at this time.

There is the possibility that he was in fact the same James Whiting who was son of Stephen Whiting and who served time on prison hulks after a series of crimes.

As far as we know, this James was born in 1815 which would make him slightly older yet close enough considering censuses at this time were often 5 years out with ages. Also, this other James would not have been in gaol at the time of the 1841 census, and there is no trace of him elsewhere so could he be one and the same? The fact that this other James had served time and was pardoned in 1847 makes us wonder if he was back in the Risbridge Workhouse on the 1851 census. The ages are closer here, too, with only a three year gap this time. Some circumstantial evidence, then, but not enough to be conclusive.

To be continued...

Images of newpapers reproduced with kind permission of The British Library.


(1) The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 25th October 1834, issue 5040. C19th British Library Newspapers: part I
(2) Criminal Registers, Class: HO27; Piece: 48; Page: 224
(3) The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 26th March 1836. C19th British Library Newspapers: part I
(4) Criminal Registers, Class: HO27; Piece: 52; Page: 246
(5) The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 31st July 1841. C19th British Library Newspapers: part I
(6) Criminal Registers, Class: HO27; Piece: 65; Page: 178
(7) The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 15th April 1843, issue 5426. C19th British Library Newspapers: part I
(8) Criminal Registers, Class: HO27; Piece: 71; Page: 211
(9) Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books, Class: HO9; Piece: 14.
(10) The Bury & Norwich Post, 4th August 1841, p.4, Findmypast.co.uk
(11) Daily News, Saturday, 20th September 1856, issue 3228. C19th British Library Newspapers: part I
(12) The Bury & Norwich Post, & East Anglian: Or, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Cambridge, and Ely Intelligencer, Wednesday, June 27, 1838; Issue 2922. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
(13) National Archives, Prisoner’s Registers, 1837-49, Convict Hulk Stirling Castle, PCOM 2/134
(14) National Archives, HO13, Correspondence & Warrants, Page 358-9, Piece 91. Findmypast.co.uk
(15) National Archives, HO8, Quarterly returns of prisoners, pieces 76-93. Findmypast.co.uk