The Appeal

I often don’t know what I’m going to write about next. Such was the case when I finished last week’s post. I keep a spreadsheet of potential topics but don’t follow it in any particular order. Today’s post came from a totally unexpected direction. Someone had posted a link on Facebook to a search page on the United Kingdom’s National Archives website.  I have visited this website many times in the past with occasional success.

(The following several paragraphs are for my fellow genealogy enthusiasts. Casual readers may wish to skip ahead to the paragraph before the image!)

This time I idly typed “Casbon” and hit “Search.” Twenty-two records popped up. I had seen many of these before. Most of them require a personal visit to a library or archive to see the record, but a few can be viewed online. One of those, in particular, caught my eye: a record titled “Prisoner name(s): Casbon [first name not stated]. Court and date of trial: 1821. Crime:…”[1] This record is contained in a series of records created or inherited by the Home Office, Ministry of Home Security, and related bodies and contains “original petitions made by convicted persons or their friends, relations etc., seeking the revocation or reduction of their sentences.”[2]

The description of the Casbon record indicated that the convict had been tried in 1821 and was a prisoner on the Hulk Leviathan. The petitioner was one P. Leyburn of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire.[3] This immediately got my attention. It seemed to refer to the case of Thomas Casbon, or Casborn, who had been convicted of stealing a silver watch and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. I wrote about this last October, suggesting that the convict was probably my third great-grandfather. Maybe this new record would be the proof I was looking for!

The National Archives description also said that the record is available for download from Findmypast. That is where I had found the records about Thomas Casborn, the subject of the earlier post. I was surprised because I thought I had seen all the pertinent records on Findmypast. I don’t have a paid subscription to Findmypast, but free access is available at my local Family History Center (FHC), AKA the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FHC near me has excellent facilities, with about a dozen computer terminals, and access to many subscription websites.

I popped into the FHC and opened the Findmypast website. My initial search didn’t turn up anything new, so I decided to look at the website’s card catalog. All the previous records concerning Thomas Casborn had been in a collection titled “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770–1935.” When I looked in the card catalog I discovered another database called “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment Browse, 1770–1935.” The titles are the same except for the word “Browse” in the second database. They are clearly different collections because the former contains 5,762,300 records and the latter has 1,823,668 records.

The word “Browse” told me that the collection was not indexed, i.e., you can’t find individual records through the search page. You have to literally browse through all the images to find one you are looking for. I didn’t fancy browsing through 1,823,668 records to find a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, the National Archives catalog contained more information to help me narrow things down. The record I was looking for is contained in record series HO17, piece 92. After some experimentation, I found that I could narrow my search using those identifiers. This narrowed the number of records down to 1,049.

Once I started browsing,  I learned that the individual petitions were organized into “bundles,” each with an alphanumeric reference. The Casbon record I was looking for had the reference “Rk4.” After a bit of trial and error, I found what I was looking for.

The record consists of only two pages, probably front and back of the same page.[4] One side was addressed like an envelope “To Mr. Capper @ the Secretary of States office for the Home Department, London.” The other side contained the body of the letter.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Here is my transcription:

                                                                              Meldreth: Decr. 21st 1824
Mr Capper

                        of the Name of Casbon
          There is a Family ^ in this Village poor but much respected for their honesty who are much distressd in Consequence of their Son who is at Pres[en]t. on Board the Leviathan Hulk off Portsmouth on board of which vessel he has been confind for the last Three years. Previously to the unfortunate Circumstance which led to his Conviction he was never detected with having acted contrary to the Rules of honesty and it is believed had he not been induced thro illegal advisers his natural Disposition would have been adverse to any Criminal Transaction. It is the desire of the Inhabitants in general that he should be reprieved the residue of his sentence should his character be found such since his confinement as may merit Interception. Should such be be case. it is believed his Lordship the Earl of Hardewicke may interest himself in the Matter and gain his Freedom
+++++Would you Sir have the goodness so far as to certify his character by enclosing a Certificate of the same it will be considered as a particular obligation and will be received with gratitude by the relatives of the Convict
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++With respect
address to                                                                    I remain Sirs
P. Leyburn  Meldreth  [?] Roy[s]ton        Yr. obt. Servt
+++++Cambridgeshire                                                         P. Leyburn

Although the first name is not given in the letter, we are told that the prisoner has been on the Leviathan for three years and his surname is Casbon. Thomas Casborn was convicted in October 1822, so the “three years” referred to in the letter isn’t quite correct. I think the author of the letter, Mr. Leyburn, was getting his information second-hand and wasn’t personally familiar with the case.

The reference to the Leviathan is quite specific. My review of the Leviathan’s records did not reveal anyone else with a similar surname who was convicted in that time frame. So it’s very unlikely that Mr. Leyburn was referring to anyone other than Thomas Casbon.

In the earlier post, I reported that Thomas Casborn was “late of the parish of Melbourn.”[5] The letter indicates that the prisoner’s family lives in Meldreth. Melbourn and Meldreth are adjacent villages, and my Casbon ancestors are associated with both locations, so I consider this discrepancy to be inconsequential. There was only one family “of the name of Casbon” in Meldreth or Melbourn with a son named Thomas at that time, and that was the family of Isaac and Susanna (Howes) Casbon, my fourth great-grandparents.

When looked at as a whole, the facts given in the letter answer the question posed in my previous post: was Thomas Casborn, the prisoner aboard the Leviathan, my third great-grandfather? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

The letter does not give any details of the crime, referring to it only as “the Circumstance which led to his Conviction.” If the letter is to be believed, the crime was a first-time offense, and out of character for the prisoner. It suggests that he gave in to the influence of unnamed “illegal advisers” when he committed the offense.

It seems that Mr. Leyburn is writing, not just on behalf of the Casbon family, but for the “Inhabitants [of Meldreth] in general.” I’m not even sure he has met the Casbon family but instead may have been approached by someone on their behalf to write this letter.

Mr. Leyburn is asking the recipient of the letter to vouch for the prisoner’s behavior “since [the time of] his confinement” in the hope that a higher authority, “his Lordship the Earl of Hardewicke,” might then intervene on the prisoner’s behalf.

This last reference is to Philip Yorke, the third Earl of Hardwicke (1757–1834), who had a residence at Wimpole Hall, about three and one-half miles from Meldreth. He was the son of Charles Yorke, the former Lord Chancellor of England.[6] He must have been incredibly wealthy because Wimpole Hall is the largest house in Cambridgeshire.[7] It is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.

Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. Photo from

We don’t know if Mr. Leyburn’s appeal ever received a reply or if the Earl of Hardwicke intervened on Thomas’s behalf.  We do know that Thomas served the entire seven years aboard the Leviathan, so clemency obviously was not granted.

I would still like to see if any more records are out there giving more details about the crime and the trial, but I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted all the records available online. Any other records will require a visit to various archives in England – something I hope to accomplish one of these days.

[1] “Catalogue Description – Prisoner name(s): Casbon [first name not stated]. Court and date of trial: 1821. Crime:…,” The National Archives ( : accessed 5 March 2019).
[2] “Catalogue Description – Home Office: Criminal Petitions, Series I,” The National Archives ( : accessed 5 March 2019).
[3] “Catalogue Description – Prisoner name(s): Casbon [first name not stated]. Court and date of trial: 1821. Crime:…,” previously cited.
[4] Petition for clemency for prisoner Casbon [first name not stated], P. Leyton to Mr. Capper, 21 Dec 1824; image, “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment Browse, 1770-1935,” Findmypast ( : accessed 5 March 2019) >image 214 of 1049; citing The National Archives [UK], HO17/92/55.
[5] Alan Akeroyd (, to Jon Casbon, email, 4 Oct 2018, “Cambs quarter sessions, October 1822”; privately held by Casbon [(e-address for private use)].
[6] “Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke,” Wikipedia (,_3rd_Earl_of_Hardwicke : accessed 7 March 2019), rev. 20 Jan 19, 07:42.
[7] “Wimpole Estate,” Wikipedia ( : accessed 7 March 2019), rev. 20 Nov 18, 12:17.

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