The Life of Samuel Jacobs (1818 – 1885)

 The Life of Samuel Jacobs (1818 – 1885)  Prepared by Tom Keating  & Dave Simpson – June 2010

Early life

We have no direct knowledge of Samuel’s early life.  We can only assume it was typical of the life lead by many poor families in London at the time and according to history there was little pleasure to be had.

He was one of five children.  Of his siblings the only one we know anything about is his brother Lawrence.

Samuel stole a handkerchief and was deported to Tasmania for seven years. This was at a time when a sentence of seven years meant the person very seldom returned to their home country.   He was 18. 

His brother Lawrence later went to Melbourne, Australia and met up with Samuel. 

We now know about his brother Sam(p)son who also went to Australia [DS 27/11/2015]


Some thought’s on Samuel’s imprisonment

When Samuel stole a handkerchief in 1833 we wonder whether he had any idea where it would lead?

His prison record is a catalogue of offences.

His original sentence of 7 years was twice extended. First in 1837 when a further 3 years were added for stealing yet another handkerchief! And again in 1838 when he was given another 2 years for ‘larceny under £5’.  He was fortunate the amount was under £5; larceny over £5 was a capital offence.

During his twelve years much of his time appears to have been served in prison rather than being allowed out as many prisoners were.

He makes 29 appearances before the officials resulting in an impressive 4 years of hard labour, a good part of which was served in chains. He also spent a total of 3 months in solitary confinement. Additionally he received a total of 111 lashes – and was lucky not to have received a further 50 on one occasion, avoided by apparently being able to ‘give very useful information’.

What sort of man was he?

Whilst his prison record sounds horrendous, should it have been?

By today’s standards the crimes he committed, in total, would probably not result in a custodial sentence at all, or a short term one only.

On two occasions he stole a handkerchief, once that resulted in his original sentence and once while serving his sentence.

What of his other crimes whilst in prison?

Absent from muster, being in possession of some flour, disobedience of orders, absent from barracks, insolence and refusing to work, making use of obscene language, having some dough in his possession, having a quantity of apples in his possession, having raisins improperly in his possession, assault.

Not exactly the most heinous of crimes are they?

If his behaviour in prison is typical of the man then it is likely that he was a criminal before he was caught in 1833 – can we find him in other courts?  So far we have had no luck with this.

Could he have simply been rebelling against what he thought was an injustice?

Whatever the reason it is unlikely that he changed once he was set free. If the punishment he received didn’t stop him whilst in prison it is unlikely that he would change once he was free.

Life after prison

His “free certificate” was granted in 1845 and there is no documentation about him until his marriage in Hobart, Tasmania, in January 1849.

His bride was the daughter of another convict and it is supposed that this would be the social level he (and she) would be allowed.  They had one child while living in Hobart.

Samuel and the family moved on to Melbourne.  Here he became a stable-keeper*.  Another child was born while they were there.  Samuel’s brother Lawrence joined them in Melbourne.

Little is known of his life in Melbourne but it is obvious he and Lawrence made contacts they later used for transacting business between Melbourne and Hokitika, N.Z.

They became “dealers” at Clyde, N.Z.* where gold had been discovered.

Later Lawrence returned to Melbourne and Samuel and family went to Hokitika.

At that time Hokitika was a thriving and busy port and was the nearest New Zealand port to Melbourne.  It is obvious the brothers had many deals on the go – the record of goods they imported to Hokitika from Melbourne* was wide and varied.

Life in Hokitika

Here Samuel seemed to establish a “normal” life for himself and his family.  He had a wife and family; he had a business; he attended and was a choir member* and office bearer of the Jewish synagogue*; he bought the rights to operate the tollgates at Omotumotu* – for which he paid £615 for one year; he chaired the Hospital Committee*.

He also had the unfortunate habit of getting into petty trouble – unregistered dogs, straying horses, sly-grogging, an “innocent” role in a perjury case, bankruptcy.  For these there were several fines but no prison, hard labour or lashes.  He was a free man.

Samuel’s wife, Fanny Matilda, died in 1869 and in 1876 he re-married and had three more children while living in Hokitika.

Later life

In 1878 the family moved to Christchurch, N.Z.  Hokitika was beginning to lose its importance and Christchurch was growing.  Samuel and Emma had a further five children, two of whom died after surviving a few weeks.

Once again Samuel was a dealer but there are no reports of nefarious activities in Christchurch.

He died in 1885 – an adjudged bankrupt for the second time. [According to letters of administration]



Reviewing this again in November 2015, I find that for some of the statements made I cannot find my original proofs. Therefore they must be considered suspect for now.