Sometimes, when researching your family history, some discoveries can shock you to the core. The story of my first cousin, five times removed was certainly an example of this.
William Henry Eyes, the son of Charles Eyes and Lucinda Ann Robinson, was born in Liverpool on 23rd October 1821. Due to his father’s position as a South American merchant and ship owner, William Henry had quite a privileged upbringing and was educated in Knutsford, Cheshire. He later found employment at Gladstone and Sergeantson, cotton brokers (Gladstone being the first cousin of Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone) where he would remain until 1838.
On 28th February 1839, William Henry Eyes embarked on a journey that would change the course of his entire life. Leaving Liverpool on the Heber, he set sail for Australia, stopping off at the Cape of Good Hope on May 28th before finally arriving at Port Jackson, Sydney on July 27th. Unlike the five children who died en route, William Henry arrived safely and ready to start his new life.
In 1841, he travelled overland to Melbourne, a journey that took four months, with cattle and horses. On his return to Sydney, he entered into partnership with a Mr. Lord, a stock and station agent, in a cattle station near Bateman’s Bay, in New South Wales. This, however, was not a successful investment.
Three years later, on April 22nd 1844, William Henry Eyes made the newspapers, but for all the wrong reasons…
Rosina Thomas, aged 9, had, along with her younger brother, left the family home at Wollongong, New South Wales, in order to look after their cows. During the journey of about half a mile, they were joined by Eyes who proceeded to accompany them into the bush. After sending her brother away to play on the beach, he assaulted the young girl.
The following day, Rosina reported what had happened to her mother who, along with Dr. Edward Boot, examined the young girl. Boot, a member of the College of Surgeons of London, concluded that no rape had been committed although there was some evidence of inflammation. He did admit, however, that this could have arisen from other causes.
On Wednesday 3rd July, William Henry Eyes was indicted of assault and a jury, without retiring, found him guilty; there was not enough evidence that the capital charge had been committed. On being asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed on him, in a written statement, he noted his, “want of moral and religious observation.”
The judge expressed his abhorrence of the crime the prisoner had committed and his regret at the inadequacy of the law as it now stood, there being no medium between transportation for life for the capital offence, and that of imprisonment for the assault. Eyes was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Parramatta Gaol, the first week in every month to be in solitary confinement.
The story did not end there, however, as on 24th June 1845, William Henry Eyes received an absolute pardon, less than a year after his conviction. The pardon was signed by George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales. The circumstances behind the pardon are not known.
This was not the last time that William Henry Eyes would appear in the press. It was, however, for an entirely different reason…