Lockdown Literature 19 – Rosser Mort 1834

My daily contributions towards Lockdown reading matter continue and we have reached number 19. These pieces have all been published on my Facebook page.
The latest piece, from 1834, is about the Swansea house-breaker, Rosser Mort

The wreck of the George the Third by Knut Bull

Rosser Mort was committed to gaol for trial on 8 February 1834. At this moment his life entered its final phase, though no one could have predicted where and how he would die, cold and frightened and a very long way from home.
     He had been arrested in Merthyr Tydfil on a charge of burglary and was tried together with his accomplice John Jones. They had broken into the house and shop of Thomas Hughes in Morriston on 28 January 1834. They had taken bread, 6 lbs of tea and some cheese. They had smashed open the till but it was empty.
     They had then gone on to the Counting House of Robert Mills in Foxhole, who was the agent of the mine owner C. H. Smith. They stole 25 five franc pieces. Did they know  what they were stealing?  It isn’t clear but they took the coins anyway. Mills had had them from French merchant ships which had turned up to buy coal at Smith’s wharf on the river.
     Mort was 21 years old and already well known to the police in both Swansea and Merthyr and was initially cornered by PC Monger in a cottage in Greenhill, but aided by a woman, had put up desperate resistance and escaped through the roof. Monger had been dreadfully beaten …on his head and face repeatedly with a shovel. The newspaper report goes on to tell us that It will be some time before the effects of the blows will be obliterated.
     Rosser Mort ran off to Merthyr but his freedom was temporary. He was arrested there, Jones was picked up in Swansea and on 8 March1834 they appeared in the Assizes. They do not appear to have troubled the authorities for too long. The report in the Cambrian newspaper is brief. They were sentenced to death.   
     The sentences were commuted to transportation for life. How they felt about this isn’t clear, for there are examples of Welshmen, who, when given the opportunity, chose execution rather than Australia. On this occasion Mort and Jones were taken to the south east and were put on different ships.1834 was the peak year for transportation. 4950 convicts were exported to Australia and Mort and Jones managed to get in on the act right at the end of the year. I am sure they were pleased.
     Rosser Mort set sail on 12 December 1834 on the George the Third to Van Diemen’s Land (or Tasmania) along with 220 convicts, a crew of 30, 29 soldiers, their wives and 2 surgeons.
     It was a difficult journey.
     There was a fire on board on 27 January 1835 as they approached the equator. The fire was eventually extinguished by two of the convicts, but as a result all on board were put on half rations because part of the stores was destroyed. The subsequent diet caused an outbreak of scurvy. Contemporary reports tell us that the ship had passed 16 poor souls over the rail and sixty more were down with scurvy. Of these fifty were regarded as hopeless.
     Then, when the George the Third arrived at the mouth of the Derwent River in Tasmania on 12 April 1834, it hit a rock and broke up. The convicts were kept below decks so that women and children could be evacuated first. As the water came in the convicts panicked. Soldiers fired into the hold and perhaps three of them were killed. When the ship eventually broke up, 128 convicts were drowned, including Rosser Mort.
     So a story that began in Morriston ended in disaster and death at the other side of the world. But at least Rosser Mort would, I am sure, have been reassured to learn that the wreck of the George the Third and the terrible loss of life were not entirely in vain. They encouraged more accurate nautical mapping of the Tasmanian coast.

The illustration is a painting of the wreck of the George the Third from 1850 by the Tasmanian artist Knut Bull who was also transported, in his case for printing fake bank notes.

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