Murder of the Game Keeper-Herbert

The Murder of John Dunkley, the Marquis of Northampton’s Gamekeeper


Joseph Bedford, William Downing, James Underwood (Born 1820 Brick layer)


In Newhay Copse, Yardley Chase in the Parish of Yardley Hastings

The Trial was held before Lord Abinger at Northampton Assizes 6th March 1841

John Dunkley was a game keeper employed by the Marquis of Northampton. The accused lived in Yardley Hastings. Joseph Longland a resident was drinking in the Rose and Crown with these men and was pestered by Underwood to lend him a gun as they were intending to go off on a spree that night. A witness saw Downing with a gun on the day in company of the others. They were met by George whitely in Lets Close about a mile from Newhay Copse. He subsequently heard shots from the direction of the Copse. Later that day Mr. Longstaff, the Marquis head game keeper was contacted by Dunkley’s wife to say he was missing. He went, on the direction of lord Northampton to search in the woods where they found blood, Dunkley’s Gun and subsequently his body. Suspicion fell on the accused and they were rounded up in Yardley Hastings and there they and their homes were searched. Bedford’s back was found to have gunshot wounds.

Theír testimony in court can be found in the transcript of the trial on the Yardley Hastings Heritage Society Website along with the newspaper report of the day and sundry related documents. ( please explore the website further for  further documents and photographs – the website is in continuous development and more are being added continually)

They were found guilty of murder and sentenced to be deported for life. They were deported on the Ship the Tortoise to Van Diemans Land ( Tasmania ) in 1841. see ships manifest

The Rose and Crown pub In Yardley Hastings where the accused were overheard discussing their intentions.


View of Rose and Crown Public House

View of Rose and Crown Public House

The ship in which they were deported


Commisioned 1805 – Break Up 18 October 1859

 HMS Tortoise began life in 1805 as a stores ship for the East India Company and was originally named Sir Edward Hughes. The ship undertook eight voyages before being presented to the Admiralty in 1806. On the 20th July 1807 a notation was made in St.Helena’s records: Governor Patton embarked yesterday for England in H.M.S. Sir Edward Hughes. The ship was made of Teak, had a gross tonnage of 962, a keel of 118 feet and beam of 39 feet. In 1809 the vessel was renamed Tortoise and saw service in the Mediterranean in 1812 and at Gibraltar in 1813, commanded by T. Cook. The Tortoise served at St. Helena in 1817 during Napoleon’s exile there, commanded by William Finlaison. He was also the Commander of Ascension Island, with First Lieutenant Simon Fraser of the Royal Marines as Acting Adjutant. From 1820 to 1838 the Tortoise was back in English waters, first in Plymouth and then at Milford. During November 1824 it became a coal hulk and in August 1841 a store hulk.

In September 1841 the Tortoise sailed from Spithead, Portsmouth, Captain James Wood commanding, and departed Plymouth on October 26th with 394 male prisoners from varying hulks and prisons. The guard was commanded by Major Cumberland, aided by two officers, one Staff Officer and 99 Regulars of Foot of the 96th Regiment, and families. The tonnage is now stated as 1000 tons and the ship is mounted with 2 guns.

On February 19th 1842 the Tortoise arrived in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land. The Surgeon was Thomas Brownrigg. In his report on March 5 he refers to the fact that statistically when it is considered that the Ship left England with 651 Souls on board, & that some of the Convicts, & all the Soldiers, Women & Children were 27 weeks on board – the mortality must certainly be considered as low.

Mr. Brownrigg then recommended that a better system of air ventilating pumps be set up below decks for passengers and convicts. He concluded his report with: 35 of the soldiers were entered on Sick-list, several with Pneumonia & Inflammatory complaints, & some of the Women were ill with Dysentry (sic), but none of either have died. Five women were delivered of Children on board during the voyage, the last one still born in consequence of a breach presentation. Three deaths occurred during the passage, all convicts. On our arrival here we had rather a large number affected with Spongy gums, and other symptoms of Scurvy, but not one confined to bed with that complaint, & most of the cases so slight as not to require any treatment. The authorities here consider the Prisoners to have been landed in an unusually health [condition].

From 1845 the Tortoise, commanded by Captain Morrell, served as a stores ship at Ascension Island. During this time the Captain acted as Governor of the Island, and marriages were performed on the ship between 1855 and 1859. (1847 – Captain Frederick Hutton, 1855 – Captain G. A. Seymour, 1857 – Captain J Elliott). In 1850 it was said that Edward Hodges Cree was on HMS Fury whilst it was in the waters off Ascension Island. He is supposed to have made a panoramic painting of the Island and the Tortoise, which was anchored offshore. (The painting was copied by his grandson and given to the Ascension Island Museum in 1967).


The order came on October 18th 1859 to break up the ship. The wreckage is believed to be close to the remains of the ship Soudan off North Point, Ascension island, at 07 53 25S, 14 22 44w.

The row of cottages built in c1800 by the estate that were given the unfortunate name of Melbourne Terrace as they were thought to be associated with the accused (then changed to Longland’s Row and now known as Sunny View)

Row of Cottages formerly known as Melbourne Terrace

Row of Cottages formerly known as Melbourne Terrace

A modern view of an area of Yardley Chase in the vicinity of where the crime was committed


a recent view in Yardley Chase near where the Murder occurred

a recent view in Yardley Chase near where the Murder occurred

The research of what happened to these three men after they were deported continues

Comments about this page

  • I would be very happy to hear from anybody regarding Joseph Bedford, William Downing & James Underwood transported for life on HMS Tortoise 1841/1842.

    By Sheree Johnstone (12/10/2023)
  • There are some inaccuracies in your initial article. The men were found guilty of manslaughter no murder. This quite an important distinction. If they had been found guilty of murder they would most probably have been hung.

    By Marion Swindells Cowper & Newton Museum, Olney (14/02/2022)
  • I am the great-great granddaughter of Joseph Bedford and am so keen to have any photographs that may be available re Joseph and / or his family in Yardley Hastings or in Tasmania.
    Thanks very much
    Judith (Bedford) Weber,
    Sydney, Australia

    By Judith Weber (17/07/2021)
  • William Bedford was my great great grandfather on my grandmother Vera Walke nee(Bedford) side of the family. Any information or copies of photos would be greatly appreciated. Best Regards Colin Walke.
    Ps. I know about the crime William Bedford and the others were convicted for in 1841.

    By Colin John Walke (20/09/2018)
  • If have all the family information on the Downing family , please feel free to mail me if you think I can help. The only thing I would like to know is what happened to William Downing son that he left behind? If any one can help?.

    By Linda Downing (06/02/2017)
  • I have information that may be helpful to either Carol Potter or Bev Downing if they would like to contact me.

    By Linda Downing (01/11/2016)
  • I believe my Great, great uncle was Joseph Underwood. He served a sentence of 11 years which was an unusually long time. Mainly for misdemeanours including escaping and making a boat. He went on to marry and have 7 children. William Downing and James Underwood were deported with him to Van Diemens Land. My mother was born an Underwood, her father’s mother was a Bedford, hence the link to Joseph. I have a lot of information on Joseph, plus photographs supplied by a distant relative who lives in Tasmania, she is a direct descendant of Joseph Bedford. My mother was born in what is now Sunny View. My Grandfather lived in Yardley Hasting all his life and came from a large family. My sisters and I spent all our summer holidays in Yardley Hastings and have many happy memories of summer days wandering the countryside and the Deer Park (The Marquis of Northampton’s woods). Happy days

    By Carol Potter (15/10/2016)
  • I am doing a family history on a William Downing who was born in Oldbury England in 1820. His parents were Joseph and Elizabeth (nee Moore). I have a William Downing (shoemaker) married to Anne Morrow in Geelong Victoria Australia in 1846 and drowned in a flood whilst gold fossicking in Magpie near Ballarat Victoria Australia in 1855. I am wondering if this write up you have here is the same William as I’m looking for. I have searched shipping and found this one on the Tortoise but can’t find what happened to him from being on that ship. This would be a fantastic find if this is our guy. Any information you could forward me would be fantastic, thankyou.

    By Bev Downing (22/05/2015)

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