#9 Sarah Bird – Guilty of Grand Larceny

Sarah Bird

b. abt 1770 Ryegate, Surrey, England

d. 9/23/1842 Sydney, Australia

On July 16th 1794, at the age of 24 years, Miss Sarah Bird of Surrey England found herself on trial for Grand Larceny;

 The trail was held at Old Bailey Court in Middlesex England.  Sarah displayed the demeanor of calm and never made eye contact with her accuser or witnesses, not even once.   She was being indicted for stealing, four silk handkerchiefs, value 4s. a cotton window curtain, value 10s. and a linen table cloth, value 6s., all the goods of her employer William Bryan.

Mr. William Bryan, an attorney in Westminster resids on George Street, received a character reference from a “gentlemen” that lived in the Borough, stating that Sarah worked for him on two occasions as a “live in servant” and he considered her a “good worker”.  By the accounts of these references Mr. William Bryan hired Sarah as a “live in” servant last August (1773).

Mr. Bryan told the court that he realized that a variety of items were missing.  Then a man servant that had been in his employment for many years expressed his belief that Miss Bird was the culprit. Mr. Bryan released Miss Bird from employment at this time, expecting her to leave the property immediately.

On Friday, July 4th, 1794, that very next day, Mr. Bryan states he came home very early and caught Miss Bird in his home.  Sarah was holding a box, which she refused to show Mr. Bryan.  Mr. Bryan and another servant struggled to release the box from Sarah and finally after some time the box was in the hands of William Bryan.  The box was opened with a poker and after removing several items it was clear that several pieces of paper were intended to give the appearance of the bottom of the box, Mr. Bryan then used his cane to brake the paper that was being used as a “false bottom”.   The true bottom of the box contained all stolen items. At this time Mr. Bryan had the watchman called and Miss Bird was taken to Tothill Fields Prison.

After Mr. Bryan testimony, Mrs. Bryan took the stand and stated she was not there at the time of catching Miss Bird, however, she identify the items as her property and insisted that still some additional items were missing.  The constable brought fourth other items that Mrs. Bryan identified as her property as well, and it was then disclosed to the court that the Constable found these items at the home of Sarah Birds father, whom lived in Ryegate.

After many other testimonies from other household servants and the watchman only then was Sarah given a chance to speak.  “I leave it all to my counsel” was all she stated.

On July 16, 1794, Sarah Bird was found “guilty of Grand Larceny” and sentence to seven years prison.  On October 1795 she was transported on the ship “Indispensable” for a six month journey to New South Wales, Australia to carry out her sentence.  The ship arrived in NSW on October 30th, 1795 with 131 female convicts.

This is just a moment in the life of my ancestor Miss Sarah Bird, convicted criminal.  I will be writing about her again on this blog, her life in the prison, her children and life after her prison term paid.

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3 thoughts on “#9 Sarah Bird – Guilty of Grand Larceny

  1. Simon Bird March 14, 2014 / 8:47 pm

    We are in England. My daughters name is Sarah Bird and I forwarded this story to her. She says seven years in Australia is hardly punishment ! Looking forward to finding out what became of your Sarah ….. hope it is a happy ending.

  2. jmfennell March 15, 2014 / 12:15 am

    I blogged earlier this month about John Morris Stephens, Sarah’s husband in Australia. This will give a brief moment of Sarah’s life in Australia. I will of coarse be writing more about Sarah Bird, she is a strong and resilient women and her story needs to be shared.
    I hope that your Sarah only spends time in Australia on her terms, not court mandated.

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