Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler was the most celebrated of the 65 Radnorians, including 9 women, transported to Australia between 1788 and 1852. In 1814 Chandler was found guilty of altering three Kington Bank one pound notes and sentenced to death, Judge George Hardinge being unmoved by the fact that the 37 year old forger was pregnant and had seven children under the age of ten - Hardinge of course had also sentenced poor Mary Morgan to the gallows.

Chandler's plight excited a good deal of sympathy in Radnorshire. She was described as "a very jolly good looking woman" and her husband Thomas Chandler of Dolley, Presteigne was said to have kept her short of money and to have treated her cruelly. The hangman was cheated however when Chandler's brothers managed to effect her escape from Presteigne jail in August 1814, she was not recaptured until she was discovered in Birmingham more than two years later. Petitions on Sarah's behalf were subsequently received from many leading citizens, including the High Sheriff and the owners of the Kington Bank. Hardinge's recommendation that she should nonetheless hang was overturned and in 1817 she sailed for New South Wales to commence a life sentence.

All this is well known, but an article in the Northern Star of 1845 provides some further interesting information on Sarah Chandler's background. It seems that Sarah was a member of a notorious family from Bugeildy called Bowen. A family whom the Star claimed lived mainly by plunder and were a terror to the neighbourhood. The article was prompted by the fact that five members of the clan languished at that time in Presteigne jail for various offences. The exact relationships are a little confused but seem to include Sarah's brothers Francis and William and William's son William Bowen Jones held for theft, Francis' son Francis jnr and his wife Ann were also being held for transportation for sheep stealing. A few months before Sarah's son Richard Chandler and her 16 year old nephew Morgan Bowen had been transported for shearing a flock of sheep and selling the fleeces in Newtown. Another of Sarah's sons, Peter, had already been transported in 1824.

Who were these Bowens? A Morgan Bowen of Bugeildy had been prosecuted for attempting to ravish a certain Anne Evans in 1775. Bowen was of gentry status, as was Sarah Chandler's mean-spirited husband. Perhaps they belonged to that class of people called the manwyr by sixteenth century bards in Radnorshire, families of the old bonheddig or noble class who had fallen on hard times after the Acts of Union and who were often a source of dissatisfaction and rebellion.

I don't know what happened to Sarah in Australia. Her brother Francis died in Melbourne in 1853, his wife surviving until 1876. Young Morgan the shearer lived on until 1902.

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