Deported butcher’s family return to Spen

ANCESTORS' TALE: John and Liedy Fearnley at Whitechapel Church, where John's ancestors are buried.
ANCESTORS' TALE: John and Liedy Fearnley at Whitechapel Church, where John's ancestors are buried.

THE ancestors of a butcher deported to Australia for stealing six cows in 1834 have visited Spen to explore their family tree.

James Fearnley, who was born in Scholes in 1815, was just 19 when he was convicted of stealing the animals from a Bingley field and selling them at Leeds Market.

Now, his great-great grandson John Fearnley, and his wife Liedy, have travelled from their home in Sydney to trace the graves of his ancestors, who are buried in Whitechapel Church, Cleckheaton.

John uncovered information about his errant ancestor – who settled in Melbourne before his death aged 38 in 1853 – and his family lineage going back to his great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Fearnley, born in 1763 in New Popplewell, Scholes.

Whitechapel Church archivist Joan Pinder said: “Our records showed the area of the graveyard where the Fearnleys were buried and we were delighted to be able to find the graves of Thomas and John’s great-great-great grandfather, Jonas.”

A news report from the time of James’s arrest said he had been spotted driving the six ‘beasts’ and was found to have ‘£5 Sheffield bank notes, two sovereigns and 10s 6d in silver.’

He was found guilty despite character references supplied by the vicar at Hartshead Moor, the Rev Firth.

The report said: “The jury found him guilty, but recommended him to mercy on account of his youth, and previous good character – to be transported for life, the judge observing that the recommendation should be convey to the proper quarter, through law, in such cases as the present was definite.”

After James’s transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, now called Tasmania, he was granted a conditional discharge in 1846 and he married a year later.

He had 10 children with his wife Sarah, and his eldest son, Manasseh, was named Tasmanian Scholar of the Year in 1868. Menassah later won a scholarship to study at Cambridge University, from where he graduated with an MA. He later held academic positions in New Zealand.