Stealing one’s Heart: The story of Samuel Haslam and Elizabeth Ann Fernley

Samuel Haslam's First two Indictments

The beginning of a long day in court for Samuel Haslam and Elizabeth Ann Fernley (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=184202280123).

On 12th August 1839 Samuel Haslam pleaded guilty to embezzlement. For this offence the eighteen year old was sentenced to four months in prison. These are the only details we have of the trial; evidently, the case was open-and-shut and the reporter wasted no time documenting superfluous information.

The reporter was much busier, however, on 28th February 1842 – on this date Samuel Haslam faced no fewer than three separate trials. In the first of these, he again pleaded guilty to embezzlement. His victim was his master John Ord, from whom he stole 27 pounds.

Following this verdict Haslam remained in the dock. He was charged with conducting a burglary that took place on 4th December 1841. The crime was carefully conceived and a surprising amount of goods were taken from the home of Joseph Rawlings – this included:

1 hat; 1 pair of boots; 2 rings; 2 candlesticks; 2 cups; 2 saucers; 4 jars; 20 thimbles; 4 pencil-cases; 1 brooch; 1 cloak; 2 coats; 1 waistcoat; 1 miniature-case; 1 table-cloth; and 19 spoons’ .

Some of the stolen goods were recovered in a later police search of his house. As a result, Haslam was found guilty. However, he was not the sole defendant in this case – alongside him at the stand were several members of the Fernley family, including his partner Elizabeth Ann Fernley. Twenty-three year old Elizabeth Fernley and Haslam rented the Bethnal Green house where the goods were discovered together ‘as man and wife’.

Fernley was not charged with the burglary itself. Instead, she faced the lesser charge of receiving stolen goods. Four pawnbrokers testified against her; each claimed that she had pawned a portion of the stolen goods in their shops under the name ‘Bennet’. This alias was regularly used by the couple – it was the name under which they rented their house and it was used by Haslam when confronted by a police officer. The testimonies of the pawnbrokers convinced the court that Fernley was intimately involved and she too was found guilty. Incidentally, all the other defendants in the case were not convicted.

Before Fernley and Haslam were sentenced they were indicted for a final time. The similarities between this case and the previous one are striking. Haslam was convicted of burglary and taking a large number of household possessions, while, after the testimony of a pawnbroker, Fernley was found guilty of pawning the stolen goods. Once again she was using the name ‘Bennet’. The same Fernley family members were also indicted but again were found not guilty. Fernley received a sentence of 14 years transportation for her two offences; Haslam was to be transported for life for his role in these burglaries and his two previous charges of embezzlement.

Samuel Haslam and Elizabeth Ann Fernley worked together to carry out these burglaries. They were no Bonnie and Clyde, although they do seem to have been very much in love. Before the final verdict was delivered Haslam made an emotive defence of the couple’s actions:

It was intimated in the last case, that I and Elizabeth Fernley lived together as man and wife, it is false; I had been acquainted with her for some months, and the property brought into the cottage, I brought there; she placed the greatest confidence in me, and thought I came by it honestly; we were short of money at times, and I told her to pawn the things; I took the cottage myself, with the idea of our being married, but the rooms being small, and not liking it, we said we would wait some time, and take another…

Haslam’s statement was meant to encourage the court to exercise leniency. In particular, it emphasizes Fernley’s innocence – he stresses that she was unaware that the goods were stolen and that she pawned them at his instigation. The burglaries, according to Haslam, were motivated because the couple did not have the funds to marry or afford a better house. In short, he suggests that his crimes were motivated by love.

There is evidence that Elizabeth Fernley also protested the verdict. She filed a petition to the court pleading for mercy. This was an appeal which tried to persuade the court to reduce the length of her sentence or overturn it completely – for more information about petitions see the stories of Elizabeth Morley and Robert Jones. Although a record of Fernley’s petition being filed survives (and if you have a subscription to Find My Past you can view it here), sadly the petition itself no longer exists. It seems likely that this petition too would have pulled on the court’s heartstrings and focused on the romantic motives behind the crimes.

Both convicts were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania); Fernley arrived in September 1842 and Haslam two months later in November. The course of their relationship in Australia is difficult to follow. If the couple married as convicts both would have needed the permission of the local authorities. However, in a search of the convict marriage permissions database, which covers records from 1829-1857, no results were found for either Samuel Haslam or Elizabeth Ann Fernley. Neither Fernley’s nor Haslam’s conduct records suggest that there were any informal liaisons between the pair.

While these crimes may have been committed for love, it appears that this passion fizzled out once both convicts reached Van Diemen’s Land. In all likelihood external circumstances intervened; the couple may even have been separated for the rest of their lives. Here the British penal system extinguished a young couple’s love. In every sense then, this is a case of stealing one’s heart.

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