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Strange, John Shaw (1788–1868)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

John Shaw Strange (1788?-1868) boot- and shoe-maker, radical conspirator, convict and publican

Birth: According to gaol records was born in 1792, however an Ancestry family tree gives his date of birth as 5 November 1788 in Harbury, Warwickshire, son of John Strange, farmer, and Elizabeth, née Shaw. Marriages: (1) 1817 in England to Mary Ann Strange (1797-1831). They had four children. (2) 27 April 1829 with government consent at Bathurst, New South Wales, by Anglican clergyman Rev John Espy Keane, to native-born Jane Baylis (1813-1895). They had five sons and five daughters. The father of the bride Joseph Bayliss had arrived in the colony as a soldier and her mother Ann Nancy Naylor was a convict. Death: aged 78, on 11 January 1868 at Fish River, near Bathurst. Religion: Anglican. 

  • By 1820 was a boot-maker in London and a participant in radical, republican circles loosely associated with the ideas of Thomas Spence (1750-1814), a writer, land reformer and campaigner for political and social reform. Shaw Strange joined the Society of Spencean Philanthropists.
  • On 23 February 1820 he was one of Spenceans, known as the Cato Street conspirators, who were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate the British prime minister and his cabinet as part of a general uprising ‘in the cause of liberty’, their leader Arthur Thistlewood claimed. Five of the ringleaders, Thistlewood, James Ings, Richard Tidd, William Davidson and Thomas Brunt, were executed and beheaded on 1 May 1820.
  • Changing his plea to guilty at a late stage of his trial, Shaw Strange escaped execution and with four other conspirators — Richard Bradburn, Charles Cooper, John Harrison and James Wilson — was convicted of high treason and sentenced to transportation for life. In Mark Dunn’s words all four “were in trades threatened by the increasing industrialisation in Britain”.
  • The five convicts sailed from Portsmouth, aboard the Guildford, on 14 May and arrived in Port Jackson on 30 September 1820. The ship’s indent described Shaw Strange as a bootmaker and shoemaker, 26 years of age, born in Warwickshire, 5 feet 3½ inches (162 cm) in height, with a fair red complexion, light brown hair and hazel eyes.
  • In October the conspirators were sent in the Elizabeth Henrietta to Newcastle, where he probably worked with the boot makers. However, by 1821 Commandant Morisset had recognised his qualities to the extent that he appointed him messenger and constable supervising convicts. In 1822 he applied unsuccessfully to have his wife Mary and four children brought to NSW.
  • When the penal settlement at Newcastle was disbanded, Morisset was transferred to Bathurst in 1824 and at his specific request Shaw Strange and three other Cato Street conspirators joined him in January to work as constables. In addition, Shaw Strange retained his role as commandant’s messenger.
  • In the short period before taking up his duties in Bathurst, Shaw Strange was said to have lived with Elizabeth Johnson, née Hanks, the wife of convict Joseph Johnson, in Sydney. When Morisset departed the colony in 1825 his successor at Bathurst, Captain John Fennell, retained Shaw Strange as messenger and constable, in which capacity he proved successful in capturing a number of convict escapees.
  • In September 1825 — with his co-conspirator Harrison, now also a constable — he helped prevent bushranger Robert Story’s gang from acquiring a bag of gunpowder. In consequence of this and his other services he petitioned for mitigation of his sentence and on 30 November that year he was granted a ticket of leave, on special order of the governor. He was the first Cato Street convict to obtain a TOL. He resided in his TOL district, Sydney, possibly working as a boot maker, until he was again appointed constable in the Bathurst district on 31 May 1827. Was a shoemaker in 1829.
  • On 6 September 1832 he was recommended for a conditional pardon, which was granted by Governor Bourke on 11 November 1833.
  • Operated a successful government tannery in Bathurst from 1830 to 1837. In 1843 supported election of W. H. Suttor, an opponent of the resumption of transportation, to the NSW Legislative Council. Leased the Mountaineers Inn at Emu Plains then farmed at Fish River, near Bathurst.
  • In a letter to the press in 1857 he defended his fellow Cato Street conspirators.
  • A supporter in 1859 of Charles Whalan who failed to be elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly for the electorate of East Macquarie.
  • Suffered “a paralytic attack” about 1865 and never fully recovered. A coronial inquest at O’Connell found that he died “from old age and natural causes”. The local newspaper recorded that “during his residence in the colony he had been very industrious and has borne a good character amongst his neighbours”.

Sources
Sydney Gazette, 1 December 1825 p 3; Sydney Gazette, 4 June 1827 p 1; Australian (Sydney), 8 May 1843, p 4; Bathurst Free Press, 14 January 1857, p 2; Empire (Sydney), 24 January 1868 p 4; Mark Dunn, The convict valley: the bloody struggle on Australia’s early frontier (Sydney, 2020), p 91; Kieran Hannon, Designing and dangerous men: the story of the transported Cato Street conspirators, (Calwell, Australian Capital Territory, 2021), passim, especially pp 222-244; Cato Street Conspiracy website: https://www.catostreetconspiracy.org.uk/the-conspirators/the-fate-of-the-transported-five

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Strange, John Shaw (1788–1868)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/strange-john-shaw-33026/text41166, accessed 29 January 2023.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012