We have published a few previous posts about Roger’s work as a cataloguing volunteer. In the following post, Roger tells us about some recent discoveries:
In the mid-nineteenth century the Thornsett Turnpike Trust managed a number of roads in and around New Mills. Some Trust records have survived in Derbyshire Record Office collection D535, and in the course of listing these records I have come across two small documents that made me curious. The first is a letter written in 1844 by Edward Reddish, clerk to the trust, to Ebenezer Adamson, treasurer. Reddish mentions a “hiatus” in the books between 1840 and 1843 “following the absconding” of John Kenyon Winterbottom. Winterbottom was a Stockport solicitor who amongst many public offices undertook the duties of clerk to a number of turnpike trusts. He was for a time town clerk of Stockport and a local magistrate. He was a founding partner in a local bank and his was one of the names printed on that bank’s banknotes. His story is remarkable, not only for what happened but also for the amount of information available to anyone wanting to discover his story.
Through digital collections of historic British newspapers it is possible to follow the story of his downfall. By 1840 he was facing financial difficulty. Under threat of bankruptcy he absconded. There were rumours that he had been seen on the quayside at Liverpool close to a ship bound for America. An alternative speculation was that he had gone to France. He was found to have forged signatures in order to receive payment of £5,000 from the life insurance policy of one of his former clients. After four years’ absence Winterbottom returned to Liverpool where he was recognised and arrested. He was convicted of the forgery and sentenced to transportation for life.
It was the practice that any pleas for mitigation of sentence were made not at the trial but subsequently to the Home Secretary. One consequence is that amongst the Home Office records held at Kew (National Archives series HO 18 and HO 19) are the many petitions and letters submitted on Winterbottom’s behalf. (Some Home Office records are included in a data set called “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935” on www.findmypast.co.uk, which can be used free of charge in Derbyshire Record Office or your local Derbyshire library.) The sentence provoked such disquiet that within weeks petitions signed by some 20,000 residents of Stockport, Liverpool and Manchester were submitted: signatories included almost every magistrate, clergyman and businessman of Stockport and district. Poignantly there were letters not only from Winterbottom’s wife but also from his victim, the widow who had trusted Winterbottom to deal with her late husband’s estate.
The sentence was not changed and aged in his mid-fifties Winterbottom was taken first to Millbank prison in London and then to the penal colony of Norfolk Island and ultimately in 1847 to Tasmania. Convict records survive in Kew (National Archives series HO 10 and HO 13) and several records are available on Find My Past or Ancestry (also available for free to visitors here). During this time there were further fruitless appeals by Winterbottom himself and by associates in England: a final petition was submitted in 1852, accompanied by testimonials to Winterbottom’s exemplary conduct written by senior members of staff and visiting magistrates at Norfolk Island and Tasmania. Winterbottom followed an established sequence: work at the penal colony followed by confinement at a probation station and assignment to local civilian employers. In 1855 he was granted the relative freedom of a ticket of leave.
By 1857 Winterbottom had sufficiently re-established himself in Hobart that in competition with fourteen others he was appointed town clerk of Hobart. A further digital collection, of Australian newspapers, is valuable: trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper. It is clear from reports of a meeting of Hobart town council that by 1867, when Winterbottom reached the age of 78, there were misgivings about his work as town clerk. But how might the aldermen challenge their venerable old servant? They broached the subject by suggesting that he should take some leave; then made a formal request for his resignation, with a pay-off of a year’s salary. But it seems that once the aldermen had openly voiced their misgivings others were freed to speak. Within a week the aldermen learned that two years earlier Winterbottom had sold council debentures and kept the £400 payment for himself. He was allowed a few days’ grace but did not repay the money. In court he pleaded not guilty but offered his advocates nothing substantial as a defence. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment which he served in Hobart prison. He was released in September 1869, a few months after his eightieth birthday and appears to have lived in Hobart until his death in 1872.