Convicts Martin Bentley

Convict: John Bentley [c1764-1824]

Relationship: Indirect ancestor by marriage

Aliases: John Beatley, John Handley, John Hanley, William Bentley


John Bentley, a Second Fleet Convict, along with William Atkins, was sentenced in Petersborough, Stamford, England for his part in stealing items from St. Martin’s Church, Petersborough, England.

For John, it was not the first time he had faced the courts, and for their troubles, both were sentenced to 14 years transportation to NSW sailing aboard the Neptune.

While in NSW, John stowed away on the Pitt which was bound for Norfolk Island and then onto India1. However, he was soon discovered before being disembarked at Norfolk Island.

John soon fell in with my 6th Great Grandfather and First Fleet Convict, Stephen Martin. And it didn’t take long before John took an interest in Stephens 12year old daughter Mary who was my 5th Great Grandmother.

In 1808, he sailed to Tasmania aboard the Estrimina and settled in Ralphs Bay.

He eventually got himself tangled up in sheep stealing and would be bought to trial and transported back to NSW for trial where he was found not guilty.

John decided to stay in NSW and work as a shepherd after the charges were dropped, only to be murdered by a passerby for fun.


21 Oct 1788: John and an accomplice break out of the Peterborough Gaol2


24 Oct 1788

Two desperate fellows broke out of Peterborough Gaol on Tuesday morning, about half-past five. Diligent search has been made, and a description of their persons set forth in handbills but at present not the least certain intelligence of their route has been discovered. One of the villains (Robinson) was under sentence of death for burglary; the other (Handley) imprisoned for twelve months for breaking into St. Martin’s church (Stamford Baron), in this place, and whole-time would have expired at Christmas next.”

9 Jan 1789: John is transferred to the Clerkenwell Bridewell Gaol 3

John’s apprehension and committal to Clerkenwell Bridewell by Justice Tricket after breaking out of the Peterborough Gaol, Michael Hinton is named as the one who informed on him.

“John Handley, alias Bentley, who broke out of Peterboro’ gaol, where he was confined for attempting to rob the church of St. Martin’s, Stamford Baron, together with William Atkins, who has been impeached by Michael Hinton as one of the accomplices in the said robbery. They were both committed by Justice Tricket, to Clerkenwell Bridewell, and are to be re-examined on Tuesday next; and we hope the whole of the villainy will then be laid open.”

1789: John and William Atkins are committed to the Newgate Prison4

“On Wednesday John Hanley, alias William Bentley, and William Atkins, were committed to Newgate by Charles Triquet, Esq; charged on oath with being concerned in sacrilegiously  and burglariously breaking  and entering the church of the parish of Stamford Barron, in the liberty of Peterborough, in the county of Northampton, and stealing a surplice, two napkins, a table cloth, and other things.”

1789: Misrepresention in the local newspaper5

“A few days since Lucy, a constable of Clerkenwell, apprehended at Hadley, near Barnet, a man named Salt, and in his possession found the Communion cloth and several other articles which John Handley, alias William Bentley, and William Atkins, stand charged on oath with having stolen from St. Martins Church at Peterborough, Lincolnshire; and not from St. Michael’s at Stamford, as was mentioned in this paper on the 12th inst. by mistake.

Salt is admitted an evidence for the Crown, as was some days before an accomplice named Hinton.

Handley, alias Bentley, and Atkins are fully committed for trial at next assizes, for breaking into, and robbing the silk mills of Mr Fothergill of Stamford and detainers are lodged against them for the sacrilege at Peterborough. These four offenders were at the same time prisoners onboard one of the hulks at Woolwich.”

1789: John’s second attempt to break out of Peterborough Gaol.6

This article appears to have been published after John was committed to the Newgate Gaol.

About a fortnight ago John Handley, alias Bently, was very near making his escape out of Peterboro’ gaol a second time, having broken through two walls five feet thick. Still, having been heard by a debtor, who gave the alarm to the gaoler, he was properly secured.


1790: Transported to NSW per Neptune

1792: Norfolk Island

On the 7th of April 1792, John was among nine men and a woman who stowed away on the Pitt sailing from Sydney for Norfolk Island and India.

The stowaways were discovered and disembarked at Norfolk Island7.

1806: Marriage to Mary Martin8

On the 15th of Jan 1806, John married my 5th Great Grandmother, Mary Martin.

Mary, an only child, motherless, and only 12yrs old was the youngest person to have been married in the colony at the time.

The marriage between John and Mary appears to have ended in 1808, whether this was before or after their departure from Norfolk Island has not been documented.

There are no documented births from John and Mary’s brief relationship.


1808: John embarks for VDL9

John, along with Mary and Stephen Martin departed Norfolk Island in 1808. Although they sailed together aboard the Estramina, it appears as though the marriage between John and Mary had ended.

Upon arrival in Tasmania on the 5th of Jun 1808, John would take up a land grant well removed from Mary and her father. Future records for Mary make it clear that they were no longer together.

1813: Land Grant allocated at Ralphs’ Bay10

34 Acres Van Dieman’s Land11

Unto John Bentley his heirs and assigns to have and to hold for ever.

Thirty-Four acres of land lying situate in the District of Clarence Plains, Van Dieman’s Land. Bounded on the north side by thirty-one chains of Fowles Farm bearing West. On the Westside by a south line of Ten chains. On the Southside by Beadles farm bearing east thirty-six chains to Ralphs Bay. And on the East side by that bay.

Conditional, and reserving to Government the right of making a public road through the same. And also reserving the use of the Crown such timber as may be deemed fit for Naval purposes.

Quit Rent, One Shilling.

In Testimony [..] this 20th day September 1813.
Signed “L. Macquarie”

Before Signing, it is here inserted that those Clauses in this Grant which prescribe the selling, [..], Cultivating and Clearing thereof are Rescinded this Grant being in Compensation for Land relinquished by the Grantee at Norfolk Island

Witnessed by H. C. Anthill*, Charles Whalan

*Governor Maquaries’ Aide-De-Camp

This Grant is unusual in the sense that the Estramina Ships log lists John as not owning land on Norfolk Island, if that was the case then he was not due to receive a grant Van Dieman’s Land

1818: On Trial for Sheep Stealing12


On Wednesday last the sessions opened, and the customary forms being gone through, the Court adjourned to Thursday morning, ten o’clock; when Patrick Murphy was indicted of burglary and acquitted.

William Trimm and John Bentley were next indicted; the former for feloniously stealing, on the 7th of December last, 200 sheep, the property of Messrs. Stynes and Troy, settlers at a place called the Coal River Plains, at Van Dieman’s Land; and the latter, charged upon one count with purchasing and receiving the same knowing them to have been stolen; and, upon a second count, with having aided and abetted the prisoner Trimm in committing the capital felony.

Mr James Stynes deposed that at the beginning of December it was reported to him by his shepherd, that upwards of 200 of the sheep the joint property of himself and partner Mr Troy were missing from their flock, and hearing a few days after that the prisoner Bentley’s flock of sheep were at a place called Kangaroo Point, he went and examined if any of theirs were among them, and found 59 which he positively identified as being of the number stolen: 57 of these had had their original mark much defaced, but two of them were unaltered.

James Goodwin, the shepherd of the prosecutor, was next sworn and deposed, that by the direction of Mr Stynes he went to the farm of the prisoner Bentley, and in his flock, which consisted of about 300, he found 59 of his masters’ sheep. This witness also deposed to the alteration of the marks as sworn to by the first witness; which alterations were so inflicted as to be then only in a healing state; and to the animals themselves, he was capable of swearing positively, as a shepherd having the flock six years under his charge.

Concerning the prisoner William Trimm, John Band, a shepherd in the employ of Mr Wm. Nicholls, deposed, that a day or two before Trimm was taken into custody he met him in the woods, with about 60 sheep, driving them in the direction of Race Bay, leading from the farm of Stynes and Troy to that of Bentley; but upon perceiving the witness he instantly headed his flock and turned them towards Kangaroo Point, which was quite the opposite direction to that he had apparently been pursuing; that being about a mile from the road, the prisoner Trimm requested to be put into it, observing that the sheep belonged to Mrs Sergeant, of Hobart Town, in whose employ he was, and that he was taking them to Kangaroo Point to be slaughtered for the store, which rather surprised the witness, as he was aware the prisoner was well acquainted with the woods.

This witness further deposed, that the following morning he saw the 59 sheep at Kangaroo Point, which had been selected by Stynes and his shepherd, and could not fail of ascertaining them to be the same he had seen the previous day with the prisoner Trimm, notwithstanding the alteration of their marks. Patrick McCabe deposed that he saw the prisoner Trimm in company with one Fitzharrison, on the grounds of Stynes and Troy, about the time the sheep were missing.

Elizabeth Goodwin, a free girl and shepherdess in the employ of the prisoner John Bentley, deposed, that the prisoner William Trimm was in the habit of frequenting her master’s house and that two or three days before the sheep being taken to Kangaroo Point Trimm had a conversation with the prisoner Bentley. The next evening there were about 50 strange sheep, with their ears fresh-cut, added to her flock.

Here the evidence for the prosecution closed, and the prisoners were called upon for their defence; when the prisoner John Bentley declared he had received them from William Trimm, who made no defence. –

Both prisoners were found guilty.

1818: John is transported to Sydney to give evidence in the Trial13

John is transported to Sydney aboard the Henrietta Packet on the 25th of Feb 1818 to give evidence in the trial.

1818: John found guilty for sheep stealing in VDL, no sentence set. 14

“The Criminal Sessions were opened at Sydney on the 25th Of March last.

The following is the result of the trials of those committed from this Settlement:- William Trimm and John Bentley were both found guilty; the former for feloniously stealing on the 7th of Dec. last, 2OO sheep, the property of Messrs Stynes and Troy, settlers residing on the Coal River Plains; and the latter with purchasing the same knowing them to have been stolen, and with having aided the prisoner Trimm in committing the capital felony.

Trimm and Bentley had not received their sentence at the date of our Sydney paper, owing to the Sessions not being then closed.”

1818: William Trimm is sentenced to be executed while John is committed for transportation to NSW15


Sitting Magistrate – Rev.R.Knopwood, A.M

At eleven o’clock on Thursday morning, were executed pursuant to their sentence, George Gray for murder, and William Trimm for sheep stealing; they having arrived in the Minerva, under warrants of execution. The crime of the former always leads to the same end, “Whosoever sheddeth Man’s Blood, by Man shall his blood be shed.” The unhappy malefactor, however, died penitent and refined; and it may be hoped, that his penitence and his life surrendered to the outraged Laws, may be received as an atonement for his crime.

The offence of sheep-stealing has been carried to such an extent in this Colony, that an example has been long required.

The unhappy man, who has in this case suffered, is generally understood to have been for years engaged in these practices; and as he had done long escaped with impunity, and his guilt in this instance was proved beyond all question, perhaps the hand of justice could not have seized upon a more proper object of example. In this trial, the necessity of severe punishment, as to the principal offender, was mingled, as it ever is under the British Laws, with mitigation of sentence towards the minor criminals.

Bentley and Brown, who were convicted before the same Court, and received the Governor in Chief’s mercy in commutation of their sentence, to transportation.

The attention and humane offices of the Rev. Mr Knopwood were on this occasion constant, and no doubt assisted essentially to bring the unhappy prisoners to a just their situation, and to that state of mind which enabled them to meet their fate with decency and resignation.

It is to be hoped that the awful examples presented by their fate will be felt as they ought; and that it will tend to prevent the recurrence of those violence’s amounting to murder, or very near it, which have often occurred in moments of intoxication during the last year; and that those who are yet engaged in cattle and sheep-stealing will take warning by the termination of Trimm’s life, foreseeing the imminent risk they run, in case of detection of coming to the same end.”

1820: Register of Land Holders, VDL16

John is recorded as holding 34acres of land in Clarence Plains

Whether John is still in NSW or Van Dieman’s Land is unclear.

1824: John is Murdered by Cornelius Fitzpatrick17

The Sydney Gazette reported on the trial of the man convicted of his strange and senseless murder, which came to light on the basis of the evidence of a concerned Aboriginal man.

1824: Trial of Cornelius Fitzpatrick and Thomas Colville for the wilful murder of John Bentley18

“Supreme Court of Criminal Jurisdiction

Sydney, Wednesday, June 16, 1824


Cornelius Fitzpatrick and Thomas Colville were indicted for the wilful murder of John Bentley, a shepherd in the vicinity of the settlement of Newcastle.

It appeared by the testimony of Robert Sears, an accomplice, that the prisoners and himself were in company on the way from Patrick’s Plains to Newcastle; that when within a few miles of the settlement, the prisoner Colville and the witness passed a hut occupied by Bentley, the deceased, leaving behind Fitzpatrick and a black native. That when about 60 yards ahead of Fitzpatrick and the witness passed a hut occupied by Bentley, the deceased, leaving behind Fitzpatrick and a black native. That when about 60 yards ahead of Fitzpatrick and the witness heard the report of a musket.

Upon Fitzpatrick coming up, the witness Sears enquired the cause of his, discharging his piece at that time, it being in the night: the reply elicited was, “that he had been shooting at a dog; and here, for the moment, further enquiry dropped.

On their arrival at Newcastle, however, the native and the witness Sears were at the house of a constable, named Young, when the black-man expressed vast sorrow for what had been done by Fitzpatrick, whom he, the native, then impeached with the death of “Old John,” meaning unfortunate Bentley, the deceased.

Further enquiry became instantly instituted, and the information given by the native proved to be too true! In the presence of the Gaoler at Newcastle, it was also proved, that Fitzpatrick acknowledged to the discharge of the musket, which had occasioned the death of Bentley; at the same time exculpating the witness Sears and adding that the musket went off accidentally. There was corroborative testimony of the fact, that the prisoner Fitzpatrick did fire the gun, and that the deceased met with death in consequence.

The Members retired after the charge of His Honor the Chief Justice and were occupied nearly an hour in the jury-room, when a verdict of Guilty was returned against the first prisoner, Cornelius Fitzpatrick, and Not Guilty against Thomas Colville.

The awful sentence of the Law was then passed upon the murderer, by His Honor the Chief Justice; which decreed that he should suffer death on Wednesday morning (yesterday).”

1824: Cornelius Fitzpatrick is executed for the murder of John19


On Monday last, Cornelius Fitzpatrick, the unhappy man condemned at the present Criminal Sessions for wilful murder, underwent the awful sentence of the law, at the usual place of execution in the rear of the county gaol. He confessed the fact of having discharged the gun which wounded and killed poor Bentley, but averred it originated in the accident. The justice of that sentence, however, which doomed him to an untimely end, he fully acknowledged; and hoped for mercy through the merits of Christ Jesus.”


  1. The Second Fleet, Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790: Flynn, Michael
  2. Northampton Mercury – Saturday 01 November 1788
  3. Stamford Mercury – Friday 09 January 1789, 3
  4. Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 23 Jan. 1789
  5. Whitehall Evening Post (London, England), January 27, 1789 – January 29, 1789
  6. Stamford Mercury – Friday 01 May 1789
  7. John Cobley, Sydney Cove 1791-1792, A & R 1965, p 246
  8. Norfolk Island Rev. Fulton baptisms, burials and marriages 1801-1806, Dunn, Cathy
  9. TAHO: CSO1/1/177, 4306 P224, Film No: Z1794
  10. TAHO: LSD354/1/2
  11. TAHO:
  12. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 28 March 1818: 3
  13. TAHO: CUS33/1/3 p32, Film No. Z2938
  14. The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, 9 May 1818: 2
  15. The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, 13 June 1818: 1
  16. State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia; Population musters, Dependent settlements; Series: NRS 1261; Reel: 1255
  17. NSW BDM: 52/1824 V182452 9
  18. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 24 June 1824: 2.
  19. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1 July 1824: 2