Daniel (alias Donald) Elphinstone was born in Edinburgh around 1801 and seemed to have lived an unremarkable life until he married my ancestor, Janet Crocket, on 2 October 1820. Janet, my 6th second cousin, was the second eldest daughter of John Crocket and Marion Stark.
The marriage doesn’t seem to have been a happy one though as the couple separated in 1822 and Janet, known as Jessie, was openly living with another man, Daniel McIntosh, who she eventually married on 8 April 1825. The relationship between Janet and Daniel Elphinstone was antagonistic and the tensions would reach boiling point in 1824 when Daniel fatally wounded his mother-in-law, Marion, with a knife on 20 February. No one realised the seriousness of Marion’s wounds and she died two weeks later despite having been taken to hospital. Daniel was put on trial for murder.
According to the account of John Crocket, Marion’s husband, Daniel was having an argument with his estranged wife about some things she had allegedly removed from the marital home. The argument turned violent when Daniel hit her with a heavy weight on the haunch and she staggered away into the house. Five minutes later, Marion stumbled into the alley and threw an empty water stoup at her son-in-law who thrust a blade into her side. Believing the wound not to be serious, John went to work and returned to discover his wife had been taken to the Royal Infirmary by their daughter, Margaret. Marion apparently told Margaret, Daniel had stabbed her and told her it was “a keepsake for her daughter”, meaning Janet.
A further witness account, from a young boy called James Brown, indicated Mrs Crocket was intoxicated and was causing a riot in Libberton’s Wynd which wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Brown witnessed Mrs Crocket running after Elphinstone with a wooden doorstop which she threw at him. Elphinstone then picked up the doorstop and threw it back at her but it missed and hit the wall. Elphinstone ran down the wynd with something clenched in his hand and Mrs Crocket appeared to be bleeding.
Before her death, Marion Crocket gave a statement saying her daughter, Janet, had married Elphinstone three years prior but had found him unbearable to live with so had returned to her parents. Marion had tried to persuade her daughter to go home to her husband but she maintained she was in fear of her life. Marion had not realised she had been stabbed until she’d noticed the blood. When making the statement, Marion had been expected to make a full recovery but the wound had proved to have been in “a dangerous place”.
Elphinstone later testified his wife had left him after meeting another man by the name of McIntosh while he was away working in Alloa. Elphinstone admitted to having stabbed his mother-in-law but had no idea of the gravity of the wound since she was usually bundled in a great deal of clothing.
There were further reports from neighbours who testified Mrs Crocket was heavily intoxicated that morning and had been for days. When she saw her son-in-law in the wynd, she became increasingly abusive and threatened to murder him. Menzies Bain, under whom Elphinstone was apprenticed for the past six years, spoke about how he was the best apprentice he had ever had due to his diligence and quiet nature. Bain’s comments were corroborated by John Jackson, a painter, who had employed Elphinstone for eight months.
Despite the positive character testimonies and pleas for a lesser sentence, murder was still a capital offence so Elphinstone was sentenced to death by hanging on 28 July. Elphinstone, still only 23 years of age, took the news stoically but it was evident he was shaken. The verdict was not a popular one as many who had watched the trial had engendered feelings of sympathy towards the young man recognising he had become entangled with a wretched family. The Crocket family were subjected to a great deal of abuse falling the verdict and were accosted in the street by those who believed Elphinstone had been given a raw deal. Ironically, had the hanging gone ahead, it would have taken place in Libberton’s Wynd, the scene of the crime.
On 6 July 1824, an appeal was lodged on behalf of Elphinstone reiterating how out of character the events had been and pleading for clemency. After deliberation, the sentence of hanging was overturned but Elphinstone was sentenced to life transportation to Australia. Elphinstone was removed from his prison cell in Edinburgh and transferred to a ship named Justitia which was moored on the Thames at Woolwich Warren. The prisoners, heads shaved, were shackled while they worked in the dockyards before returning to the ship for sleep. It was normal for prisoners to be held this way for months awaiting transportation but Elphinstone and his fellow prisoners were lucky as the Royal Charlotte, newly commissioned on convict duty, was almost ready to sail. The Royal Charlotte spent the next seven weeks in Portsmouth being refitted before finally leaving British shores on 5 January 1825.
The voyage to New South Wales was the Royal Charlotte’s first and last commission as a convict ship and she was carrying 136 passengers, 54 of whom were lifers like Elphinstone. Elphinstone’s only appearance in the medical journal of surgeon-superintendent George Fairfowl was for treatment of boils on the thighs once the ship had reached the tropics. Fairfowl was primarily responsible for the welfare of the convicts but he was a humane man and there were no complaints from his prisoners once they arrived in Australia.
The decks where they prisoners were kept were gloomy and smelled revolting, however they were allowed to go up on deck twice a day if weather permitted. By all accounts, the behaviour of the prisoners had been good throughout the voyage so it came as a surprise when Fairfowl caught wind of a planned mutiny by 43 prisoners. The mutiny was foiled and the men responsible spent the rest of the voyage in irons.
On 29 April 1825, the Royal Charlotte berthed in Sydney Cove, however the prisoners had to remain onboard for a few more days while arrangements were being made for them. As the prisoners were questioned about their treatment on the voyage, not one of them had any complaints to make with even the mutineers agreeing they had been treated fairly under the circumstances. The convicts were issued with new prison garb and marched to Hyde Park Prisoners’ Barracks to begin their sentences. The Royal Charlotte, having been refitted for passengers, left Sydney on 7 June 1825 bound for India but the ship ran aground on Frederick Reefs and the passengers had to abandon ship.
I haven’t been able to establish what happened to Elphinstone after his arrival, however most convicts were assigned to settlers or on a chain gang. Convicts who worked hard and proved to be trustworthy were rewarded with tickets of leave or even a pardon. Elphinstone was awarded a conditional pardon on 1 July 1843, however the terms were that he remain within the territorial boundaries of New South Wales or he would resume his sentence. Sadly, Elphinstone only lived another three years, dying in Parramatta on 24 June 1846.
Curiously, Elphinstone was given permission to marry a fellow convict, Ellen Dynan, on 15 July 1839 which leads me to believe his marriage to Jessie Stark was automatically dissolved after he was sentenced to transportation. They had one son, Daniel, who was born on 3 February 1846. Jessie married Daniel McIntosh, the man she was accused of living with during her husband’s trial, on 8 April 1825.
Elphinstone’s eldest son, Adam, was raised by his paternal uncle and ironically emigrated to Tasmania in 1855, dying there on 12 September 1911.
- The Scotsman [British Newspaper Archives]
- UK, Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia, Convict Pardons and Tickets of Leave, 1834-1859 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales, Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1790-1849 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales, Australia, Convict Records, 1810-1891 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales, Australia, Convict Registers of Conditional and Absolute Pardons, 1788-1870 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Convicts’ Applications to Marry, 1826-1851 [Ancestry UK]
- Scotland, Select Marriages, 1561-1910 [Ancestry UK]