When Charles Dickens visited Australia, he used characters he met or heard about for characters in his various novels. Miss Haversham, from Great Expectations was in fact Eliza Donnithorne from Newtown, Sydney. Another character was Fagin from Oliver Twist, who was based upon Ikey Solomon.

In the late 1820’s a paradoxical situation existed in Hobart Town. A man, whom everybody from Governor Arthur down knew to be an escaped convict, was able to live openly there without fear of arrest, and was even able to run a thriving shop. The man was Isaac (Ikey) Solomon, and the story of how he came to be in such a position is intriguing.

Solomon was born in Houndsditch in London’s East End about 1787 and married Ann Julian who, over the years, bore him six children.

He was first in trouble in 1810 for picking pockets and was sentenced to transportation for life. After three years in the hulks he escaped and went into business, ostensibly as a jeweler but really as a receiver of stolen goods.

The law did not catch up with him again until April 1827, when he was arrested and charged with theft and receiving. By this time he was such a notorious character that three pamphlets containing highly flavoured accounts of his life were published and found ready sale.

On his way back to Newgate prison by hackney coach, after a preliminary hearing, Solomon staged a well planned escape. Unknown to his guards, the coach was driven by his father-in-law who detoured through Petticoat Lane where friends who had been waiting rushed forward, overpowering the guard and released the prisoner. Solomon fled, first to Denmark, then to the United States, and from there made his way to Rio de Janerio.

Meanwhile his wife had been sentenced for receiving and was sentenced to 14 years transportation. She reached Hobart Town in June 1828, with her four younger children, aged from three to nine. There she was later joined by her two grown sons, who travelled as free im migrants.

Learning of his wife’s fate, Solomon sailed for Van Diemen’s Land under an assumed name, but immediately was recogonised by old friends from London. The Governor soon learned his true identity, but could do nothing beyond sending to London for warrants for his arrest.

One of Solomon’s first acts was to ask to have his wife assigned to him as a servant. Arthur demurred and gave in only when Solomon had entered into a £1,000 bond to guarantee that she would not escape from the colony. Some of his friends also lodged sureties.

The warrants for Solomon’s arrest reached Hobart from London in November 1829. They were executed at once, and a relieved Governor Arthur assumed that the affair was settled. But it was not. A smart lawyer had Solomon brought before the court on a writ of habeas corpus, and won his release because of technical faults in the warrants. Bail was fi xed at £2,000 with four sureties of £500, but Solomon managed to find the money.

Enraged by the defeat, Arthur took the extreme and highly dubious step of issuing a warrant in his own name. Solomon was sent back to England under arrest, an action for which the Governor was denounced by the newspapers.

When Solomon returned to Van Diemen’s Land in 1831, it was under sentence of 14 years transportation. He and his wife were both granted tickets-of-leave in 1835, but by this time they had separated. Solomon lived on another 15 years and died in New Town in 1850.

(Article published in the Heron Flyer of August 2016. Published with permission)


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