The Story of 'Black Joe' (1796–1857)

By Rictor Norton

Copyright © Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

This is the story of a Black man, a half-caste East Indian, whose career as a Drummer Boy in the British Army, as a Chelsea Pensioner, as a Sodomite, and as a convict transported to Tasmania, is fully documented by archive records.*

William Rind was born in Stirling around 1796, enrolled in the British Army as a Drummer at the age of 10, served in the army for the next 35 years, where he acquired the nickname 'Black Joe', and became a Chelsea Pensioner in 1841. He was charged with sodomy in 1843, but was acquitted. However, he was again charged with sodomy in 1846, and this time was convicted and transported to Tasmania (together with his consenting partner, a lad of 15). He worked in the penal colony for the next 11 years, and died in 1857. However, let us begin the story at the beginning.

William Rind was born in or near Stirling, in Scotland, about 1796. Unfortunately we canít be sure about his family details. Several towns in Scotland had links to the East India service, and there was a large family of Rinds in Stirling, which included one Provost and several army officers who served in the East Indies. Holy Trinity Church in Stirling possesses a lectern-sized, leather-bound Holy Bible, and a Book of Common Prayer, with covers embossed: "Presented to the new Scotch Episcopal Chapel of Stirling on the 25 March 1795 by William Rind Esqr, Purser on the service of the Honble the East India Company", both of which still exist.[1] It seems likely that this William Rind was the father of 'our' William Rind, though that is not certain.

William enlisted in the 27th Regiment of Foot in Stirling on 2nd August 1806, at only 10 years of age, with the rank of Drummer. Black soldiers were regularly employed by British Army Regiments from the mid-18th through the early 19th century, especially as military musicians.[2] Rindís first period of "under-age" service lasted until 1st August 1814, when he re-enlisted at the age of 18 on 2nd August 1814, and his next term of service lasted for 2 years and 296 days, until 24th May 1817. He was then discharged in consequence of the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion. On 2nd June 1817 he re-enlisted, again with the rank of Drummer, in the 94th Regiment of Foot. He was now age 21. This lasted only until 13th December 1818, when he was discharged in consequence of the disbandment of the Regiment. (He had served for 1 year and 195 days in this Regiment.) He re-enlisted on 19th December 1818 in the 40th Foot, with the rank of Drummer for the next 2 years and 249 days, and, from 25th August 1821 with the rank of Private, for the next 6 years and 92 days, then again as a Drummer, from 25th November 1827 until 20th September 1841, serving for 13 years and 300 days. He had served in the East Indies from 6th December 1829 to 14th April 1841, when he landed at Gravesend, for 11 years and 130 days, giving him extra service entitlement at "half period" of 5 years 206 days, which, after the deduction of 95 days that were "not allowed" (probably for reasons of misbehaviour), brought his total service entitlement to 32 years 148 days. He actually served an additional 23 days from 21st September to 13th October 1841 when he was finally discharged.[3] He was in Quettah, Bombay at the time of his last embarkation for England in 1841,[4] to arrive at the Invalid Depot in Chatham.[5]

Records for the 94th Foot note Rind enlisting in Dublin for unlimited service, and describe him as having a dark complexion and a good character. They also noted him being given 9s/6d on discharge to "carry him home to Stirling". Rind's total service between 1806 and 1841 included 5 years and 10 months in the Peninsula, 1 year and 3 months in the Americas, 5 months in France, 4 years and 8 months in New South Wales and Van Diemanís Land, 12 years in the East Indies, and 8 or 10 years at Home. His lengthy service in the Peninsular War suggest that he served with the 3rd Battalion 27th Foot, who arrived in theatre in 1808 and served there until 1813, and thereafter in France and North America. Between 1808 and 1814 the 3rd Bn/27th Foot were present at the battles of Busaco, Albuera, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, the Pyrenees, San Sebastian, Nivelle and Toulouse.

Records note that Rind had been in hospital five times, including for inflammation of the eyes in Lisbon and dysentery in the East Indies. This resulted in "an inability to perform the duties of a fifer, or perform any of the fatiguing duties of a musician". He was discharged on a pension of 1s/5½d per day due to chest "affection" and loss of eyesight. On discharge he was 45 years old, had black hair, hazel eyes and a black complexion. He was 5 feet 4½ inches tall. His character was referred to "as latterly being good", but it had not always been so. Records for the 40th Foot reveal that Rind was court-martialled on five occasions between 1829 and 1835, on charges relating to insubordination and drunkenness. His punishments range from imprisonment to solitary confinement and loss of pay. The same records also refer to him as having a black complexion.[6]

Rind was entered into the List of Invalids admitted on the Pension List on 13th October 1841, age 45, total service 32 years and 9 months, given a pension of 1 shilling 5½ pence per day to commence on 3rd November 1841. The cause of discharge was given as partial loss of eyesight and "Affection of the chest". In the language of the day, a disorder or disease was called an "affection". This might have been a "rheumatic affection of the chest", a type of pleurisy or infection that could cover a wide range of problems, from chest pain to coughing fits and shortness of breath. Chatham was given as his place of residence. As was fairly common, he had taken up residence in the port at which he was first discharged.[7] The 1841 Census for England lists him as residing in Chatham Barracks.[8]

His pension, which had commenced on 13th October 1841, ceased in 1846 (still at 1sd) because he was "Transported for life for an Unnatural Crime."[9] Before that incident, however, he had previously been accused of another "unnatural act". In the first week of October 1843, Rind, "commonly called 'Black Joe,' a pensioner" was committed for trial at the next sessions, "for a gross assault on a boy aged 14 years, in the passage of a public house, in Chatham, on Saturday evening, with intent to commit a felony." He was offered bail of £50, which he could not afford to pay, so he was kept in gaol until the trial.[10] The boy's name was Daniel Charles Richard Hall. At the West Kent Michaelmas Sessions held at Maidstone on 17th October 1843, Rind was charged with an "intent to commit an unnatural offence", and acquitted.[11] But despite the acquittal, Rind tried to commit suicide. "On Monday evening, John William Rind, commonly known as 'Black Joe,' of Chatham was accidentally discovered hanging by the neck at the back of the Red Lion public-house, corner of the Military-road, Chatham; he was immediately taken down, and on examination it was ascertained that he was not dead, and by due care he was restored. It is stated that this is the fourth attempt he has made on his life. The man is a pensioner in the army, receiving 1s.d. per day for his services. There can be no doubt that his mind is deranged."[12] It was not uncommon for men to attempt to kill themselves rather than face the shame arising from a charge of having committed a homosexual offence. However, Rind recovered, and continued to receive his pension for the next two and a half years.

Then, in August 1845, "Black Joe" was again arrested for attempting to commit an unnatural crime. In this instance, it was with a consenting partner, a young farm labourer named Robert Ford, who was 15 at the time of the incident, 16 at the time of the trial. In English law at this time, if a male was at least 14 years old, he was considered a Ďparticeps crimení if he was a willing partner in homosexual sex, and would be prosecuted just the same as the older partner, which is indeed what happened to Robert Ford. The exact details of the incident, which occurred in Chatham on 25th August 1845, are not known, but the evidence was sufficiently clear for the jury to find both men Guilty at their trial at the Kent Assizes on 9th March 1846. "His lordship ordered sentence of death to be recorded, but informed the prisoners that he should recommend them to the merciful consideration of the Crown. Their lives would no doubt be spared." That is, as was usual at this time, the sentence of Death was officially recorded, but it would shortly be commuted to Transportation for Life for William Rind, and to Transportation for fifteen years for Robert Ford.[13]

No executions for sodomy had taken place since 1835; from then until 1861, when the death penalty for sodomy and most other offences was officially repealed, a sentence of death was formally recorded by the court but was then commuted to imprisonment or transportation. On 1st April 1846 a Royal Warrant was issued noting that "HM [Her Majesty] has thereupon been Graciously pleased to extend her Royal Mercy" to Rind and Ford, together with several others, commuting their sentences of death "To be transported beyond the seas for the term of their natural lives" in the case of Rind, and "the like for the term of 15 years" in the case of Ford, and commanding that directions be made accordingly.[14]

William Rind's name had been struck off the pension list on 13th March 1846; the Royal Hospital Chelsea records of the "Monthly Return of Changes which have taken place among the Out-Pensioners of Chelsea Hospital in the Chatham District, from 1st January to 31st March 1846" record his name under "Pensions ceased by Felony": "Crime for which struck off the Pension List – Unnatural Crime".[15]

In late April both men, still together, were removed from the County Gaol in Rochester, to Millbank Prison, London, preparatory to their transportation.[16] Only a few years earlier, in 1843, Millbank had been declared no longer fit for holding prisoners on a long-term basis (which function was taken over by Pentonville Prison), and it was now used as a holding facility for convicts waiting (usually for about three months) to be allotted a place on a prison ship to be transported to Australia and New Zealand. The penitentiary was conveniently situated on the bank of the Thames, where Tate Britain art gallery now stands. The Warrant for the removal of the two men from Maidstone to Millbank is dated 13th April 1846.[17] The Gaoler's Report for Millbank Prison[18] recorded receiving the men from Maidstone prison on 20th April, and noted that Robert Ford, age 16, could read, but that Rind's ability to read and write was "imperfect". Under the heading "Character" it noted that Rind, age 49, was "Before tried for a similar offence and Acquitted", while Ford's previous character was "Not known". However, the Millbank Prison Register[19] uses "ditto" marks to indicate that Robert Ford, as well as William Rind, was "Before tried for a similar offence & Acquitted"; this is probably a mistake, as Ford was really too young to have been the subject of an earlier prosecution.

Millbank Prison consisted of six pentagons around a central hexagon. The two men occupied cells nearly next to one another, both in Pentagon 2, Ward D: Rind had been placed in cell 2 and Ford had been placed in cell 4.

Plan of Millbank Prison


In due course, Rind and Ford were transferred from the prison on 5th May and put on board the ship John Calvin, preparatory to their transportation to Norfolk Island.[20] The ship embarked for Norfolk Island on 9th May 1846 and arrived on 21st September, a total of 131 days' voyage. It carried a total of 199 prisoners, all men, guarded by 50 rank and file and two officers. It's quite probable that the two men would have slept near one another, as the convicts tended to be quartered according to the place of their conviction, e.g. the six men convicted at the Kent Sessions and Assizes were kept together in a group, reflecting their delivery from the holding prison to the ship, which made it easier to keep a record of them. Ironically Rind would have been familiar with Norfolk Island, as he had served as a convict guard with the 40th Foot many years earlier. One of Rind's fellow prisoners Kanute Bull, a young artist convicted for forging a banknote, painted a watercolour picture depicting convicts and crew on deck during the crossing (he went on to paint landscapes of Tasmania).[21]

Image from on board the John Calvin in the NE trades, en route to Australia. Painted by convict Kanute Bull, in Charles Bateson: The Convict Ships 1787–1868

Rind was ill during the voyage. The ship's medical officer noted that William "Rhind", age 50, was entered on the Sick Lists on 22nd May 1846: "This patient, a half caste E. Indian, complained May 22nd of a sense of weight and pain in the right side of the thorax, impeding respiration. Cough, and nocturnal sweating – thirst, defective appetite, body much emaciated, bowels natural – states that he suffered for some weeks before he was removed from Millbank prison from cough, attended by copious expectoration and nightly sweating." But by June 24th he was "improving rapidly. Climate of the Tropics seems to be advantageous to him." And by August 3rd he was "Dismissed cured".[22]

Rind's surviving Tasmanian Convict Record[23] has many details about his experience as a convict. Upon his arrival he stripped to the waist to be examined by the Surgeon, who reported that his health was "Very Good", and he was described as a labourer, 5 feet 3¾ inches tall, 51 years old, having a black complexion, black hair and whiskers, black eyebrows and eyes, with a curled lower lip. Stirling was recorded as his place of birth, and he was described as single. It was determined that he was a Protestant, and that he could read and write. He was given an initial probationary period of three years' hard labour (e.g. building roads), after which he could be hired out to the private sector. He was assigned to the Gang Station of Norfolk Island. He initially went to the Salt Water River Station,[24] a small probation penal colony near Port Arthur, which had two penal settlements, an agricultural settlement and a coal mine. Ruins of the convict cells survive today.[25]

Rind was guilty of numerous offences during his stay on Norfolk Island. On 17th April 1847 he was guilty of "Neglect of Duty". On May 20th he was found in possession of a bag and towel (apparently prohibited) and sentenced to hard labour in chains for 14 days. On 5th August 1850 he was guilty of larceny to a value under £5. On 22nd September 1850 he was guilty of misconduct "in being drunk & not proceeding in accordance with his pass", for which he was kept to another period of hard labour. It was recommended that he be sent to work in the Interior, north of the settlement. In June 1853 he was guilty of having left his master's house without permission, for which he was sentenced to 14 days in the House of Correction. In November 1855 he was found drunk, and fined £1.

Robert Ford's surviving Convict Record[26] also contains interesting details. On arrival at Norfolk Island his health was said to be Good on the Surgeon's Report, and he was described as being 18 years old, a farm labourer, 5 feet 5½ inches tall, with a pale complexion, large head, brown hair and eyebrows, no whiskers, hazel eyes, and a brown mark on his right arm above the elbow. His place of birth was said to be near Andover, and he was single. It was determined that he was a Protestant, and that he could read (but not write). He was given a two-year probationary period of hard labour. Like his companion, he also was guilty of occasional misconduct. On 7th May 1847 he was given 36 lashes for having a pipe and tobacco in his possession. On 16th February 1852 he was given three days in solitary confinement for having absconded and being in the Township without a pass. He gained a number of days' remission for doing task work. Ford was hired to work for a master in Hobart.[27] He received a Pardon on 14th August 1855, some six years earlier than his fifteen-year sentence.

It seems likely that William Rind and Robert Ford would have been in touch with one another during their long residence in the penal colony of Norfolk Island. They had been tried together, held together in prison, taken together to the same ship for transportation, been together on the long sea voyage, and sent to the same Station in Norfolk Island. However, though they had been consenting partners, Ford, unlike Rind, was not a confirmed bachelor. Ford, now a free man, got married in the parish church of Kingston, Hobart on 3rd June 1861, to Elizabeth Hanbridge, age 22 (ten years younger than him).[28]

The last entry on William Rind's Convict Record notes that he died at Launceston, northern Tasmania, on 27th May 1857. He was evidently hired out for work in Launceston, which had been settled by Europeans in the early 1800s, and which was now mainly a centre for the export of products from the sheep and wool industry. He died suddenly and unexpectedly, so an inquest had to be held to determine the cause of death. The inquest took place on 29th May, at the house of Thomas Fogarty known by the sign of the Crown Inn, in the presence of Rind's body. This building survives today.[29]

The Coroner, witnessed by seven jurors, determined that Rind "departed this life suddenly by the visitation of God in a natural way to wit of the rupture of a blood vessel in the lungs and not by any violent means whatsoever to the knowledge of the said Jurors."[30] So he eventually died of the respiratory disease that had long ago caused him to be pensioned off from the army, and that had been described while he was aboard the transport ship. In the official Register of Deaths in the District of Launchester, which was made 30th June 1857, his age was wrongly given as only 50 (rather than 60).[31] He must have been Ďas tough as old bootsí to have survived so long, despite the hardships of his military life, civilian life and convict life.

* Acknowledgement: I am deeply indebted to the military historian John D. Ellis, who conducted much of the core research for this article and then handed over his leads to me for further development and presentation.
1 (
2 John D. Ellis, "The Visual Representation, Role and Origin of Black Soldiers in British Army Regiments During the Early Nineteenth Century", MA Thesis, University of Nottingham, September 2000.
3 Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913, TNA WO 97, Box 565, Box record number 90.
4 TNA WO 12/5352.
5 TNA WO 12/5352.
6 TNA WO 2O 116/49.
7 Royal Hospital of Chelsea Admission Books, 1702–1876, TNA WO 23, 13.
8 HO 107/483/13, Folio 24, Page Number 20.
9 Royal Hospital of Chelsea Admission Books, 1702–1876, TNA WO 23, 39.
10 Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser, 10 October 1843.
11 Kentish Mercury, 21 October 1843.
12 Kentish Gazette, Tuesday, 31 October 1843.
13 Kentish Independent, 14 March 1846; South Eastern Gazette, 17 March and 21 April 1846.
14 TNA CCC/HO13/87/431.
15 TNA WO 22/17.
16 Kentish Independent, 25 April 1846.
17 TNA CCC/2A/HO13/88/11.
18 TNA CCC HO 24/3/91.
19 TNA CCC/PCOM2/25/197.
20 Convict Transportation Registers, ANZ MIGR HO11/15/0 and HO10/40/6.
22 Royal Navy Medical Journal, TNA, ADM 101/39/1.
23 CON33/1/88; Indent CON14/1/37 Page 158.
24 ANZ MIGR, HO 10/40/0/808.
26 CON33/1/88; Indent CON14/1/37 Page 140.
27 HO 10/40.
28 Marriage Certificate, ANZ/AU TAS BMD/M/46884.
30 Libraries Tasmania, SC 195/1/40/3995.
31 ANZ BMD, TAS 7368140/144.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Story of Black Joe, 1796-1857", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 16 November 2018 <>.

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