BRIDGET KENNY

(Duke of Cornwall, 1850)

by

Don Bradmore

 

Bridget Kenny was born at Limerick, County Limerick, Ireland, around 1830. There is no mention in her convict documents of her parents and it is assumed that both had passed away before her conviction. She had two brothers, John and Michael, and a sister, Nelly.[2]

Nothing is known of her early years but they must have been difficult. By the time she was fifteen, Ireland was in the grip of the ‘Great Famine’ and for most of the population it was a time of terrible suffering. It is estimated that, between 1845 and 1851, more than a million people died from sickness and malnutrition and up to two and a half million fled the country. The most obvious cause of the disastrous famine was the failure of the potato crop, the staple food of the Irish rural poor, in five successive years due to an attack of the fungus known as potato blight. However, the underlying problem was the social and political structure in Ireland at the time. Most of the population were poor Catholic farmers and labourers who lived at the subsistence level, renting tiny allotments from mostly-absent, wealthy, Protestant English landlords. While food imported from England was readily available, the tenants, deprived of income from their small plots by the blight, had no money to pay for it. They were required, however, to continue to pay their rents and they were quickly evicted if they failed to do so. Thousands were forced to roam the countryside begging for food. Others flocked to the workhouses where the destitute could be granted food and shelter in exchange for work but where conditions were unsanitary and where many died. In 1847 alone, there were over sixty-five thousand deaths in the Irish workhouses.[3]

While no statistics exist to reveal how many people in the Limerick area died during the famine, it has been reported that the population of that county fell by seventy thousand.[4] In these circumstances, it is understandable that Bridget, like many others, had turned to prostitution to keep herself alive. Her convict papers reveal that she had been ‘on the town’ – a euphemism for working as a prostitute – for two years before she was transported to VDL. It is little wonder, too, that she had had a prior conviction for theft before she committed the crime that led to her transportation.

At her trial at Limerick on 1 January 1850, Bridget was found guilty of ‘receiving stolen clothing’. Apart from the fact that her accomplice had been a twenty-year-old named Mary Kennedy, nothing more is known of the crime. Both women were sentenced to transportation for seven years.[5] On 4 March 1850, they were transferred to the Grangegorman Women’s Prison, Dublin, which, since 1836, had become a hub for female prisoners from all over Ireland awaiting transportation.[6] 

On 5 July 1850, Bridget and Mary were put aboard Duke of Cornwall which, with Mr. John Whitehead as Master, Dr. Charles Smith as Surgeon-Superintendent, two hundred female prisoners and thirty-two of their children, sailed from Kingston, the port of Dublin, three days later. By 27 October that year they had reached Hobart.

Two of the women had died during the voyage. In the medical journal he kept during the voyage, Surgeon-Superintendent Smith mentioned that an unusually large number of women, including Bridget, had had to be treated at sea for hysterical fits but all had arrived in VDL in general good health. Interestingly, Smith also wrote that:

About two thirds of the convicts were between the ages of Twenty and Thirty and having been brought up in the country were generally of sound and healthy constitutions. Many of them had been driven to commit offences during the Famine in Ireland, who originally had very good characters, as when once convicted they were certain of being well fed & taken care of. [7]

Here, Smith suggests that some of the Duke of Cornwall prisoners had deliberately committed offences knowing that, in prison, they would at least have food to eat and, if they happened to be transported, that was better than starving to death in Ireland. Was Bridget one of them? 

Upon arrival at Hobart, Bridget, like all newly-arriving prisoners, was examined physically for later identification purposes, if necessary. She was described as being twenty years old and single. She was four feet nine and a half inches (146 cms) tall, with a fresh complexion, a full round face, black hair and hazel eyes. She was a Catholic. She could neither read nor write. She was allocated the convict trade of ‘kitchen maid’.[8]

Hired into the service of a free settler shortly after disembarkation, it was not long before Bridget was in trouble with the authorities. In March 1852, she was charged with absconding from the home of her employer and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment at the Cascades Female Factory, Hobart. While there, she was punished twice – in May for ‘not being alert’ at her work station and in June for ‘talking during divine service’.[9]

It is possible that Bridget was pregnant as she began that sentence. Soon after her release, she was back at the Cascades where, on 7 October, she gave birth to an illegitimate child. Born prematurely, it was baptized the following day but died within hours. Later, the infant’s name was registered as ‘Mary Ann Kenny’. The father’s name was not recorded.[10] How long Bridget remained at the Cascades after the birth is not clear but she was still there in early December 1852 when she was charged with being ‘insubordinate’. For that offence, she spent a month in the cells.[11]

In the following year, Bridget applied for a ticket of leave but was told that she must wait for another three months. When she applied again on 10 January 1854, the ticket was granted. Just three days later, however, she was charged with ‘being found wandering the streets with men’. She was ordered to prison again, this time for six months to be served with hard labour. Not surprisingly, her ticket of leave was revoked.[12]

Somewhere during this time, Bridget had met a convict by the name of John Stephens. He had been in the colony since his arrival per Fairlie (2) at the age of twenty-five in 1852. A sawyer by trade, he had been convicted of sheep-stealing in England in 1849 and sentenced to transportation for ten years.[13] On 9 July 1854, he and Bridget applied for permission to marry but the application was denied, apparently because of Bridget’s unsatisfactory record. They were told that Bridget must wait for six months before applying again.[14]

A new application was never made. Before those six months had passed, Bridget had been accused of murder!  She was in very serious trouble.

On 29 August 1854, the Colonial Times (Hobart) carried this report:

INFANTICIDE. On Saturday night, Constable Jarvis, attached to the Chief Police Magistrate's office, discovered the body of an infant on a dung heap at the back of the Red Lion public house, Liverpool Street, and there is reason to [believe that] the poor little thing had not died a natural death. The mother … has been taken into custody …[15]

The ‘mother’ referred to by the paper was Bridget, of course.

Two days later, The Courier (Hobart) reported that the Coroner, Mr. A. B. Jones, had convened an inquest and that he and a jury had inspected the body of the child. However, the coroner had been forced to adjourn the inquest when it was found that the mother was too ill to attend. When the case was resumed a few weeks later, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Wilful Murder’ against Bridget and she was fully committed to trial.[16]

On 17 October 1854, Bridget stood in the dock of the Supreme Court at Hobart to face the murder charge.[17]

Constable William Jarvis, the first witness called by the prosecution, told the court that, on 26 August that year, he had found the dead body of a male infant on a dung heap in the backyard of the Red Lion hotel, Liverpool Street.

A local resident, Edward Scandrick, testified that he had been standing near the Red Lion when the body had been discovered. He had noticed a woman walking away from the yard carrying a bundle under her arm. He had followed her and had found her hiding behind a fence in Goulburn Street. He had apprehended her and given her over to Constable Jarvis.

Ann Kelly, an eleven-year-old girl who lived with her mother and step-father next door to the Red Lion, told the court that she had seen Bridget, who was employed by her mother as a servant at that time, sobbing in the yard of their house on the night before the body was found. Hoping to comfort her, she had gone to her room and there she had heard a baby crying. When she had asked Bridget where the baby had come from, Bridget had replied: ‘You foolish girl! Where do you think I should get a baby from?’

Ann Kelly’s mother, Mrs. Day, was the next to give evidence. She had originally been charged with being an accessory-after-the-fact to the murder but, later, that charge had been dropped. She said that she had been totally unaware that Bridget, who had been working for her as a servant for about three months, had been pregnant. She had done her work well and had never revealed her condition to her.

Mrs. Caroline Maguire, the female searcher at the Police Office, swore that she had been asked to examine the bundle that Bridget had been carrying when seen walking away from the yard of the Red Lion on the day that the body was found. In the bundle, she had found items of under-clothing, a pair of stockings and a shawl. All were wringing wet as if they had been washed recently.

A Dr. Smart, told the court that he had examined Bridget after her arrest. In his opinion, she had been recently delivered of a child but she had denied it. He had also conducted a post mortem examination of the infant and had thought that suffocation was the likely cause of its death. It was an otherwise healthy, male child and no other cause of death had been apparent. Importantly, when asked by the judge whether he considered it possible that the infant had been ‘over-laid’ – that is smothered accidentally – Dr. Smart replied: ‘I am inclined to the opinion that death in this case was not accidental’.

The final witness for the prosecution was a Dr. Hall. He had examined Bridget at the General Hospital after her arrest and was of the opinion that she had given birth to a child, at about full-term, within the previous forty-eight hours. Fearful, she had denied the birth at first but had subsequently admitted it. He had also examined the body of the child and concurred with Dr. Smart that the child had been born alive and healthy and that the most likely cause of death was suffocation.

In her own defence, Bridget made only a short statement. She said that, after the birth, Mrs. Day had taken the baby from her and had hidden it in an oven while waiting to have it taken to a burial ground and that she, herself, knew nothing more about it than that. She called no witnesses.

In summing up the case, His Honor Mr. Justice Horne, told the jury that there were three questions to be answered: Did the prisoner bear the child? How did it come to be on the dung hill? Was it murdered or was the death accidental? He stressed that it would be unsafe for the jury to find Bridget guilty on mere circumstantial evidence. If, on the other hand, the evidence of the witnesses and the medical testimony, when taken together, had eliminated any doubt, then they must find her guilty. He concluded his summation by telling the jury that, if they had any doubt at all about whether she had committed a murder, it was within their power to convict her of concealing the birth.

The jury needed only ‘a few minutes’ to reach a verdict: not guilty of murder but guilty of concealing the birth.

In passing sentence, the judge commented that never in his life had he seen ‘so narrow an escape.’ He told Bridget that if she had been found guilty of the murder she would have been hanged. In remarking that her offence had followed ‘a life of prostitution’, he strenuously advised her – if she intended to continue along that course – to abandon it. He ordered that she spend the next two years in prison at the Cascades.[18]

As it happens, Bridget was confined at the Cascades for less than two years. Her Conduct Record shows that, by March 1856, she was back in convict service in Hobart.

In that same month, this time with Robert Foster as her intended husband, she applied again for permission to marry. The application describes Foster as ‘free’ but, as there were a number of men by that name in Hobart at the time, nothing is known of him. In any event, as in her previous application – with John Stephens four years earlier – the pair was told that they would have to wait for another six months, and for Bridget to be clear of any offence in that time, before the application would be approved. The marriage did not eventuate.[19]

However, in July 1856 – only four months later - Bridget applied again for permission to marry.  This time her intended husband was forty-six-year-old Robert Bradbury who had been convicted of theft and sentenced to seven years transportation at York in 1833. He had been in the colony since his arrival per Southworth (2) the next year and was now free by servitude. It is not clear whether permission was granted for this marriage but, for whatever reason, it – like the others - did not eventuate.[20]

Later in 1856, Bridget’s ticket of leave, which had been revoked in 1854, was restored and, shortly afterwards, she entered into a de facto relationship with another former convict, Albert Doran.[21]

Incorrectly named James Doran on Bridget’s Conduct Record, Doran had arrived in the colony per Blenheim (4) under the name ‘Archibald Dorman’ in 1851. In the previous year, he had been convicted of larceny in County Down, Ireland, and sentenced to transportation for seven years. He was then twenty-four. By the time Bridget went to live with him, he had served his time and had received his Certificate of Freedom.[22]   

In 1857, Bridget gave birth to the first of three children she would have by Doran – a son, whom she named Albert. His birth does not appear to have been registered but a record of his marriage at Oatlands twenty-two years later seems to confirm the year of his birth.[23] In April 1860, a second son, Thomas Doran, was born to the couple. Registration of this child’s birth shows that he was born at the Cascades but it is not clear why Bridget was there at that time. Albert Doran’s occupation is shown as ‘gardener’.[24] In 1865, a third son, Alfred Doran, was born. Again, the birth certificate shows Albert employed as a gardener.[25] At this time, the family was living in Murray Street, Hobart.

Bridget’s responsibilities as a mother, however, had not been sufficient to keep her out of trouble with the law. In July 1857, she and Doran - named here as ‘Dorman’ - had been found guilty in the Supreme Court at Oatlands, of stealing a pair of candlesticks. Both had been sentenced to two years gaol with hard labour.[26] In October 1861, they had been charged again, this time with the theft of ‘a goose and a bag of flour’ from a house at New Town. Albert was found guilty of the charge and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. Somewhat fortunately, perhaps, Bridget had been acquitted.[27] In July 1863, they were charged once more, this time with the theft of a work-box, some clothing and a flutina (a small musical instrument) from a home of a neighbour at Hobart. Although the police had recovered what was thought to be the missing clothing from the dwelling occupied by the Dorans, husband and wife were both acquitted through lack of sufficient evidence.[28] In February 1866, Bridget was charged with ‘disturbing the public peace in Elizabeth Street, Hobart.’ Described in court on this occasion as ‘an old offender in this line’, she was ordered to pay a fine of two pounds or, in default, to spend two months in gaol.[29]

Although the details are unknown, it seems likely that, by the time of the ‘disturbing the peace’ charge in 1866, Bridget and Albert had separated. There is no evidence of them being together after this time.

But what happened next in Bridget’s life is puzzling! A note on her Conduct Record states that, on 30 August 1868, she was tried under the name ‘Anne McQueen’ in the Supreme Court at Launceston for ‘uttering a forged cheque’ with a value of seventeen pounds. Found guilty, she was imprisoned for twelve months. However, a single (and inexplicable) line drawn through the entry on the Conduct Record entry might indicate that the note had been written in error and was later intended to be deleted. Moreover, The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston) of 23 September 1868 reported that a man by the name of James McQueen had been charged with the same offence and, as no evidence has been located as yet to link Bridget with a man of that name, this charge against her cannot be verified.[30]

For the next six or seven years, Bridget appears to have avoided trouble with the law. On 14 April, 1877, she married a fifty-four-year-old widower, William Skipp, in the parish church at Bothwell. Her age is shown as forty-two but it is likely that she was four or five years older than that. Interestingly - because this was her first official marriage - she is described in the parish register as a ‘widow’.[31] Skipp was a former convict. He had arrived in VDL per Barossa in 1842 after being convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to transportation for ten years.[32]  

Whether or not Bridget and Skipp stayed together for long is not known but there was no mention of him being with her when, three years after the marriage, Bridget was found guilty of arson in the Supreme Court at Launceston and sentenced to imprisonment for five years. On 28 July 1880, the Mercury (Hobart) reported that, some days earlier, she and one of her sons had been drinking together at the home of her landlord, Mr. Lodge, a publican at Tunbridge, near Oatlands. A quarrel had broken out between mother and son and Mr. Lodge had ordered them from his premises. The next morning, Lodge’s barn was found to be on fire. At her trial, several witnesses swore that they had seen Bridget in the vicinity of the barn at the time. In her defence, Bridget had suggested that the culprit was a man by the name of Bull who was known to have had a grudge against Lodge and who had absconded from the district at the time of the fire. The jury, however, had needed only a brief retirement before returning a verdict of guilty against her. Nevertheless, it had recommended that mercy be shown to her on the grounds that the fire had been quickly put out and had caused little damage. In passing sentence, the judge had said that, while taking the jury’s recommendation into account, he felt that the crime ‘was of a most dangerous kind’ and one for which the usual punishment was imprisonment for life. Letting Bridget know that he thought her crime deserved a harsher punishment, however, he said that he had tried ‘to temper justice with mercy’ and had ordered her to gaol for five years.[33]

If, as it is assumed, Bridget was kept in gaol for the full term of her sentence, she was fifty-five years of age when released. As far as is known, that was to be the last time she was imprisoned and her last offence.

Although it is likely that she was in ill-health at the time of her release, she lived on for another twenty years.

On 12 November 1907, her death notice appeared in the Daily Telegraph (Launceston):[34]

An old resident named Mrs Skipp died, in her 73rd year, on Monday morning, after a lengthy illness. The funeral took place on Monday, the remains being interred in the Roman Catholic cemetery [at Launceston], Rev. Father Graham conducting the funeral service.[35]

William Skipp passed away the following year at the New Town Charitable Institution, Hobart.[36]

While it can be said that Bridget’s life had been less than admirable, it is difficult not to feel some sympathy for her. Her formative years in Ireland were terrible ones and the near loss of her life when charged with the murder of her baby in 1854 were experiences from which, it seems, she had never recovered.       

 

[1] Conduct Record: CON41-1-28, image 110; description list: CON19-1-9, image 30; indent: CON15-1-6, images 258 and 259; Police No:410; FCRC ID: 3491 

[2] CON41-1-28, image 110; CON15-1-6, images 258 and 259.

[3] https://www.theirishstory.com/2016/10/18/the-great-irish-famine-1845-1851-a-brief-overview/#.YZRJCbpxW70; https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Famine-Irish-history

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Limerick

[5] Trial: CON41-1-28, image 110; Mary Kennedy: CON41-1-18, image 108.

[6] Grangegorman prison register, p.195 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au; https://www.tudublin.ie/media/grangegorman/documents/History-of-Grangegorman.pdf; https://irelandxo.com/ireland-xo/history-and-genealogy/buildings-database/grangegorman-female-convict-depot

[7] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/SurgeonsJournal_DukeOfCornwall1850.pdf

[8] CON19-1-9, image 30.

[9] CON41-1-28, image 110.

[10] Birth, Mary Ann Kenny: RGD33/1/4, no.1817, Hobart: baptism record: AF586/1/3 1853 via Libraries Tasmania; death: RGD35/1/3, no. 1806.

[11] CON41-1-28, image 110.

[12] ToL granted: The Cornwall Chronicle, 14 January 1854, p.8; charged: CON41-1-28, image 110; Tol revoked: The Cornwall Chronicle, 11 March 1854, p.4.

[13] Stephens: CON33-1-107, image 246.

[14] Application for permission to marry: CON52/1/7, page 454.

[15] Colonial Times (Hobart), 29 August 1854, p.3.

[16] The Courier (Hobart), 31 August 1854, p.3 and 21 September 1854, p.2.

[17] Supreme Court trial: SC32-1-7, pp.101 and 102; Colonial Times (Hobart), 18 October 1854, p.3; Tasmanian Colonist, 19 October 1854, p.2; see also, Newman, Terry. (2021). ‘Female convicts strip-searched by female searchers’, a paper presented to the Female Convicts Research Centre, Hobart, at www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[18] Supreme Court trial: SC32-1-7, pp. 101 and 102; see also Note 17 above and CON41-1-28, image 110.

[19] Foster and Kenny: Application for permission to marry: CON52-1-7, pp.128 and 129.

[20] Bradbury, convict record: CON31-1-5, image 121; Bradbury and Kenny: Application for permission to marry: CON52-1-7, pp.42 and 43.

[21] ToL restored: Hobart Town Gazette, 16 September 1856.

[22] Archibald Dorman (aka Albert Doran): CON33-1-104, image 108, Police No: 24684.

[23] Albert Doran, twenty-two years old, married Charlotte Dodderidge at Oatlands in 1879 – RGD37/1/38, no.588.

[24] Thomas Doran, birth: RGD33/1/7, no.3327, Hobart, 1860.

[25] Alfred Doran, birth: RGD33/1/7, n0.7470, Hobart 1865.

[26] https://stors.tas.gov.au/SC32-1-7_0196, p.177; https://stors.tas.gov.au/SC32-1-7_0194, p.75; https://stors.tas.gov.au/AB693-1-1_037

[27] Mercury (Hobart), 9 October 1861, p.3.

[28] Mercury (Hobart), 30 July 1863, p.3.

[29] Tasmanian Morning Herald (Hobart), 22 February 1866, p.2.

[30] The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 23 September 1868, p.4.

[31] Marriage to Skipp: RGD37/1/36, no. 3, Bothwell

[32] Skipp: CON31-1-16, image 282.

[33] Mercury (Hobart), 28 July 1880, p.3.

[34] Death: 9 November 1907, 116/1908, Campbell Town.

[35] Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 12 November 1907, p.3.

[36] Death, Skipp: 1731/1908.

 

 

 

 

 


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