From the Archives

When Gypsy John Budd Gray was sentenced to 12 years ‘across the seas’ for horse stealing the court case, at Lincoln Assizes in 1844, attracted considerable attention in the local newspapers, perhaps because it involved a significant Gypsy family.

John was the son of Thomas Gray and Susanna, and the Grays were well known in East Anglia, perhaps most especially in Cambridgeshire, which they considered home territory. One newspaper reporting on the case reflected that John’s father was a local Gypsy king. It had been thought that this Thomas Gray was himself the son of another Thomas Gray and his wife, Elizabeth, but recent evidence we have found at Gypsy Genealogy indicates that John’s father was actually the son of Fowk Gray and Mary Thorpe.

Fowk Gray was a probable brother of the elder Thomas Gray, and his son with Mary seems to have been named for his brother, baptised in Benington, Hertfordshire on 23rd August 1772 as Thomas Gray, the son of travellers. Thomas Gray married Susanna Faben at Burwell, Cambridgeshire on 16th June 1791 and he was to father ten known children, including John, baptised in March, Cambridgeshire on 16th February 1798 and Pyramus, baptised at Outwell, Cambridgeshire on 18th July 1802. However, it is now believed likely that Thomas remarried, after his first wife died, and his second wife was another Susan/Susannah – see story titled ‘Susannah Budd.’

Although John never returned to England, remaining in Australia with a new family when his sentence was served, he had made strenuous efforts to remain in England. A plea for clemency, pointing to his good character prior to the charge, was signed by six reputable and notable members of the community of Upwell, Cambridgeshire, including four landowners, but this was, nevertheless, denied, and John Budd Gray was transported on the Sir John Peel in September 1844.

The wife he had left behind, Harriet Williams, was clearly spoken of to his Australian family, since she is mentioned on his death certificate in Geelong in 1868. There were five known children of his union with Harriet: Caroline, David (who died young), Victoria (Wikki), Isabella and Youancry. This last daughter seems to have gotten her name by accident. Harriet walked down to Woolwich, delivering her on the way, so that she could catch one last glimpse of John; somebody on the ship spotted her amongst the hue and cry on the quay, and presumably told John, whose last words to her were, ‘Don’t let little Hue and Cry drop into the water.’ Thinking John was naming their last child, Harriet baptised her as Uoncry at Fylingdales, Yorkshire on 16th May 1855, when she was about ten years of age, as the daughter of John and Harriet, tinner.

Prior to his union with Harriet, however, John had fathered children with two other partners: Maria Boswell, who was also Harriet’s mother, with whom he had Eliza, John, Obedience, Israel, Susan and Joshua. The other partner was Eliza Heron, daughter of Edward (No Name) Heron and Rose Lovell, with whom he had Sunny/Sonne Gray.

John Budd Gray was to form a partnership with Frances/Fanny Dowling in Australia and, about four years after his arrival in Tasmania, applied for permission to marry her. By this time they had a daughter, Charlotte, born early in 1849 (who died in 1852) and, although permission was denied, the couple remained together and had a large family: Charles was baptised on 20th December 1850; John was born in about 1852; (William) Israel in 1853; Parmoss (sic) in about 1855; Angelina some three years later; Isabella Jane, born in December 1861, but dying in infancy; Alexander (Thomas) born in 1863; George Francis, their last child, born in 1866.

When Fanny registered the birth of Isabella Jane she gave information regarding John’s children in England, stating that her husband was born in Cambridgeshire, and that he was a 50 year old labourer. She offers the same information at the registration of George Francis Gray, along with a reference to what appear to be seven male and eight female children living in England; here John is recorded as 55 years of age. Clearly, Fanny knew of his many children overseas, whether she knew of his several wives is less certain.

It is clear that John did not hesitate to re-use the names of children he had already fathered in England, as well as paying tribute to a brother in his choices. He already had a daughter named Isabella with Harriet, and John and Israel were the names of two sons born of his partnership with Maria Boswell. The son who gave notice of John Budd Gray’s death in Geelong, Victoria, was Pyramus, an unusual, but favoured, name amongst the Grays. John’s brother Pyramus had, in fact, married a sister of one of John’s former wives, Amelia, a daughter of Edward Heron and Rose Lovell.

There was one thing John seems to have been less forthcoming about with Fanny Dowling – his age. At the time of death it is recorded as 57, when, in fact, he was 70 years old. Thirteen years are not forgotten that quickly, not even by those for whom the years were of far less importance than they are now, and even John, aged about 46 when he was transported, would know that more than 11 years had passed since his arrival in Tasmania.

The most likely explanation for this deception is the age of Frances Dowling, who was believed to be about 19 when she formed a relationship with John; this was around four years after John had been transported, so he was actually 50 years old. A quick deduction of about a dozen years or so would place him in his late thirties, rather more acceptable to a woman young enough to be his daughter. Of course John must have looked well enough in himself to have dropped those years, which is perhaps why he had so many wives; his age was to be a fiction that he maintained for the rest of his life.

  • I am very grateful for information on this story supplied by Sharon Summers, a descendant of John Budd Gray.