Thomas Self - what we know

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The parents and exact date of birth of Thomas Self are a little uncertain, although the place, Bradford-on-Avon, is known. According to the family bible, and inscribed in his own hand, Thomas claims to have been born on 5th November 1798. There are3 Thomas Self's in the Wiltshire records for about this time:

The Thomas born to James and Elizabeth Dawkins later died, and the Thomas born to John and Elizabeth has been identified by another researcher I have been in touch with as her ancestor. When objecting to the idea of Thomas son of William and Betty as being ours, it should be born in mind that none of the ages on any other document relating to Thomas correlate either with each other, with his claimed birth date or with the above birth date. The importance of accuracy in birth dates, is perhaps a modern concept, or alternatively, our Thomas was never baptised and he is not the child of any of these 3 couples. Either way, the only clue to brothers and sisters, is a mention on his convict record that he had a brother and sister at Bradford (ie they were his next of kin). I would deduce from the fact that only a brother and a sister were mentioned, that both his parents were already dead at the time of his transportation.

 Holy Trinity Church, Bradford on Avon

 If Thomas Self was christened in Bradford on Avon, then this is the church he would have been baptised at.

Early Life

The convict records also show that he was a butcher, that he was 5 feet 6 inches tall, with brown hair and grey eyes. They say he was 21 at the time of his arrest, giving him a birth date in 1800. He did not marry in England, but he claimed throughout his life that the charges were trumped up by the father of his girlfriend, in an effort to remove his unwelcome presence, and that he was in fact visiting his girlfriend not thieving boots and spurs on the night that he was arrested. It would seem that these efforts were both successful and too late. Thomas was transported for life and never returned to England. But there is a marriage certificate for an Eliza Self of Bradford on Avon, dated 5th October 1840, in which she states that her father was Thomas Self, a butcher. The marriage certificate only states that she was "of Full Age". Had she been conceived around the time of Thomas's arrest (November 1821) she would have been 18 years old in October 1840. If Thomas's story was true, Eliza would have been the daughter of the daughter of the man whose house was allegedly broken into: John Hunt Godwin. From the IGI, we know that John Hunt Godwin married Ann Archett at Holt in Wiltshire (not far from Bradford on Avon) on 4th June 1798. There is another marriage entry for a John Hunt Godwin of Bradford Wiltshire, to Ann Chandler on 6th January 1801 at Ozleworth in Gloucestershire. The IGI records the following births/christenings for John Hunt Godwin and Ann:

Godwin grave in St Katharine's church yard, Holt Wiltshire

This grave stone is dedicated to the memory of William, son of John and Hannah Godwin, their daughter Elizabeth Anne, and to Hannah herself.

"Sacred to the Memory of William Godwin, son of John and Hannah Godwin who died Dec 14th[?] 18?? in the 22nd year of his life"

"Also of Hannah, the beloved wife of John Godwin, who died April 23rd 1871? aged 66? years"

"Also to the memory of Elizabeth Anne daughter of the above John and Hannah Godwin who died May 13th 1876 aged 60? years"

Elizabeth was probably too young to have a child in 1822 (although 1811 was only a christening date, not a birth date). The other 3 daughters were around the same age as Thomas himself and certainly lived in the area. I have to date not been able to find a christening for either an Eliza Self or an Eliza Hunt, illegitimate daughter of any of these 3 girls that satisfies me. There was an Elizabeth Self, daughter of Thomas Self and Maria christened at Trowbridge on the 27th December 1818. Perhaps she is the one. There was also an Eliza Hunt, illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Hunt christened at Brinkworth on 10th September 1815 and another one christened on 8th April 1821, who was the illegitimate daughter of a Mary Hunt. But neither of these really fit. Possibly Eliza doesn't appear in the IGI, or she was christened somewhere else or she was not christened at all. Its entirely possible that Thomas made the story up, but equally its possible that it had some truth. I need to do some more investigation.

Trial and Transportation

Whatever the truth of the matter. Thomas was caught and charged with stealing a pair of boots worth 3 shillings and a pair of spurs worth 5 pence. The offence took place on the night of the 21st November 1821, and he was kept in gaol until the Wiltshire Assizes, which took place on 9th March 1822. Appearing as witnesses for the prosecution were John Hunt Godwin himself, Hannah Earl, James Humphries, William James Ferris, John Woodman and Robert Price. Thomas was found guilty and condemned to be hanged by the neck until he was dead. All those convicted of burglary were likewise condemned and all were reprieved in exchange for transportation for life to the Australian colonies. Thomas sailed on the "Arab", which left Portsmouth Harbour on the 13th July 1822 and arrived in Hobart on the 6th November 1822.


Thomas was not a compliant prisoner. Perhaps he was not naturally a compliant sort, or perhaps conscious of his wronged innocence and faced with a life sentence, there was little incentive to wait things out. On the 18th April 1825 he absconded  from wherever he was serving and made it all the way to the north of Tasmania, to Bass Strait before he was apprehended by the  captain of the brig "Duke of York". He was returned to Hobart, and on 5th June 1826 sentenced to 6 months in the road gang at Jericho. Jericho is a town south west of Oatlands, and north of Hobart. Thomas found this intolerable and somehow absconded. He remained absent for several days. On the 27th September he was tried and ordered to be returned to the road gang at Jericho. The governor overruled this however and ordered that he be sent to Macquarie Harbour. This meant Sarah Island, which was used between 1822 and 1833 as a place to send prisoners like Thomas who were difficult to control. The island features in Marcus Clark's novel "For the Term of His Natural Life". Conditions at Sarah Island were pretty grim, and Thomas viewed the prospect of being sent there with concern. While being held in the gaol in Hobart, Thomas broke through the wall and escaped but was soon recaptured. Several days later he was back in court for this latest escape attempt and was sentenced to 100 lashes. If this sentence was carried out, he was lucky to survive. Nothing further is recorded in relation to Thomas's time at Sarah Island. Perhaps it had the desired affect. He next appears in the records 8 years later, on the 29th April 1834, charged with stealing 2 bullocks belonging to George Collins. He was acquitted however. By this time, Thomas had served more than 7 years and had a ticket of leave. Only 2 more misdemeanours are mentioned in his record - both involving women. On the first occasion he was found at the house of Mary Ross after hours but received only a reprimand.


On the 8th May 1835 he applied to marry another convict, Margaret McDonald (also known as Mary and with maiden name Mahan). She was originally from county Sligo but was caught in Sheffield stealing a brass pan. She was married to a former soldier from the 12th Foot (possible Lachlan McDonald from Aberdeen) and had 4 children, one of which, Edward, she was able to take with her to Tasmania. Thomas married Mary in Hobart on the 1 June 1835. As a serving convict, she was still not free however and was still assigned to work for free settlers. As the holder of a ticket of leave, Thomas was still subject to penal discipline, and on 5th January 1836 was convicted of misconduct in harbouring a prisoner in his house for improper purposes. Whether this was his wife Mary or another woman is not recorded. He was sentenced to 7 days in the tread mill. Mary was also subject to discipline, and spent 12 months during 1841 and 1842 at the Female Factory and to 14 days hard labour in 1845 for representing herself as a free woman. She was only granted a ticket of leave in 1846 - after 11 years of marriage, and received her free certificate on the 12th July 1848, 13 years after her marriage to Thomas. Margaret died on 3rd February 1853. At the time of her death Thomas was working as a miller, or corn dealer.


Thomas remained single for only a few weeks. He must have already known Elizabeth Capel, who was serving in the household of S. Whitmarsh in New Town Road. He applied for a licence to marry Elizabeth Capel, another serving convict on 7th April 1853. The request was gazetted on the 13th April and recommended on the 30th April. Thomas Self and Elizabeth Capel were married at St Georges Church in Hobart on the 16th May 1853. In no way was this marriage legal. According to the law of the day, people could only remarry if separated by sea for more than 7 years but Elizabeth and her existing husband John Capel had only been separated 5 1/2 years. In spite of the fact that Elizabeth was still a convict, the new Mr and Mrs Self set up home together. Elizabeth Self was granted a Ticket of Leave on the 28th of June just a month after her marriage. Their first child, Thomas Edward arrived only 5 months after his parent's marriage, on the 19th October 1853. On the 16th May 1854, she was recommended for a conditional pardon, although it was not granted until the 3rd of April 1855. Elizabeth was now a free woman.  Their next child, Sarah Ann arrived on the 18th June 1855, just a few weeks after Elizabeth had been granted her conditional pardon. Another daughter Emily, arrived 4 August 1856. She lived only a few years, dying in 1863. Frederick was born 30th January 1858, and their last son, George Henry on the 16th September 1859 . He lived only one month, dying on the 23rd October. Their last child, Rosina was born on the 26th November 1862.

Later Life

Some time after the birth of their last child, the Selfs gave up dealing in corn, and opened a drapers shop in Collins Street Hobart. This proved a lucrative trade, as they were able to acquire several parcels of land, including a farm in the area of Bellerive (somewhere in the neighbourhood of the famous cricket oval). Since Thomas was nearly 20 years older than his wife, it was fairly inevitable that he would predecease her. He died on the 20th November 1874 at the age of 76. With her new found affluence and respectability, Elizabeth was able to purchase a large plot in Hobart's cemetery for her husband's body and had an elaborate monument built. The bodies of Emily and George Henry had to be removed from St David's churchyard (it was turned into public gardens) and their bodies too were interred inside the Self family vault. Elizabeth, at only 56, still had years ahead of her and continued running the drapers shop. She continued to acquire property, so when she died on the 17th July 1880, she was able to leave a substantial property to her children.