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Shoemaker Legg's Lost Hand

A human hand was discovered in the stomach of a shark near where George Legg had drowned during a Sydney Harbour fishing trip. His sailing boat had capsized in a storm and he was unable to stay afloat because of the heavy coat he was wearing. His widow, Ann had employed searchers to recover what remained of his body so that it could be interred at a place of burial.

George Legg was a Dorset shoemaker and had been convicted on the 16th March 1786, in a Dorchester courtroom, to be transported to Australia for seven years. His crime was stealing a gold watch and some other items valued at seven pounds. From Dorchester Jail he was despatched to Plymouth, where he spent time in the convict hulk, Dunkirk awaiting transportation.

From this convict hulk, he was transferred onto a transport vessel, the Charlotte which then set sail in June 1787 with 108 convicts on board for Australia. The British authorities had decided to establish a new convict settlement in Australia. Vessels assembled for the expedition became known as the First Fleet.  A difficult route involved first sailing from England to Tenerife and then across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro where livestock was taken onboard. They then sailed across to Cape Town and then across the Southern Ocean to Australia. Despite the hazards involved, including 48 deaths, the entire eleven ship fleet managed to arrive safely at their destination in January 1788. This was in spite of the Charlotte accidently leaving its third mate back in Plymouth and being generally  regarded as a slow vessel. John Hudson, just nine years old was the youngest of the First Fleet convicts.

In January 1789, George Legg was in trouble again. He was sentenced to 100 lashes after selling two chicken that were not his property. This led to him being sent to Norfolk Island where he met and married in November 1791 another convict, Ann Armsden in a mass ceremony. More than 60 couples were married together by the Reverend Richard Johnson. Ann was also a convict and had been sentenced to death for highway robbery in Kent which had involved the stealing of a bundle of cloth. However, the sentence was  commuted to transportation to Australia. In December 1791, George Legg was appointed to the night watch to patrol the Arthur’s Vale area. By January 1792, he was settled on twelve acres, then in September 1792, he became a constable at Little Cascade Stream on Norfolk Island. In June 1794, he and his wife returned to the mainland and the following year they built a small cottage in the Rocks area of Sydney.

In a recent archaeological dig, the remains of George and Ann Legg’s cottage were uncovered. Among the artefacts found was a wedding ring. This most probably belonged to the widow of a Dorset man whose life was ended in so unfortunate a manner. Even more bizarre was the dig’s discovery of the skeleton of a shark.

With a certain black humour, because of their surnames of Armsden and Legg, their house became known after George’s death as the ‘arm and leg house!'

(Source: Sydney Gazette – 21 June 1807, the Cumberland Archaeological Site & People, Australia)

Image below: First Fleet transport vessel, the Charlotte.


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