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Across the Seas

Anne-Marie Ford    -    2 August 2015

When Gypsy John Budd Gray was sentenced to 12 years “across the seas” for horse stealing, the court case, at Lincoln Assizes in 1844, attracted considerable attention in the local newspapers, perhaps because it involved a significant Gypsy family.

John was the son of Thomas Gray and Susanna Faben, and the Grays were well known in East Anglia, perhaps most especially in Cambridgeshire, which they considered their home territory. One newspaper reporting on the case reflected that John’s father was a local “Gypsy King.” It had been thought that this Thomas Gray was the son of another Thomas and Elizabeth Gray, but recent evidence we have found at Gypsy Genealogy indicates that John’s father was actually the son of Fowk Gray and Mary Thorpe.

Fowk Gray was a probable brother of the elder Thomas Gray, and his first son with Mary seems to have been named for his brother, baptised in Benington, Hertfordshire on 23rd August 1772, as Thomas Gray, the son of travellers. Thomas Gray married Susanna Faben at Burwell, Cambridgeshire on 16th June 1791 and there were ten known children of the marriage, including John, baptised in March, Cambridgeshire on 16th February 1798 and Pyramus, baptised at Outwell, Cambridgeshire on 18th July 1802.

Although John never returned to England, remaining in Australia with a new family when his sentence was served, he had made strenuous efforts to remain in England. A plea for clemency, pointing to his good character prior to this charge, was signed by six reputable and notable members of the community of Upwell, Cambridgeshire, including four landowners, but this was, nevertheless, denied, and John Budd Gray was transported on the Sir John Peel in September 1844.

The wife he had left behind, Harriet Williams, was clearly spoken of to his Australian family, since she is mentioned on his death certificate in Geelong in 1868. There were five known children with Harriet: Caroline, David (who died young), Victoria (Wikki), Isabella and Youancry. This last daughter seems to have got her name by accident. Harriet walked down to Woolwich, delivering her on the way, so she could catch one last glimpse of John; somebody on the ship spotted her amongst the hue and cry on the quay, and presumably told John, whose last words to her were, “Don’t let little Hue and Cry drop into the water.” Thinking John was naming their last child, Harriet baptised her as Uoncry at Fylingdales, Yorkshire on 16th May 1855, when she was about 10 years of age, as the daughter of John and Harriet, tinner.

Prior to his union with Harriet, however, John had fathered children with two other partners: Maria Boswell, who was also Harriet’s mother, with whom he had Eliza, John, Obedience, Israel, Susan and Joshua, and, in addition, Eliza Heron, daughter of Edward (No Name) Heron and Rose Lovell, with whom he had Sunny/Sonne Gray.

John Budd Gray was to form a partnership with Frances/Fanny Dowling in Australia, and about four years after his arrival in Tasmania applied for permission to marry her. By this time they had a daughter, Charlotte, born early in 1849 (who died in 1852), and, although permission was denied, the couple remained together, and had a large family: Charles was baptised on 20th December 1850; John was born in about 1852; (William) Israel in 1853; Parmoss (sic) in about 1855; Angelina, some three years later; Isabella Jane, born in December 1861, but dying in infancy; Alexander (Thomas) born in 1863 and their last child, George Francis, in 1866.

When Fanny registered the birth of Isabella Jane, she gave information regarding the fact that John had children in England, that her husband was born in Cambridgeshire, and that he was a 50 year old labourer. She offers the same information at the registration of George Francis Gray, along with a reference to what appears to be seven male and eight female children living in England; here John is recorded as 55 years of age. Clearly, Fanny knew of his many children overseas, whether she knew of his several wives is less certain.

It is clear that John did not hesitate to re-use the names of children he had already fathered in England, as well as remembering a brother. John and Harriet had already named a daughter Isabella, born about 1841, and John and Israel were the names of two sons who were born of his union with Maria Boswell. The son who gave notice of John Budd Gray’s death in Geelong, Victoria, was Parmoss (sic), actually Pyramus, an unusual, but favoured, Gray name, and the name of John’s brother, who had married a sister of one of John’s wives, Amelia, a daughter of Edward (No Name) Heron and Rose Lovell.

John’s death certificate records his parents, Thomas Gray, a tinsmith, and his wife, Susan, as well as mentioning John’s wife, Harriet, and some of their children, followed by a record of a second wife, Frances Dowlin (sic) and a list of their offspring. That Parmoss knew so much about his father’s life in England emphasises the fact that John spoke of it, probably often, and that Fanny, as some of the registrations of her children indicate, was equally open.

There was one thing, of course, that John was less than forthcoming about. His age at the time of death is recorded as 57, when, in fact, he was 70 years of age. Thirteen years are not forgotten that quickly, not even by those for whom the years were of far less importance than they are now, and even John, aged about 46 when he was transported, would know that more than 11 years had passed since his arrival in Tasmania.

The most likely explanation for this deception is the age of Frances Dowling, who was believed to be about 19 when she formed a relationship with John; this was around four years after John had been transported, so he was actually 50 years old. A quick deduction of about a dozen years or so would place him in his late thirties, rather more acceptable to a woman young enough to be his daughter. Of course, John must have looked well enough in himself to have dropped these years, and continued to maintain this fiction for the remainder of his life – which is, perhaps, why he had so many wives.

Copyright © 2015 Anne-Marie Ford