Ann Somerville, fl. 1790-1796

Female Pauper and Wife of a Thief

Early Life and Family

There is little documentation on Ann Somerville’s early life, though Home Office Criminal and Workhouse registers put her date of birth around 1768-1770. She was reportedly married on the 3rd February 1788 to James (alias John) Somerville (born 25 September 1766), 1 a journeyman carpenter, at St. Giles in the Fields, and later had two, or possibly three, children by him.

Their eldest son James was born on the 19th November 1788, and christened a week later on the 27th, at the Lying In Hospital, Endell Street, Holborn.2 Established in 1749, the British Lying In Hospital provided assistance for ‘distressed poor (married only) women’.3 We can thus assume that, whatever their initial situation, James and Ann had fallen on hard times by at least 1788. Two years later their second son, John, was also born at the Lying In Hospital, on 1 April 1790, and christened two weeks later. 4 A third child, Ann, is recorded as being born to James and Ann Somerville in January 1792, though there are no further mentions of her; most likely she died sometime before 1796 when James’ mother sought parish relief for her grandsons.5

Admission to the Workhouse

Three months after John’s birth in 1790, Ann and her two sons were admitted in the St. Martin’s Workhouse. James was 'taken out by [Ann's] mother in law', Phyllis Sommerville the same day, though Ann and her other son John were to spend 3 days in the workhouse, before they were ‘Return’d back to St. Giles’, their parish of settlement. For the next three years the family do not appear on any poor records and were presumably able to get by either through James’ carpentry work, charity from family and neighbours, or, as the section below hints at, thieving to survive.

Criminal Offences and Convictions

On the 20th February 1793 Ann Sommerville was tried for three separate thefts but was acquitted in all three instances. On the first occasion Ann was tried alongside Edward Stone for ‘burglariously breaking and entering the dwelling house of James Borton , and James Houghton ... and feloniously stealing therein’ a pair of pistols, articles of clothing and a penknife to the value of £10 17s 0d. The penknife and pair of pistols were found in Ann’s lodgings, No. 5 Short or Shaw’s Gardens at St. Giles, where it is reported she lived with her mother and husband (who the witness stated was a journeyman carpenter). Eventually Edward Stone admitted to stealing the goods, to ‘make some money upon them of’ Ann Somerville, and he was found guilty of all charges whilst Ann was acquitted.

She was then tried for breaking into the house of William Sheldon and stealing ‘four silver candlesticks, value 10 l.’ and an assortment of other cutlery, silverware, and clothes totaling £34. No details of the crime were recorded but as this crime was committed on the same night as the first she was accused of, it may be that her acquittal from the first, after Stone’s admission of trying to extract money from her, removed the suspicion of guilt from her in the second.

Finally she was tried for stealing 'On the 1st of January , a woollen cloth great coat called a drab great coat, value 2 s. six pair of silk stockings, value 9 s. two linen shirts, value 3 s. a dark , lanthorn, value 1 d. one cotton waistcoat, value 3 s. the goods of Charles Birckbeck Andree . A silver tea spoon, value 3 s. the goods of Charlotte Andree , widow , and a Vanhee cane, value 6 d. the goods of George Andree". A watchman testified that the window of Andree's chambers had been broken open to gain entry, and the goods were later found by a constable, Edward Treadway, at the lodging Ann shared with her husband who, Treadway informed the court ‘is now in custody for this robbery.’ Ann was, for the third time that day, acquitted.

There is no record of James going to trial for this crime, but by April 10th he was on trial with William Turnball for breaking into the house of William Brooks. Somerville was arrested playing ‘knock up halfpenny’ at an inn, dressed in the garb of a soldier, though the arresting officer claimed Somerville was not in the militia and only wanted to be seen as a soldier. The same constable, Treadway, who had searched the Somerville’s lodging for the trial involving George Andree returned to search No 5. Shaw Gardens again, finding ‘a deal of property there; some belonging to Mr. Brooke's, and some belonging to other gentlemen in the chambers’. James claimed that a lodger named Smith had given the goods to Ann to wash, but despite receiving good character references he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

These two final crimes, involving the property of Andree and Brooks, shed perhaps some of the most interesting details on Ann and James. Whilst being held in Newgate awaiting their trials both Somervilles were recorded in the Home Office Criminal Registers of prisoners in Middlesex and the City, which, alongside information on their crimes and trials, provides descriptions of their appearances and occupations. Ann was described as being 23 years old, 5’ 2”, with ‘dark Eyes Black hair [and a] dark Complexion’. James is recorded as being 25, 5’ 5”, with ‘Sandy hair pox marked [skin] Blue Eyes [and a] fair Complexion’, holding the occupation of a carpenter. It is here we learn that his death sentence was reprieved and instead he was sentenced ‘to be transported for Life [and] Removed on board the Stainslow Hulk September 23 1793’. It appears that he was not transported until the following February, when he was transported on the 'Surprize', to New South Wales.6

Death and Provision for her Children

Ann is last mentioned in the records in 1796, in a statement made by her mother-in-law, Phyllis Somerville, to determine the settlement of and provision for Ann’s two sons. Phyllis informs the parish officers that both Ann and James are now dead- although James may have still been serving his transportation sentence. The younger James had apparently been 'bound an Apprentice to his father John Somerville for Seven years' but had served the last three in Mr. Burton’s house in the parish of St. Clement Danes.

Ann must have died sometime between her trial of 1793 and the examination of her sons for settlement in 1796. After this, the family disappears from the records.

Back to Top

External Sources

The British Lying in Hospital, Holborn, National Archives, consulted 17 January 2012.

Convict Transportation Registers Database, State Library of Queensland, consulted 18 January 2012.

Family Search, consulted 17 January 2012.


1 Family Search, (, consulted 17 January 2012.

2 Family Search, (, consulted 17 January 2012.

3 The British Lying in Hospital, Holborn, National Archives, consulted 17 January 2012.

4 Family Search, (, consulted 17 January 2012.

5 Family Search, (, consulted 17 January 2012.

6 Convict Transportation Registers Database, Convict Transportation Registers Database-State Library of Queensland, consulted 18 January 2012.

Back to Top

About this Biography

Created by

Laura Muttock

Further contributions by

Eleanor Veryard