Amy Johnson Crow challenges us this week with the theme 'Lucky' in #52ancestors. What does it mean to be lucky? defines it as having or being marked by good luck or fortune. For some this means only knowing success and prosperity, and for others it means a once in a lifetime opportunity. For my 3x Great Grandfather, Goymer Shorten who was a career criminal in Suffolk, England; being lucky meant he didn't hang for his crimes of horse theft!

It may seem ridiculous by modern standards, but the theft of domestic animals including sheep, cattle, horses, pigs and fowl, was quite common in the nineteenth century. Horse theft was judged to be the most serious of these offences, considering prior to the industrial revolution, horses were  the primary source of power for agriculture, trade, and transport. Given their importance for the successful continuation of industry and livelihood, it comes as no surprise that the penalty for horse theft was death.

So why was Goymer Shorten given a Life sentence and transported to the colonies instead of being hanged by the neck? This is where he had some measure of luck, as up until 1832 horse stealing was a Capital offence. From 1832 to 1837 however, Sir Robert Peel's government introduced a variety of Bills in Parliament to reduce the number of Capital crimes. Shop-lifting, sheep, cattle and horse stealing were amongst those that were removed from the list in 1832 [source:]. Goymer and his brother John were tried and convicted of horse stealing a mere two years after this repeal.

1834 was a time of change throughout England, and was a significant year for the Shorten boys.
Population increases, rising unemployment in rural areas and an economic depression following the Napoleonic wars led to a massive increase in the expenditure of the poor [source:]. As such, the dual system of parish workhouses and Houses of Industry came to an end in 1834, with the administration of the New Poor Law which incorporated the 15,000 parishes of England and Wales into 600 Union districts, each with a central workhouse.

Uniform rules and regulations were created and applied to every pauper in every workhouse in the country. Daily life was intended to be monotonous, with poor quality food and repetitive and tedious work. Whilst entry and exit of the workhouse was completely voluntary, with no employment prospects available there was little choice between starvation and the workhouse (I wrote about Goymer's sister-in-law Charlotte and her two children who did make the difficult choice of entering the workhouse after her husband's death. You can read that post here Into the Census - Another Story)

The alternative was to turn to a life of crime, which is exactly what three of the Shorten boys did. While today's post will focus mainly on Goymer, and a little on his eldest brother John since they were cohorts, stay tuned for future posts detailing the lives of John and James Shorten. 

In his early thirties, John Junior was 5 feet 5 ¼  inches tall with a dewy complexion and medium size head. He had black hair with thin black facial whiskers, a long and large visage with a high, retreating forehead. John had blue eyes with black eyebrows, a broad nose, and a medium size mouth with a large chin and was stoutly made.

Generated image of John Shorten based on physical description from convict records. Source: CON18/1/16 Page 133

At 25 years old, Goymer was 5 feet 11 ¼ inches tall with a fresh complexion and a large, oval shaped head. He had dark brown hair, was clean shaven with a long and large visage and a large, long chin. He had a high forehead with dark brown eyebrows and hazel eyes, a long nose and a medium-width mouth. He had a wart on the inside of his left elbow joint and a hesitation in his speech.

Generated image of my 3x great grandfather Goymer Shorten based on physical description from convict records. Source: CON18/1/16 Page 133 and

The future of John and Goymer were tied together shortly after their brother James was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1834, with the two brothers forming a part of a gang of horse-stealers “…whose depredations in this [Suffolk] and the neighbouring counties” [The Bury and Norwich Post, 24 December 1834: issue 2739) were widely noted in the newspapers throughout Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridge.

Goymer had apparently been very industrious on the 10th November 1834, having stolen a black mare the property of Mr. Allen of Holbrook, near Ipswich and a brown horse belonging to Mr. Constable, Esq., of Dedham, Essex. Whilst industrious he was not very lucky, as he was found with several horses in his possession and was taken into custody five days later, being charged with stealing two mares and three horses. At the time of his arrest, Gimer [sic] was using the alias of James Ward (the surname of his deceased mother Bridget) and was described as a “tall young man.”

John Shorten Junior (operating under the alias John Ward) and another man named John Cannell, a colt breaker, had escaped custody. John was described as 34 years of age with a swarthy complexion and was dressed in a cut-off black coat and waistcoat, kerseymere breeches, top boots, and silk hat. Both had standing charges of horse-stealing and, along with Goymer, were suspected of having stolen 50 horses within four months, from Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex [The Bury and Norwich Post, 26 November 1834: issue 2735]. They left London on the 4th of November for the Diss Fair, with seven horses and a chaise cart. Saddles, bridles, Haltest, etc. were found in their stables.

According to The Ipswich Journal (29 November 1834, issue 5045), John and Goymer had committed what would nowadays be considered as Grand Larceny and operated what is tantamount to a horse 'chop-shop.' Apparently John, Goymer and John Cannell rented stables at Twigg Folly (near Bethnal Green, an area in the London Borough) in June 1833. This appears to have been their base of operations where between 80 to 100 horses had been procured and disposed of (read: resold) within the previous three months.

Apparently their plans and operations were to take six or seven horses, which were generally all stolen at one time or in one night, to the stables at Twigg Folly and proceeded to metamorphosize them. Their appearances were altered by cutting and docking their tales, thinning their manes, changing by composition any peculiar marks which they might have, taking off their shoes and breaking them up, putting on old ones, and driving them to fairs in different counties from where they had been stolen. They were apparently also in the habit of shipping many of them off to the Continent [Europe], for which they received high prices. They always left London in a cart, and generally returned loaded with poultry, pigs, &c.

By early December 1834, John Shorten Junior’s luck has run out when he was finally taken into custody; a result of a farcical comedy of errors. According to the Bury and Norwich Post dated 10 December 1834, the Last Saturday week prior, two men with a horse and light cart on springs who had been at Falkingham fair (presumably to sell their stolen merchandise). One of them assumed the name ‘John Wright’ and took up their abode at the ‘Horse and Jockey’ public house at Osbournby where they expressed great anxiety for a letter they expected to receive, but which did not arrive. They left on Sunday morning, requesting for the landlord to forward any letters that arrived for them via one of the coachmen or guards of the Lincoln coaches, and they would make enquiries for them as they were going that way.

It appears that on the following Tuesday a letter was forwarded from the post office at Falkingham, by a post lad, addressed to “John Wright, Hosingby, Horse and Jockey, Lincolnshire, near Sleaford.” This letter had been returned from the Sleaford post-office to Falkingham and as such, some time was lost in the delivery. As happenstance would have it, living opposite the Horse and Jockey pub, was an honest and industrious carpenter by the name of John Wright. The young lad delivering the letter, thought it useless to go to the pub, knowing that John Wright (the carpenter) lived right across the road, and so left the letter at his house. The following morning, a second letter came, which the post lad had delivered just as before.

The letters recommended that Wright “change his dress and go to France; that he was booked for the other concern; he was shure [sic] to go for life; the old bone-man’s horse had been owned (meaning a horse sold by the party to be slaughtered); that they were looking for the white legged one; that the police were going into all parts of the world for him; that they had told the colours (meaning of horses that had been stolen); that his brother, poor fellow [meaning Goymer], would be tried at Bury [St. Edmonds, Suffolk].” The letters cautioned him to “mind and keep out of public houses.”

After remaining confused and consulting with his neighbours, who after much apparent deliberation, suggested Wright seek the council of Rev. Mr. Whichcote, a neighbouring magistrate. Mr. Whichcote having obtained the description of John Shorten, took the letters to Sleaford for further investigation. Pridgeon, the police officer at Sleaford, was dispatched to Lincoln in pursuit of the men and, after a long search, they were apprehended at eight o’clock that night – seated in a public house, AND in the act of selling their horse and cart. The men stated their names as John Ward (alias Shorten) and John Cannell, and they were committed to the House of Correction and Falkingham from Sleaford, where they awaited transfer to the appropriate county for trial.

Google Map showing areas of north-east England where John Shorten was on the run following the arrest of his younger brother Goymer.

Goymer Shorten was conveyed to Ipswich county gaol in mid-December 1834, and by 9 January 1835 were brought before The Rev. George Capper, Chairman of the Suffolk County Quarter Sessions. All three men were found guilty of stealing a bay mare, the property of Joseph Allen, of Holbrook, and were sentenced to be transported for life. Considering the amount of horses they had allegedly stolen, it is lucky they were not hanged! Had their crimes been committed two years earlier, they surely would have [The Ipswich Journal, 10 January 1835: issue 5051].

On Thursday, 5 February 1835, Goymer and John Shorten were removed from the Ipswich County Gaol where they apparently behaved very badly, to be put on board the Leviathan Hulk at Portsmouth [The Bury and Norwich Post, 11 February 1835: issue 2746]. The Leviathan was a 74-gun Third-rate ship of the line launched in 1790 at Chatham, England. She fought at the Battle of Trafalgar, and was used as a prison hulk from 1816. In October 1846, she was used as a naval target and sold out of service in 1848.

Plan showing the inner profile of HMS Leviathan. Source: Wikipedia

Conditions on hulk ships were generally pretty poor with diseases such as Typhoid and Cholera spreading quickly, and mortality rates high. After a particularly rampant spread of typhus in the late 18th century, conditions aboard hulk ships improved. Inmates would be stripped of their prison clothing, washed and held in quarantine for up to four days before being transferred to other vessels.

Upon arrival to the hulk, John and Goymer provided their ‘caption papers’ which stated the offence, date of conviction and length of sentence. John’s reflected his marital status as wed to Mary Ann with two children who were living in London, whilst Goymer’s mistakenly listed him as married. He apparently declared adamantly “I am not married. I never lived with any woman.”

John and Goymer spent about two months aboard the Leviathan hulk where they behaved ‘very orderly,’ before boarding the Mangles 7 with 308 other convicts and setting sail for Van Diemen’s Land on 24 April 1835.

While seemingly unlucky that they were caught, it is in fact fortunate that they were apprehended and transported to Australia - otherwise, I would not be here today!

Thanks for reading, and make sure to follow along for email notifications or subscribe to receive blog updates straight to your inbox.

~ Louise

My connection to Goymer Shorten, my 3x great grandfather


  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

  2. I do like your computer generated images of the men. Sadly it looks like Storylines is now out of action. Did you obtain those images a while ago Louise? They do add a lot to the post. :)

    1. Hi Jenny, I just tried the website and it appears as though the Mugsheet function is no longer working. I generated those images last week prior to posting, so it was working then - I suppose I was 'lucky' to get them just in time!

  3. Thank you Louise for all your stories about the Shorten side of the family. My grandfather was George William Shorten (which I think makes us second cousins). I have only just started delving into my family tree and find it addictive and fascinating.

    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Leonie,

      My apologies for not replying, as I have not been active on my blog lately. Your grandfather, 'Titch' was my paternal Grandmother's uncle. He was quite prominent in early AFL with the Essendon Bomber's forming part of the Mosquito Fleet. If you'd like to share more information, please contact me via email on

      Kindest regards,

  4. I like your post. It is very informative and helpful to me. I admire the message valuable information you provided here. Cyber Monday Amazon


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