Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Tale of Hollymans, Somerset, United Kingdom, Part 3

by Glenn N. Holliman

Bob Hollyman-Mawson completes his tale of 'justice' in ole Somerset, home of his Hollyman ancestors.  Please refer to the previous two blogs to best understand the story.


It had now been decided not to allow the condemned men, after having been imprisoned in Ilchester Gaol, to be disposed of by the swift method of being dispatched through a trap-door.  Instead, they were to be publicly hanged at the scene where their crimes had been committed: Benjamin and Hannah Poole's field called Shortlands.

This was because a well-publicised example had to be made of them as a deterrent to other serious law-breakers committing these types of crimes not just in the area of Ken but in other parts of Somerset as well. So the hoped for result was that such offences would be drastically reduced by demonstrating a harsh visual warning that crime does not pay.

Fearing an attempt at rescue a troop of the Bath Yeomanry Cavalry was sent to Ken Moor whilst the prisoners, trundling along inside a horse-drawn prison van and sitting on their coffins, were accompanied by the Javelin-Men from Axbridge. This journey took over six grueling hours, and then they had to wait another two hours before meeting the grim reaper.

Even though their kinfolk, including little children, sought permission to bid farewell to their loved-ones the intransigent authorities cruelly rejected their mournful pleadings as they copiously wept. For instance, William and Mary had seven children aged between 2 and 14.

Western Flying Post Newspaper, 1830: “The Yeomanry Cavalry and 200 constables were in attendance. The prisoners were dressed in the style of labourers. During the day an elm tree on which a great number of persons had assembled, fell from the preponderating weight on the top but fortunately no accident occurred. The greatest order was kept during the day, in consequence of the excellent arrangement of the High Sheriff and his assistants.”

Some thirteen thousand men, women and children came to watch this "spectacle of entertainment" including The Rev. Sir Abraham Elton, 5th Baronet. Elton would have had a grandstand seat at the front whilst probably holding his Bible and praying for the souls of the condemned men. 

Of further interest is that the Reverend Abraham Elton's first wife was Eliza Durbin; so my ancestral Hollyman bloodline might be connected to the Eltons by marriage from which Julia Elton and her siblings descend, inclusive of Sir Charles Abraham Grierson Elton, the 11th Baronet.

The three men then “ascended the scaffold with a firm step” after which the hangman tied the nooses of the gallows around their necks. These gallows had been erected by placing lengths of long poles, which had been tied at top, above and to either side of a farm-cart.  

   Execution Field 1966

Wall confessed to his crime adding that his wife, still in prison, was innocent. 

Rowley stated his ruin stemmed from associations he had made at “cider shops”, and Clarke said nothing.

As a horse leisurely pulled the cart from underneath their feet they were launched into everlasting eternity. Wall and Rowley crossed the divide relatively quickly but it was a different story for youngest of them, for he was the last to die and suffered a worse fate.

Poor Richard Clarke, whilst being slowly and agonizingly strangled, performed such a ghastly macabre dance of death for so many minutes that the executioners took pity on him and hung onto his legs until his fruitless struggles for life were ended. For them, it was over.

Mary Wall will have been greatly relieved when her sentence was reduced to transportation, together with two others, for life. Her children by William were farmed out amongst family members and friends, and she was never to see them again. Some years later, though, the same Joseph Griffin who had been the potato victim kindly took in one of these children as a servant.

Below, a drawing of an Australian convict ship.

Removed to the  sailing-ship “Hydery” at Woolwich in 1832, Mary was afterwards conveyed across the waves to a penal colony in Australia which took about 8 months, the vessel being crammed with men, women and children.  Whilst she was in Ilchester Gaol Mary gave posthumous birth to David, her 8th child, she having become pregnant by William before forced widowhood. 

This child, having been transported with his mother under what can only be described as the most appalling conditions imaginable on a prison-ship at sea for many months, was placed in an orphan school but sadly passed over and was buried at Hobart, Tasmania, aged 2 years 6 months: Prisoner’s Child, Number 2957.

At Tasmania, in 1834, Mary was convicted of “improper conduct” and sentenced to work for six months in the “crime class”. The prisoners, all wearing yellow uniforms, were blindfolded for lengthy periods of time and forced to remain silent. Furthermore, many of them received severe floggings.

The penal settlement was at Port Arthur, Tasmania, later called Carnarvon after the town within which I recently resided.   It was in 1642 that the famous Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman discovered this large island, which he named Van Diemen's Land.  The vessel he sailed on was the Heemskerck; it's ship's commander being a Dutchman born in Germany, called Captain Yde T'Jercxzoon Holleman who was born in Germany.
The penitentiary buildings are still there. Over five decades, until 1853, a total of 12,000 of Great Britain’s misfits were sent here. The Isle of the Dead contains the convict cemetery where nearly 2000 unfortunates lie buried.

However, Mary did achieve some measure of happiness for she soon married another convict, William Hawkins of Banwell, Somerset. They were to have issue of three children and Eliza, the eldest, was baptised in 1837. Later that century Eliza married Daniel Abbot, by whom she had issue of sixteen children.

So as a result of such prolific fertility there are a lot of Australian citizens over there today who continue the rebellious, vibrant bloodline spirit of the very remarkable woman who was Mary Culliford/Wall/Hawkins.


As both Benjamin and Hannah received no compensation for their loss, he and his wife would have suffered great financial hardship in the running of their farm in the years after their ricks were destroyed.  Benjamin may have passed away by 1839, for the Ken Tithes Award of that year reveals that Hannah was then running Laurel Farm. As well, on the 1841 Census for Ken, she was still there as a 55-year-old farmer with Charles, her 15-year-old son.

Joseph Poole, who may have been her brother-in-law, is also listed in this village as living at Rose Cottage. He was an Innkeeper. It may well have been he who was beaten up by the gang of ruffians during the trial.

The names of other family members connected with my Hollyman ancestors in that area spring to mind such as Batman and Parsons. Moreover, the name Wall alludes to greater significance.

Samuel (Durbin?) Hollyman, Gentleman and Farmer, was my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. At Clevedon on 1 December 1790 he married Ann/Anne, daughter of Thomas and Hannah Wall nee Griffin. I wonder if ...?

In conclusion it is entirely possible that some of those perpetrators and victims were distantly related; if so, one cannot discount my credible theory that a blood-feud may have existed between some of these families over many years which eventually reached boiling-point due to that cider incident which caused such a tragic chain of events.

As to my Hannah’s role in this unfortunate tale, nothing is presently known as to her thoughts, words and deeds at that time; so she must remain an enigmatic lady of mystery.

I do not know what the name of the place is today where those hangings took place, or even if it does have one nowadays. But there is something I do know, which is what successive generations in the locality have called it for over the last 185 years:  


Let it be further noted: 

The first wife of the Reverend Sir Abraham (1755-1842) was Eliza Durbin, both of whom are the direct ancestors of Julia Elton, President of the Clevedon Civic Society, her sister Rebecca and her brother, Sir Charles Abraham Grierson Elton, the 11th Baronet.

Hezekiah Hollyman, Yeoman, Overseer, and Churchwarden of St Andrews Church, Clevedon (circa 1711-1749) and his wife Ann (circa 1720-1795) had a daughter called Mary (baptised 1741-buried 1813). 

Mary Hollyman gave birth to an illegitimate child called Samuel Durbin who's name was written in a burial register on 6 March 1763/64. 
If the incumbent clerical scribe made a grave error by scribbling him in the burial instead of the birth/baptismal register of St. Andrews Church due to him burning the midnight oil, and drinking too much Confirmation wine, then there may be a surviving bloodline link between my Clevedon Hollyman ancestors and the Eltons via Sam. - BHM 2015

Our thanks to cousin Bob for his three postings on Kenn, Somerset and a look at the harsh English justice of the early 19th Century. - GNH
For information on Hollimans and allied families, please refer to the 28 March 2015 blog for an inventory of available manuscripts and data on Hollimans and allied families.
Have questions about Holliman family history? You are invited to join the Hollyman Email List at and the Hollyman Family Facebook Page located on Facebook at "Hollyman Family". Post your questions and perhaps one of the dozens Holyman cousins on the list will have an answer. For more information contact Tina Peddie at, the list and Facebook manager for Hollyman (and all our various spellings!).

We are all on a journey.  Through genealogy we can discover how families better themselves generation to generation.  When we understand the past, we know ourselves more fully and are more generously equipped to travel through our own time and place in the Cosmos. - GNH

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