ISABELLA WATT

Per Hector, 1835.

By Helen Ménard.

 

Introduction

Petty crime was a central part of life in the Watt family in Aberdeen. Isabella was one in a family of four children, all of whom ultimately ended up being transported from Scotland to Van Diemen’s Land as punishment for their criminality – two, including Isabella, for life. Were they simply victims of clearly stated government policy to remove ‘the unsightly poor’ from the streets of Britain[1] or did they collude with one another to discover a better life in the colonies?

 

The Watt family

Thomas Watt (1771-1851),[2] a shoemaker, was born and died in Aberdeen, Scotland and his first wife was Mary (Henderson or Phillips).[3] They had four children: John (1803-), Isabella (1806-10 – 1858), James (1811-) and Hannah (1809-12 - 1885).[4] After Mary died (some time before April 1839),[5] and then aged 76, Thomas married Isabella Black[6] in Aberdeen on 18 November 1847,[7] after several years of living with her in a de facto relationship.[8]

 

John

John was the first of the siblings to leave Scotland. He appeared before the Aberdeen Court of Justiciary on 24 April 1832 for theft of whalebone and was sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) aboard the Atlas on 24 August 1833[9] single, a mariner and aged 30.[10] He committed a series of minor offences in the colony from November 1833 to July 1838, mostly involving absenteeism and drunkenness. He was granted a ticket of leave on 14 June 1838, a free pardon on 6 February 1839 and certificate of freedom on 25 April 1839.[11]

 

James

James was 22, single and a seaman when he arrived in VDL aboard the Isabella in November 1833, three months after his brother John. He was tried in the High Court Edinburgh on 11 February 1833 and convicted of highway robbery and, with a previous conviction for robbery, was transported for life.[12] By way of contrast, he had a completely clean offences record in VDL and was granted a ticket of leave in 1841 and a conditional pardon for the Australian colonies on 16 December 1845.[13]

In December 1851, James travelled from Launceston to Melbourne aboard the Shamrock,[14] presumably, in the hunt for gold in Victoria.

 

Hannah

Hannah was the last of the four siblings to be banished across the seas to the Australian colonies. On 25 September 1839 she was tried in the High Court of Aberdeen for robbery or theft ‘habit and repute’[15] along with her co accused Christian Dunn. They were both unanimously convicted by the jury and sentenced to 10 years’ transportation.[16]  Hannah’s transportation records state she was single and 28 on arrival in VDL in April 1840 aboard the Gilbert Henderson and had been living in a de facto relationship for eight years with James Mackay which produced three children, all of whom accompanied her to VDL.[17]

 

Isabella

Isabella had been living in a de facto relationship with William Jamieson (described as ‘one of her bullies’[18]) in Aberdeen. She had one daughter Janet (Will) born about 1828 and who remained in Aberdeen living with her grandfather Thomas Watt;[19] another Ann who accompanied Isabella to VDL and who was recorded as being 8 years old, giving her an assumed birthdate of 1827;[20] and another child born in about December 1834 - according to the Ship Surgeon’s Journal in July 1835, Isabella was ‘nursing an infant of seven months old’.[21]

It is unlikely that William was Janet’s father as he would only have been 13 years old at the time so, maybe Janet’s father was someone surnamed Will, the name by which Janet was known. At the time of making a statement in April 1839, in relation to charges against her aunt Hannah, Janet was in Bridewell[22] having been convicted of theft.[23] She would have been, at the most, 11 years old.

Similarly, when Ann was born, William would have only 12 years old. Why did Isabella take Ann with her to VDL and not Janet? Whether the seven month old infant who travelled with Isabella aboard the Hector was William’s, is a matter for speculation - as is what happened to this child.

Isabella (24)[24] was tried before the Aberdeen Court of Justiciary on 29 April 1835 for robbery from the person together with co accuseds Mary Sim (23) and her then de facto partner William Jamieson (20).[25] They were charged with stealing notes and coins approximating £51 from Alexander Walker on 30 October 1834, after Walker was allegedly enticed into a house in Aberdeen occupied by Isabella and William.[26] They were said to have subsequently purchased goods with some of the notes and various local shopkeepers were able to identify them as having spent the money. Isabella and Sim were well known in the local area for ‘walking the streets’.[27]

All accuseds pleaded not guilty. Initially, Isabella denied ever having seen Walker, him ever being in her house and all the allegations against her.[28] Later, in her sworn declaration, Isabella stated that Walker had come into her house on the day in question ‘looking for a woman’ and when she told him she had none and wanted him to leave, he refused to do so. She also stated Walker had said he had been robbed in the lane the day before.[29] She further asserted that

Walker was making an indecent exposure of his person the Declarant desired him to go away and he at last went away without having connexion either with Sim or the Declarant. That neither of them was upon the bed with Walker and they did not throw him down upon the bed nor interfered with him in any way nor take any money from his person and he said he had no money and the Declarant saw no money about him … That William Jamieson was not at any time in the room while Walker was there nor was any other man in the room while Walker was in it… .[30]

One of the Town Sergeants of Aberdeen, Simon Grant, stated he had

known the said Isabella Watt for a good many years and that she lived by prostitution and by committing thefts on those who came in her way. That he is not aware of her having been convicted of theft but he knows her to be habite and repute a common thief and he has had frequently information of thefts alleged to have been committed by her.[31]

Mary Sim confessed to Walker being in Watt’s house on the day in question and that it was Isabella and Jamieson who held Walker down and robbed him but, apart from receiving some of the stolen money, she was not involved in the robbery.[32]

In relation to Sim, Grant stated he had

known Sim for some years and during that time he has considered her to live by prostitution and thieving and she, during that time, has been habite and repute a common thief and Witness knows that she was convicted of theft in the beginning of 1831 and he understands that upon another occasion she was convicted of theft in November of that year but he cannot speak to that conviction from his own knowledge.[33]

William Jamieson also admitted that he was in the house occupied by him and Isabella when Walker entered ‘looking for a lass’,[34] but that it was Isabella and Sim who held Walker down and took his money.[35] Jamieson declared that

he did not touch or interfere with the man while the parcel was taken from him. That he did not assist in any way in taking the parcel from the man nor did [he] do anything to prevent its being taken from the man.[36]  

George Lyell, also a Town Sergeant, said of Jamieson

he has known the Prisoner William Jamieson upwards of two years and during that time Witness has considered him to be a common thief and he is habite and repute a thief. That Jamieson has been convicted twice of theft and Witness saw him so convicted before the Police Court of Aberdeen.[37]

With a previous conviction for assault for which she had served thirty days, and having spent 12 months ‘on the town’,[38] Isabella was convicted and sentenced to transportation for life, as was William Jamieson. Mary Sim was acquitted, there being insufficient evidence to prove her guilt.[39]

 

Isabella’s life in VDL

Isabella was noted as 25 and single when she arrived in VDL in 1835 aboard the Hector. Transportation records state she was accompanied by ‘one child 8 years old’ (presumably Ann) with no reference to an infant, male or female.[40]

 

Isabella’s daughter Ann Watt was admitted to the Female Orphan School in Hobart on 16 November 1835 aged 8 years and discharged by order of the committee on 20 January 1837.[41]

 

There is no mention in any of the available colonial records of the infant aboard the Hector with Isabella, so it is likely that this child died in infancy.

On arrival in VDL Isabella was assigned to a Mr McKennott (or McKenna) and only committed three offences between June 1836 and August 1840. The first being out after hours, for which she was ‘returned to the Factory[42] to be reassigned to other services’.[43] The second and third, while living with her then husband (Thomas Hampton), involved being out after hours and disorderly conduct for which she was reprimanded and sentenced to the ‘wash tub’ for one month respectively.[44]

‘Wash tub’ was a secondary punishment handed down by magistrates, and was the only punishment specifically nominated as hard labour for female convicts in VDL.[45] One wonders what part of Isabella’s life with Thomas, so early in their relationship, warranted this type of punishment?

Isabella was granted a ticket of leave in January 1842 and a conditional pardon in January 1847.[46] This effectively meant that, even though now a free woman, the condition was that she was unable to ever return to the United Kingdom.

 

What happened to William?

William (Isabella’s ‘bully’) single, 21, a seaman and butcher, was transported aboard the Asia departing Sheerness, England on 8 November 1835 and arriving in VDL on 21 February 1836.[47] This was only four months after Isabella – did they have any contact? In any event, within six months of his arrival, Isabella was married and not to William! Maybe his evidence against her at the trial in Scotland soured their relationship. Maybe his continuing life of crime in the colony encouraged her to look elsewhere! Ten years later, in Hobart, William married Hannah Watt (Isabella’s younger sister who arrived in VDL in 1840) and they were recorded as having two children.[48]

 

Isabella and Thomas

Less than a year after her arrival in VDL, on 3 November 1836, Isabella Watt was granted permission to marry to marry Thomas Hampton, a free man.[49] They married in Hobart on 15 December 1836 when Isabella was 26 years old.[50]

It also seems that she and Thomas had at least one child, Hannah.[51] There is no record of Hannah’s birth in VDL.[52]

Records suggest Isabella ventured to Victoria around 1850--52 but there are no verifying shipping records.[53] A Thomas Hampton aged 36 and born in 1816 travelled from Launceston to Melbourne aboard the City of Melbourne in May 1852.[54] A Thomas Hampton who ‘arrived free’ on the Wellington[55] also travelled from Launceston to Melbourne aboard the Shamrock, in December 1851 at the same time as James Watt, Isabella’s brother.[56] Was either or both of these men Isabella’s Thomas?

Did Isabella and Thomas (and James) go to Victoria in search of gold? Did any of their children go with them? What became of Isabella’s daughter Ann?

From here on, there is no further documentary trace of Isabella’s life. It seems that she left her colourful and troubled existence as a young woman in Scotland behind her and it may be that life in the colonies turned out to be a happier one for her.

 

The final chapter

Isabella Hampton (father Watts, born Peterhead, Scotland, married to Thomas Hampton) died aged 50 at Avoca, Victoria in 1858.[57] Her husband, Thomas Hampton (born in England) died a year later aged 41 (presumed birthdate 1818).[58] It seems Thomas was in ‘legal custody as a lunatic’ in the Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum in April 1859 when he escaped and accidentally drowned in the Yarra River.[59] Could it have been the distress at Isabella’s death, his wife of 22 years, that led to his admission and unfortunate demise?

In the end, Isabella and her siblings, whose lives had been entwined in mischief and misery in Scotland, found themselves half a world away, either as a result of misfortune or by design in an attempt to find a better life. Did any of them find it? Was Isabella happy with Thomas? Who, if anyone, of her extended family was part of her life in Australia? Why did she die so relatively young?

 

 

 

[1] Swiss, Deborah J., The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, (2010), The Berkley Publishing Group, London. Extracted from https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2018/06/the-founding-mothers-the-little-known-story-of-australias-convict-women/

[2] findmypast.com; familysearch.org; scotlandspeople.gov.uk; OPR168/A 370 152 Aberdeen; father John Watt, mother Margaret Hardy, baptised 8 August 1873;

[3] There appears to be no record of this marriage; there is one entry for  a Thomas Watt and Mary (Unnamed) being married in Huntly, Aberdeenshire between 1683-1795; findmypast.com; OPR 202/1

[4] findmypast.com; familysearch.org; scotlandspeople.gov.uk; NAS AD14/32/86; NAS AD14/32/435VIC/BDM

[5] Statement Thomas Watt, (April 1839) margin note states “Watts wife is dead”; NAS AD14/32/86; NAS AD14/32/435VIC/BDM; there are two possible deaths recorded for a Mary Watt, both at Aberdeen, on 10/6/1831 (OPR 168A/34) and 15/3/1839 (OPR 168A/35); findmypast.com

[6] Father Peter Black, woolcomber; findmypast.com; OPR168A/31; OPR168A/40

[7] Findmypast.com; OPR168A/40

[8] Isabel Black appeared in the 1841 census as living in Thomas’ house and aged 30 (born 1811), however, on marriage in 1847 she was stated as 50 and by the 1851 census she was married and 54 (born 1797); findmypast.com

[9] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/46 p238 DI 241

[10] Ibid; CON18/1/3 p203 DI 110

[11] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/46 p238 DI 241; DHT / database

[12] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/47 p12 DI 16; CON18/1/9 p102 DI 56; DHT / database

[13] Ibid

[14] LIB TAS: Names Index: POL220/1/1 p487

[15] A term meaning an habitual criminal

[16] NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[17] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p209 DI 188; CON19/1/12 p608 DI 608; Hannah’s story is available on the FCRC website under Convict Lives / Convict Stories https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/about-convict-lives/profiles

[18] ‘Bully’ being an archaic term for sweetheart; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[19] FCRC database; findmypast.com; familysearch.org; scotlandspeople.gov.uk; in the 1841 census Janet WILL was listed as 13 and living with Thomas Watt and Isabel Black (30); in the 1851 census she was listed as the granddaughter Janet MILL, unmarried, 23 and a housemaid and still living with Thomas and Isabella Watt in Aberdeen.

[20] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/9 p379 DI 369; SWD28/1/1 Girls p8

[21] Surgeon’s Journal of Her Majesty’s Female Convict Ship Hector
Mr Morgan PRICE, Surgeon
from 19th May 1835 – to 24th October 1835
Adm.101-032-9]

[22] A House of Correction in 16th century England did exactly what it said on the tin. They were established to correct what was considered as disorderly behaviour. Petty criminals and citizens considered ‘idle’ would receive whippings and be subjected to intense periods of hard labour. The first House of Correction was opened at Bridewell Palace in 1553 at the former residence of King Henry VIII. Houses of Correction, thereafter, became known as Bridewells. The name Bridewell came from the nearby ‘holy well’ of St. Bride’s church. Towards the close of the 18th century, prison reformers became increasingly critical of Bridewell along with other prisons. Far from reforming individuals, prisons were becoming training grounds for criminals, corrupting prisoners into more serious crimes upon release. https://www.prisonhistory.org/the-history-of-bridewell/

[23] Per Patrick Simpson B; Statement Janet Will 22 April 1839; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[24] This is consistent with her witness declaration that she was 24 in November 1834, giving her an assumed birthdate of 1810. But records of Isabella’s age vary. John’s precognition papers in Dec 1831 state she was 25 suggesting a birthdate of 1806 - NAS AD14/32/86; in Oct 1835 on arrival in VDL she was 25, suggesting a birthdate of 1810 – CON40/1/9; she was 26 on marriage in 1836 also suggesting a birthdate of 1810; yet, on her death in 1858, she was stated as 50, suggesting a birthdate of 1808.

[25] NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[28] Witness statement Simon Grant; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[29] Declaration of Isabella Watt at Aberdeen 3 November 1834; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[30] Ibid

[31] Witness statement Simon Grant; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[32] Witness statement Simon Grant; Declaration of Mary Sim at Aberdeen 3 November 1834; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[33] Ibid

[34] Declaration of William Jamieson at Aberdeen 11 December 1834; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[35] Witness statement Charles Dawson; Declaration of William Jamieson at Aberdeen 11 December 1834; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[36] Declaration of William Jamieson at Aberdeen 11 December 1834; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[37] Witness statement George Lyell; NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[38] A term commonly used to indicate living off the earnings of prostitution.

[39] NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[40] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/9 p379 DI 369; CON19/1/13 p207 DI 225

[41] LIB TAS: SWD28/1/1 Girls p8; there is a possible marriage for an Ann Watt (aged 29) to Thomas Edwards (36) in Hobart on 20 March 1854; findmypast.com.au

[42] Five female houses of correction, known colloquially as female factories, operated in Van Diemen's Land during the period of transportation, housing female convicts who were: awaiting assignment, awaiting childbirth or weaning children or undergoing punishment. The Cascades Female Factory operated in South Hobart from 1828 to 1856. After it ceased operation as a female factory in 1856, it continued as a gaol under the administration of local authorities from 1856 until 1877. https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/convict-institutions/female-factories

[43] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/9 p379 DI 369

[44] Ibid

[45] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-institutions/punishments

[46] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/9 p379 DI 369

[47] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/25 p26 DI 26; CON34/1/6 p141 DI 146; CON37/1/5 DI82; CON18/1/4/DI 121

[48] Ibid; LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/5 No 186 DI128

Hannah’s story is available on the FCRC website under Convict Lives / Convict Stories https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/about-convict-lives/profiles

[49] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON52/1/1 p78

[50] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD36/1/3 No. 3322 DI 27

[51] Isabella’s death records in 1858 state she was survived by issue Hannah Hampton aged 28 years; FCRC database / research notes; Vic/BDM - death 1858/2408 (death certificate sighted). However, Hannah’s stated age of 28 is unlikely to be correct as this suggests a birthdate of 1830, six years before Isabella married Thomas and five years before she arrived in VDL. Could the reference to 28 be Isabella’s age when Hannah was born? The certificate was witnessed by a James Walter her son in law. Was this Hannah’s husband? Vic/BDM - death 1858/2408 (death certificate sighted).

[52] LIB TAS: Names Index

[53] Isabella’s death records in 1858 state that she had been in Tasmania for 15 years and Victoria for 6 years; FCRC database / research notes; Vic/BDM - death 1858/2408 (death certificate sighted).

[54] https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/passenger-records-and-immigration/coastal-passenger-lists-1852; While there are one or two other records of a Thomas Hampton travelling to Victoria, this is the most likely to be Isabella’s Thomas.

[55] The Wellington departed Liverpool 29 March 1832 arriving Hobart 10-11 Aug 1832 with 19 passengers and 45 pensioners on board. A complete passenger list is unavailable. http://sites.rootsweb.com/~austashs/immig/imgships_w.htm

[56] LIB TAS: Names Index: POL220/1/1 p487; While James’ ship to the colony was recorded as the Isabella, he was in incorrectly recorded as ‘free by servitude’ as he was only granted a conditional pardon in 1845 for a life sentence.

[57] findmypast.com.au; bdmvic.gov.au; 2408/1858 (death certificate sighted); FCRC database / research notes

[58] findmypast.com.au; bdmvic.gov.au; 1108/1859; FCRC database / research notes; a Thomas Hampton, farmer, aged 40, was murdered 14 miles out of Hobart on 23 November 1859, however, this could not be Isabella’s Thomas as the widow, Mrs Hampton, gave evidence at the inquest in December 1859, a year after Isabella’s death. Trove: Newspaper & Gazettes: The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1957) Tue 6 Dec 1859 p6 Tasmania

[59] Trove: Newspaper & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, Vic.: 1854-1954) Tue 5 Apr 1859 p6 Board of Land and Works

 

 

 

 

 


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