Friends of the Orphans Schools logo
Orphan Number: 478
Orphan: Sarah Elizabeth BRIGGS
Mother:Briggs nee Dean, Alice
Father:BRIGGS, Isaac
Mother's ship:Medway
Father's ship:Lady Harewood
Age when admitted:11yrs
Date admitted:22 Aug 1839
Date discharged:12 Nov 1841
Institution(s):Queens Orphan School
Discharged to: Uncle, Benjamin Briggs
Remarks: mother dead
References: SWD28

This orphan has been claimed by: Andrew Cocker


In 1620 the Dean family built Old House Farm in Barkisland which is a village in West Yorkshire, 6.4 km south-west of Halifax, in the UK.

 Old Farm House

In 1737 Joseph Dean and his wife Mary built New House Farm on the opposite side of the road.  In 1785 Joseph ceased farming and opened New House Farm as a pub named Sign of the Cross after a nearby stone Celtic Cross.  In 1798 Moses, son of Joseph, died, aged 49 years and left his property to be divided among his six children, once they were 21 years old.  This decision by Moses, to share his estate equally was the start of a series of disasters that resulted in the death of his youngest daughter, her husband being transported to Van Diemen's Land and their daughter being committed to the Orphan School in New Town.

The second husband of Moses' widowed wife Mary (nee Stansfield) was a local stonemason, John Ainley.  John tried to comply with the terms of the will and some of the children were paid but there was not enough money to pay everyone.  When the youngest daughter Alice, who was born in 1797, came of age there was nothing left and the pub had been mortgaged three times over, which eventually led to a fraud trial and on 27 December 1825 John Ainley, Innkeeper of Barkisland, was declared bankrupt.

Alice had married Isaac Briggs in 1821 and on 22 May 1827 Isaac was also declared bankrupt.  The pub, Sign of the Cross, was sold along with the other land and assets by public auction on 29 June 1827. The pub still trades today as one of the only two in Barkisland, and is now known as the Fleece Inn.

The Fleece Inn

Isaac Briggs, a weaver and second born child of Grace (née Firth) and Joseph Briggs married Alice Dean on 27 October 1821 in St John the Baptist Church, Halifax. Declared bankrupt, Isaac must have been desperate to provide for his wife who was pregnant with Sarah Elizabeth and he resorted to crime and became a member of an infamous local gang of forgers.  Just days before Sarah Elizabeth was born Isaac was sentenced to death at the City of York Summer Assizes.

Reprieved, Isaac was sentenced to transportation for life and departed London for Hobart Town on 26 March 1829 aboard the convict ship Lady Harewood, arriving at Hobart Town on 28 July 1829, the day his daughter Sarah Elizabeth turned one. Isaac worked at the Female Factory, at South Hobart where he taught the convict women how to sort/comb/card and spin the wool. He then spent time on Maria Island where he was one of twenty four male convicts detained to assist in the closing down of the first Maria Island settlement.  Isaac was 'assigned' to Port Arthur in 1832 and in 1833 was on "public works"- location not specified.  From 1840 - 1845 he was at Bridgewater, when not on the tread-wheel in Hobart or in the local lock-up.

Isaac's records show he spent many days on the dreaded tread wheel in gaol, for 21 days from 13 August 1839 which was only nine days before his wife Alice and daughter Sarah Elizabeth were to have arrived in Hobart. In May 1840 the Lieutenant-Governor deprived him of his Ticket of Leave and ordered him to three months hard labour on the roads at Green Ponds.

Meanwhile, in September 1838 Alice Briggs and daughter, Sarah, had departed Liverpool, England for Sydney to join her husband Isaac in VDL.  Isaac's brother Benjamin, his wife Lydey and their four children accompanied them.
Their ship, Dunlop, with Captain Bance in command of eighty-one emigrants from the UK headed for Hobart Town, ran ashore in fine weather at Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa on 24 November 1838, going to pieces within hours.  The Briggs families walked into Cape Town where for almost six weeks, they were at the mercy of local benevolent societies; a public subscription for donations having been established.
On 1 January 1839 they departed Cape Town on the James Moran, arriving in Port Jackson, NSW on 11 February 1839, a voyage of 41 days.

Five months later, on 17 July 1839, Alice and Sarah Briggs left Sydney aboard the Medway at the expense of the VDL government.  The journey from Sydney to Hobart Town took an extraordinary five weeks.  There were extremely bad storms and Master Borthwick Wight had to take measures to protect the passengers, one being Lady Jane Franklin, wife of Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin.
Eleven months after leaving Liverpool and within just days of her destination, Alice died.  She was buried at sea on 1 August 1839 off the Bay of Fires, north-east VDL. This event and her interactions with Sarah Briggs are recorded in Lady Jane Franklin's journals.

Thursday 1st August
Snachall told me when bringing my breakfast, that the poor daft woman Mrs Briggs had died about an hour before - It was only at dinner yesterday that I heard she was seriously ill, though some jokes had been afloat for a day or two previously as to Mr Grant giving her Mollison's pills, sometimes whole, sometimes pounded, sometimes in a powder by way of variety - I thought I would go and see her either after dinner or next morning, but left it till morning - her complaint appears to have been inflammation of the bowels and she said all thru' her indisposition that she should die.  At 12 o'clock I heard the bell toll, and took it to be a mark of decent respect to her memory, but presently Mr Elliot knocked at my door and asked if I would be present at the funeral. I made what haste I could to go on deck, where Captain and sailors and the women assembled and Mr Braim read the service which he did very well.
Mrs Briggs had a little girl on board, 11 or 12 years old, she was said to have behaved very ill to her mother and to have shown not the least feeling at her death - the child was present, was observed to watch very attentively and to be affected at the disappearance of her mother in the waves - I sent for the child after dinner in my cabin and found her very interesting and as I thought clever, expressing herself in terms and in a manner beyond her years.
She did not express any sorrow at her mother's death, but could have wished she had been buried on the land, she said. I mentioned at tea the favourable impression she had produced on me and then found that all the gentlemen partly Wright, Grant, Braim and Elliot agreed in thinking her a very bad child and Captain who was never mistaken - he said in anyone's countenance thought she had one of the worst he had ever met.
Tuesday 6th/3 weeks
 - had sick headache - At night the wind fell and we rolled more in the calm than before - having heard that Sarah had put on her other frock and the pinafore she had made herself and was very anxious to know if I should send for her (which was owing no doubt to Mr. Braim and M. Stanley having talked to her, I sent for her while in bed.  She looked very tidy, with her hair brushed back behind her ears - read to her, made her read ...

They eventually arrived in Hobart Town passing Adventure Bay, Bruny Island on 19 August.  Lady Franklin arranged for Sarah to be admitted to the Queens Orphan School at New Town and called in a few days later. Her journal continued on 22 August 1839:

I enquired for Sarah Briggs who arrived in the school yesterday and has been scrubbed and washed and clothed afresh, operations which Mrs Gazard assured me were highly necessary.  I sent for Sarah who seemed pleased to see me, but flung herself round a little when I gave her some good advice.

Sarah stayed in the Orphan School for two years and three months, being discharged on 12 November 1841 when she was released to the care of her Uncle Benjamin Briggs and his wife Lydey.

Benjamin and family had arrived in VDL on 3 April 1840 on the Marion Watson from Sydney some eight months after Sarah.  Lydey Briggs died in childbirth, aged 36, on 8 November 1842 at Brighton. Sarah probably then cared for her younger cousins.  Brothers Benjamin and Isaac were fellmongers in the Black Brush district, working on the banks of the Jordan River.

Sarah, aged 17, married convict John Cocker, aged 33, at Green Ponds on 22 August 1845.  John had been sentenced to 21 years' transportation after conviction for his third attempt at desertion from the British Army; the last time in Montreal around the time of the Canadian Uprising.  John and Sarah had eleven children.

According to his inquest on 2 November 1852 Isaac Briggs died at Black Brush on 28 Oct 1852 of natural causes.  Evidence given paints a sad picture of a lonely man who had become an alcoholic.  He was buried on 4 November 1852 by Reverend John Burrowes in an unmarked grave at St Marks Church of England, Pontville.

It is unlikely Sarah saw her father again after she and husband John Cocker chose to leave the Brighton District.  By April 1848 when Sarah gave birth to her second child (Sarah) they were at Lincoln in the Macquarie River district of Campbell Town.  By April 1851 the Cocker family was living at Hadspen where they remained for about nine years and was where the next three children were born.  Between 1860 and 1863 the growing family lived at Hagley, Quamby and Westbury.  The eleventh and last child was born at Barrington in 1870.

We know that religion played a large part in Sarah's life as all her children were baptised in the Methodist faith within three months of birth.  Journeys from Hadspen to Launceston's Paterson St Church were made on four occasions, and for the youngest, Jane Evangeline, a trip was made from Barrington to Latrobe.  What may be a 15-minute journey by car today was probably a full day's return journey by horse and cart or bullock and dray and a major commitment.

John Cocker died at Evandale in 1872 after an accident with a steam threshing machine.  He was working as a wheat feeder with two of his sons on the Cambock estate at Evandale, then leased by Edward Easton, for a Mr Bryan when his foot was caught in the machine.  His last words when they tried to extricate him were, "Don't; let me alone; I'm all right."  But the machine had pulled his left leg off and he died at the scene within minutes.

Within three months of his death, Sarah made application for charitable assistance for her four youngest children.  Sarah died from a cramped bowel on 30 August 1874, aged 46 at the home of her son John at Barrington, two years after the death of her husband.

The families of Isaac and Alice Briggs and his brother Benjamin and Lydey have grown to include over 2000 people and some 450 unique surnames.  Their details may be found at Isaac, Alice and Sarah Briggs were buried in unmarked graves; the sea, St Marks Pontville and, we believe, Barrington.

Descendants commemorated their lives with a ceremony and the unveiling of a plaque at St Marks Church in February 2015.

The Plaque

You can use this contact form to send an email message to Andrew Cocker

Your first name*:   Your last name*: 

Your email:*        Telephone number: 

Your message*:

This orphan has been claimed by: Jennifer Surtees

Sarah is my 3 x great grandmother.

Sarah Elizabeth Briggs > John Cocker > Herbert John Cocker > John Douglas Braid Cocker > Glenyce Surtees > Jennifer Surtees

You can use this contact form to send an email message to Jennifer Surtees

Your first name*:   Your last name*: 

Your email:*        Telephone number: 

Your message*:

Claim this Orphan

Use this facility to register your interest so other researchers can contact you. Add up to a 2000 character short story about your orphan and what became of them after they left the Orphan School. You can add links to other web sites and upload a photo.  Note that you can claim more than one orphan and that any orphan can be claimed more than once.
If you need to contact our researchers then email us and quote the orphan name and index number above.

 Site last updated June 2021