Jack the Leecher

John Turner was a sprightly 21 year old baker when he was transported for stealing a watch, although he was missing a leg. It was the right, from below the knee.

Sometimes we lose track of a convict after they leave the convict system – even if they stay there, committing misdeeds, affronts and offences until long after their original sentence expired. Occasionally they turn up in unexpected places…

John was quite a resourceful convict. Along with the usual riotous behaviour, he got away from the chain gangs for long enough to dabble in highway robbery, and to spend few weeks working on a farm. He also assaulted a woman, stole another watch, and some salt.

John Turner’s conduct record, TAHO: CON31/1/42 p.63

After becoming free by servitude (7 years served in 12), he had a job as a watchman. Unfortunately, a convict escaped under his guard, earning him another 7 year sentence, after which he was moderately better behaved. By the time he was finally free again, John Taylor was 53 years old.

The next time Taylor appears in our records is when he would have been 76. The old lag seems to have acquired a new occupation, because he was known as ‘Jack the Leecher’! This probably meant that he earned a living collecting leeches from the forest and swamps, and selling them to doctors to use for their favourite treatment – bloodletting. With only one leg, he only had to worry about one of his feet getting wet.

This record tells us that Taylor was brought in to Hamilton from the Dee River (an ideal place for a leecher) and put on a list of paupers to be sent to the hospital or invalid depot in Hobart.

But old Jack refused to go to hospital. He was probably enjoying his freedom, while it lasted.

Return of paupers sent from Hamilton to General Hospital and Invalid depot TAHO: POL302/1/1 p.3

John Taylor probably died at one of the pauper institutions in either 1877 or 1884. Was he the 73 year old labourer who died in the New Town pauper establishment of ‘fatty degeneration of [the] heart’, or the 85 year old baker who died of senility at Brickfields? Or did he just slip into a bog, never to be heard from again?

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Author: Jess Walters

Jess is an archivist with the State Library and Archive Service.

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