To celebrate the re-printing of A Nimble Fingered Tribe we thought we'd feature one of the more adventurous from the book - a gentleman convict who would have dearly loved to have avoided the spotlight that was put on him in the 1790s.
Spring of 1793 brought Mr James Fitzpatrick Knaresbro, seducer of heiresses and prisoner for life, to the colony. He devoutly protested that of the first description he certainly was not; he defended this by asserting that of the two women he seduced in Ireland, the first was only a milliner, and the second was “a girl in a Low Sphere”. In early 1791 he was charged in Ireland with the rape of a Miss B——n. Knaresbro, a man of property, maintained his innocence during his trial at Carlow Assizes.
He was sentenced to transportation for life, but Sydney was no substitute for the life of a womanising dandy in Ireland. He was desperate to leave the colony, and convinced the authorities to let him do so even though he was transported for life. He left for America on 19 March 1796 per the Abigail with the goodwill of Governor Hunter and David Collins, the Judge Advocate.
More than likely, he’d been allowed to leave on the proviso that he not return to Ireland. But within twelve months, he was back in Dublin. He must have known the penalties for returning from transportation, whatever the good opinion of the judge advocate in New South Wales, so his moving about town with insouciance, and his indignation when he was again arrested, perhaps evinces that arrogance necessary to any seducer of heiresses. Three men turned up on his doorstep one September morning, eight weeks after he’d returned to Dublin, and marched him down to the New Prison. Just days later, an incarcerated Knaresbro wrote alarmingly to his peers that the police have “given out that I was an officer in the French Service and came as a spy!!”
He campaigned over many months for his release, writing to as many former friends as he could think of. But he might well have been a highwayman, for all his highbrow connections proved unwilling to have a hand in his release.
Two years later, his health by now failing, he had given up petitioning for his freedom, instead requesting a solitary cell within which other prisoners would not intrude upon him. In May 1799, when news came to him of the death of his father, he requested bail in order to put certain estate and financial matters in order. This appeal appears to have been rejected: the last known record of Knaresbro in 1800 has him still lodged in the New Prison.
His date of death has not been found.
James Fitzpatrick Knaresbro's full biography appears in A Nimble Fingered Tribe by Barbara Hall