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Isaac Coote: convicts in Van Diemen’s Land


  • 1822 (Sep 8) – baptism of Eliza Cross in Tingewick, Buckinghamshire
  • 1832 (Mar 15) – Isaac Coote sentenced to death, commuted to transportation for life, at Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk
  • 1832 (Apr 6) – arrival in Tasmania of John and Frances Cross and ?five children aboard ‘Forth
  • 1832 (Dec 29) – arrival of Isaac Coote in Hobart aboard ‘York
  • 1838 (Feb 28) – Eliza Cross marries Isaac Coote
  • 1838 (Jun 17) – baptism of Matilda, dau of Isaac (‘tailor’) and Eliza Coote
  • 1840 (May 5?) – birth of Emily, dau of Isaac (‘taylor’) and Eliza **Coots**
  • 1841 – Isaac Coote granted Ticket of Leave
  • 1842 (Aug 16) – birth of Clara, dau of Isaac (‘tailor’) and Eliza Coote
  • 1845 (Dec 15) – Isaac Coote granted Conditional Pardon
  • 1847 (Aug 21) – birth of Alfred Richard, son of Isaac (‘tailor’) and Eliza Coote
  • 1848 – Isaac and Eliza Coote recorded on census with 2 daughters + son, with another unmarried freed convict
  • 1850 (Sep 29) – Isaac Coote becomes licensee of the Angel Inn, Charles Street, Launceston (until 1854)
  • 1851 (Nov 13) – birth of Adelaide Frances, dau of Isaac and Eliza Coote
  • 1854 (May 9) – Isaac Coote becomes licensee of the Jolly Farmer, Perth (Tasmania)
  • 1855 (Nov) – birth of Arthur Isaac, son of Isaac and **Sarah** Coote
  • 1862 (Jan) – Isaac Coote becomes licensee of the Hadspen Inn, Launceston (until 1865)
  • 1868 (Feb 26) – death of Eliza Coote – death notified by Isaac, widower
  • 1869 (Apr 14) – marriage of Isaac Coote and Adeline Laird
  • 1870 (Jun 30) – birth of Thomas James Coote, son of Isaac and Adeline Coote
  • 1873 (Dec 25) – death of Isaac Coote,  (‘tailor’) , of ‘dropsy’, aged 58

In 1832, John Cross – a mason from Tingewick – and his wife Frances née Terry arrived in Tasmania aboard the ship ‘Forth‘.  He seems to have led a most interesting life and I’m hoping one of his more knowledgeable descendants might write about him here in due course.

John and Frances’ second surviving daughter Eliza was barely fifteen and already pregnant when she married convict Isaac Coote, to whom she bore at least five children before dying of ‘paralysis’ in 1868, aged just 45.

Who, though, was Isaac Coote?  My search led me to discover the wealth of information available through the Tasmanian Archives Online website and its Tasmanian Names Index – a vast number of searchable scans, freely available.  A word of warning, though – the images are HUGE and very slow to load, so not something to attempt on a mobile phone signal!

Lent Assizes for Bury St Edmunds, 1832 (from Ancestry.com)

Lent Assizes for Bury St Edmunds, 1832 (from Ancestry.com)

Isaac was, it seems, convicted of housebreaking at Bury St. Edmonds Assizes on 15th March 1832, one of thirteen men sentenced to death for offences ranging from sheep-stealing to sacrilege.  As often happened at the time, none of the sentences were carried out: most were commuted to transportation – one for  7 years, the others (including Isaac) for ‘life’  but one man (a sheep-stealer) was merely imprisoned for 12 months!

Six months later, Isaac was one of 200 convicts aboard the ‘York‘ sailing from London and Plymouth, arriving in Hobart on 29th December 1832 after a three month voyage.


Description list from Linc Tasmania CON18/1/21


On arrival, his description was carefully noted: he was 5’5½”, aged 19, with fair complexion and a small head.  His hair was brown and he had ‘small’ brown whiskers.  His ‘visage’ was small and narrow, his forehead low and retreating.  His eyebrows were dark brown, his eyes dark grey, his nose small and his mouth ‘normal width’.  His chin – in proportion with the rest of his face – was ‘small’ and he had a blue mark on his left arm.

Once disembarked, he was assigned the number 1442 and assigned to work for a Mr Fletcher as a ‘house servant’.

Conduct record from Linc Tasmania CON31/1/7


According to his conduct record, he had a few brushes with authority – absconding, ‘neglect of work’, and helping himself to his master’s ‘porter’ and chickens.

Marriages at Launceston, 1838 from Linc Tasmania, http://stors.tas.gov.au/RGD35-1-42p34j2k

Marriages at Launceston, 1838 from Linc Tasmania, RGD36/1/3

However, in February 1838 he was granted permission to marry Eliza Cross; in June their daughter Matilda was born followed by Emily (1840), Clara (1842) and Alfred Richard (1847)  – Isaac’s occupation recorded as a ‘tailor’ on each of the birth / baptism records.

Approx. 1845, from ancestry.com HO 10/59 page 102

Approx. 1845, from ancestry.com HO 10/59 page 102

In 1841 he was given a Ticket of Leave and granted a Conditional Pardon in December 1845.  The governor’s recommendation states that his ‘conduct having been good for many years past and … having completed beyond the ordinary servitude with a Ticket of Leave

1848 census of Van Diemen’s Land from Linc Tasmania CEN1/1/98

The 1848 census return gives a full and interesting view of their household.  The house was brick-built, in parish ‘No 2’   There were three adults (aged 21-45) living there, presumably Isaac and Eliza and another unmarried male.  Both men seem to have been freed former convicts.

1848 census of Van Diemen's Land from Linc Tasmania CEN1/1/98

1848 census of Van Diemen’s Land from Linc Tasmania CEN1/1/98






Although Isaac and Eliza had four children by the last day of 1847, only three were recorded as living at home at the time of the census.  All are said to have married and had children: who and where was the missing child?  Matilda was by this time 10 years old, soon to be 11.  Was she, perhaps, already working in another house in the town?  No names are given in the census, so we may never know.

Rather surprisingly, both men and the baby are said to be Church of England, but Eliza and the two girls were Roman Catholics!  Isaac’s occupation falls under the heading of  ‘Mechanics and Artificers’: the other man was a ‘Domestic Servant‘.

Births at Launceston, 1851 from Linc Tasmania, RGD32/1/3  http://stors.tas.gov.au/RGD32-1-3-p673j2k

Births at Launceston, 1851 from Linc Tasmania, RGD32/1/3

The Launceston Examiner, Wed. 8 September 1852 (from trove.nla.gov.au)

The Launceston Examiner, Wed. 8 September 1852 (from trove.nla.gov.au)



In 1850, Isaac took up a new career – licensee of the Angel Inn in Charles Street Launceston – a licence he renewed three times, the third time in October 1853.  This new occupation is reflected in the baptism record of their daughter Adelaide Frances in 1851.

In May 1854, Isaac took on the licence of another hostelry – this time the Jolly Farmer in the township of Perth on the plains to the south of Launceston.

Births in Longford, from Linc, Tasmania, RGD33/1/33

Births in Longford, 1855, from Linc Tasmania, RGD33/1/33

18 months later, there is a rather odd birth recorded at Longford (close to Perth and around 7 km / 4.5 miles to the West): Arthur Isaac Coote, son of **Sarah** and Isaac Coote: father’s trade is given as “Licensed Publican” so it seems reasonable to assume this is ‘our’ Isaac.

It’s been suggested that Sarah might have been Sarah Cross – Eliza’s sister – but I’m unconvinced.  She was married to James Devall, had borne him a daughter in the previous year or so and would bear him another two years later.  My best guess is that the wife’s name has been mis-heard, mis-written – or even mis-remembered by the registrar.  The page does not seem well-maintained – several entries (including this one) are lacking the informant’s signature, and the mother’s maiden name is also omitted.

By 1862, they were back in Launceston, this time running the Hadspen Inn, renewing the licence each year until at least 1865.

1868 death record from Linc Tasmania

Deaths at Launceston, 1868 from Linc Tasmania RGD35/1/37

In 1868, Eliza Coote died of “paralysis”, aged 45, and two days before her 30th wedding anniversary.  Her occupation is given as “Publican’s wife” and Isaac registered the death.  Hardly the actions of an estranged husband who was living with another woman, since they had grown-up children who could have done what was necessary.



Marriages in Launceston, 1869, from Linc Tasmania RGD37/1/28


Fourteen months later, Isaac married again – this time to the 24 year old Adeline Laird.  The marriage took place in his house in Youngtown.


Launceston birth record from Linc Tasmania RGD33/1/48 no 59

Births at Launceston, 1870 from Linc Tasmania RGD33/1/48

Their son Thomas James was born the following year, 1870: Isaac was still recorded as a ‘Licensed Victualler’.


from Linc Tasmania RGD35/1/42 no 2239 Deaths at Launceston, 1873

Deaths at Launceston, 1873 from Linc Tasmania RGD35/1/42

Isaac died at Launceston on Christmas Day 1873 of ‘Dropsy’, aged 58 – having apparently reverted to his original occupation of ‘tailor’.

What, though, of Isaac’s origins?  My money is on Isaac Coot, born (according to Ancestry) 29th November 1814, at Sudbury in Suffolk, son of Isaac Coot and Matilda.  There are other births recorded for the couple: Robert (15 Oct 1812), Richard (8 Mar 1817) and Eliza (17 May 1819) but I’ve not found their marriage.

On 29 Jan 1761, at All Saints, Sudbury, an (earlier) Isaac Coot  married Sarah Pain.

On 10 Oct 1734, at All Saints, Sudbury, an (earlier) Isaac Coot  married Elizabeth Sneell.

15 thoughts on “Isaac Coote: convicts in Van Diemen’s Land

  1. I have a slight interest in Isaac Coote via my Cross connections. I am interested in how he became a Tailor. As a comment I can understand why he rebelled so much – after all he was a house servant and breaking rocks to build roads wouldn’t have been within his realm of experience. But as a convict he suddenly either becomes compliant or uses the system, his record becomes silent and them turns up a Tailor. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    • He may have initially bee a tailor, see below:
      Bury and Norwich Post – Wednesday 20 October 1830
      Isaac COOTE (by B. Oliver Esq.) convicted of refusing to fulfil his contract to work up a cane of Mantua silk for Messrs. Duff and Co. Sudbury; to be imprisoned for two months

  2. Hi Julie
    Good points! I wonder if he was a tailor before he left Somerset, or at least an apprentice? As you say, it seems rather an odd occupation to suddenly ‘take up’. Whilst a girl might learn dressmaking from her mother, tailoring was a whole different ball-game. BUT – if so – why was he recorded as ‘house servant’ on his arrival in Hobart? Of course, there may not have been many work openings for tailors in the outback?

    • Hi Su, You could be right about the house servant, poor thing ended up on a farm any way. Your comments certainly beg the question, is there an 18th century register of apprentices. My limited knowledge of the Masons led me to believe that its foundation was in the apprentice system. I have an interest in James Pearce who married Hannah Cross. He seems to have arrived with a trade albeit he was quite young and plenty of money to go with it. If you or anyone has any avenues I should explore I would be most appreciative.

  3. Gail,
    thank you, thank you, thank you – that is wonderful piece to my puzzle. I have made a few assumptions about him as I felt so sad for his circumstance. And I could be so so wrong. Would you care to read what I have written on Isaac and make comment. I am not sure if this is the forum – perhaps Su you will advise.


    • Julie, I’d love to see anything you – or anyone else – has written about a Tingewick connection here. The more the merrier! I’ve sent you an ‘invitation’ to become an ‘author’ – if anyone else would like one so they can write something here about their Tingewick connection, please contact me.

  4. The following is my thoughts on Isaac. It could be quite fanciful and I have a little work to do with the most recent info from Gail. Comments gratefully received. I have copied this and it hasn’t taken up foot notes and references.

    “On February 28, 1838 Eliza, John and Francis’ second daughter, married Isaac Coote – a convict. She was already pregnant.

    Isaac had been convicted of house breaking in Suffolk on March 15, 1832 and given a life sentence. He had a prior conviction for leaving his post for which he received a 2 month sentence. His gaol report suggests bad conduct but the hulk report was good. He was transported on the York (2) with the Surgeon reporting that he was well behaved. He left Plymouth on September 1, 1832, arriving in Tasmania on December 29 1832. He was only 19, short with brown hair and dark grey eyes.

    On arrival he was assigned to Mr James Fletcher of Moat Farm on the Norfolk Plains. It must have been a difficult transition for a 19 year old “house servant” to adjust to rural life. He absconded in January 1883, given 50 lashes and returned to his master. March 6 1834 he was accused by his master of stealing port; case was dismissed.

    But March 24 1834 The Colonial Times reports:

    Isaac Coote was fully committed for trial for stealing thee fowls the property of James Fletcher.

    By May he was working on a chain gang;

    If there was a hierarchy among Convicts, those in the chain gangs would have been on the lower rung. The unfortunate convicts were cobbled together with chains;

    “Dressed in coarse cloth of black and yellow…………..every man having a chain about three feet long attached to his legs just above the ankle and suspended in the middle by a small strap around his body”

    Man who achieves a status to dominate his fellow man is rarely benevolent and could imagine the appalling conditions and even more so as Isaac was labouring in a field totally inexperienced. There are skills attached to the most menial of tasks and rock breaking is no exception. But in a period where the master servant relationship was paramount and the convict a lesser being, lashes, hard labour and general depravation of basic human rights were seen as the sole means to productivity and moral redemption. As a consequence his service was littered with rebellion, he was regularly sentenced to lashes and hard labour and had his original sentence extended for being a habitual absconder, neglecting his work and disobeying orders.

    He remains in the Norfolk Plains district most likely employed in building and maintaining the Perth to Launceston road and when his overseas sought to punish by hard labour, his sentence was more than likely served stone breaking in the quarry at the junction of the Perth and Morven roads.

    At some point Isaac learns contrition or at the least the ability to feign it. His convict record becomes silent after July 2, 1835 and is devoid of misdemeanour. On April 21 1836 he is transferred to the Launceston District.

    In January 1838 permission is sought to marry Eliza Cross and they were married with bans in St Johns Church in Launceston on 28th February 1838. A daughter Matilda was born on June 17 1838. On the birth of Matilda, Isaac’s occupation was listed as tailor in Launceston, one that appears more suited to his talents than road building.

    How did Isaac become a Tailor who was his mentor and how did he meet Eliza will never be known for certainty. While convicts were employed to make convict uniforms there were journeyman Tailors. These had petitioned the governor as early as March 1834 complaining about limited employment opportunities because of the assignment of convicts. There were two tailors in Launceston during this period John Furling and W.L. Jordan. Jordan was seeking a free or ticket of leave lady to act as house maid and in the same advertisement journeyman tailors. Employers were known to place false advertisements in an attempt show labour shortage and thus “gull the board of Assignment into giving them dry bread journeyman” Perhaps that is how the couple met.

    The were no known family witness to the marriage of Eliza and Isaac. With the proximity of the wedding to the Christening of Francis leads one to believe that at Least Fanny was in Launceston at the time. They may have shunned the event due to the invisible stain. There are a number of historians who imply this a recent phenomenon due to the ability of convicts when free to rise above their station and become very successful. However, Governor Franklin an avid defender of the convict system admitted the system so degraded a man as to inhibit his ability to resume a place in free society. He believed the convict stain would be evident for at least four generations. ”

    There is more to come and I really need to learn how to reference the material.

  5. It is my suggestion that the third adult in the house in 1848 was Richard Terry (the elder) sister of Eliza’s mother Frances.as he was listed as ‘hired’ by I Coote when he became a Probation pass holder May 1848. I am a great great granddaughter of Richard Terry (the younger).

    • Hi Edna, Are you in Tasmania. Also have you been in touch with Margaret and Eric Smith. They have done an enormous amount of work on Smiths. I was just reading what I had written about Isaac – it is not entirely accurate. Problem with the never ending story. It seemed that the Cross shared the Terrys around working with Coote and at the Harts. If I can assist in your research leave me a note.


      • I don’t understand what you mean about the Cross shared the Terry’s around working with Coote at the Harts? The younger Terry’s were assigned to Archer at the Woolmers Property in Longford. Richard (junior) is my great great grandfather. They farmed in the Bishopsbourne area and eventually owned their own farm property.

      • Sorry typical me, not clear. This information is from the days when I was more interested in the hunt than recording facts. So I am assuming that this info came from their convict records.
        17/5/48 Woolmers Richard E Richard Y and Joseph
        1711/49 Coote – Richard Y
        6/6/50 Coote – Richard Y
        15/3/51 Hart – Richard E (I find this touching as this was not long before Francis died)
        27/3/52 Pearce – Richard Younger
        14/7/52 Pearce – Joseph

        There were other people but it would seem the family shared in the responsibility and my question is how did they do this. Hart at the time was hosting the magistrate at Nile so maybe he had some clout, maybe Pearce. I don’t know. I am just up to this part in my redo of my research so if you have any thoughts I would be very interested. Are you in Tasmania.

      • Hi Julie
        I don’t know anything about Hart or Pearce. Do you know where those properties were? I have found a marriage for Richard Terry (Senior) to Jane Bartlett on 30th June 1853.

  6. Hi Julie. I have just found Hart. John Hart married Frances Cross in 1841.after John Cross died in 1840. They had one child who died in infancy. Perhaps Richard the Elder was living in his sister’s family home until she died (or longer). No I’m in Cairns, but I lived most of my life in Tasmania. I researched quite a lot, although I can’t find my references at the moment. From my memory… If you were in business or had a property, you could apply to take on convicts to assist with labour etc. The person officially responsible had to complete documents, report any problems with behavior and guarantee to provide food and shelter and ensure that the convict attended church on Sunday. Many larger properties such as Woolmers for instance actually had a convict built church within the grounds.

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