Posted in Stories

Jane Langley’s Journey – First Fleet Convict

Jane’s mother, Elizabeth Langley, was admitted to British Lying-In Hospital for Married Women at Holbourne, on 16 September, 1761 at the age of 35 years and delivered Jane the very same day. The records show that Jane’s father was Edward Langley, a labourer in the parish of St George, Hanover Square.

Hanover Square from Stows London Square, 1750
Hanover Square from Stows London Square, 1750

Jane was baptised on 17 September 1761 and she and her mother were discharged from the hospital on 6 October 1761. A woman had to be sponsored to deliver at the Lying-In hospital and Elizabeth was sponsored by Lady G Sackville. It is thought that Elizabeth and/or Edward were employees of the Sackville family.  Jane is my husband’s g, g, g, g, grandmother.

Lying-In Hospital
Lying-In Hospital

Little is known of Jane’s early life however from various documents we do know that Jane was a quite black complexioned young woman, with dark unruly, curly hair. She had completed her Tambourer apprenticeship in the year 1777, which tells us that she worked either with hooped embroidery or a type of lace making.

It’s alleged that on the night of 29 July, 1785 Jane and her friend Mary Finn met a man by the name of Robert Robinson in Nightingale Lane and the women asked him back to Mary’s home in Blackhorse yard. Mr Robinson claims after being in the house for around 5 minutes he felt a hand in the pocket of his trousers and when he looked in his pocket he was missing more than 5 Guineas. Jan and Mary’s trial took place at the Old Bailey on 14 September 1785.

Both Jane and Mary have stories which differ to that given by Mr Robinson. Our Mary claims that she was walking home from work and carrying some embroidery with her when Robinson took hold of her claiming he had been robbed. Mary claims that Mr Robinson had been knocking on a number of doors in the area about the theft of his money when she came upon him, and that he followed her into her home. She got him to leave and locked the door behind him and went to bed.

Unfortunately, because of the differing versions of the story given by Jane Langley, Mary Finn and their witnesses, the court found both women guilty. The court felt that the witnesses had perjured themselves with their testimony and some of the witnessess were apparently prosecuted as well. Jane and Mary were sentence to transportation “beyond the seas for the term of seven years to such place or places as his Majesty, by the advice of his Privy Council shall think fit to declare and appoint.”

Jane’s punishment is recorded in the Old Bailey Proceedings Punishment Summary for 14 September, 1785.

Old Bailey Courtroom - sketched 1809
Old Bailey Courtroom – sketched 1809

It would appear that Jane was transferred to the Newgate Prison which was located on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey. At the time that Jane was incarcerated the prison was already over 110 years old and was not only the largest prison, but also reputed to be the worst prison of them all. It was built to house 40-50 prisoners and often held three and even four times that number. The rooms were very cramped and overcrowded, and more often than not the female prisoners were filthy and unkept. They were fed meagre rations which resulted in many illnesses and even death. It is reported that people passing the prison by on the street would hold their nose from the stench. Prisoners were expected to pay for bedding and clothing, and if a prisoner didn’t have the money for these comforts, they had no choice but to sleep on the floor and do with the clothes they were admitted in. Heavy manacles – often painfully constricting – were attached to prisoners and then secured to chains and bolts in the floor. The prisoner could pay to have lighter manacles fitted, or have them removed entirely, if they had the money!

There is a description of the conditions of Newgate Prison given by a prison reformer by the name of John Howard in1878, the same year that Jane was discharged from there, giving us perhaps the best indication of what life was like for these unfortunate souls:

John Howard, painted by Mather Brown
John Howard, painted by Mather Brown

In three or four rooms there were near one hundred and fifty women crowded together, many young creatures with the old and hardened, some of whom had been confined upwards two years; on the men’s side likewise there were many boys of twelve or fourteen years of age; some almost naked. In the men’s infirmary, there were only seven iron bedsteads, and at my last visit there being twenty sick, some of them naked and with sores, in a miserable condition, lay on the floor with only a rug. There were four sick in the infirmary for women, which is only fifteen feet and a half by twelve, has but one window, and no bedsteads; the sewers were offensive and prison not whitewashed.

Newgate Floor Plan
Newgate Floor Plan



Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison



Picture Hanover Square

Picture Newgate Prison–ccCFQJepgodQHIH0A&dpr=0.75#imgdii=pKQ_HvFSkFr7sM%3A%3BpKQ_HvFSkFr7sM%3A%3B1EISvpdHMa9hFM%3A&imgrc=pKQ_HvFSkFr7sM%3A

Picture Lying-In Hospital

Old Bailey:  Thomas Rowlandson, The Old Bailey, from The Microcosm of London, 1808. © London Lives

Picture John Howard – Prison Reformer

Jane Langley Information:  A New Beginning – The Story of Three First Fleet Families and Descendants, Written, Published & Distributed by “The Jane Langley Association”



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