SARAH ELIZABETH BRIGGS, Orphan 478
In 1620 the Dean family built Old House Farm in Barkisland which is a
village in West Yorkshire, 6.4 km south-west of Halifax, in the UK.
In 1737 Joseph Dean and his wife Mary built New House Farm on the
opposite side of the road. In 1785 Joseph ceased farming and opened New House Farm as
a pub named Sign of the Cross after a nearby stone Celtic Cross.
In 1798 Moses, son of Joseph, died, aged 49 years and left his property to
be divided among his six children, once they were 21 years old. This
decision by Moses, to share his estate equally was the start of a series of
disasters that resulted in the death of his youngest daughter, her husband
being transported to Van Diemen's Land and their daughter being committed to
the Orphan School in New Town.
The second husband of Moses' widowed wife Mary (nee Stansfield) was a
local stonemason, John Ainley. John tried to comply with the terms of
the will and some of the children were paid but there was not enough money
to pay everyone. When the youngest daughter Alice, who was born in
1797, came of age there was nothing left and the pub had been mortgaged
three times over, which eventually led to a fraud trial and on 27 December
1825 John Ainley, Innkeeper of Barkisland, was declared bankrupt.
Alice had married Isaac Briggs in 1821 and on 22 May 1827 Isaac was also
declared bankrupt. The pub, Sign of the Cross, was sold along with the
other land and assets by public auction on 29 June 1827. The pub still
trades today as one of the only two in Barkisland, and is now known as the
Isaac Briggs, a weaver and second born child of Grace (née
Firth) and Joseph Briggs married Alice Dean on 27 October 1821 in St John
the Baptist Church, Halifax. Declared bankrupt, Isaac must have been
desperate to provide for his wife who was pregnant with Sarah Elizabeth and
he resorted to crime and became a member of an infamous local gang of
forgers. Just days before Sarah Elizabeth was born Isaac was sentenced
to death at the City of York Summer Assizes.
Reprieved, Isaac was sentenced to transportation for life and departed
London for Hobart Town on 26 March 1829 aboard the convict ship Lady
Harewood, arriving at Hobart Town on 28 July 1829, the day his daughter
Sarah Elizabeth turned one. Isaac worked at the Female Factory, at South
Hobart where he taught the convict women how to sort/comb/card and spin the
wool. He then spent time on Maria Island where he was one of twenty four
male convicts detained to assist in the closing down of the first Maria
Island settlement. Isaac was 'assigned' to Port Arthur in 1832 and in
1833 was on "public works"- location not specified. From 1840 - 1845 he
was at Bridgewater, when not on the tread-wheel in Hobart or in the local
Isaac's records show he spent many days on the dreaded
tread wheel in gaol, for 21 days from 13 August 1839 which was only nine days
before his wife Alice and daughter Sarah Elizabeth were to have arrived in
Hobart. In May 1840 the Lieutenant-Governor deprived him of his Ticket of
Leave and ordered him to three months hard labour on the roads at Green
Meanwhile, in September 1838 Alice Briggs and daughter, Sarah, had
departed Liverpool, England for Sydney to join her husband Isaac in VDL.
Isaac's brother Benjamin, his wife Lydey and their four children accompanied
Their ship, Dunlop, with Captain Bance in command of eighty-one
emigrants from the UK headed for Hobart Town, ran ashore in fine weather at
Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa on 24 November 1838, going to
pieces within hours. The Briggs families walked into Cape Town where
for almost six weeks, they were at the mercy of local benevolent societies;
a public subscription for donations having been established.
January 1839 they departed Cape Town on the James Moran, arriving in Port
Jackson, NSW on 11 February 1839, a voyage of 41 days.
Five months later, on 17 July 1839, Alice and Sarah Briggs left Sydney
aboard the Medway at the expense of the VDL government. The journey
from Sydney to Hobart Town took an extraordinary five weeks. There
were extremely bad storms and Master Borthwick Wight had to take measures to
protect the passengers, one being Lady Jane Franklin, wife of
Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin.
Eleven months after leaving Liverpool
and within just days of her destination, Alice died. She was buried at
sea on 1 August 1839 off the Bay of Fires, north-east VDL. This event and
her interactions with Sarah Briggs are recorded in Lady Jane Franklin's
Thursday 1st August
Snachall told me when
bringing my breakfast, that the poor daft woman Mrs Briggs had died about
an hour before - It was only at dinner yesterday that I heard she was
seriously ill, though some jokes had been afloat for a day or two previously
as to Mr Grant giving her Mollison's pills, sometimes whole, sometimes
pounded, sometimes in a powder by way of variety - I thought I would go and
see her either after dinner or next morning, but left it till morning - her
complaint appears to have been inflammation of the bowels and she said all
thru' her indisposition that she should die. At 12 o'clock I heard the
bell toll, and took it to be a mark of decent respect to her memory, but
presently Mr Elliot knocked at my door and asked if I would be present at
the funeral. I made what haste I could to go on deck, where Captain and
sailors and the women assembled and Mr Braim read the service which he did
Mrs Briggs had a little girl on board, 11 or 12 years old, she
was said to have behaved very ill to her mother and to have shown not the
least feeling at her death - the child was present, was observed to watch
very attentively and to be affected at the disappearance of her mother in
the waves - I sent for the child after dinner in my cabin and found her very
interesting and as I thought clever, expressing herself in terms and in a
manner beyond her years.
She did not express any sorrow at her mother's
death, but could have wished she had been buried on the land, she said. I
mentioned at tea the favourable impression she had produced on me and then
found that all the gentlemen partly Wright, Grant, Braim and Elliot agreed
in thinking her a very bad child and Captain who was never mistaken - he
said in anyone's countenance thought she had one of the worst he had ever
Tuesday 6th/3 weeks
- had sick headache - At night the wind fell
and we rolled more in the calm than before - having heard that Sarah had put
on her other frock and the pinafore she had made herself and was very
anxious to know if I should send for her (which was owing no doubt to Mr.
Braim and M. Stanley having talked to her, I sent for her while in bed.
She looked very tidy, with her hair brushed back behind her ears - read to
her, made her read ...
They eventually arrived in Hobart Town passing Adventure Bay, Bruny
Island on 19 August. Lady Franklin arranged for Sarah to be admitted
to the Queens Orphan School at New Town and called in a few days later. Her
journal continued on 22 August 1839:
I enquired for Sarah Briggs who arrived in the school yesterday and
has been scrubbed and washed and clothed afresh, operations which Mrs Gazard
assured me were highly necessary. I sent for Sarah who seemed pleased
to see me, but flung herself round a little when I gave her some good
Sarah stayed in the Orphan School for two years and three months, being
discharged on 12 November 1841 when she was released to the care of her
Uncle Benjamin Briggs and his wife Lydey.
Benjamin and family had arrived in VDL on 3 April 1840 on the Marion
Watson from Sydney some eight months after Sarah. Lydey Briggs died in
childbirth, aged 36, on 8 November 1842 at Brighton. Sarah probably then
cared for her younger cousins. Brothers Benjamin and Isaac were
fellmongers in the Black Brush district, working on the banks of the Jordan
Sarah, aged 17, married convict John Cocker, aged 33, at Green Ponds on
22 August 1845. John had been sentenced to 21 years' transportation
after conviction for his third attempt at desertion from the British Army;
the last time in Montreal around the time of the Canadian Uprising.
John and Sarah had eleven children.
According to his inquest on 2 November 1852 Isaac Briggs died at Black
Brush on 28 Oct 1852 of natural causes. Evidence given paints a sad
picture of a lonely man who had become an alcoholic. He was buried on
4 November 1852 by Reverend John Burrowes in an unmarked grave at St Marks
Church of England, Pontville.
It is unlikely Sarah saw her father again after she and husband John
Cocker chose to leave the Brighton District. By April 1848 when Sarah
gave birth to her second child (Sarah) they were at Lincoln in the Macquarie
River district of Campbell Town. By April 1851 the Cocker family was
living at Hadspen where they remained for about nine years and was where
the next three children were born. Between 1860 and 1863 the growing
family lived at Hagley, Quamby and Westbury. The eleventh and last
child was born at Barrington in 1870.
We know that religion played a large part in Sarah's life as all her
children were baptised in the Methodist faith within three months of birth.
Journeys from Hadspen to Launceston's Paterson St Church were made on four
occasions, and for the youngest, Jane Evangeline, a trip was made from
Barrington to Latrobe. What may be a 15-minute journey by car today
was probably a full day's return journey by horse and cart or bullock and
dray and a major commitment.
John Cocker died at Evandale in 1872 after an accident with a steam
threshing machine. He was working as a wheat feeder with two of his
sons on the Cambock estate at Evandale, then leased by Edward Easton, for a
Mr Bryan when his foot was caught in the machine. His last words
when they tried to extricate him were, "Don't; let me alone; I'm all right."
But the machine had pulled his left leg off and he died at the scene within
Within three months of his death, Sarah made application for charitable
assistance for her four youngest children. Sarah died from a cramped
bowel on 30 August 1874, aged 46 at the home of her son John at Barrington,
two years after the death of her husband.
The families of Isaac and Alice Briggs and his brother Benjamin and Lydey
have grown to include over 2000 people and some 450 unique surnames.
Their details may be found at
www.cocker.id.au. Isaac, Alice and Sarah
Briggs were buried in unmarked graves; the sea, St Marks Pontville and, we
Descendants commemorated their lives with a
ceremony and the unveiling of a plaque at St Marks Church in February 2015.