In the afternoon, on Tuesday, 25 January 1859, the warders mustered in the convicts working in quarry gangs just outside Fremantle Prison’s walls. As they checked the numbers, they found that five men were missing from three different groups. John Williams, John Haynes, Henry Stevens, Peter Campbell, and Stephen Lacey were presumed to have absconded an hour before the warders noticed they were missing.
From Fremantle, the five men travelled east on foot to the Canning River and then waded in the river along the shore until they reached Point Walter. At Point Walter, they stole a boat and proceeded to row it west along the Swan River. Helping themselves to a keg of water from the convict station at North Fremantle, they then slipped across Fremantle Harbour undetected and rowed north.
Thomas Dent was born in approximately 1826 in Baston, Lincolnshire, in England. The early years of his life are unknown, but as he grew older, he worked as a farm labourer. His troubles with the law began in his early 20s. On 20 December 1848, he was convicted of trespass and poaching. On 3 August 1849, he was convicted of assault. For both crimes, he served time at the House of Correction in Folkingham.
On 30 December 1850, Thomas, along with James Webber and John Dent, stole two gallons of rum and other articles from John Cole’s house in Baston. He was convicted of housebreaking and stealing and, due to his previous convictions, was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.
Looking upon the decade as a whole, we can see that many interesting events took place throughout the 1830s. William IV succeeded his brother to the throne of the United Kingdom in June 1830. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (abolishing slavery in the British Empire) was passed. Charles Darwin set off on a voyage of discovery in 1831 with the information collected later used in his book, ‘The Origin of the Species’. On the other side of the world, Western Australia (settled by Europeans in 1829) was still only a fledgling colony.
It was also in the early 1830s (approximately 1833) that Joseph Byron was born and, unlike the aforementioned events, his birth would have gone unnoticed except to those closest to him.
Attempts to establish the place of his birth have thus far been unsuccessful. While it is possible he was born in England, there is also the chance that he was born elsewhere.
Later evidence indicates that Joseph was lucky enough to receive an education. He was literate which gives rise to the assumption that he came from a family of means. Nevertheless, as he grew older, a career in the military called to him.
Again, details of his life in the military are sketchy. He served time in India and may have been part of the forces in Jhansi during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. By early 1864 and in his early thirties, he was certainly stationed in Jhansi as it was there that he was court-martialled.