Thomas Baker Sackett

(c 1796-1837)
FatherThomas Sackett (1766-1817)
MotherRachel Baker (-1809)

On 13 September 1827, at London’s central criminal court, the Old Bailey, Thomas Baker Sackett was found guilty of assaulting and robbing a bank clerk. His sentence for this crime was death by hanging. His execution was set to take place two months later on 22 November at the notorious Newgate Gaol.

There being no right of appeal, Thomas’s only hope was to petition the King, George IV, for his royal mercy. Following frantic efforts by a number of concerned worthies who petitioned on his behalf, he was at last granted a respite—but then only at the second attempt and with only hours to go before his appointment with the hangman. His sentence was reduced to transportation for life to the convict colony of New South Wales.

Thomas’s story evokes memories of school history lessons about convicts hanged for sheepstealing, and of the squalor and degradation of London life in times past— “From the East End of the great city of London right to the outskirts of Westminster, unwashed, unshaven, squalid and dirty men constantly raced to and fro ankle deep in the filth and mire. In that mass of dirt, gloom, and misery drunken tramps jostled with the rich and titled. Men and women craving for booty, their bellies filled with beer and gin, committed crimes for which they were hanged by the neck until they were dead after which their bodies were cut down and given to their friends.” This was Thomas Sackett’s London described by the historian Manning Clark.

Thomas Baker Sackett, son of calves salesman Thomas Sackett and his wife Rachel Baker, was born in Essex, EnglandG, in about 1796.1 He died aged 41 in New South Wales, AustraliaG, in 1837.2,3 He married at Rivenhall, EssexG, on 16 March 1819, Ann Sutton, daughter of a substantial farmer.4 Ann was born in about 1796.5 She died aged 26 and was buried at St Mary's Church, Whitechapel, MiddlesexG, on 14 November 1822.6

Upon leaving school Thomas became an apprentice butcher in London’s East End. At age 21, having inherited £3,000 from his grandfather, he took a farm near Billericay but, despite investing half his fortune in improvements, the venture failed. In 1822 he returned to his former trade, setting up shop as a butcher in London’s Whitechapel district, but he shortly suffered a further blow with the death of his wife in November of that year. The butchery business was also to fail and much of the remainder of his inheritance was spent before Thomas gave up the shop in January 1827, working then on a casual basis for other butchers.

Whether Thomas’s fall was through his own incompetence or genuine bad luck we cannot know. Evidence was given of his honesty, industriousness, and sobriety. But it was said, too, that it was his wife who had held him in check and that, following her death, “he vainly sought for consolation in the wild and wicked haunts of desperate characters.”

The offence of which Thomas was found guilty was that he, with others, had robbed a bank clerk of bills of exchange worth some £1,200. The clerk, who had been walking in the street towards Bell Alley in the City of London, was hustled violently by the robbers but was not harmed physically. Thomas was the only man caught, perhaps because he stood out from the crowd as “a very tall, powerful, man, wearing unusually large boots and a yellow handkerchief.” When searched he was found to have about £3 in silver but none of the missing property. Thomas’s protestation that he was an innocent passer-by was to no avail. It was reported, when sentence of death was passed, that Thomas heard it “with the most perfect indifference”—it must surely also be possible that he was totally stunned by an outcome he had not expected.

The respite of Thomas’s death sentence to transportation followed petitions to the King from a number of tradesmen of London and Essex, including Thomas’s butcher master, from his member of parliament, from the mayor, four magistrates, and two aldermen of Colchester, from the victim himself, and from Thomas’s two brothers-in-law. At first, the King’s Council, meeting on 16 November, denied the petition with the ominous words, “let the law take its course”, but after further representations, a respite was granted on the afternoon of 21 November, just hours before the hanging was due to take place at 8 o’clock the following morning.

Thomas was transferred to a prison hulk in Portsmouth harbour and, in March 1828, sailed on the convict ship Phoenix, arriving at Port Jackson (now Sydney), New South Wales, in July. Upon arrival, he would have been put in irons and set to work on some public project before being assigned as a labourer to a free settler. He absconded in 1832 but was caught and most likely flogged and put to work in a chain gang. Some years later he was granted a ticket-of-leave but he was not to enjoy his freedom for long. Having survived the harsh conditions for nine years he died aged 41 in 1837.7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16
Appears inNotable Sacketts
ChartsNotable Sacketts timeline
ReferenceO.6

 Notes & Citations

  1. Date of birth based on age at death.
  2. New South Wales Registry of Deaths: "Registration V18372543 21/1837 Sackett, Thomas, age 41."
  3. Website Australia death index, 1787-1985 (Ancestry.co.uk) (http://www.ancestry.co.uk), "1837, Thomas Sackett, d. New South Wales, reg. Cd NSW, V18372543 21."
  4. Marriages Register, Rivenhall, Essex (Society of Genealogists), "16 March 1819 Thomas Baker Sackett & Ann Sutton. Licence."
  5. Date of birth based on age at death.
  6. Burials Register, St Mary's Church, Whitechapel, Middlesex, digital image, Ancestry.com, "14 Nov 1822 Ann Sackett, of Roadjiac?, 26."
  7. Website The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court, 1674 to 1913 (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org).
  8. Website England & Wales Criminal Registers, 1791–1892 (Ancestry.co.uk) (http://www.ancestry.co.uk), "Middlesex, Old Bailey, September Session, 1827, Thomas Sackett, 28, robbery on a person, death."
  9. The Times, (London).
  10. Criminal Petitions re Thomas Baker Sackett, 1827, HO 17/93 (item Rm 22) Series 1 (1819-1839), National Archives, Kew, London.
  11. Judges' & Recorders' Returns re Thomas Baker Sackett, 1827, HO 6/12, National Archives, Kew, London.
  12. Correspondents & Warrants re Thomas Baker Sackett, 1827-1828, HO 13/50, National Archives, Kew, London.
  13. Index to the New South Wales Convict Indents & Ships, 1788-1842, CD-Rom, National Archives, Kew, London.
  14. Website Australian Convict Transportation Registers (1791–1868) (Ancestry.co.uk) (http://www.ancestry.co.uk), "Thomas Sackett, convicted London, on 13th September 1827, term: life, voyage date 4 March 1828."
  15. This biography, by Marion Sackett & Chris Sackett, first appeared in the January 2006 Sackett Family Association Newsletter.
  16. The Sydney Herald, (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia).
Last Edited24 November 2013