# For some time I’ve puzzled over Clara Inskip (nee Heathorn) from Guildford , who, in every census from 1841 – 1881, is listed as a sole name: to whom was she wed? Now, thanks to a story by Lisa Truttman of the Avondale Historical Society in New Zealand, light has been shed on poor Clara’s story.
Gardener’s daughter Clara married widower William Inskip between 1835 and 1837: she was in her late 20’s, he was a few years older. William , a baker and pastry chef, had originally hailed from Hitchen, Hertfordshire, the son of John Inskip, a wheelwright ,and Jane Mason. He had been sent to Guildford in1817 as an apprentice to baker and confectioner John Drewett. His first wife, Ann Green, whom he’d married in Lambeth in 1824, had sadly died in 1835, and he’d been left with two boys to care for – 9 year old John William, and 6 year old Thomas: third son, William Green Inskip having died as a baby in 1828.
Then, in early 1837, tragedy knocked for the second time: William stole a keg of butter from a Mr Austen. Apprehended for this misdeed, he was sentenced at Guilford in 3rd April 1837 to 7 years transportation in Australia. One can hardly imagine how newly married Clara felt.
Two weeks later, William found himself in London on the prison hulk Justitia, moored in the Thames at Woolwich. These stinking, ex warships, were unpleasant, unhygienic places, where shaven headed prisoners were stripped of their individuality and frequently chained. One wonders if Clara ever managed to visit William before he was loaded on to the convict ship Neptune and taken to Tasmania in October 1837.
The Neptune landed it’s cargo of prisoners in January 1838 and 5 foot 5 inch William was ‘appropriated’ by a Captain: perhaps his skills as a pastry chef were noted. For the first eighteen months, ‘neglect of duty’ on several occasions finds him in ‘hard labour’ in a chain gang. Thereafter, his record, now lodged in Tasmania’s Archives Office, is clean.
Meanwhile, Clara went back to live with her father, earning her keep as a dressmaker: by 1841, 15 year old John is working as a servant with Anna Pink in Worplesden, Surrey. Twelve year old Thomas goes to Essendon, Hertfordshire, to live with his paternal grandparents.
It is the raw emotions of this story, that really reach down through the years, for in October 1845 young John William joins the 65th Regiment of Foot at Tunbridge Wells: at that time the regiment were serving as guards on convict ships to Australia. One can only wonder if the purpose of the 18year old was to go and find his father, for William had received a conditional pardon in 1843 and was freed in 1844. However, the 65th stayed in Australia for only a short while before being diverted to New Zealand in 1846, where the first Maroi Wars were raging. So, did John see his father again, we can only speculate?
In 1856 there is a death of a William Inskip in Tasmania, it is likely this is ‘our’ William: so the story now passes to John, and the research done by Lisa Truttman.
John’s regiment stayed in New Zealand until 1865 and were “known for having an unusually good rapport with their Maori opponents”*. During those years John learnt to be a well-digger, as the British troops needed fresh water at their camp. When the regiment sailed back to England in 1865, John was discharged with a gratuity and ‘stayed on’; after all, he really had nothing to return too the ‘Old Country’ for.
By 1886 he was married, had a large family and lived on the Avondale-Manukau Road, near Auckland, North Island; well digging being his trade. Interestingly, on leaving the army, John William had changed his name around to William John , a fatal mistake perhaps, as on the 25th January 1886, tragedy sought out a William Inskip once more.
That summer morning, William was up bright and early, cleaning out the mud at the bottom of a well. Suddenly his alarmed assistant called down to ‘be careful’; the mud and brick walls were slipping. The assistant threw down a rope, but the well collapsed in on poor William. Lisa’s story tells of the valiant efforts by the local populace to rescue William, at great risk to themselves. They worked all day, as William’s devastated wife was comforted by neighbours, but to no avail. At 10pm they found an arm sticking out of the bricks (as the bricks fell he had covered his head), and knew for sure he was dead, he had suffocated, poor man.
Back in England, 83 year old Clara, a lodger with charwoman Hannah Mansfield in her old age, had passed away only a few years earlier at the end of 1883, still living in Guildford. To the end, she kept the name Inskip and described herself as a widow – how many times in her 46years alone did she dream of what could have been? The fate of son and brother Thomas Inskip, or John William’s wife and children is not known – yet. But, it seems highly possible that one grandson may have died in Europe in the First World War.
* Truttman Lisa. ‘Get me out if you can’ William John Inskip, c1827-1886 (Avondale Historical Journal, Vol 7, Issue 37 sept-oct 2007)
# Picture – The Founding of Australia. By Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788 / Original [oil] sketch  by Algernon Talmage R.A.
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)