At nine years old, John Hudson a sometimes chimney sweeper, and the youngest First Fleet convict at the time of sentencing, was tried at the Old Bailey London on 10 December 1783, to seven years transportation for felony, but not for burglary. John’s crime was breaking and entering the dwelling house of William Holdsworth in East Smithfield, and stealing one linen shirt, value 10 shillings, five silk stockings, value 5 shillings, one pistol, value 5 shillings, and two aprons, value 2 shillings. At his trial he had no-one to defend him and he spoke only 13 words.
Court to Prisoner: How old are you? – John: Going in nine.
What business was you bred up in? – John: None, sometimes a chimney sweeper.
Have you any father or mother? – John: Dead.
How long ago? – John: I do not know.
Court: I wanted to see whether he had any understanding or no, we shall hear more of him by and by.
In the witness stand, William Holdsworth the dwelling house owner, Sarah Baynes lodger in a shoe warehouse in East Smithfield, who spoke with John at a water-tub, John Saddler Pawnbroker, and John Smith who apprehended John, gave their sworn evidence.
Summoning up at the end of the proceedings, the Judge said –
The boy’s confession may be admitted, in evidence, but we must take it with every allowance, and at the utmost it only proves he was in the house; now he might have got in after daybreak, as the prosecutor was not informed of it till eight the next morning. The only thing that fixes this boy with the robbery is the pistol found in the sink; that might not have been put there by the boy: his confession with respect to how he came there, I do not think should be allowed, because it was made under fear; I think it would be too hard to find a boy of his tender age guilty of the burglary; one would wish to snatch such a boy, if one possibly could, from destruction, for he will only return to the same kind of life which he has led before, and will be an instrument in the hands of very bad people, who make use of boys of that sort to rob houses.
Although the judge had misgivings about accepting the evidence at the trial, he believed he was doing the right thing in sentencing young John in order to take him away from other people who might be using him. The only evidence was matching impressions of his feet on a skylight of the house when he was found at the pawnbrokers with the clothing.
John was sent to the Mercury transport (destined for America) from Newgate on 30 March 1784. After a mutiny on board he was retaken at Torbay in Devon, and committed to gaol at Exeter. Remanded to former orders by Special Commission on 24 May, John then aged 10, was sent at the end of June to the Dunkirk Hulk at Plymouth.
Prisoners aboard the Dunkirk Hulk would have been unaware that William Pitt’s Cabinet and the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, were planning a convict colony at Botany Bay on the eastern coast of New South Wales and that Captain Arthur Phillip was given command of it. When the First Fleet transport ships were ready to receive their convicts, John had been on the Dunkirk Hulk three years, where the records show he behaved very well.
On the 5 March 1787, the Home Office directed Henry Bradley, the keeper of the Dunkirk Hulk, that he was to put eighty male and twenty-two female convicts on board the Friendship moored at the Mother Bank Portsmouth. The prisoners could not be loaded until 11 March because of bad weather; the men were shackled, but not the women. Ralph Clark, second lieutenant of marines who sailed aboard Friendship, described John as Thos. (sic) Hudson, aged 13, being born in Middlesex, and not having a trade.
There is no further information on John, until he departed Port Jackson on 4 March 1790 for Norfolk Island aboard HMS Sirius. One year later, on 15 February 1791, he is recorded as receiving 50 lashes for been out of his hutt after nine oClock.
A John Hudson is marked off stores on 24 October 1795 at Port Jackson but his name has not been found in further records, so it remains a mystery what happened to young John Hudson, a sometimes chimney sweeper, who was the youngest convict at the time of sentencing, and possibly the youngest male convict for NSW. John Hudson was one of 34 children included in the First Fleet.
Cobley, John – The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts
Frost, Alan – The First Fleet, The Real Story
Gillen, Mollie – The Founders of Australia, A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet
King, Maureen – The Forgotten Children of the First Fleet 1788
Old Bailey Court Proceedings, London Central Court Online