The Island

February of 1841 the Lord Lyndoch arrives in Hobart Town with its cargo of convicts, about 317 of them, there were three lost to scurvy and consumption on the voyage. It is February and its Summer. The convicts are sent on deck and stripped naked to record any markings; tattoos, moles, scars, making it clear they are known in every intimate detail on this prison island, Van Deiman’s Land – Tasmania, Tassy.

Ellis Caspar, Convict No. 5185

The convict is 5 foot 2 ½ inches tall, he has a large head with fair complexion, black to grey hair and whiskers. He has hazel eyes, a high forehead, large nose, and a mole under his right eye, pushing back the beard a small dimpled chin is revealed (hah, that little chin is still around today).

A humiliating act to stand here in front of the whole town, bloody outpost at the end of the world. Stripped, recorded and classed. From the deck, (its been my world for months), you can see the few houses around the port, a wide street ahead, with a scattering of new homes, a church, looks like government buildings too and rolling green pastures beyond the town and then an impenetrable bush climbing the hills and into the heart of this prison island. And they’ve killed all the ‘Blacks’ * too.

A 14 year sentence, Ellis is 56 years old and sent to the prisoners Hulk on the Derwent river, his son, Lewin, into a work gang building a road for twelve months. Scarlet fever takes Lewin 18 months into his sentence.

In June of 1842 Ellis is made a Javelin Man, a position held for the educated and the formerly privileged, to run errands, to guard prisoners during court hearings, and to stand by the condemned as he prepares for the noose.

Elizabeth, Ellis’s wife is in London preparing to pack and leave, to sell the house they have been living in for 33 years on Finsbury Pavement, to take all eight children to the other side of the world. Forever. They arrive in 1843. It is also the year the local Jewish community have begun construction on a new Synagogue, it is to be the first in Australia, Ellis becomes a major benefactor of the building, his seat is no. 37.

In 1849 Ellis receives his ticket of Pardon, he has served 8 years and is now 64 years old. He remained a clock maker and one of his clocks keeps good time to this day ironically, in the supreme court of Tasmania. Ten years after becoming free Ellis moves to Melbourne and buys a row of six cottages in the new suburb of Emerald Hill (now South Melbourne). He dies a few years later at the age of 77 and Elizabeth moves into a home overlooking the Exhibition Gardens.

*The Black War was the period of violent conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal Australians in from the mid-1820s to 1832. The conflict, fought largely as a guerrilla war by both sides, claimed the lives of more than 200 European colonists and between 600 and 900 Aboriginal people, nearly annihilating the island’s indigenous population

The clock in the Tasmanian Supreme Court made by Ellis.

Hobart Synagogue

There is more to come I am inspired to do more research, so if you would like updates – hit the ‘FOLLOW’ button at the bottom of the page.

Thanks for reading

watch case

November 1834, some four and a bit years before the Great Gold Dust Robbery, Ellis Caspar was in court at the Old Bailey.  It was the case of Alfred Salmon, indicted for stealing a watch valued at £4, which had brought Ellis to the Old Bailey. All evidence pointed to a very clear, open and shut case against Mr Salmon, a fellow watch maker who Ellis had used to do extra work for him from time to time, in this case, to repair the internal workings of a valuable watch, but Mr Salmon decided to pawn it four times and admitted he should have returned it, it was never returned. The verdict, Not Guilty! 

This was a time of emancipation in the Empire, for the Jews, for Catholics and for slaves, but it must have been a slow transition with aged old hatreds dying slow deaths for such a verdict.

Finsbury Pavement or Place, was an interesting area, it was under construction and  establishing its new persona in the old Moor Fields just outside the old Roman wall. Longbow archers practiced daily in the Middle Ages on bows made of Yew branches harvested from the southern reaches of France and the northern parts of old Tuscany. It was also on the Moor Fields where people of disrepute would gather to meet, to plan and hustle. Later they built the dreaded mental asylum gaining its favored named of Bedlam, on the Moor grounds now recently being spoken of as Finsbury gardens. Years of pain and suffering in buildings horribly damp and cracking added more misery to the misery already dealt out. The old streets of the Moore fields found shops selling bits and bobs, junk mainly, from poor and wretched merchants.  Then the Bedlum was to come down, demolished, all signs of agony deleted. The far end of the gardens became Finsbury Square, next Finsbury Pavement. Probably the only raised Pavement out of the mud. Here is where the young Ellis Caspar purchased his new home and shop while he watched the last dying days of the Bedlam building itself coming down and the new and expensive Finsbury Circus built, filling with doctors and lawyers and bankers and the like.  The largest bookshop in London was  now here, ‘big enough to turn a carriage of horses in the entrance’, they would say. The famous Montfiore came to Finsbury square where he would eventually meet his wife the sister of a famous someone at the time. Goldsmid the banker who helped bank role the government during the Naploeonic wars  had his son trained at an English school in Finsbury square. These wealthy Jewish bankers and thinkers attended Bevis Marks synagogue a few blocks towards the river; they had their seats, it was a close and a closed community, what had gone on was between themselves, in their own language.  Now there is this new acceptance by the state, but it comes and goes like the tide, old prejudices flaring, making life uncertain, like steering through the mist truth needs to sound its horn, make known it is there to all. Perhaps it was an act of bravery or just foolhardy to test the courts with this robbery of a watch. Mr Salmon was no Jew or Catholic or slave, he had the full and solid history of the Empire behind him. And so it was, both Ellis and Lewin had their names entered into the courts system, albeit innocently, nevertheless, entered.


transcript from the Old Bailey

24th November 1834

ALFRED SALMON was indicted for stealing, on the 11th of October, 1 watch, value 4l.; the goods of Ellis Caspar.

ELLIS CASPER . I am a watch-maker, and live in Finsbury-place. The prisoner had the interior of this watch to repair—he brought it back, and about two or three days afterwards, I missed it.

Cross-examined by MR. DOANE. Q. Do you recollect, on the 8th of October, giving him three watches to repair? A. Yes, the works of three—I did not desire him to call again for work, but he did call—I complained of the work being badly done, and did not give him any more—I called at his lodging afterwards—he said he was ill—his wife said he had sent the watch home by his brother, who had pawned it—he was not in distress—he had lately taken an apprentice, with 30l., and was in comfortable circumstances—I demanded the watch, and he said if I would wait a day or two, he would return it—I had him taken, but I think not the same day—I have since discovered that he has pawned it four times.

COURT. Q. Did you say you would give him a day or two? A. I might have said that, as he said he was poorly and could not get it.

LEWIS CASPER . I am the prosecutor’s son. On the 9th of October, the prisoner came to the shop—he said, “I have seen your father, and he told me to tell you to give me the watch,” pointing to it—I gave it to him—I was going to take the movement out of the case, and he said, “Do not trouble yourself, you will have it back this evening”—he called his apprentice in, and said, “You will have to bring the watch back this evening—mind you take care of it”—I did not see it again till he was taken.

EDWARD YOUNG . I am in the service of a pawnbroker. I have the watch which was pawned by the prisoner on the 9th of October, for 5s.—he came again the same day, and had 5s. more—the next day he had 10s. more, which made 1l., and he came on the 11th, and had another sovereign.

Cross-examined. Q. Did you know him? A. No; it was pawned in the name of James Baker—he said he was in the watchmaking line—I wanted to buy it of him, as I wanted one; but he said he could not sell it, as it was his son’s, and he was in distress.

Prisoner. I worked for him upwards of ten years, and have had a great deal of property—I should have returned it.



My grandfather died and the door creaked opened, we were allowed to look into a past that had been sealed forever.   What were they doing in there?   An ancient world of  Dutch, or older still, Spanish jews, of clockmakers and Brazilian fortunes; a world of cunning deceit, gold dust and bullion, robbery and fencing, of bankers untrusted and exportation to the New World. No wonder it was hands off, cupboard doors slammed closed and padlocked, chained against any threat of discovering ancient secrets, hoped lost. No, my darling grandfather passed away and we ripped the doors asunder and marched right in.  Here it is, as much as I can gather!