Three Pye brothers, Thomas, John and James, all had convictions recorded against them. They were the sons of Agricultural labourer, Joseph Pye of Rickerscote, Staffordshire and it can be imaged that poverty was an ever present threat to the brothers – their grandparents were paupers.
John and Thomas Pye were convicted in 1835 and 1836, respectively, and therefore James’s theft in 1843 was unlikely to have been influenced by his brothers’ actions. James, born in 1817, was only 2 years of age when his eldest brother, Thomas, married and he was only 13 years of age when he became an orphan, after which he was raised by his sister, Mary.
James’s crime may have been an opportunistic one; he needed materials to build a fence – times were tough, money scarce. He may have even worked for the Grand Junction Railway from whom he stole the rails. Whatever the circumstances, James Pye was convicted of stealing “two wooden rails of the value of sixpence the property of the Grand Junction Railway Company” on the 7 September, 1843. James admitted to his theft and was charged a total of 23 shillings, including costs and in default of payment to one months’ imprisonment with hard labour. I do not know if James was able to obtain the money to pay his fine or if he served the prison sentence instead. His name does not appear in the Stafford Gaol prison registers, suggesting he paid the fine.
In 1846, the Grand Junction Railway Company merged with other railway companies to become the London & North Western Railway company with whom other members of the Pye family found employment.
Later records show that James Pye was a ‘railway plate layer’. James married in 1846 and moved to Lincolnshire (where his conviction did not hinder his employment opportunities). James died from a tumour in 1849, being survived by his wife and two sons. His only surviving son was raised by his sister, Mary, back home in Staffordshire.
Thomas Pye, my great, great grandfather, was the eldest of the nine surviving siblings. He married when he was about 21 years of age and had five children. Thomas was later described by novelist, Thomas Alexander Browne, as “having incurred the enmity of the gamekeeper on the neighbouring estate in England had no doubt been mixed up in one or two poaching adventures in his earlier youth. The fighting instinct had been developed in him earlier in life and in the village prize ring he was regarded as a dangerous antagonist.”
His “poaching adventures” may have expedited the family’s move to Birmingham where Thomas worked in a brickyard making bricks and tiles. In 1836, at the urging of his friend, Richard Corbett, Thomas and a third man named Reynolds, robbed Corbett’s wealthy uncle. Thomas and Corbett were sentenced and transported to New South Wales for life. Before being charged for this crime, Thomas was convicted of another robbery and was sentenced to nine months at Stafford Gaol.
Thomas was, by this time, 40 years of age and widowed. His younger children were raised by his sister, Mary.
John Pye was the middle child of the family. He appears to have been as strong-willed and daring as his elder brother since, at seventeen, he ran away to marry his sweetheart, Sarah Lees, in the Collegiate Cathedral in Wolverhampton. They returned to Rickerscote where they had two children. Both children died in 1831 and the couple moved to Rixton-with-Glazebrook, Lancashire where they had two daughters.
As with his brother, it was with other people that John committed his crime. In 1835, with William Shaw, John Pye was convicted of stealing malt and hops and James Daniels was convicted of ‘receiving the stolen goods’. (Sounds like the police were informed the exchange was to take place and nabbed the parties when the stolen goods were changing hands). John Pye and William Shaw were both sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for seven years. James Daniels served his sentence in a penitentiary in England.
Both John and Thomas Pye served time on the Prison Hulk “Justitia”, which was moored on the Thames in London, though not at the same time. John was held on the Hulk for eleven months and Thomas for three months, prior to transportation to the Colony of New South Wales.
After the receipt of their Tickets-of-Leave John Pye married his second wife and had a large family, settling in Windsor, NSW and Thomas, who also married again and had 7 children, settled in Belfast (Port Fairy), Victoria. The brothers finally reunited in their old age.
This article is not to be copied in any way without the permission of the author. Further details of this family can be found in the relevant “Tapestry” booklets.