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James Triffitt was just a toddler when his world collapsed around him. Poor little sod, he hadn’t done a lot to deserve this. Luckily, he wasn’t alone.   

Suddenly, in the depths of a terrible winter of 1772, at the height of crop-failure and ruin, a whole house-full of farmer’s children had to survive without parents.  His brothers were just little boys; Ed only five, John seven, Tom eleven and Will thirteen. Like all little boys, they remained firmly focused on the real issues in their lives; fighting, farting and feeding, scarcely pausing to grieve. Children are heartless creatures. Mercifully they had their elder sisters to look after them.

Mary was just turned seventeen, Hannah twenty months younger. Many a girl their ages already had a husband, a house and children of their own. Mary was already completely at home with children; she’d mothered William and Ann, Thomas and John, Edward and baby James for years. Hannah was equally accomplished. Backed up by a Scriven support system and some kind of cash-flow, between them they probably ran a capable house, sister-mums to a brood of sibling children.

This is the family James knows. He doesn’t remember his parents at all so probably doesn’t miss them in the slightest. Buried somewhere at the bottom of this pile of children, he scarcely noticed anything had changed. He doesn’t really know what ‘dead’ is. He doesn’t know what an ‘orphan’ is or why he should be eternally grateful.  Mary is the mother he knows, William the closest thing to a man he has to look up to – in between, a forest of fractious brothers, all competing for attention.

Poor little James doesn’t know what he’s been thrown into. Actually, he doesn’t know anything much about anything at all – but then again, he’s only three.


Big brother Will charged out of the nest just as soon as he could, drawn to the prospect of Francis Lister, lust and freedom. There was no one to tell him he couldn’t – so he did. He’s seventeen, you can’t blame him, he has wild oats to sew. They married in Ripley, just five miles away, on 7th January 1777.

Some researchers have assumed that this marriage is actually James’ father – apparently leaving his family of young children, remarrying and moving to Ripley. Maybe. I don’t think so.

Mary couldn’t wait to leave too. She’s twenty-one, she’s done her duty – enough is enough. Will married and gone, Hannah nineteen and perfectly capable of running the family, its time for her. Inexplicably, she moves to Bossall, a largely deserted plague town twenty miles east and marries John Spink, a man of no consequence at all.

Haven’t I heard that name before?

Twenty miles was a long, long way in July 1777. She may as well have vanished off the face of the earth.

James is seven. His world keeps shrinking. It’s not fair.


Now Hannah is house-mum. She’ll diligently remain at her post till the boys are grown. It may have been a grim task; Thomas is fourteen, John twelve, Edward ten and James eight by now – this is the decade of puberty. One by one the boys marched through the fires, living out lives of sudden mystery, gripped by forces beyond their wildest imaginings. I would imagine that these lads were a volatile and increasingly aggressive combination. Sibling rivalry and puberty were always a powerful mix.

Testosterone Central in Whixley remained a unit for five years till sometime in late 1782 when Hannah packed up and went to Bossall to be with her apparently childless sister. Mary probably needed all the help she could get. When I said ‘deserted plague town’ I meant it. There was only death and John Spink in Bossal.

Well, not quite. Hannah evidently found a little more there than she bargained for. In September the following year she gave birth to twins; William and Sarah, named after dear dead Mum and Dad. The father of the twins was not named.


By 1783 Thomas was twenty, John eighteen, Edward was sixteen and James fourteen years old. Hannah was diverted with children of her own; Mary was in Bossall. The men were in control. 

By that age most young men were out and working at a trade, or in the fields. This is precisely what these four young bucks did, I’d imagine. One by one they set off to work, fell in love, fell out of it, got drunk and chased girls in a hopelessly brutal fashion, exactly like their fellow men. York was only eleven miles away, the rest of the world just over the horizon if they ever cared to contemplate it. It’s unlikely they did.

Hannah raised them well, but they probably veered to the oafish side. One by one his brothers peeled off and found girlfriends, one by one they walked away to their own lives, wives and children leaving, eventually, just James – alone, eighteen and with an itch that he could not scratch.


By the 1750’s local records become as detailed as they are ever going to get.

The Triffitt name becomes established. In this branch of the family, at least, all the old spellings are gone. From now on in it’s possible to trace entire families as they rove gently around the district; getting born, being christened, married, moving, breeding; growing children, grand-children, watching them live as they watch you die. One thing stands out very clearly – the Triffitts didn’t get around much. They were sedentary, uninvolved creatures, inward-looking, slow-moving – almost tribal.

When a Triffitt fell to earth in Yorkshire he barely travelled more than a day’s walk in any direction for the rest of his life.

Each generation tended to contain just one relationship, one relocation, one fresh start as each son set up his new home with his new bride in a neighboring village, almost always within five miles of his parents – usually far less. There weren’t many Triffitts in Yorkshire in the mid-eighteenth century, maybe only half a dozen breeding families and they stuck together, bonded as much by family ties as location.

When you find one Triffitt, you can be sure there’s another one, not too far away.


Triffitt world extended as far as you could walk; beyond that was nothing – nothing of consequence, anyway. If there was a world out there it had nothing to do with the Triffitts. This was an act of faith. Yet mysteriously, sometime after his nineteenth birthday, James Triffitt set out on an adventure.

To all intents and purposes he walked down to the York road, took a left and kept going in a straight line. He didn’t stop in York but continued across town and out the other side through Osbaldwick and Wilberfoss, Poclington and Market Weighton. Forty-five miles later he was at Killingwoldgraves with a decision to make. Take a left or take a right.

Left was to Beverley and the races, right was to continue on to Hull.

Of course, he made the wrong decision, took a left and went to the races. He was a Triffitt, after all.



The Beverly Races were the big occasion in those parts. James had made many instant best friends along the way and this week’s buddies were no exception. They bonded over beer and stayed together for a week, drinking and soaking up being young, free and alive. They were having the kind of oafish stupid fun that young gentlemen have had since time began. In Beverley, in the grandstand at the races, the Devil and James finally collided.

A bunch of them, already half drunk, broke into the Grandstand at the Beverly Racecourse, heading for the rum. It’s not worth cataloguing the twists in drunken logic, the idiocy of the public house that set them off on their path to crime. The lure of the rum in front of them – and the effects of the rum inside them were a devastating, if hopelessly inefficient combination. They crashed and smashed and stumbled their way through what should have been a covert operation. They were hopeless. They had the barrel in their arms, or rather James did, when the game was suddenly up. In front of them were the Rozzers, behind them was the wall. The lads took one look at each other and all ran in different directions. James, with a look of complete confusion on his face, was left holding the baby. His mate, George Tennyson was left holding the corkscrew. They were dead meat.

Time stopped for James Triffitt. He was caught red-handed and in that instant, everything changed. For years that frozen moment came back to haunt him. It was as if time had no end. He took in every inch of his surroundings, the look in the Rozzer’s eye, heard an oath from George Tennyson and the sound of his mates getting away. But George and he were cornered, and nothing was going be the same.

There was a reward for handing them over and the distinct possibility the rum might have to be held in evidence. Perhaps that accounted for the glee on the faces of the watchmen when a blushing James Triffitt was taken before the Compter in Beverly, with his friend George, and charged with ‘feloniously stealing and taking away one cask containing a quantity of Rum and one cork screw from a certain building called the Grand Stand situate in a Common Pasture called the Hurn and within the Parish of Saint Mary in Beverley.’


He was sentenced on the 12th January 1789 at the Beverley Quarter Sessions in the County of York. Of course, as per normal in early Triffitt history, there are no details. Everything I have written above is supposition. 

It is ordered that James Triffitt labourer and George Tennyson cordwainer, be transported onto some of his Majesties plantations or Colonies abroad for seven years from this session…

This is the only undisputed fact: James Triffitt was stuffed.

Luckily, he’s probably too stupid to understand what ‘transportation’ really means.





Leave a Comment
  1. wanda eccles / Feb 11 2011 6:19 am

    I find this very interesting.I am a 6 th descendant of, James Triffitt, my father was a Triffitt and my mother did a lot of research on the Triffitts before she passed away in 20010.I am wondering which line you come into as I have a lot of her records and finding it very interesting.

    • Catherine Andrew / Mar 24 2011 10:41 am

      My grandmother was a Triffitt descendant of James Triffitt. I have very little knowledge of the family but am interested to find out more.

      • wanda eccles / Apr 17 2011 10:09 am

        Would be interested in sharing what I have on the line of James Triffitt let me know how much you have wanda eccles

      • thedogster / Apr 17 2011 11:06 am

        Hi Wanda, sorry I didn’t reply earlier. I’m traveling. I have chapter and verse on my branch of the family, down thru New Norfolk to Hobart. I’ve lost track of many of the rest.
        I had to draw a line after naming all the children. One day I’ll post it – if I can reconstruct it. This is such a saga.
        BTW, I wonder if this wonderul woman has a part in your history:

      • thedogster / Apr 19 2011 6:08 am

        Catherine, same apology or ignoring your response. India and family history don’t go together. I hope the site gave you everything you need.

    • Heather / Jun 20 2012 10:01 pm

      Wanda, just found this on internet. I am a Triffett (spelling changed from James’s day and my sister Christine has traced our family tree back to James. We have been to Norfolk Island and found further of James and his descendents from there to tasmania which the rest is history. i am the last Triffett in our line and was the only Triffett not born in Tasmania. I live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. if you want to get in contact email me on and i can put you in touch with my sister. we plan to go to england hopefully in a few years to try and trace back further from James.

      • thedogster / Jul 2 2012 12:16 am

        Wanda, as you’ve probably noted, my Norfolk Island chapters are very incomplete. Not for lack of trying…
        If you have anything in your files that might add to them, please donate…

  2. RJ / Apr 28 2011 5:34 pm

    I live in Bossall , and walk the dog through the churchyard every evening . I’m sure I’ve seen the name Triffitt on a gravestone.
    Having stumbled upon this account I’m going to study the stones tomorrow .

  3. Chris Triffitt / May 10 2011 2:20 pm

    Nigel, just a point. I show that James’ big brother William married Jane Jackson (not Frances Lister) on 13 March 1793 at Hunsingore Church. The name Frances Lister did sound familiar – the George Ripley documents suggest that Alfa William (c1730) may have married Frances on 7 January 1777 in Ripley and had two more children by he (Sarah and William, confusingly. This would shoot down the theory that the Black Winter of 1772 took away William as well as Sarah and the twins – I tend to support your theory. How’s India, getting hot? Chris

  4. thedogster / May 11 2011 6:40 am

    Hmmm – very interesting. One of us has our Williams’ mixed up. We all agree that A William Triffitt married Francis Lister on 7/1/1777 – but which one…? If James’ bro married Jane Jackson in 1793 he would have been 34 years old… unusual for the times. I think there might be a generation in between – or another William. There is a clue hidden either in my notes or Dianna Bissett’s. I’ll check – but my hunch is that the 1772 theory still holds.
    Bear with me on this – my brain is deep in Back River 1829, trying to unravel events of where you’ve just been…

  5. jessica matthews / Sep 15 2011 9:47 am

    hey there maybe u guys can help me my grand father name was jame bennett he was also related to the Triffitts i only heard of james triffitt as i was doing a school project and mum told me the storey of james triffitt some were in my family we have the origanal arest sheet i would like to learn more could some one please help me

    • thedogster / Sep 15 2011 11:27 am

      start here: Type in your grandfathers name, a rough date and a country – you’ll probably find him in one click.

      I can’t help you because you’ve given me no information. All you need to know is when and where he was born and you’ll be able to trace him. But that’s YOUR work jessica – not mine. It’s much more fun if you discover it yourself. This site will give you everything on James Triffitt and his kids up till the third generation – about 1835 ish. You’re on your own from there You only need to find one more generation and, I reckon, your grandpa will pop up. Get your mum involved. She’ll know the names and dates. A family bible often has names hidden in it. Have fun.

      • jessica matthews / Sep 16 2011 3:23 am

        we know my grandfather were looking for more info on james triffitt as we have a picture that were try to discover who it is james triffitt has been a storey our family have passed down we have james trifitts orginal arest sheet we need to find more of his family to work out the family puzzle many have tryed to work her out but many have passed away we need all the women of the triffitts to work out who she is is there a way to trace back to find this women i dont no im hoping some one can give me a clue of were to find more of james family , my grand fathers name was james willam bennett i hope some one can give me a clue of were to look

  6. thedogster / Sep 16 2011 4:00 am

    He’ll be in this list – go find him.

    Nobody can help you without a rough date of birth and a place. There are a lot more Bennetts than Triffitts in the world. lol. Once you’ve found him you’ll be able to find his wedding and the kids. Start there. Then you need your grandmother’s name.

    This big list will give you all the grandchildren of James and Mary Higgins – and the children of James and Sophie Daniels. [scroll down] . Your great-grandmother will be in this list.

    But jessica, what you’ll soon realise is that this a bi-i-i-ig search. This website took six years to research – and I kinda get the feeling you’d like it all NOW. Family history ain’t like that – so be patient. Think of yourself like a detective.

    UPDATE: I just found this. Is this a clue? Look at the groom’s father’s name.

    hmmm – just found this

    One of these fits the bill. Are you sure he wasn’t your GREAT-grandfather?

  7. jessica matthews / Sep 16 2011 4:24 am

    im sorry if im coming off in a hurry im 21 and dnt no to much about my family historey but i do no a fair bit of james triffitt as it has been a storey passed down our family for almost 200 years but the problem is im trying to go back wards as in james father willams father im trying to find as much as i can as i would like to be able to get some more info before my grandmother died its a shame that this information was not found till now as my grandfather would be so happy i thank u so very much for ur help im sorry if i am bothering u

    • thedogster / Sep 16 2011 4:34 am

      No-o-o-o, you’re not bothering me at all. Well, you have lots of reading in this site – as you see I go back to 1550 ish.. It’ll be interesting to hear how my account of James’ life corresponds with your family histyory. It’s amazing how stories travel thru time. So play around with the links above. I can’t go further without more clues. Go play, it’s addictive once you work it out.

  8. jessica matthews / Sep 16 2011 4:35 am

    thank u so much u have been a real big help im sorry if i troubled u

    • thedogster / Sep 16 2011 4:42 am

      Well, you can help me, now.
      If you can find it, scan your James Triffitt original arrest document and send it to me..I’ll put them on the site.

  9. jessica matthews / Sep 16 2011 4:48 am

    all i no is jame triffitt was a relative on my grandfather side ill askk my grandmother some more info cause maybe if i give u more info then u might be able to help me more lol this is one big puzzle to figure out my grand mother also has the orginal arest sheet for james triffit 1769 and also has some isort of ticket of the boat he was on

  10. jessica matthews / Sep 16 2011 5:58 am

    my mother just informed me that the arest sheet has gone a stray but can found through the national trust in tasmaina kattle farm owned by triffitt in tasmaina called kildairy not sure of corect spelling but my grandfather went to tasmania 30 years ago and got the arest sheet also there is a prison build were the cattle farm was but street is still caleed kildairy when i find more info i will share with u mum said she loved ur site thank u so much whole family wraped, to have storey that was passed down to us as children all confirmed

  11. thedogster / Sep 16 2011 6:19 am

    I suspect that ‘arrest sheet’ is really a document about his transportation, not the original arrest in Beverly.

    It’s KILDERRY.

    Wanna have some fun? Go here:

    Actually, Kilderry is all the clue you need. You can track your whole family connection thru that. See? You knew the clue all along.

  12. jessica matthews / Sep 16 2011 6:36 am

    maybe u can help me i have more info my great grandmother was Daphne Pearl triffitt born in 1907

  13. thedogster / Sep 16 2011 6:39 am

    Jessica, I’ve got you.

    You descend from THOMAS, second son of JAMES TRIFFITT. You very nearly didn’t exist. Among many adventures, Thomas was shot by bushrangers in 1815. The whole story is in PART TWO here:

    Here’s the family listing:

    Thomas’ first son WILLIAM was a very remarkable fellow. You can read about him here:

    Your KENNETH MACQUARIE was fertile William’s NINETEENTH child. He married twice. KEN is from his second marriage to CATHERINE STAPLES. Fertile Willy fathered 25 children in all.

    Fertile William is the 1895 death at the top of the list here:
    That’s where the KILDERRY connection comes in. Follow along in TROVE to find out what happened there. Trove is amazing.

    It seems that you have your link. If you can trace down from DAPHNE PEARL to you you’re connected. Now you have a family history back to 1550. My work is done.

  14. jessica matthews / Sep 16 2011 9:19 am

    you did thank u i will see what doccuments i can get off my grand mother for u to put on this site she is ganna have a look what she got tommorow

  15. jessica matthews / Sep 17 2011 3:03 am

    thank u so much i now have our side of the triffitt family tree and now no the mystry lady ithink fertile willam was my great great great grandfather thanx for all ur help

  16. thedogster / Sep 17 2011 3:36 am

    You’re very welcome.

  17. jessica matthews / Sep 19 2011 6:47 am

    my grandmother is posting some documents today will scan them when i get them and send it to u

  18. Vren Triffett (married Peter Hunniford) / Jan 31 2012 2:16 am

    My father Edgar Nathaniel was the third son of Edgar Nathaniel Triffett son of Jonas Triffitt, New Norfolk, Tasmania. Jonas was the son of William Triffitt whose father was James Triffitt son of the convict James 1769 -1883 sent to New Norfolk then to Tasmania.

    • thedogster / Jan 31 2012 3:25 pm

      Hi Vran. I’m afraid your information is incorrect in three areas. I suggest you continue reading the rest of the site.

      WILLIAM Triffitt was the son of Thomas Triffitt, second son of James the convict. Go here:
      ‘The remarkably fertile William Triffitt was the first son of Thomas, born on the 27th February 1817 and named after his great-grandfather – William of Whixley. He had two wives and a staggering twenty-five children…’
      You can read all about WILLIAM here:
      You can read about Jonas’ elder brother SOLOMON here:

      However, you ARE related to James Jr. as well – but on the mother’s side. Go here: . Ann, the first daughter of James Jr. married William, the first son of Thomas. Kissin’ cousins.

      Your brief text is incorrect here as well: James 1769 -1883 . This would make him 114 years old when he died! Try 1853 as his date of death.
      You are also incorrect here: …sent to New Norfolk then to Tasmania. New Norfolk is IN Tasmania. You mean, I’m sure, Norfolk ISLAND.

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