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How Sheep Swindling led to Prowses in Tasmania

This blog was created from content provided by June Aleknavicius with further research and contributions from Malcolm Prowse, Randall Prouse, and Ian Mattey. The blog will be updated (in blue) as new information is found.


This is the somewhat salacious story of how stolen sheep, a cider house, and fraud led to hidden Prowse lineage in Van Diemen's Land (modern-day Tasmania) under the surname Eastley. It is the story of rough-and-tumble lives on a downward trajectory, that are paradoxically lifted and saved in a penal colony. It is the story of the Eastleys, Mogridges, and Prowses of Lupridge, Devon in the mid-1800's. It is surely the stuff of a novel or screenplay; part Coronation Street; part Shawshank Redemption.

William Eastley and Elizabeth Mogridge married 5 September 1830 in Diptford, Williams birthplace. Elizabeth, like William, was also born in 1805 but hails from Coombe Village. Note that Elizabeth may have had as many as three children: Mary Ann (1825), Martha (1827), and Harriet (1828), prior to her marriage to William, however, these children play no part in this story.

But perhaps the best place to really begin the tale is in the middle as this is where the lives of William Eastley and Elizabeth Mogridge intertwine with Richard and Jane Prowse and their son, Richard.

Within a small collection of houses referred to as Shadows, not far at all from Lupridge lies the cider house of Richard and Jane Prowse. It is 1837. Inside, amongst the other patrons, William Eastley and cohort Andrew Sparkes are enjoying a tankard or, at least in Sparkes' case, several. Andrew has exhausted his credit with the Prowses, so he turns to William. The usually generous William turns him down. Their discussion turns into an alcohol fueled argument and eventually to fisticuffs, wherein the relatively sober William lays a beating on Andrew and the seeds of their undoing are sown.

Bar fight account from the Western Times 31 March 1838

The map below shows the relative locations of Lupridge and Shadows, only a few hundred meters to the north. Storridge Mill, 1 kilometer SW, the ancestral home of many of House of Prowse members, is also shown. Coombe is a handful of kilometers south of Storridge Mill.

As it turns out, Sparkes, Eastley, and two others are a 'Determined Gang of Sheepstealers'. Andrew, under fear of murderous repercussions from his mates, informs the authorities of the gang's criminal activities, and the gang is arrested.

Trial account from the Western Times 18th October 1837

While William was in goal awaiting trial, a fellow prisoner, John Williams, alias Roberts, handed Elizabeth a letter purporting to be from her husband and begging her to sell everything and give the money to this man who would pass it on to William. Elizabeth was swindled out of everything she owned including her horse and even the potatoes in the field. Elizabeth is destitute but she is a survivor.

From the Western Times 24 March 1838

On 17 March 1838, William and the others are sentenced in Exeter to 15 years for sheep stealing. Ten months later, 22 January 1839 Eastley sails as a prisoner aboard the Gilmore bound for the penal colony in Van Diemen's Land. Eastley leaves behind his wife, Elizabeth, and three children: Elizabeth (1831), Eliza (1832), and Matilda Ann (1835). A fourth child, Edward (1834) died in 1838.

The 1841 census* records Elizabeth (35), along with Eliza (9), Matilda (6), and notably, Mary Mogridge (15), residing in Lupridge, as it does Richard (55) and Jane (55) Prowse and their family, including son Richard (15). A record hasn't been found for daughter Elizabeth, but at 10 or 11, she was likely already living and working for another family. Mother Elizabeth's parents are still residing in Coombe Village, where Elizabeth's youngest two base-born children, Martha and Harriet, are living with their grandparents.

* see comment on age accuracy in Other Notes of Interest.

William is granted a conditional pardon on 5 October 1847, having served nearly 9 years of his 15 year sentence. Almost three years later, on August 1850, he is allowed to apply to have his wife and daughters join him in Van Diemen's Land. By this time Elizabeth and the girls have scattered somewhat. The 1851 census reveals:

  • Elizabeth (44), living at Lower Street, Ugborough, on parish relief.

  • Elizabeth Jr. (20) is one of three servants with the Thomas Wakeham & family in Lupridge.

  • Eliza (18), a servant with the Sherill family at 14 Tin Lane, Plymouth.

  • Matilda (Mary) Ann (17) is working as a labourer on the Luscombe farm in the village of Marriage only a few kilometers away.

1852 sees Elizabeth and children arrive in Van Diemen's Land, however, along with the daughters are two little boys, Richard Prowse Eastley and his younger brother John, listed as ages 9 and 6. Record searches found Richard Prowse Eastley , born to Elizabeth, baptized as 'base-born' on 5 December 1841 in North Huish parish and John Eastley's birth registered in the first quarter of 1846.

We know that William was otherwise occupied, so who is their father? The clue, of course, is in Richard's name. First thoughts turned to Richard Prowse Sr, but this is unlikely as he would have been 57 at the time of Richard P. Eastley's birth and deceased at the time of John Eastley's. However, Richard Prowse Jr. fits the bill, as he would have been 19 and 24 respectively and also unmarried at that point in his life.

DNA testing confirms that none of the daughters were the mother of the boys; and they would have been too young, but that their mother, Elizabeth, was. It also confirms the Prowse lineage.

On 6 April 1853, upon completion of his 15 year sentence, William is given a free certificate. He became a well respected gentleman in the Deloraine community, Tasmania. While William was not the boys’ father, he brought them up as Eastleys and treated them as if they were his own, although they were not included in his will.

Headstone of William and Elizabeth Eastley

Elizabeth Sr. passed in 1874. William in 1881. They had 21 grandchildren just from Richard and John.

John and Richard Prowse Eastley have many descendants in the north of Tasmania. They are all known by Eastley. Many know that Eastley is not their biological surname.

John Eastley married Eliza Willey (1848-1934) whose family hailed from Drayton, Somerset, UK. They had a large family of eight sons and three daughters. John died 17 November 1932 at Ulverstone, Tasmania - see obituary from the Burnie Advocate 18 Nov 1932 that follows:

Eliza (Willey) and John Eastley

Mr. John Eastley. The funeral of the late Mr. John Eastley took place at the Ulverstone cemetery yesterday afternoon, the service being conducted by the Rev. J. C. Compton. There was a large attendance of relatives and friends of deceased, who had been a worthy citizen of Ulverstone for the past fifteen years, ever since he retired from active life at Riana. The pall-bearers were four grandsons, Messrs. G. Eastley, T. Carpenter, L. Eastley and W. Marshall. The chief mourners were six sons, Messrs. G. Eastley (Upper Burnie), J. Eastley (Penguin), A. Eastley (Christmas Hills), F. Eastley (Upper Burnie), E. Eastley (Riana), and W. Eastley (Tewkesbury). Another son Mr. H. Eastley, resides in Victoria, and the daughters are Mesdames E. Marshall (Upper Castra), B. Marshall (Riana) and T. Sushames (Riana). Four grandsons, Messrs. D. R. and C. Eastley and A. Marshall, carried their grandfather to his last resting place. The late Mr. Eastley was 87 years of age, and was born in Devonshire, England. He came to Tasmania as a lad, and resided at Deloraine, where he was married. His wife survives him. About 55 years ago he went to reside at Kindred, where a large family was reared. In this district he followed farming, and was also engaged in hauling timber. Later he lived in the Riana district. Deceased leaves 84 grandchildren and 81 great grandchildren.

Other Notes of Interest:

  • Lupridge (Loperige) appears in the Doomsday book of 1086 as consisting of 11 households under 3 land owners: Count Robert of Mortain, Walter of Claville, and Walter's brother Gotshelm.

  • William is listed as a 'Sojourner' on the 1830 marriage record, a term used to refer to someone working outside the parish, a travelling salesman, or a vagrant.

  • The 1841 census was not particularly accurate in terms of ages as most ages were rounded to the nearest 5 years. As an example, Richard Prowse Jr., born 1822, is listed as 15, when he would have been 18 or 19.

  • No 1851 census record has yet been found for John and Richard Prowse Eastley or for Richard Prowse Jr. or his mother Jane or sister Jane. Perhaps they were living together?

  • Thomas Wakeham for whom Elizabeth Jr. was working in 1851 is the son of Richard Wakeman who is listed on the same page as the Eastleys in the 1841 census but Elizabeth Jr. is not listed as a servant with them at that time.

  • Eliza was pregnant when she arrived in Van Diemen's Land. The father was believed to be Nicolas Soper (1831-1870). Baby Amelia died two years later.

  • Van Diemen's Land became Tasmania in 1856.

  • June Aleknavicius is the great-grand-daughter of John Eastley.

  • A relationship diagram between June and Ian Mattey (5th cousins) is included at the bottom of this blog.

  • Richard Prowse Sr.'s older brother John is the direct forebear of most other members of the House of Prowse. She is the 5th cousin of Malcolm Prowse, Ian Mattey, and many others. See chart below.

​Roger Prowse

1662 -1713

Mary Browne

1675 - ?

Roger Prowse


Eleanor Crocker 1695-1783

Richard Prowse 1731-1775

Wilmot Woolridge 1729-1789

John Prowse


Mary Steer


John Mogridge 1775/1778-? Elizabeth Nethaway 1781-?

Richard Prowse 1784-1844

Jane Stear 1786-1864

John Prowse


Ann Mashford


William Eastley

1805 - 1881

Richard Prowse 1822-1907

Samuel Prowse


Sarah Thorne


​Elizabeth Eastley 1831-1907

Eliza Eastley


Edward Eastley 1834-1838

Matilda Ann Eastley 1835-1911

​Mary Ann Mogridge 1825-?

Martha Mogridge 1827-?

Harriet Mogridge 1828-?

note: unverified base born

​Richard Prowse Eastley 1841-1932

John Eastley


Eliza Willey


John Thorne Prowse


Susan Popham


Walter A. Eastley 1885-1972

Netty L. M. Stevens 1898-1950

Richard H. Prowse


Mary E. Hill


Leonard J. Eastley 1920-2001

Coraline C. Hilder 1917-2012

John H. Prowse


Lilian A. Thorne


Malcolm Prowse​

June to Ian -relationship-diagram
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