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Absalom Dandridge and the Captain Swing Rioter Transported to Van Diemen’s Land

Nestled away in a section of Brockley cemetery  sometimes dubbed  the ' Mini-Valhalla' for it's grander funeral headstones, is the last resting place of the wonderfully named Victorian, Absalom Dandridge (d.1904) who is buried alongside his wife, Sophia Caroline (d.1906). Absalom who was described in the 1858 Directory of Kent as a 'Marine Store Dealer' and operated later as part of a family an established business partnership called J & A Dandridge. He had been living in Shardeloes Road, New Cross when he passed away. His not insubstantial effects of over £8,000 were cited in probate documents.

Headstone of Absalom and Sophia Caroline Dandridge [Find A Grave]

But what particularly intrigued me when researching Absalom's family history was discovering that his father, John Dandridge, a Buckinghamshire farm labourer, had been sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen's land (now Tasmania) for seven years in 1831, having been commuted from a death sentence, together with others, for having ' unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled at the paper mill of Mr William Robert Davies and having destroyed machinery at the mill'. He arrived in Hobart aboard the convict ship, HMS Proteus. A fuller account of John Francis' Dandridge's life can be found here 

Nocturnal rick-burning was one of the features of the Captain Swing riots ( Source: Dorset Life)

Curiously enough before he obtained his ticket of leave in 1835 John had been assigned to the 'care and tutelage' of the Rev. Philip Connolly, Hobart Town's first Roman Catholic chaplain and who opened up the first Catholic Church in Australia. He also performed the last rites for Alexander Pierce, dubbed 'Australia’s first cannibal' prior to his hanging in Hobart prison in 1824. 

John Dandridge had married a Susannah Davies in 1810. He died in New South Wales (Australia) in 1853. It is unclear if he ever returned to England.

The historical background these pivotal historical events are briefly referenced. By the late 1820s, landowners and farmers had begun to introduce threshing machines to do farming work. Large numbers of labourers found themselves out of a job, without the money to buy food, clothes or other goods for the winter months. The final blow was the poor harvests in 1829 and 1830, resulting in hunger, protests and disturbances in many country areas, especially in southern counties. The protesters used the eponymous name ‘Captain Swing’, a made-up name designed to spread fear among landowners and to avoid the real protest leaders being found out. No doubt it was also chosen, to some extent, as a form of morbid humour that echoed the gallows fate that could await apprehended rebels involved in his movement. The uprisings had started in Kent some time in June 1830 and spread across the south of England and were met with severe and repressive penal measures from the authorities.

Susannah Dandridge who died in Mill lane, Deptford in 1867 (Absalom's mother) is also buried in Brockley cemetery. But a remarkable early photograph of his mother 'looking resolute if careworn' having given birth to sixteen children and suffered the loss of a husband transported to Van Diemen's Land is shown below.

Undated daguerrotype of Susannah Dandridge (Source : Ancestry UK)

For readers wanting a greater historical understanding of the Swing Riots -The classic 1969 social history of the Great English Agricultural Uprising of the 1830's by two of the country's greatest historians Eric Hobsbawm and George Rude is a good place to start.

Mike Guilfoyle, Vice-Chair, FOBLC