“All you that in the condemned hole do lie, prepare you for tomorrow you shall die, the Lord above have mercy on your souls.” – Jailor every midnight at Newgate Prison

In August 1809 London pawnbroker John Annis was on board the convict ship Ann in Portsmouth harbour. He was probably extremely fearful about his imminent transportation to Australia. The convict ship was due to depart in only a few days and John had been sentenced at the Old Bailey in February to seven years transportation ‘beyond the seas’ for his felony of fraud. But just before the ship departed John’s fate changed. He had clearly been trying to get a pardon for his crime, and while this was being investigated the courts ordered him to be removed from the Ann and imprisoned him on the nearby prison hulk Captivity. This is John’s story, a story of impending doom to riches.

John was born in 1786 in Beaumont, Essex. His father was James Lash Annis, a well-to-do Essex gentleman farmer in Beaumont. The family had deep roots in Essex, as farmers and, before that, mariners. John’s father died while he was young but the family managed to procure him an apprenticeship as a pawnbroker in London in 1807 (or 1804) with a master pawnbroker called John Lucock. John was admitted to the freedom of the City of London. But then in November 1808 a London merchant called Thomas Pugh wanted to ship some goods to Antigua in the Caribbean on board a ship of the Muscovy Company.

The captain of the ship was a certain William Grisdale (see here). William suggested to Pugh that he use John Annis as his shipping broker. It seems young John was tempted to commit a bit of fraud. To cut a long story short, John severely undervalued the value of the shipment to the customs collectors in the London docks and then collected an inflated amount of custom’s taxes he should have paid, and said he had paid, from his client. But the customs’ inspectors checked the shipment and saw its real worth and John was arrested and imprisoned in the hell-hole of London’s Newgate Prison before being convicted of the felony at the Old Bailey and sentenced to seven years transportation. For the authorities the real crime was defrauding the taxman and not so much swindling his client. The transcript of his trial is reproduced at the end.

Inside Newgate Prison

Inside Newgate Prison

After his conviction John would have been returned to Newgate. We could say a lot about the squalor and horrors of Newgate, but it will suffice to use just a few words, those of Charles Dickens who visited the prison a little later:

A little farther on, a squalid-looking woman in a slovenly, thick- bordered cap, with her arms muffled in a large red shawl, the fringed ends of which straggled nearly to the bottom of a dirty white apron, was communicating some instructions to HER visitor – her daughter evidently. The girl was thinly clad, and shaking with the cold. Some ordinary word of recognition passed between her and her mother when she appeared at the grating, but neither hope, condolence, regret, nor affection was expressed on either side. The mother whispered her instructions, and the girl received them with her pinched-up, half-starved features twisted into an expression of careful cunning. It was some scheme for the woman’s defence that she was disclosing, perhaps; and a sullen smile came over the girl’s face for an instant, as if she were pleased: not so much at the probability of her mother’s liberation, as at the chance of her ‘getting off’ in spite of her prosecutors. The dialogue was soon concluded; and with the same careless indifference with which they had approached each other, the mother turned towards the inner end of the yard, and the girl to the gate at which she had entered.

The girl belonged to a class – unhappily but too extensive – the very existence of which should make men’s hearts bleed. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent’s smile, or to dread a parent’s frown. The thousand nameless endearments of childhood, its gaiety and its innocence, are alike unknown to them. They have entered at once upon the stern realities and miseries of life, and to their better nature it is almost hopeless to appeal in after-times, by any of the references which will awaken, if it be only for a moment, some good feeling in ordinary bosoms, however corrupt they may have become. Talk to THEM of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Tell them of hunger and the streets, beggary and stripes, the gin-shop, the station-house, and the pawnbroker’s, and they will understand you.

Note how the poor children Dickens saw would have been familiar with London’s pawnbrokers – John Annis was one.

The National Maritime Museum says that one of these two hulks was the Retribution

The National Maritime Museum says that one of these two hulks was the Retribution

John stayed in Newgate for the next five months before being transferred to the prison hulk Retribution, an old Spanish vessel, at Woolwich on the 22 July. The National Maritime Museum says that ‘during the first 20 years of their establishment (from about 1776) the hulks received around 8000 convicts. Almost one in four of these died on board. Hulk fever, a form of typhus that flourished in dirty crowded conditions, was rife, as was pulmonary tuberculosis’. In 1810 the notorious convict James Hardy Vaux was also a prisoner on the Retribution, he later wrote:

Every morning, at seven o’clock, all the convicts capable of work, or, in fact, all who are capable of getting into the boats, are taken ashore to the Warren, in which the royal arsenal and other public buildings are situated, and are there employed at various kinds of labour, some of them very fatiguing; and while so employed, each gang of sixteen, or twenty men, is watched and directed by a fellow called a guard. These guards are most commonly of the lowest class of human beings; wretches devoid of all feeling; ignorant in the extreme, brutal by nature, and rendered tyrannical and cruel by the consciousness of the power they possess; no others, but such as I have described, would hold the situation, their wages being not more than a day-labourer would earn in London. They invariably carry a large and ponderous stick, with which, without the smallest provocation, they will fell an unfortunate convict to the ground, and frequently repeat their blows long after the poor sufferer is insensible.

After a short time on the Retribution John was moved to Portsmouth to be ready for his transportation to Australia. He was first placed in the prison hulk Laurel. The Laurel was the Dutch ship Sirene, captured at the Battle of Saldanha Bay in South Africa in 1796. It was renamed HMS Daphne before being made a prison ship at Portsmouth in 1798.

A few days or a couple of weeks later John was moved again, this time to the convict ship Ann, ready for the long voyage to penal servitude in Australia. It is here that I started this story. John had obviously been trying to gain a pardon. It’s likely that he had enlisted his family and friends to help.

There were occasions in the course of the legal process when defendants might wish to petition the court about the conduct of their trial. Most importantly, convicted criminals often petitioned for a pardon or to have their punishment reduced, particularly if they had been sentenced to death, and often their friends, relatives, and neighbours sent petitions in support of their case. This was an important exercise, and frequently successful: around 60% of those sentenced to death in the eighteenth century, rising to over 90% in the 1830s, were pardoned. Petitions for pardons and to remit sentences were typically addressed to the monarch in the eighteenth century, and later to ministers. Officials then asked for a report on the case before it was discussed by ministers. During the nineteenth century the developing bureaucracy within the Home Office played an ever-increasing role in these discussions and decision-making. These different processes through time generated some valuable records.

A prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour

A prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour

I don’t know if John Annis petitioned the courts or the king, but whatever the case his pleas bore fruit. On 22 August 1809, just six days before the convict ship Ann departed for its long voyage to New South Wales, John was ‘received’ on board the Portsmouth prison hulk Captivity. In 1807 the prison reformer and Justice of the Peace James Neild had visited both the Laurel and the Captivity in Portsmouth.

‘Neild reported that conditions on the three hulks he visited at Portsmouth (Captivity, Laurel and the hospital-ship Sagesse) were better than many. The fit and healthy prisoners from the Captivity and Laurel were employed in the dock yards and if they worked well, received the dock-yard allowance of one biscuit, one pint of small beer and a half-penny worth of tobacco each day. Those unable to work, and the convalescents, spun oakum and cut wood, which was sold in parcels to the ships of war.’ He said that ‘the Laurel had a complement of 196 convicts at the time of his inspection, of which 94 slept on the lower deck. The upper deck was divided into 3 wards: “19 convicts in the fore ward, 26 in the middle and 57 in the aft ward, where the best behaved were placed”. He noted that contrary to the usual practice, he found every porthole on the Captivity and the Laurel open to provide good ventilation. Despite these markedly better conditions, deaths on board the hulks at Portsmouth were still common; about one death every month on the Captivity and one every second month on the Laurel.’

NSW Convict Chain Gang

NSW Convict Chain Gang

While the convict ship Ann was wending its way to Australia, where it arrived in Sydney (Port Jackson) on 27 February 1810, John Annis was still being held on the hulk Captivity waiting to hear if his efforts to secure a pardon would be met with success. They were and on 23 December the records tell us that he was granted a ‘conditional pardon’ and he was released.

It is interesting to note that when the Ann arrived in Sydney John’s name was still included in the passenger list but it was noted he had been ‘discharged’ in Portsmouth, which shows how near he had come to suffering the unhappy fate of so many others he would have known.

John’s ‘conditional pardon’ tells us two things. First, that his conviction hadn’t been reversed, he was still a convicted felon. Second, ‘conditional’ means, as the word implies, that conditions were put on his release. Often this meant that the pardoned prisoner had to agree to serve in the army or navy for some years. Whether this was what John had to do we don’t know.

No doubt relieved that he had been pardoned, John returned to his life as a pawnbroker in London. He probably swore to himself that after his lucky escape he wouldn’t be so stupid again and would stay on the right side of the law. As far as we know he did. The next thing we hear of John is four years later. On 19 December 1813 John married Mary Ann Parsons in St. Botolph in London’s Aldgate. In 1815 the couple had their only (or only surviving) child, a girl they christened Mary Ann after her mother. Twenty years later when Mary Ann was still legally a minor she married (with her father’s consent) another London pawnbroker called Robert Attenborough, their union produced many children who all became wealthy and successful on the back of both John Annis’s work and that of his fellow pawnbroker Robert Attenborough.

London Pawnbroker

London Pawnbroker

Returning to John, in the decades following his escape from transportation John would find himself on many occasions back in the Old Bailey, but now not as a criminal but as a juror or as a witness in several trials involving people being tried for stealing from him or trying to fence/sell stolen goods through his pawnbroking business.

I would just like to highlight the last of these trials which took place in 1846. It involved a recent German immigrant to London called Philip Wetzel who ‘was indicted for stealing 1 painting and frame, value £l, the goods of John Annis; and that he had been before convicted of felony’. This previous conviction ‘for burglariously breaking and entering’ had happened in April 1844 and Philip had been sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, so his next act of stealing from John Annis can’t have come much after his release. Philip had only arrived in London with his wife (about whom we know nothing) in March 1843, he was probably stealing to feed his family. In the trial of 1846 we are told that ‘the prisoner being a foreigner had the evidence communicated to him by an interpreter.’ The Old Bailey transcript is short enough to quote in full:

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE . I am in the service of Mr. John Annis, a pawnbroker—he lost an oil painting on Wednesday, the 17th of Dec.—this is it—the prisoner had been in the shop five minutes before we missed it.

JOHN LINSCOTT. I am a pawnbroker, and live at No. 105, High-street, Whitechapel. On the 17th of Dec. this painting was pawned by the prisoner for 10s.—he called again two days afterwards, and offered to sell the duplicate—he was then given into custody. Prisoner. It is the truth, I went to sell the ticket and was put in charge.

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE re-examined. This is the painting—it is the property of Mr. John Annis—it was lost from his shop in the Minories, about a quarter past nine o’clock in the morning, and was pawned at Mr. Linscott’s between three and four that afternoon. Prisoner’s Defence. A person gave it me; I do not know him by name; if I should see the man I should know him; he was a countryman, he wanted me to pawn it, and he would give me 1s.; being a poor man I went to pawn it; he gave me a sixpence and left me the ticket; I was in the gentleman’s shop and left two gentlemen and one woman in the shop.

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE re-examined. He offered to pawn a clarionet—there was no other person in the part of the shop where he was—there were other persons, but there is a partition across the shop which parted them.

PATRICK MANNING (police-constable H 160.) I produce a certificate of the prisoner’s former conviction, which I got at this Court—(Read—Convicted on 8th of April. 1844, of burglary, and confined eighteen months)—the prisoner is the man.

GUILTY. Aged 33. — Transported for Ten Years.

Before Edward Bullock, Esq.

Prisoners' Barracks in Hobart, Tasmania

Prisoners’ Barracks in Hobart, Tasmania

So just like John nearly forty years previously, poor German immigrant Philip Wetzel had been sentenced to transportation to Australia. But unlike John, Philip never got a pardon. His trial and sentencing had taken place on 5 January, but by 4 March (no doubt after shorts stays in Newgate prison and on a prison hulk) Philip was on his way from Portsmouth via Rio de Janeiro to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on the convict ship Lady Palmyra to serve out his sentence.

What happened to Philip when he arrived in Hobart in August is a mystery. He is listed among the convicts arriving, but although his name is there, there is no physical description of him, as there was for all the other convicts. Nor is there any record of his ‘indentures’ or ‘conduct’ as there is for all the other convicts on board the Lady Palmyra. Had he died? Had he escaped? I don’t know, but whatever the case his lot was not that of John Annis whose goods he had stolen.

What might John Annis have thought when he heard of Philip’s transportation, a fate he himself had so narrowly avoided? Who knows?

For most of his life John carried on his pawnbroking business at 121 Minories, on Sparrow’s Corner in the City of London, near the Tower of London, an area now covered with office blocks but at the time full of warehouses serving the docks. His business had thrived because not only did he own his house/business premises in the Minories but also owned at least one more house at 11 Greek Street in Soho, where in the 1850s and 1860s his tenant was his pawnbroker son-in-law Robert Attenborough. Shortly before his death in 1866 John had moved from the City of London to the more upmarket and salubrious area of St. John’s Wood, where he died an ‘Esquire’ at 15 Blenheim Road, leaving an estate of ‘under £20,000’ – a fortune in those days.

I don’t have John’s will but I guess most of his wealth was left to his daughter Mary Ann Attenborough. The evidence seems to indicate that although John might have helped helped his son-in-law Robert Attenborough start in the pawnbroking business Robert already had enough connections to the pawnbroking world: his uncle Richard was already a London pawnbroker and two of his brothers became so too; they weren’t the only ones, pawnbroking runs through this whole Attenborough family.

Haydon Hill House

Haydon Hill House

In 1841, after his wedding and the birth of his first children, Robert had for a while returned to his native Northamptonshire to work as a ‘labourer’ on his father’s farm. But Robert and his family were soon back in London carrying on his pawnbroking and silversmithing business, first In Charlotte Street and then, as John Annis’s tenant, in Greek Street. They became rich and moved to a grand house at 56 Avenue Road on Regent’s Park, where they had governesses, footmen, cooks, parlour-maids and housemaids a plenty. When Robert Attenborough died in 1892 he left the sum of £74,255! His son Robert Percy had followed his father into the pawnbroking business and eventually lived in splendour at Haydon Hill House near Watford in Hertfordshire. Another son Walter Annis was a barrister and a third son, Stanley James, a solicitor.

All of Robert Attenborough’s and Mary Ann Annis’s children did well; they and their descendants became wealthy members of Britain’s commercial, legal and military elite. I wonder whether they knew (or know) that if John Annis had not been reprieved at the last moment and had been transported to Australia it all would never had happened? And as this is a Grisdale family blog, what if Captain William Grisdale had not recommended John Annis to act as Thomas Pugh’s shipping broker in 1808 – what then?

The transcript of John Annis’s Old Bailey trial on 18 February 1809.

Old Bailey in 1809

Old Bailey in 1809

JOHN ANNIS was indicted for a misdemeanor . The case was stated by Mr. Knapp.

THOMAS PUGH. I live on the Pavement, Moorfields, in the city of London.

Q. In the month of November last had you occasion to export any articles to Antigua in the West Indies – A. Yes; on board the Russia Company, captain Grisdale; I employed the defendant as my shipping broker , in consequence of the captain’s recommendation; this was about the 5th of November.

Q. Where did you give Annis instructions to enter your goods – A. At Lloyd’s coffee house.

Q. As shipping broker it would be his duty to make the entry of the goods – A. I understood so.

Q. Did you give him, at the time he made the entry, a list of the goods that he was to enter – A. Yes.

Q. Was that list that you so gave to the defendant copied from that I give to you – A. It was, with the exception of one article of forty pounds. (The paper read.)

COURT. How much do it make in all – A. Four hundred and forty pounds sixteen shillings.

Q. One article, 5 T H, the sum was not put down in the paper that you gave him – A. No, it was not. I said to him there were several articles in that trunk, he must put down what was necessary.

Q. Did he, from your dictation, put down the articles in that trunk – A. He did; I told him what value to put upon that trunk; forty pounds. Q. Therefore then it became a complete copy of this – A. Yes, it did.

Q. After you had given him these instructions did you yourself take the goods to the West India docks – A. I did; he said he would meet me there if he could. On Tuesday the 5th of November I took the goods; I did not find him there; I left the goods there.

Q. How soon after did you see him – A. I think, to the best of my recollection, I did not see him till Saturday the 12th, he came to me at my house in Moorfields, he came into the shop; he said he brought his little bill and put it down on the counter.

Q. Is that the bill which he brought to you – A. Yes, that is it. (The bill read.) “London, November 9th, 1808, Mr. Pugh to John Annis , nine shillings and six pence convoy duty on three hundred and thirty four pound; thirteen pounds eight shillings commission on three hundred and ninety four pounds sixteen shillings; and two pounds, making a total of fifteen pounds sixteen shillings and six pence; settled, John Annis .”

Q. At the time that he produced this to you did you make any observation of convoy duty three hundred and thirty four pounds sixteen shillings, and commission three hundred and ninety four pounds sixteen shillings – A. Yes, I did; he said the commission was always paid upon the whole sum, though the duty was not; the linen and cotton went free.

Q. Upon his stating this to you did you give him any money – A. Yes; I paid him the amount; I paid him eleven pounds in notes, four guineas and a half in gold, half a crown, and six pence; I believe I asked him where the paper was that I had given him to enter the goods by; he said he had mislaid it; I asked him if the business was done, and how it came to be so long before it was done, and whether they were put on board; he said no, they were not, but that they should be done, that he would go down to the docks that morning and get them on board.

COURT. Did he say the entry was made – A. He had charged the entry; he told me that the goods were not put on board, but he would take care and put them on board that morning; this was Saturday the 12th of November; I told him I wanted to see him again, and where I should see him; he said he would meet me at Lloyd’s that day at four o’clock; I met him that day at Lloyd’s, I asked him if the business was done; he said no, some part of them was opened; I said for God’s sake, for what reason; he told me to be quiet and easy and all would be well about them, that he should see me again on Monday, he would give me a better account of them. Mr. Gurney. Did anything then pass about the entry – A. No, nothing at all. On Monday the 14th of November we met again at Lloyd’s, I asked him if they were then put on board the ship: he said no, they were not, but that all but the linen were stopped and opened; I said it was very odd they should be opened, for what reason: he said be still and quiet, and if nothing was said to them it should all be right again; I told him I could not think of any reason why they should be stopped; he told me if I would be quiet he would put all to rights again.

Q. How soon did you meet him again – A. I saw him again at the custom house; I went down to the custom house and enquired about the goods; that was on Wednesday the 16th I saw him again.

Q. Did you find that your goods had been stopped – A. I found that they had been seized by the officer. Q. Was it stated in the prisoner’s presence on what ground they had been seized – A. No, I believe not.

MR. MILLER. Q. You are a collector of customs for the port of London; of the customs outward for the port of London – A. Yes.

Q. Do you remember the defendant, Annis, coming to make any entry of goods on the 11th of November last – A. No, I cannot; I have some hundreds come to me on a day.

Q. Look at this paper – A. This is my hand writing.

Q. You saw that signed – A. I dare say I did; I believe it to be signed in my presence.

Q. This is a declaration of the value of the goods for the purpose of exportation, for what purpose is that entry made – A. For the several duties; one in the middle is the convoy duty upon that entry; I cannot speak to that. Mr. Const. That is your hand writing, that is all you prove – A. Yes.

Q. When the defendant made an entry of this before you, he put the value of the goods, you put the charge from the value of the goods – A. Yes; the exporter makes it out and I sign it; that is my hand writing.

MRS. FAVEY. Q. Have you had any opportunity of knowing the defendant, Annis’s, hand writing – look at that and see whether you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I did not see him write it; I believe it to be his hand writing.

Q. Look at that and tell me also whether you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I believe that to be his hand writing.

Q. Now look at that, that is another paper, do you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I cannot say as to that; I do not think that to be his hand writing. (The receipt read.) “Russia Company, William Grisdale, Antigua, British bottom; John Annis; Irish linen, one hundred and twenty five pounds; two hundred weight of wrought iron, wearing apparel in packages, total value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; I, John Annis, do declare that I enter the said goods, value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; witness my hand, John Annis; signed in the presence of J. Miller.”

JOSHUA STURTING CROSSLEY. Q. I believe you are one of the searchers of the customs for the port of London – A. I am.

Q. Is this the copy of the entry of these goods for Mr. Pugh, that was entered, shipped on board the Russia Company – A. It is. (The entry read.) Total value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; signed John Annis.

JOHN DODSON. Q. Did you receive the convoy duty on these goods – A. I did. Q. That is at the rate of four per cent – A. It is.

Q. What is the sum received – A. Two pounds sixteen shillings as the duty upon the value of sixty nine pounds ten shillings. Q. You received the money of whom – A. That I cannot tell. I signed the receipt at the time.

Q. Did you receive any other money upon these goods than that two pounds sixteen shillings – A. Not upon the account of these goods. Mr. Alley. What is the date of that – A. The 8th of November, 1808. The cotton went duty free. Mr. Const. What did this case contain – A. Wearing apparel and leather, sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. Is there anything upon the face of that of three hundred and sixty four pounds eight shillings – A. Not at all. Mr. Gurney. Does that paper contain the marks of all the packages to be shipped on board – is there not the mark of every article – A. There is.

Q. The person that exports he declares the value so declared – A. He does, he pays upon the warrant; I have only received for the value of sixty nine pounds ten shillings and no more.

Q. to Crossley. You told me before you were one of the searchers – A. I am.

Q. Did you search the goods that are contained in that declaration – A. I did.

Q. Marked in the described there – A. Justly so.

Q. Did you observe the sum in which they were entered – A. I did, sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. In consequence of the smallness of that value did you open the goods – A. I did, and I found them to be of large value.

Q. What did you find the real value of these goods entered sixty nine pounds ten shillings – A. Perhaps three or four hundred pounds, or more; vastly exceeding the entry; I thereupon seized them.

Q. After you had so seized them did Mr. Annis come to you – A. He did, and his excuse was that in the hurry of business he had committed the error.

Q. You knew he was a person acting as a shipping broker – A. I never saw him before this transaction. Mrs. Favey. I believe you shipped some goods on board the Russia Company, and employed Annis to ship them as broker – A. Yes.

Q. I want to know whether the articles A. F. a trunk of ironmongery and sadlery were your property – A. That was my property; he entered it as ironmongery; they was shoes.

Q. Upon forty nine pounds ten shillings the duty would be two pounds would it – A. Yes.

Transported for Seven Years.

London jury, before Mr. Justice Heath.


  1. […] Captain Grisdale and John Annis – saved from transportation to make a fortune […]

  2. […] Captain Grisdale and John Annis – saved from transportation to make a fortune […]

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