Joseph Ledger or Sowden 1824-1895 Convict No. 7551

Joseph Ledger Sowden’s birth name was Joseph Sowden Ledger. Prior to him being transported to Western Australia, he was convicted on many occasions and perhaps used both surnames (his mother’s maiden name was Sowden) to avoid detection of past offences. Some of these convictions were:

Dec 1842, Leeds. Larceny. Jailed for 5 months.

Oct 1843 Leeds. Larceny. Jailed for 8 months.

Dec 1856 Leeds. Conspiracy to obtain money under false pretences. Jailed for 12 months.

Jul 1858 Leeds. with his cousin Michael. Receiving stolen property. Jailed for 12 months.

Aug 1859 Leeds. Assault. Jailed for 1 month or fine.

Oct 1860 Leeds. Obtaining money by false pretences. Jailed for 7 months.

Oct 1861 York. Attempted larceny. Jailed for 2 months.

Then in July 1862 came the conviction of robbery with violence, where he and an accomplice used a garrotte on a man before robbing him of £1. 9s. 4d. late one night in Scarborough, Yorkshire. He was sentenced at the York Assizes to 10 years imprisonment.1


A garrotte is a weapon, most often a handheld ligature of chain, rope, scarf, wire or fishing line used to strangle a person. Wikipedia

Joseph had come from a very humble background, born to Thomas Ledger, a nail maker and his wife Sarah, nee Sowden. He was born in Bradford about 1824 and baptized in St Peter (Bradford Cathedral) on August 1824.2 He had two younger brothers, David Sowden Ledger born in Bradford about 1833 and William born in Leeds about 1839.

The 1841 Census for Leeds had Joseph and his two brothers living apart from their parents.3 The boys lived in Upper Cross Street, Kirkgate, Leeds with another family of nail makers, while their parents lived in the York Yards in North Leeds.4

In those days, nail making was done by hand and mostly carried out as a cottage industry involving the whole family. A family would have been in pretty dire circumstances if involved in the industry, where materials were supplied by a company, who then purchased the nails produced for a tiny amount of money.

Perhaps this was a reason why Joseph turned to crime, to supplement the meagre wages and care for his younger brothers.

On 28th October 1844 while still a minor, he married Jane Farrar (also a minor) in Leeds St Peters parish church.5 Whether he had decided to go straight or had become more adept at not being caught, there are no records of him offending again until 1856. The next six years saw him imprisoned for more months than he was a free man.

Prior to him being transported to Western Australia, he had been sent to Chatham Prison, near Rochester in Kent for 12 months. He then boarded the ship Lord Dalhousie, which departed for Fremantle on 19th September 18636 and arrived on 28th December 1863. He was convict number 7551.7

His physical description was recorded as 5’81/2” tall, light brown hair with hazel eyes. He had a round face with a fresh complexion, stout with cupping [?] marks on the back of his neck.8 He was also described as married but with no children.

Joseph was granted his Ticket of Leave on 27th October 1865, which enabled him to gain employment outside the prison. But on 12th January 1866 he was convicted of “endeavouring to obtain goods under false pretences” and sentenced to a further 3 years incarceration.9

In February 1869, Joseph set up shop in Hay Street, Perth (next door to fellow convict Summers the coach builder) as a nail, rivet, chain maker and general blacksmith.10

For reasons unknown, Joseph’s wife Jane did not follow him out to Western Australia, so on 18th September 1869 he married Mary Ann Hart, an Irish girl who had arrived in Fremantle on the ship Strathmore a year earlier.

Joseph was given a conditional pardon in 1872 and a certificate of freedom in 1875.11 During that time, his business prospered. He imported machines from America and among other items, began to make 5000 gallon water tanks in his foundry.12

By 1882, Joseph’s brother David and his family had joined him in Western Australia. More about David and his descendants can be found in the book “Cast Iron Pillar Boxes of Western Australia, an Early History of the J & E Ledger Foundry” by Susan Hobson.     ISBN; 978-0-9943396-0-7.

Sadly in 1890, Joseph’s wife Mary Ann died. The couple had no children. Joseph married for the third time, to Fanny Ellen Parker when they visited Leeds, England in September 1891.13 Family stories tell of the couple returning to Australia and marrying again when they arrived in Melbourne, because at the time of their first marriage, Fanny’s first husband Vincent Diaz was still alive in Perth, but later died in October 1891 while the couple were overseas.

Although Joseph had been living in Albany, he died in Perth on 29th June 1895.14 His will named his wife Fanny, his two brothers and a niece Clara as beneficiaries of his £600 estate, which in today’s terms equates to approximately $803,000,15 realised when his properties in Hay St. Perth were auctioned after his death.


Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

Joseph was buried at East Perth Cemeteries on 30th June 1895. ©MaggieSpeak 2019

I have volunteered to write this biography for East Perth Cemeteries https://www.eastperthcemeteries.com.au

End notes:

1. The York Herald Newspaper, 26 July 1862, Column 1, Paragraph 10. https://findmypast.com.au

2. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; New Reference Number: BDP14. https://ancestry.com.au

3. 1841 England Census; Class: HO107; Piece: 1343; Book: 6; Civil Parish: Leeds; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District: 27; Folio: 32; Page: 27; Line: 15; GSU roll: 464286. https://ancestry.com.au

4. 1841 England Census; Class: HO107; Piece: 1347; Book: 3; Civil Parish: Leeds Town; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District: 26; Folio: 10; Page: 12; Line: 9; GSU roll: 464290. https://ancestry.com.au

5. West Yorkshire Archive Service; Leeds, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Reference Number: RDP68/5/18. https://ancestry.com.au

6. The National Archives UK; Home Office: Convict Transportation Registers; Reference HO11; Piece No. 18. https://ancestry.com.au

7. State Records Office of Western Australia (SROWA); Registers – Criminal Record Books; ACC 1156/R27. https://ancestry.com.au

8. State Records Office of WA (SROWA); Registers – Criminal Record Books; ACC 128/40-43; Reel No. FCN42. https://ancestry.com.au

9. SROWA; Convict Department Registers: ACC 1156/R27; Reel No 24 https://ancestry.com.au

10. The Inquirer and Commercial News; Wednesday Feb 24 Page 2: https://trove.nla.gov.au

11. SROWA; Convict Department Registers; ACC 1156/R21B https://ancestry.com.au

12. Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), Wednesday 1 March 1882, page 5; https://trove.nla.gov.au

13. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935; Joseph Ledger Sowden; 1891; https://ancestry.com.au

14. The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) Sat 6 Jul 1895 Page 4; https://trove.nla.gov.au

15. https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/australiacompare/relativevalue.php

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