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Muckleston Family History Group

researching all references to the surnames Muckleston, Mucklestone, Muckelston and Mackleston please get in touch via the contact us page with any additional information or to correct any errors.

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Irish Nell

As with many families there are a wide range of characters and personalities and therefore I should not have been surprised when I came across this entry in a book entitled “English Convicts in Colonial America”.


“Muckleston, Elizabeth alias Irish Nell sentenced to transportation at sessions of Goal Delivery [Newgate London] in September 1743.


The original prison in Newgate was built in 1188 and destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt in 1672. It was over crowded and dirty and disease was rife. The keepers of the prison could be cruel and were allowed to extract money from the prisoners often charging them for having their chains removed and put back on.


NewgatePrison was an infamous prison which operated in London for over 700 years. Conditions in the prison inspired many 19th century social reformers, who were justly horrified by the squalor of Newgate. The history of Newgateprison is turbulent, and during the years that it remained in operation, it held a wide range of Britons, from famous people, to debtors who were unable to settle their accounts.


Newgate Prison


The prison no longer stands today, but it was located on Newgate Street, in close proximity to the Roman Wall which once encircled London. The street and the prison were named for the nearest gate in the wall, although a clear explanation for the gate's name has been lost in history. Historians theorize that Newgate was named after an expansion of St. Paul's Church near Ludgate led to increased traffic, causing the city to create another gate for people who wanted to circumvent St. Paul's.


Originally, Newgate had a small prison house, which was expanded into a full prison in 1188 on the orders of Henry II. This prison was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666, after which it was rebuilt again. In the 1780s, a series of violent riots ruined NewgatePrison again, and it was rebuilt just in time for the gallows of London to move to NewgatePrison in 1783. In the early 19th century, social reformers raised awareness about conditions in the prison, leading to some changes in the prison's structure. Ultimately, the prison was closed in 1902, and destroyed in 1904.


During its time as a prison, NewgatePrison held prisoners awaiting trial, people who had been convicted to death, and debtors, among others. The layout of NewgatePrison included an area for “common” prisoners, as well as more luxurious cells for people who could afford to pay for them. The prison provided no amenities beyond its cell walls, and conditions inside could be extremely grim, especially for those without help on the outside.


Numerous depictions of NewgatePrison can be found in contemporary writing and art, fortunately, so the prison's sordid history is unlikely to disappear entirely. The Old Bailey, is an important historical building itself, serving as one of the major criminal courts in England.So what had she done to deserve Transportation? An extract from the Old Bailey Records from 7th September 1743 tells her story.


Elizabeth Muckleston otherwise Irish Nell was indicted for stealing a gold ring with three brilliant diamonds the goods of Isaac Sierra.


Isaac Sierra. On Sunday the 17th of July, I met the prisoner in Cheapside, she took me by the hand and asked me to give her a glass of wine, I pushed her and called her an impudent creature, when she had got the ring off my finger, she let me loose and ran down Paternoster Row. I am sure she is the person who took the ring off my finger – I did not touch her any otherwise than by laying held of her to secure her.


Lacey Harves. I was coming into Paternoster Row, and I heard a gentleman call out Watch, I turned about to hear where the voice came from, and saw the prosecutor holding the prisoner by the hand, and he desired me to take hold of her for she had taken a diamond ring off his finger of 8l (£8) value. I took hold of her till the watchman and other persons came about her then I let her go directly.


Samuel Morris. I picked up a ring the 18th of July off the ground as I was taking down the window shutters between six and seven in the morning (I heard an outcry overnight)and a Barbers Boy told me where the prosecutor lived; and he owned the ring.   Guilty


The jurors for our Lord the King, upon their oath, present that Elizabeth Muckleston, otherwise Irish Nell, late of London, spinster, on the 17th day of January in the 17th year of the reign of our sovereign Lord George II, King of Great Britain, with force and arms at London, that is to say at the parish of St Vedast, otherwise Foster in the Ward of Farringdon within London aforesaid, did take one ring, with 3 brilliant diamonds set in the same, of the value of 40 shillings, of the goods and chattels of Isaac Sierra the younger, then and there being found feloniously, did steal, take and carry away against the peace of our said Lord King, his crown and dignity.


Sworn: Isaac Sierra, Lucy Homor, Samuel Morris.


Jury says GUILTY.    No Goods.      To be TRANSPORTED Tomorrow.


Sentence Transportation for 7 years.”


At first I thought what a shame it would be if he had simply dropped the ring and she got the blame but on looking through earlier records for the Old Bailey it would appear that she was a (at that time an unconvicted)  fence. Earlier cases mention that the stolen goods had been passed to Irish Nell. In 1740 she even stood as a witness for the prosecution in a case where John Fox was indicted for stealing!


I have found no trace of any Elizabeth Muckleston in the birth marriage or death records and have no idea what happened to her when she reached America, if indeed she ever did as death rates on the Transportation ships was very high. The fact that she is given as a spinster leads you to believe that she was born a Muckleston but with very limited links to Ireland the nickname Irish Nell is a mystery.


Further investigation into the transportation vessels may tell us more. The ship that left with the transportees immediately after goal delivery sessions in September 1743 was the “George William” which left in November that year. The captain was Jack Campbell and the destination was given as Virginia America. Reference T53 41/327.

In 1718 the British government decided that "transportation," the banishing of convicts to work in the colonies, created a more effective deterrent than the standard punishments of whipping and branding. This change in policy was favoured because of high demand for labour in the colonies, and because facilities for long-term imprisonment were lacking. Between 1718 and 1775, approximately 50,000 British convicts were sentenced to long-term labour contracts, transported to America, and sold to private employers. They represented a quarter of all British and half of all English arrivals to British North America in this period. Most were convicted of some form of property crime, including horse and sheep stealing. While transported convicts were predominantly English and male, approximately 13 to 23 percent were Irish and 10 to 15 percent were female.


Convict transportees were given one of three possible sentences—namely seven years, fourteen years, or a lifetime of banishment—that became the length of their labour contracts. Among those transported, 74 percent had seven-year sentences, 24 percent had fourteen-year sentences, and 2 percent had life sentences. Once convicts had served their sentences (contracts), they were free to return to Britain or to stay in America. The number who eventually returned to Britain is unknown. Convicts caught returning to Britain before completing their sentences were hanged.


To minimize the cost of transportation, the British government channelled convicts through the existing transatlantic market for voluntary servant labour, which served those who wanted to emigrate but lacked sufficient cash to pay the cost of passage. Emigrants could secure passage to the colonies of their choice by negotiating long-term labour (servant) contracts that they would fulfil in America as payment for their passage. The typical voluntary servant negotiated a four-year contract. By contrast, British courts fixed the length of convict labour contracts and turned the convicts over to private shippers who would transport and dispose of the convicts for profit in the colonies chosen by the shippers. The typical convict was sentenced to a seven-year contract. Colonists mockingly referred to arriving convicts as "His Majesty's seven-year passengers."


Shippers carried both voluntary and convict servants, and upon arrival auctioned both to the private employers who bid the highest. The monies received defrayed the shippers' transportation expenses. By law, shippers had to show employers the conviction papers that stated each convict's sentence and crime. While convicts sold for higher prices than voluntary servants, on average for 11 versus 8.5 pounds sterling, in most cases profits from shipping convicts did not exceed what was earned shipping other immigrants.


The vast majority of convicts were landed in Virginia and Maryland, and were employed in agriculture or at iron forges, often alongside slaves and other servants. Post-auction, with the exception of having a longer contract, convicts were largely indistinguishable from voluntary servants. A convict lived in the employer's house and ate at the employer's table. Criminal conviction, however, carried a stigma which employers demanded compensation, in the form of price discounts received from shippers in the convict auction relative to what was paid to shippers for comparable voluntary servant labour. Per year of labour, the typical convict sold for a 21 percent discount, and convicts guilty of crimes that signalled greater destructive potential or professional criminality, for example arsonists or receivers of stolen goods, sold for even greater discounts. Convicts also ran away from their employers more often than did voluntary servants, at a rate of 16 versus 6 percent.


While individual colonies tried to legally prevent convict labour from being imported, the British government disallowed such laws. However, with independence, the United States legally stopped convict importation. The resulting penal crisis in Britain was solved by shifting convict transportation to Australia in 1788. Australia eventually received more than three times as many convicts as colonial America.


An excellent article can be found at