Nearly all the "Swing" men who were transported to New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land were eventually granted Absolute Pardons which meant that they were fully free men and, if they so wished and had the fare, could have returned to England. What little positive evidence exists suggest that very few of them took advantage of this freedom.
W.H.Hudson in the chapters on the Wiltshire riots and their consequences in his "A Shepherd's Life" (1910) states that "Very few, as far as I can make out, not more than one in five or six , ever returned.". Hobsbawm and Rudé in their classic study of the threshing machine riots, "Captain Swing", state that even this proportion is an exaggeration. They could find evidence of only two. "William Francis, a Wiltshire ploughman sailed (or was due to sail) with his employer Major Thomas Livingstone, the Solicitor-General of New South Wales, to England in the Duchess of Northumberland, in February, 1837.". John Tongs, a blacksmith of Timsbury near Romsey, Hants, returned to England shortly after obtaining his pardon in 1836, but "reappeared in Hobart in January, 1843, as a free immigrant with his wife, daughter and three sons.".
Governor Arthur told the Molesworth Committee (on Transportation) in 1837 that "very few indeed (of the convicts of the better sort) seek to return to England.". On an earlier occasion he had reported to the Colonial Office that, of 102 men to whom he had issued pardons between 1826 and 1833, only eight had left for England.
In 1898 W.H.Money (author of the "History of Newbury") wrote that he had heard "of one of the Kintbury party who returned to his native village quite a gentleman in order to take his wife and children back with him.". Money adds that this man eventually became the "owner of three extensive farms, and acquired a considerable, if not very large, fortune.". Money gives no name and does not quote the source of his information and thus it cannot be checked. When, in 1931, a Mr. George Langford recounted to a Newbury Weekly News reporter some "vivid stories of the happenings at Kintbury" which were told to him by his father, William Langford, who was fifteen years old at the time of the riots, he made no reference to the return of any one of those who had been transported.
Yet confirmation of the return of some of those transported is available in odd documents in obscure places. In the Wiltshire Record Office there is a copy of a letter by "W.T.", published in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal. The document is undated but its date can be estimated by the correspondent's statement that "63 years have passed - I was then a boy of nine summers.", which would give it a date of c.1893, though he is referring to something which happened some ten years earlier than the date of his letter. The writer relates how "after the manner of Falstaff" he was indulging in alcoholic refreshment at the local inn "when a stranger .. stood at the open door. I looked and was the first to speak saying You are the brother of Joseph Viney ?.". (A Thomas Viney was involved in the destruction of machines at Pyt House, and was 19 years old when transported.). He must have been nearly 70 years old when he returned "after an enforced absence of nearly fifty years.".
A letter written by Joseph Mason, one of the leaders of the rioters of the Bullington area of Hampshire, is held in the Berkshire Record Office (D/EWd Z1). Though this letter is undated it was obviously written in 1838 because he writes "being now after an absence of seven years again seated by an English fireside". He had taken advantage of a free pardon and the financial support of people at home - he learnt in November, 1836, "that my fare would be paid by a subscription raised by friends in the neighbourhood where I had lived" - to return to England. Though the letter gives no definite date of departure from N.S.W., or the name of the ship, there is a reference to "the beginning of April", and to the "William Bryan".
According to Lucy E.Hodgson in her short "History of East Woodhay", "One of these (rioters who were transported), named Cooper, contrived to get home, and lived for many years after in a thatched cottage at Ball Hill (near Newbury) where Mrs. Canning now (1932) lives.". ( A James Cooper of Burghclere was sentenced to 7 years transportation for "demanding money" during the rioting in north-east Hampshire.).
In No.XXIX of a series of "Antiquarian, Scientific and Historical Notes of Berkshire.", reprinted from the Reading Observer of 1885, 'Historicus' relates how "about 1855" he was on the road to St. Mary Bourne when he observed "an aged man ... tall and erect and habited in a coarse white canvas suit. ... It was old Sims, who had been convicted of mobbing and who had returned after a lengthy period from penal servitude. He was, I believe, the only one who ever came back. I knew him afterwards until the time of his death, and he was always a civil, well-behaved man.". A William Sims had "death" recorded against his name for the "Robbery" of a Mr.Easton, Vicar of St. Mary Bourne, but this sentence was commuted to transportation for "Life". Confirmation of his return can be found in the Parish Register of Burials in which there is an entry for "William Sims, aged, 88 years, buried 10th December, 1862.". The William Sims who was transported was 54 years old when he left England early in 1831. According to the convict records he was the father of the Berkshire man of the same name. [Miss J. Chambers, for her book "The Hampshire Machine Breakers", has searched the Hampshire censuses for 1841 and 1851, and discovered several other Hampshire men who returned to England. A similar, time-consuming, trawl through the Berkshire censuses might prove equally fruitful.]
The same series of articles in the Reading Observer includes several by "Octogenarian" (W.S.Darter.) writing about "Reading : 70 Years Ago.". Alderman Darter gives a very clear account of his participation in the attempts which were made to have the death sentences passed on the three Kintbury leaders, William Winterbourn, William Oakley and Alfred Darling, commuted. In concluding his account of the riots in Berkshire he states "I am not aware that any one of these convicts ever returned to their homes or their country." As far as the men from Berkshire are concerned this seems to be a correct assessment, though it is of course possible that evidence to the contrary may yet be discovered. [If any reader knows of, or has heard of any one else who has, any information, however vague, concerning any one of these men who returned I should be most grateful if they would contact me.]
Part 1 - Berkshire:
Part 2: To "Botany Bay"