Contemporary accounts of Higgins’s execution make reference to him changing his name from Higgins to Hickson, but say nothing of Edward Higgins being an assumed name. Foxall, in his book Squire Errant, writes that our notorious criminal was born Edward Harding, son of Squire Harding. Squire Errant is a work of fiction, but based on research into the life of Higgins. So, who was Higgins? Was he born as Harding and convicted under that name? I need to research records of convictions and transportation.
I have been waiting to get my hands on a copy of The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage 1614-1775 by P.W. Coldham. A book that, post Fifty Shades, raised eyebrows in my local library when I requested it. Further eyebrow ascent ensued when the library computer would not allow the librarian to search for it by name. I saw a red dialogue box appear on the monitor and could make out the word pornography in bold. I guess the IT bod setting up the library system could think of no innocent use of the word bondage.
My first search in this intriguingly titled volume is for the name Higgins. There is one Edward Higgins in the book, recorded as being sentenced in Middlesex to transportation and transported aboard Gilbert to Maryland in 1720, which does not correspond to the reports of our chap’s transportation being in 1754, and 1720 is likely to be before Higgins was born or would have him horse rustling as a toddler. If Coldham’s book is complete in its records, then Edward Higgins is likely to be an assumed name. So, was Foxall correct in naming him as Edward Harding? In the ‘bondage book’, there are two entries for this name. One for sentencing in London and transportation in July 1753 aboard Tryal. The next entry is for sentencing in summer 1761 in Buckinghamshire. 1753 is only one year out but the ship is not Frisby. Assuming the reports at the time of Higgins’s execution are accurate, then this does not look a dead cert for our man.
I am left wondering whether Coldham’s book is as complete a record as its title claims. Not just from the absence of entries for the names Higgins, Harding or even Hickson that corroborate my initial research, but the lack of any mention of the ship Frisby which has been referred to as a transporter of convicts in texts other than those concerning Higgins.
I believe Coldham’s research included many sources, so it is possible that there may well be records of sentencing of convicts whom were later transported aboard Frisby but without the mention of the vessel. My next step is to search the book from cover to cover for transportations to Maryland in 1754. There are 911 pages of transportees and I have 53 days left before I need to return the book. Seventeen pages a day should be quite manageable…