Was Richard Woolford motivated by criminal intent or poverty when he picked up his gun and headed off for Lord Bolingbroke’s land one winter’s night in 1834?
Records show that Richard was charged with ‘having in the night together with a great number of other persons armed with guns, and other unlawful weapons entered a certain coppice belonging to the right honourable Lord Viscount Bolingbroke for the purpose of destroying game at Lydiard Tregoze.’
At the time of Richard’s arrest, Robert Hiscocks was the gamekeeper at the Lydiard Park estate, a position subsequently filled by his son Harry who worked alongside him in the second half of the 19th century. Sporting rights across the estate were protected in the farm leases and the duties of the Lydiard Park gamekeeper included the rearing of his lordships pheasants. Victorian gamekeepers were known to shoot at anything that threatened the birds under their protection.
Richard, a 21 year old labourer and stonemason, was married with two young sons and on that December night in 1834 his purpose was more likely to provide his young family with a meal.
But perhaps things turned nasty in the coppice on his lordships estate. According to the Night Poaching Act of 1828 ‘such Offender shall assault or offer any Violence with any Gun, Crossbow, Fire Arms, Bludgeon, Stick, Club, or any other offensive Weapon whatsoever, towards an person hereby authorized to seize and apprehend him, he shall, whether it be his First, Second, or any other Offence, be guilt of a Misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be transported beyond Seas for Seven Years, or to be imprisoned and kept to hard Labour in the Common Gaol or House of Correction for any Term not exceeding Two Years.’ Despite having no previous convictions Richard was transported to Australia. Three hundred men were transported for poaching offences between 1788 and 1868.
Richard sailed out of Portsmouth on July 29, 1835 on board the Royal Sovereign along with 169 other convicts bound for Sydney. He was described as being 5ft 9½ins tall with a dark sallow complexion, dark brown hair and hazel eyes. Identifying marks included scarring above his left eye and left eyebrow and that the nail of the third finger on his left hand was split.
In February 1840 Richard was given a ticket of leave, a document granting him parole on the condition that he remained in the employment of John Terry Hughes of Sydney. However a year later he was found stealing lead and his ticket was cancelled.
This did not appear to prevent him from starting up in business and trade directories of 1839-40 list him as a tombmaker.
Richard was eventually freed on November 28, 1842 and continued to work as a sculptor and mason. In 1855 he was sufficiently prosperous to be able to pay for the passage of his sister Mary and her family to join him in Sydney.
On December 3, 1867 the Sydney Morning Herald printed the announcement of Richard’s death. ‘On the 2nd instant, at his residence, Monumental Works, 81 Church hill, Mr Richard Woolford, in the 54th year of his age. Much respected by a large circle of friends.’
|Gamekeeper Henry Hiscocks|