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Abraham Bacon - a death sentence commuted

I found Abraham Bacon in a friends family tree, and his life, shocked me, although it shouldn’t have done as I did know that punishment could be harsh, but when you find it happening among people you’ve become somehow invested in, it feels more personal.


Abraham was born before the advent of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths, around 1794 give or take a year, what we know about his life comes from parish registers, a criminal register, transportation records and small newspaper snippets. On 11th December 1814 he married Elizabeth Ratcliffe at Layham. Most people in rural Suffolk villages were agricultural labourers.


Elizabeth Ratcliffe already had a four year old daughter, Charlotte Ratcliffe, and then Abraham and Elizabeth went on to quickly have four children; Joseph Bacon, James Bacon, Ann Bacon and Sarah Bacon.


In 1823 Abraham Bacon was tried for theft, at Ipswich Lent assizes for burglary, also convicted at the same time were a Joseph Ratcliffe, Joseph Ward and David Bugg.


Bury and Norwich Post 26th Feb 1823



Then I found this, and my blood ran cold, you might need a magnifying glass, David Bugg, Joseph Ratcliffe and Abraham Bacon were sentenced to death on 21st March 1823:



It seems extraordinary harsh to be sentenced to death for stealing what amounted to food and a tool, and I’m willing to bet they were driven by hunger.


Norwich Mercury 5th April 1823



Bury & Norwich Post 23rd April 1823


Joseph Ward was acquitted, David Bugg, Joseph Ratcliffe and our Abraham Bacon were sentenced to transportation to Australia for life.


The last sighting, I found of Abraham was at the age of 40, in Cook, Australia, where he was granted a ticket of leave, these were granted to convicts who seemed able to support themselves, they also gave permission for a convict to marry or bring a wife over from Britain. His wife, Elizabeth, disappears as well, and not for want of me trying to find her in England and Australia.

As for the four children of Abraham and Elizabeth, their oldest, Joseph Bacon is also sentenced to transportation to Australia in 1843 and settles there, and their daughter Ann Bacon marries someone who is also transported to Australia for theft, Ann remarries and goes on to have six children. James Bacon settles in London, and the youngest Sarah Bacon disappears without trace too.


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