One of our priorities at the FCRC is to research the genealogy of each convict woman. We have teams of volunteers working in Tasmania, on the mainland and overseas tracing each woman’s story.
We attempt to locate a woman’s birth or baptism details and information about her family life prior to transportation. Trial documents, petitions against transportation, and newspaper articles add to the rich data we have about life under transportation. We aim to reconstruct a convict’s family life both before and after transportation and then we attempt to record her death.
You will find information about birth, death and marriages on the Permission to Marry, Birth and Death, and Relations pages of our database. Details about earlier family life, the trial, petitions against transportation and previous offences are recorded in our Pre-Transportation pages. Our research notes page may contain newspaper reports of crimes in the colony or details pertaining to the colonial family of a convict. You may also find our notes explaining why we reached a decision about a marriage or death.
Sometimes our volunteers find interesting and unusual material that we will share on this page with you.
Elizabeth Jones per Jane 1833
A letter written to her mother Jane in 1839.
Surviving letters from convict women are rare. This letter was included in a petition written by Jane Jones in 1839 on behalf of her daughter Elizabeth.
Transported aboard the Jane in 1833 for stealing from the person, Elizabeth Jones committed 24 colonial offences and spent considerable time in the House of Correction, often in solitary confinement. Several men applied to marry her, but it was not until April 1845 that she married Michael Kittson, a shepherd. Elizabeth gave birth to a son Thomas in 1844. The last notation on her conduct record placed her at Bothwell in late 1846.
8th October 1838
My Dear Mother.
I take the pleasure of writing to you these few lines, hoping to find you, and all the family in good health, as it leaves me at present, thank God for it. Time has not weaken my love for you, and my dear brothers and sisters, it is stronger than ever, and my prayers morning and evening are for your health and happiness. Although I have been a long lost child, I hope with the blessing of God to see you all once more if it pleases the Almighty I live so long, as I hope and trust in His Blessed Name he will spare me for with him there is nothing impossible, if I put my trust in him, for the Blessed Saviour says “ Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” for he is able to seek and to save that which is lost, so my Dear Mother where there is life there is hope. I am very happy in mind to think you are all well. I have wrote home several times and never received an answer before, which made me think you had forgotten me altogether, and you cannot think how enjoyed I was when I received your kind letter, to find you were alive and well, for my thoughts are about you night and day. Dear Mother, if you were to get a Petition drawn out and my Prosecutor and some more gentlemen to sign it and take it to the Secretary of State’s Office, there is no doubt , but what you might get my time mitigated. If we believe ourselves in the course of 4 years, a 7 years person gets a Ticket of Leave to go in any part in the Country with a pass, and hire in any place, and get wages, £10 a years is the common wages, and some more, it depends on the situation you undertake and a 14 years person has 6 years and a Life person has 8 years to serve before they obtain any indulgence.
You know the day of my Transportation was December 1832 so that I have already served 7 years this month. Please to tell me where to direct my letter as I don’t know properly. If you go to my Prosecutor, he lives in Church Street Deptford by the Tide Mill. So my Dear Mother, I conclude with my blessing and the blessing of God attend you all, and I remain your loving child.
With thanks to Keith Searson for his transcription.
Read the full petition here...
A letter written to her parents.
Letters written by convict women were rare and rarely survived, but a letter written by Amelia Hough to her parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Swinfield of Camp Hill Cottage, Near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, does, at least in part. The text of Amelia’s letter is recorded in a petition* written by her parents in 1846 requesting a pardon on behalf of their daughter and permission for her to leave Van Diemen’s Land with Governor Wilmot, for whom she worked as a domestic servant. It reads (the identity of Miss Loftus is unknown):
My dear Father and Mother, Miss Loftis having informed His Excellency that I had received a letter from you her very kindly asked me if my friends were all well, I thanked him for his enquiries at the same time asked His Excellency if he could please to read the letter which her did, and when her came to that part where you expressed a hope of my pardon, he sent for me into the drawing room, and told me that he would most willingly do it if it laid within his power but it did not altogether, he told me that when I wrote to you again that, if you would intercede for me to the Government at home. My Lord Stanley would then send out to him (Sir E Willmot) and he would then do all that possibly lay in his power for me as Sir Willmott does not expect to stay more than 18 months in Hobart Town expecting to go to Sydney as Governor.
I shall [illegible ] to leave the family having experienced so much kindness from them but I cannot go unless I have my liberty. I have (by the time you receive this letter) been in His Excellency’s service two years and I hope I shall never forget their kindness.
We hear many stories of female convicts rebelling against being assigned as domestic servants, behaving badly, getting drunk and being absent without leave and so on; but this letter give a picture of a female convict who is happy and co-operative, appreciates the kindness she receives from her employers and sounds like a model servant.
Amelia Swinfield and William Hough, a brickmaker, were married at Newton Regis in Warwickshire in August 1839. In 1840 a son, Thomas, was born to them – but also in that year in 1840, William, aged 24, was sentenced to transportation for housebreaking. He left his wife with his father. Whether Amelia committed a crime in the hope of joining him we shall never know, but in 1843 Amelia was living with William Simpson. She and Thomas Simpson were charged with stealing cloth from a boat, and Amelia was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation. She arrived in Hobart in 1843.
Amelia’s pardon did not arrive. It was very soon to apply for it; Amelia was only a few years into her fourteen-year sentence, and pardons were not given so early. She was a well-behaved convict throughout, not only at government house; she committed no offences and gained her ticket of leave in 1850, and her conditional pardon in 1852.
Meanwhile, Amelia had met her husband William Hough. A son, Francis, was born to them in 1851 whilst they were living in Hobart. William Hough was at that stage a brickmaker, though his occupation would soon change to publican. What became of their older son Thomas is unknown.
In 1854, William Hough became the licensee of the White Hart in Elizabeth Street, Hobart. He died at the hotel in November 1857 and Elizabeth assumed the licence. In 1860, she married Swedish-born Robert Henderson, captain of the Hargraves, a brigantine that sailed between Hobart Town and Sydney. Henderson died at his home in Cross Street, Battery Point, aged 45, in 1868.
Amelia Millicent Henderson remained in Battery Point. She died at 78 Montpelier Street in September 1896.
Researched and written by Alison Alexander, Colette McAlpine and Keith Searson
* Amelia Hough's petition can be accessed here.
The series CON27 contains appropriation lists of convicts including lists for the female convict ships America 1831 and Edward 1834. We are in the process of transcribing CON27 for these two ships.
Sometimes these records provide an interesting insight into colonial life.
In 1831, Esther Smith, who said she was a farm servant, was sent to work for Mr Glover (painter) of Hobart. At this time, Glover was living at ‘Stanwell Hill’ his home in West Hobart, where he painted his well-known view of Hobart Town. Whilst assigned to Mr Glover, Esther was charged twice for absenting herself from her service and for absconding. She spent time in the cells on bread and water as punishment for both offences. Thus started a long history of absence and absconding. Esther married James Smith in Launceston in 1840.
Ellen Miles per Gilbert Henderson 1839
Married name Ellen Watkins
Photo taken from Victorian Prison Records 1884 (covers her records until 1894)
VPRS 516/P002 volume 9 /page 124
Names used on record, Ellen Watkins, Ellen Grimes, Ellen Miles, Jane Watkins, Ellen Stewart
AN ANCIENT OFFENDER.
Bridget Brady, a woman of 82 years, who wore a patch over one eye, but kept the other unflinchingly fixed on Sergeant Eason, was brought up at the City Court on Saturday on a charge of vagrancy. She is a vigorous and voluble old lady, and she took a remarkably keen interest. Sergeant Eason told the Bench that Brady was very well known to the police; he himself had seen her continually lying down in the Carlton Gardens. She had no menus of support.
Brady (triumphantly): If 1 was lying down I did not want support. (Laughter.) But I was only sitting down. Sure, can't I sit down in the gardens if I like? And my name's not Bridget Brady at all, at all. My name is Ellen Watkins, and I'm a decent woman
Sergeant Eason: Oh, we know all about you, Bridget; you've been convicted of all sorts of offences— nine times larceny, six times soliciting—
'Tis many a year since I was soliciting, I'm thinking. (Laughter.)
Sergeant Eason: Yes; the record goes back over 30 years.
Brady (contemptuously): Thirty grandmothers. (Laughter.) Why it must be full 6O years ago, man. (Laughter.)
Accused was sentenced to six months' imprisonment.
The Age 15 December 1902
Sidney Keelan (aka Sydney Keelan)
Sidney Keelan stole a cow, or perhaps two, at Armagh, Ireland in 1849. Her gaol report noted that the 18-year-old from Monaghan was ‘good and useful’ and she had never before been convicted. Why then did Sidney request to be transported?
The Newry Telegraph of 11 September 1849 reported that
The five female convicts removed from our gaol on Thursday last, preparatorily to their embarkation for a penal settlement were: Mary Eastdom convicted for burglary and robbery. Margaret Lucas, Ellen Wilson, Susan O’Neill and Sydney Keelan for stealing two cows. The four last are very young girls, who, after trial, might have “gotten off” with a short imprisonment, but were transported at their own special and urgent request.
Perhaps they were so poor that they wanted the security of food and accommodation transportation would bring. After all, Ireland had suffered four years of famine causing a million deaths and another million to leave the country.
When she sailed aboard the Earl Grey, arriving in Hobart in May 1850, Sidney left behind her father, Michael, and a brother in the 19th Regiment. She was just 5 feet tall, and she had black hair and dark hazel eyes. Sidney said she was a dressmaker.
Though she committed few offences in the colony, Sidney refused to stay in the service of Mr Chapman in 1850 for which she was sentenced to hard labor at Cascades for one month. An application to marry her, submitted by John Franklin in 1850, failed to gain approval. In 1851, deemed unfit to remain in Hobart Town and refused a ticket of leave, Sidney was sent to Launceston. There, in April 1852, she married Thomas Jones, a police sergeant, and in 1854, she gained her conditional pardon enabling her to travel out of the island, but not to return home. By 1856, her certificate of freedom was granted in Launceston.
How then did Sidney Keelan come to be entertaining on the speaking circuit in Ireland in 1860? And what had happened to her husband?
The Northern Whig of 5 June 1860 advertised the -
HORRORS OF TRANSPORTATION BY A RETURNED FEMALE CONVICT.
A LECTURE WILL BE DELIVERED IN THE Gallery of Art on Thursday and Friday evenings the 7th and 8th June by SYDNEY KEELEN on the “Horrors of Transportation”. She was transported from Armagh in July 1849 and will give details of her whole life. Reserved Seats 1s Second Seats 6d. Doors open at 7.30pm Lecture commences at 8.00pm. Tickets to be had at Mr Henderson’s Castle Place and at the door. Belfast 4th June 1860.
Sidney was enterprising if nothing else. News of her success on the lecture circuit was reported in at least three Australian newspapers. The Mount Alexander Mail (South Australia) reported this on 17 August 1860.
Lecture by a Returned Convict. - A young woman named Sidney Keelen, who was convicted at Armagh summer assizes, 1849, on a charge of stealing cattle, and transported for seven years, has just returned to Ireland, from Van Diemen's Land, and is at present delivering a course of lectures on her personal history and the horrors of transportation, in various towns in Ulster. During the past week, she appeared in Castlebayney and Keady, and on Wednesday evening she addressed an audience in the Market House, Armagh. She was introduced by the Governor of Armagh Gaol. Miss Keelen speaks very fluently, though, occasionally, she betrays her imperfect education. She is about twenty-eight years of age, neatly attired, and seems perfectly at home before an audience. Her remarks show that she is an attentive observer, and desirous of doing something for her sex, especially warning them against whisky drinking, the bad effects of which she has seen so much of during her absence from Ireland. - Northern Daily Whig.
An article in the Northern Whig 1 June 1860 contains far more detail. Sidney told her audience that her mother died when she was three or four, and that Lady Blayney, for whom Sidney’s father was a gardener, paid for her care. The placement with Mr and Mrs Boyd was not a success and Sidney returned to her father who treated her harshly. Sidney gained employment, but went to the Castleblayney workhouse in the hope of being sent out as an emigrant. The emigration scheme was cancelled too soon for her plan to work. Sidney then hatched another plan with three servants; resolving to run away, commit a crime to ensure transportation. This worked and she sailed to Van Diemen’s Land. There her first master acted tyrannically towards her and during her second engagement, a shopkeeper proposed to her. She declined. Finally, a cabinetmaker hired her and taught her to upholster. Sidney said she might even return to VDL after she finished on her speaking circuit, as she was able to earn quite a good living there. Interestingly, Sidney did not mention her marriage to Thomas Jones!
Sidney had married Thomas Jones in the April of 1852. To complicate matters, in December 1852, a woman named Sydney Jones married a mariner named John Naden – in the same Launceston church, with the same minister and with one witness who also attended the marriage of Sidney Keelen to Thomas Jones. Mrs Sydney Naden bore a child, Martha, in Launceston. Martha Naden died in Little Scotland, Victoria in December 1854, two months after the family arrived in the colony. Her death registration lists her birthplace as Launceston and her mother as Sydney Jones. John Naden died at Ballarat in July 1856. Sydney Naden bore another child, and, in 1856, she and the one-year-old baby left Victoria aboard the Morning Light bound for Liverpool. Could this have been Sidney? Did she leave Thomas Jones and run away to Victoria with another man? Certainly, Sidney returned to Ireland.
What we do know is that eventually Sidney returned to Tasmania and to Thomas Jones. When he died in Launceston in October 1872, Jones left his wife Sidney well provided for. She inherited £1040. Two years later, in Melbourne, she married James Maxwell.
The Argus 28 January 1874 advertised the event.
MAXWELL - JONES - On the 27th inst. At the Privative Methodist Church, Lygon Street, by the Rev. Joshua Smith, assisted by the Rev. Mr. Hunt, James Maxwell, draper, Smith Street, Fitzroy, third son of the late W. H. Maxwell, captain in H.M. 72nd Regiment, to Sidney Jones, widow of the late Thomas Jones Esq., retired merchant, Launceston, Tasmania. No cards sent.
The marriage certificate recorded Sidney’s birthplace as Castleblayney, Monaghan, Ireland. Sidney, a widow, was a retired storekeeper of Smith Street, Fitzroy. Her father, Michael Keelan, was a gardener, and her mother, Alice, had died when Sidney was an infant.
Sidney became a successful property developer in Melbourne. The Age of 9 December 1884 advertised -
To be Sold, in that fast increasing and rapidly rising suburb of Yarraville, about fifteen
Cottages, all lately erected, and let to respectable tenants. They are all thoroughly finished, and will be sold separately or in lots for cash, or easy terms.
Apply Mrs. Sidney Maxwell, Stephen-street, Yarraville.
By September 1886, Sidney was dead, and she died in suspicious circumstances. The Age 5 October 1886 reported -
THE inquiry into the death of Mrs. Sidney Maxwell, whose decapitated corpse was found lying on the railway line, near the Ascot Vale station, on the 27th ult., was resumed on Monday before Mr. Candler, district coroner. The additional evidence in no way tended to clear up the mystery attending the woman's death. The jury found that the deceased was found dead on the railway line near the Ascot Vale station, having been killed by a passing train, but there was no evidence to show how she got on the line.
Researched by Colette McAlpine and Keith Searson and Terence Creaney
A BBC documentary, The Secret History of My Family S1E1 the Gadbury Sisters
A BBC documentary, The Secret History of My Family S1E1 the Gadbury Sisters, has just aired in the UK. It tells the story of three sisters tried in the 1830s and traces their descendants.
One of the Gadbury sisters arrived in VDL on the Majestic in 1839 as Sarah Cope (ID7910 in our database). Her aliases included Sarah Cape, Caroline Gadbury, Bradbury, Gadley and Gantry. She married Charles Chapman in 1854 and he died in 1855. The couple had had three daughters, two of whom died in infancy.
In 1860, Sarah married George Ogilvie, a blacksmith and a widower with one surviving son, James. George’s first wife, and the mother of his two sons, was also a convict named Caroline Justin. (ID9720) She arrived on the Navarino in 1841. She died in 1855.
Sarah Cope died as Caroline Cissy Ogilvie, at the home of her daughter, Sarah Ann, in New Town, in 1895. George Ogilvie died in 1894.
Transported by mistake!
Eliza Ellis, St. Vincent 1850
Eliza Ellis sailed from England aboard the St Vincent with her three-year-old daughter, Sarah on 19 December 1849. She did not know that a petition for clemency had been granted and that her 7-year sentence to transportation had been commuted to 18 months imprisonment at Exeter Gaol on 10 December 1849.
Eliza was baptised at Barnstaple in Devon in March 1824, the daughter of George Kelly, a cooper and Catherine Martin. When she was charged with felony in April 1839, she was described in the Exeter Flying Post as a respectably dressed, married woman, the wife of James Ellis, a coachbuilder. Eliza was a laundress, working for Mrs Ann Handford when she was charged with stealing items of wearing apparel, the property of her mistress.
Eliza behaved well on the voyage, moved straight to service on arrival, and committed no offences in the colony. Her conduct record noted that she was granted a free pardon on 30 July 1850. Eliza did not return home. Stating she was a widow, she married James Watt, a widower and carpenter, on 24 June 1851. Eliza’s daughter, Sarah, was discharged from the Orphan School into her mother’s care once Eliza gained her freedom.
Eliza and James Watt had several children born in Tasmania and then in Victoria where the family settled by the mid 1850s. Eliza died in Echuca in 1901.
Research in the UK by Ruth Thomas.
Transported by mistake!
Mary Clayton, Hindostan 1839
Mary Clayton appeared before the assize court at Lincoln in March 1839 charged with shoplifting. A widow with two sons, William and James, she had raised her boys alone since the death of her husband, James, in 1828. Mary was born at Brigg in Lincolnshire and baptised there in 1800, the daughter of William and Agnes Burton. Her father, William Burton, was a witness at Mary’s wedding when, in March 1825 at Wrawby, just two miles from Brigg, she married James Clayton.
Mary’s connections were respectable and, as a testament to this, 38 people at Barton on Humber in the county of Lincoln appealed for mercy after she was convicted to 7 year’s transportation. One was David Holdsworth, a draper, her prosecutor. Mary’s sentence was remitted to three years and she was to serve her time in the penitentiary.
Instead, Mary was loaded onto the Hindostan and she sailed to Van Diemen’s Land leaving England’s shores on 9 May 1839. Lord Worsley contacted the Colonial Office requesting that Mary be provided with a free passage home at the expiration of her sentence.
On Mary’s CON41 record is the notation ‘At the expiry of this woman's sentence she is to be allowed a free passage to England by order of the Secretary of State vide memo of PS 19th October 1841’.
Mary was free by servitude on 9 March 1842 and she returned home to the village of Wrawby and her mother, Agnes.
Mary was reunited with her son James who, at the time of the 1841 census, was living with his grandmother, Agnes, and Jane Burton at Little Lane Wrawby. Perhaps her son, William, was apprenticed by this time.
In 1844, Mary married John Fussey at Hull, Yorkshire; a witness was Jane Burton, her sister. Mary and John appear to have had no children, but Mary had family close by.
Her mother, Agnes Burton, was 76 at the time of the 1851 census and still living with her daughter Jane, a dressmaker. Agnes Burton died in January 1861 in the village of Wrawby.
John Fussey died in Brigg aged 82 and Mary Fussey died in the Brigg Workhouse in 1881. It is likely that this woman is the Mary Clayton who spent three years in Van Diemen’s Land.
With thanks to the Wrawby History Group, Keith Searson and Bill Painter.
Letter to Ann Jones, Cadet 1849
Letter from her husband prior to his execution in 1848 written from Thomas Sale to his wife Ann Jones per Cadet 1849 Bristol Times and Mirror - Saturday 15 January 1848
“Condemned Cell. Newgate, Jan. 9, 10 min. to 11 p.m. “My dear Wife, I send you these last lines in the hope that they will find you as well as I am at present, excepting the awful condition in which I am unhappily placed. Had I taken your advice, my dear girl, I should never have been here. It is no fault of yours I have left you with two children in the wide world. I hope you will go home to your friends in Yorkshire. If you get married again I hope you will marry a religious man, and not such blackguard as I have been. God bless you and my children.
“Your unhappy but affectionate husband, THOMAS SALE.”
Contributed by Peter Selley, one of our UK volunteers.