John Dudgeon – Before


St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, 1809

Bermondsey 1842

We’ve seen that John Dudgeon‘s death certificate was a little sparse as to personal detail. This could be excused considering his condition at the time. One would hope that he would have been more attentive at the times of his two marriages but this doesn’t really seem to have been the case. When he married Annie Samuel in October 1872 apart from the error in Annie’s age (given as 21 but more likely 17) John’s age was given as 48. He must have aged very slowly. More than twelve years before at the time of his marriage to Adelaide Abram in March 1860 he had been 38. This could be explained as being a slight adjustment to do with some embarrassment at the age difference. However, there are other discrepancies. On the later certificate his mother is named as “Sarah” and her original family name is “not remembered”. John did remember in 1860. Her name was “Sarah Findlay”. His father in that year was “John Dudgeon, Horse Hair Manufacturer” simplified by 1872 to “John Dudgeon, merchant”.

John had a very good reason for obscuring the details of his origins. He had arrived in Port Phillip in 1850 but had come a very long way round from London. The vessel “Adelaide” brought him the last leg from Tasmania where he’d arrived almost 7 years before as a transported convict. He’d been released on a conditional pardon which usually meant a convict was unable to return to England until the sentence was fully served. In John’s case this would have been early 1852. Unlike today when a convict past can be quite a conversation piece, in the early days of a Melbourne still tightly bound to Empire and struggling to be taken seriously in its own right, I imagine it would have closed many doors.

Am I sure I have made the right connection? The name Dudgeon is not common but not rare enough to be sure by name alone that a John Dudgeon appearing in the Tasmanian convict archives is the same man who ended up a successful Melbourne merchant. What confirms it for me is the thread leading back from that little bit of extra detail given in 1860 about his father’s occupation.

On Friday night the 20th January in 1842 sometime after 9 pm the lock was wrenched from the door of a warehouse on the corner of Neckinger Road and Horney Lane, Bermondsey. Three bags of horse hair were loaded onto a wagon which then disappeared into the night. Bermondsey, just south of where the Tower Bridge now crosses the Thames, was at the time the centre of London’s leather trade. Horse hair, a by-product of this trade, was used for stuffing upholstery and making wigs. A horse hair manufacturer would collect the tails and manes of slaughtered horses and process them into these products. The workers in this industry were known as “horse hair dressers” or “horse hair curlers” (I guess that curly horse hair would put more spring into the furniture although I’m not sure how the curling was done).

In 1842, John Dudgeon, was working at Fresh Wharf near the southern end of London Bridge probably as a horse hair curler. He was charged with the horse hair theft and on the 28th February he appeared in the Old Bailey. From the transcript it looks like he sold the bags of hair to an Edward Platt for about seven pounds. Platt went on to sell it at considerable profit for over eighteen pounds. Platt and Dudgeon were both convicted and sentenced to transportation.

John would have been no stranger to the horse hair trade. For at least three generations his family had lived in the Bermondsey parish of St Mary Magdalene Parish and his father, also John, was variously described as a Horse Hair Weaver, Curler or Manufacturer. He residence was Tyer’s Gate in the centre of Bermondsey’s leather market district (many of the buildings from this time are still standing, possibly his home). His grandfather, another John, was a weaver of the same address.

After his conviction John the youngest was sent to the prison hulk, “Warrior” moored down the Thames at Woolwich. He was 21 and his occupation was given as “Hair Curler”. His age and the name and occupation of his father agree with the details later recorded in Australia but the name of the mother of this John of Bermondsey was Mary not Sarah. However Mary’s surname was “Findley”, close enough to “Findlay”, and John’s grandmother was named Sarah. I found no record of John and Mary Dudgeon after 1832 so maybe John only knew his mother when he was very young and had confused her name with that of his grandmother?

After spending more than a year as a prisoner on the hulk, John was shipped to Tasmania on the “Gilmore”. I have so far only found arrival and departure documents so know very little about his time as a convict there although his early “conditional pardon” suggests that he must have behaved himself. It was reported in a Launceston newspaper in February 1850 and a few months later in June he headed for Melbourne in what was then the Port Phillip District of New South Wales.


Marriage 1860


Marriage 1872

Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages (Victoria), Marriage Certificate, John Dudgeon 1860/242.

Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages (Victoria), Marriage Certificate, John Dudgeon 1872/3705.

Old Bailey On-line,, Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.0, 10 April 2013), February 1842, trial of JOHN DUDGEON JOHN POARCH EDWARD PLATT (t18420228-1098). Online Census and BMD,, UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849 about John Dudgeon.

Archives Office of Tasmania,, Dudgeon, John

Archives Office of Tasmania,, DudgeonJohnPassengerAdelaide30 Jun 1850LauncestonPort PhillipGilmoreConditional PardonPOL220/1/1 p244.

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