JANE PREECE

(Anna Maria, 1852)

by

Don Bradmore

 

In July 1851, Jane Preece, a twenty-seven-year-old mother of four, was convicted at Swansea, Wales, of the theft of a shawl and sentenced to transportation for seven years.[1] That crime had not been her first. Earlier, she had served a two-month gaol term for stealing a watch. Whilst in gaol in Wales awaiting transfer to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL), she was described as ‘a dissolute drunkard’. In January 1852, she arrived in the colony aboard the vessel Anna Maria (2) and, not unexpectedly, was an unsettled and troublesome prisoner. By the time her sentence had expired in July 1858, she had been charged with eleven new offences and had been punished harshly for them. Even after she had regained her freedom, her troubles were not over. In 1860, she was very fortunate to be acquitted when tried in the Supreme Court at Hobart with ‘unlawfully stabbing with intent to kill’ a man with whom her partner at the time, former convict Michael Kennedy, had had a falling-out. Although she had a number of minor charges laid against her in later years, that was to be her last serious brush with the law. In poor health towards the end of her life, she passed away at the age of fifty-six in 1881.

Jane Preece, the youngest child of Richard and Jane Gregory, was born at Swansea, County Glamorgan, Wales, about 1824. She had two sisters: Ellen (or Eleanor) and Caroline. Although her father had work as a porter, and her mother was able to supplement his income with her earnings as a dressmaker, it is unlikely that the family had much money.[2] During the nineteenth century the population of Swansea had grown rapidly as trade and industry developed but parts of the town were dirty and overcrowded and much of the housing was of poor quality. Sanitary conditions were bad and outbreaks of cholera had occurred in 1832 and 1848.[3]

The 1841 census of Wales shows Jane, fifteen, living at home and working with her mother as a dressmaker.[4] On 23 September 1843, she married Joseph Preece, a basket-maker. Their first child, Joseph Henry, was born in 1844. Three more children - Ann, William and Eliza Jane - followed in 1846, 1848 and 1850, respectively.[5] Unfortunately, nothing is known of the circumstances in which Jane, her husband and children were living at this time but perhaps there were financial difficulties.

At the Swansea Quarter Sessions on 4 July 1851, Jane was found guilty of the theft of a shawl, valued at twenty shillings, and sentenced to transportation for seven years. The court had heard that, previously, she had been imprisoned for two months for the theft of a watch. What was it that had impelled her to steal? Was it the need for money to feed her family or, rather, was it because she herself had a problem with alcohol? It is interesting to note that she was described as a ‘dissolute drunkard’ when in gaol awaiting her transportation.[6]  

At some time after her trial, Jane was taken to Millbank Prison, London. In late September 1851, she was put aboard Anna Maria which, with Mr. Edward Smith as master, Dr. W. McCrea as surgeon-superintendent, two hundred female prisoners and forty-six of their children, sailed from Woolwich in 6 October 1851 and reached Hobart on 26 January the following year.[7]   

At Hobart, Jane was described as being twenty-seven years old, and married with (incorrectly) three children. (Her four children had been left at Swansea with her parents.) She had a dark complexion, with brown hair and hazel eyes. She was a Protestant. It was noted that she was a dressmaker by trade. She could read but not write.[8]

Shortly after disembarkation, Jane was hired as a servant by a Captain Miller of Campbell Street, Hobart. Within a few weeks, however, Miller charged her with assault. On 1 April 1852, he told the Magistrates’ Court that Jane, described by The Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania in its report of the case the following day as ‘a decent-looking needle-woman’, had absented herself without leave on the previous Sunday evening and had come home drunk. [9] The next morning, he continued, she had come into his parlour and had ‘impudently’ demanded her breakfast. When he had asked to leave the room, she had not only thrown the breakfast things around but had violently attacked him with clenched fists and he had had much difficulty in restraining her. In her defence, Jane stated that Miller had hit her with a fire-shovel, cutting her arm, and had then locked her in a room in the house. She maintained that Mary Ann Newman and Mary Campbell, her fellow servants at Miller’s house, had witnessed the incident and would be able to verify her claims. Called to the witness stand, Newman told the court that when she had entered the parlour that morning, she had seen Miller with the shovel raised above his head and Jane with blood on her arm. Campbell stated that she had seen Miller fending Jane off with the fire-shovel but had not seen him strike her with it. She added that she had never known Miller to lock anyone up in a room in the house. Satisfied that they had heard enough, the magistrates delivered their verdict, telling Jane that she had failed to prove what she had alleged in her defence and that, therefore, she would spend the next nine months in gaol, with hard labour.[10]

No sooner had Jane been released from gaol on that occasion than she was in trouble again. Hired immediately upon release by a Mr. Levy of Hobart, she was charged with gross misconduct even before she had commenced working for him. On 17 November 1852, he told the Magistrates’ Court that, on the morning she had been hired, Jane had refused to work, insisting on being allowed to return to Captain Miller’s house to retrieve the clothing that she had left there when sent gaol nine months earlier. Levy had refused to allow her to go to collect her things but she had disobeyed his orders and had gone off anyway. When she had returned eventually to Levy’s home, she had been drunk and had immediately begun quarrelling with him and his wife, telling them that she ‘was not brought up to work’ as a servant, that she had just completed a nine months’ gaol sentence and would prefer to do that again rather than to do the work they required of her. The magistrates readily complied with her wish; she was sent back to prison for another nine months. In its report of the case on 11 November 1852, The Hobart Town Advertiser referred to her as ‘a vixen-ish woman’.[11]

That she was, indeed, an angry and troublesome prisoner is well-illustrated by the charges that were brought against her before the seven years of her sentence had expired. In 1853, she was imprisoned for four months for refusing to obey the orders of yet another employer. In 1854, she spent nine months in gaol for ‘having a man in her room at her employer’s house for an immoral purpose’. Later that year, she was gaoled for a month for being absent without leave. In 1855, she was gaoled for two months for disobedience of orders. In the same year, she was gaoled for six months for absconding. In 1856, she was fined five shillings for being drunk and gaoled for six months for absconding. In 1857, she was fined five shillings for disturbing the peace. In 1857, she was fined ten shillings for being drunk. [12]

In June 1856, Jane had been issued with a ticket of leave which had allowed her to find her own employment and to make her own living arrangements. However, the ticket had been revoked following her absconding in September of that year. It was not restored to her until January 1857. Later that year, she had been granted a conditional pardon and, in July 1858, her period of penal servitude was over. She had spent more than three years of her seven-year sentence in gaol but, at last, she was a free woman again.[13]

At about the time of the expiry of her sentence, Jane, then about thirty-four years old, had met a twenty-eight-year-old former convict by the name of Michael Kennedy and was soon in a de facto relationship with him. He had been in VDL since his arrival via Blenheim (4) in October 1851. At his trial at Dublin, Ireland, two years earlier, he had been convicted of burglary and sentenced to transportation for ten years. His years as a convict in VDL had been strange ones. Soon after his arrival, he had been recruited to the police force as a constable. (This was not unusual. Since the early days of settlement, convicts with suitable backgrounds had been appointed to the constabulary in an attempt to curb increasing lawlessness.)[14] However, he had been dismissed from the force in 1853 after being charged with embezzlement.  In 1855, he had been gaoled for eighteen months for absconding but, oddly, had been re-appointed as a constable soon after his release. Within months, he had been dismissed again, and gaoled for another six months, this time for neglect of duty in that he had allowed a prisoner to escape. Notwithstanding this, he had been granted a ticket of leave in 1858.[15]

Soon afterwards, he was living with Jane who, from this time, was known as ‘Mrs. Kennedy’.[16] (There is no record of their marrying, nor of children.)  However, the relationship was to be short-lived. On 5 December 1860, Michael and Jane were charged together in the Supreme Court at Hobart, ‘with having on the 29th September, at the Franklin, Huon, feloniously stabbed one George Stokes in and upon the left side with intent to kill and murder.’ On a second count, the pair was charged with ‘stabbing with intent to do grievous bodily harm’.[17]

In evidence, George Stokes, the man who had been stabbed, told the court that, on the day in question, he was drinking at the Kent Hotel at the Franklin when Michael Kennedy, whom he knew, approached him aggressively and said: ‘I wish to have a few words with you, George … If you were any bloody man, you’d pull your shirt off and fight.’ When Stokes had ignored him, Kennedy had said: ‘I’ll stab you to the heart, and drink your blood, and when you are dying, I’ll tell you what I done it for.’ Mrs. Kennedy, he said, had then thrown a glass of beer in his face. Not wishing to engage in a fist fight, he had then walked out of the bar but Kennedy had followed him and dragged him to the ground. As he struggled to get to his feet, he had heard Mrs. Kennedy yelling; ‘Give it to him, Mickey!  Give it to him, Mickey!’ Kennedy had then stabbed him twice and he had lost consciousness. Afterwards, he had been in a critical state and had been confined to bed for two weeks while receiving medical attention. He had still not fully recovered, he asserted.[18]   

A number of others who were at the hotel at that time were then called as witnesses. One said that he had seen Jane drinking in the bar of the hotel before the fight and had heard her using abusive language towards Stokes. He maintained that it was she who had approached Stokes first. She had begun to quarrel with him, saying that she herself ‘was a better man’ than he was, and threatening to hit him across the face. Another witness testified that this was not the first time Michael Kennedy and Stokes had come to blows. He explained that the trouble between the two had begun about eighteen months previously when Stokes had told a neighbour by the name of Latham that Kennedy was planning a robbery on his property. At that time, he said, Kennedy had hit Stokes across the head with a paling and Jane had slapped his face.[19]

At the outset of the trial, the Attorney-General, Mr. Thomas Knight, had explained to the jury the two separate counts of the charge against the Michael and Jane. In doing so, he stressed particularly that, in cases where a felony was committed by a party in the presence of his wife, it was, generally speaking, held that the woman was under the control of the husband and should therefore be cleared of blame. However, there was an exception to this rule in cases where it was proved that the wife had been an instigating party. In such cases, the wife was also held to be a guilty party. Taking this into account, the jury then retired to consider its verdict.

After a short consultation, the jury found Michael ‘not guilty’ on the first count - stabbing ‘with intent to kill and murder’ - but ‘guilty’ on the second - stabbing ‘with intent to do grievous bodily harm.’ It found Jane ‘not guilty’ on both charges and she was released from custody immediately.[20]

In the days which followed, Michael was sentenced to death in accordance with the law at the time. Later, the sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life. He was taken away to the Port Arthur Penal Settlement to serve his time. In May 1862, he absconded from the gaol and, when apprehended soon afterwards, was charged with having broken into a dwelling house during his absence. He was sentenced to four more years of servitude, during which time he was to be kept in a separate cell for eighteen months. Ten years later, he was still at Port Arthur where he had been punished a number of times for misconduct. In 1875, with some of his sentence remitted, he was granted a ticket of leave and, in 1878 he was issued with a free pardon. What eventually happened to him is unclear. There is nothing in the records to suggest that he ever had contact with Jane again.[21]

After her narrow escape at the trial, Jane appears to have found work for herself as a servant. However, more trouble was to follow. In 1862, she was charged by an employer, a Mr. Nicholas Woods, with threatening to do him bodily harm. He told the Police Court at Oatlands that, he had gone to investigate a disturbance in his home and had found Jane using filthy and abusive language towards his young son. She was in a violent rage because the boy had taken a leg of mutton from the kitchen and had given it to some men who were doing harvesting work on the property. When Woods had stepped in to protect his son, Jane had threatened him with a knife. In a fit of temper, she had attempted to break windows in the house and had thrown stones at him. He had been forced to restrain her physically and to take her to the local police lock-up. As punishment, she was ordered to enter into her own recognizance of ten pounds and to find another surety of five pounds to keep the peace for three months.[22]

After that, little is known with certainty about the way Jane lived. However, in April 1880, a fifty-five-year-old, grey-haired woman named Jane Kennedy was charged at Hobart with being ‘idle and disorderly’. She was sent to gaol for twelve months. Was that Jane (Preece) Kennedy? Although there were other women named ‘Jane Kennedy’ in Tasmania at the time, it is probable that it was.[23]

Eighteen months later, Jane passed away. The record of her death at Launceston., on 11 August 1881, states that she was an ‘invalid’. The cause of death was ‘congestion of the lungs’. The record shows, incorrectly, that she was born in Ireland - an understandable error, perhaps, because of her association with Michael Kennedy.[24]

It is difficult to know what to make of Jane Preece. On the one hand, she appears to have had a relatively calm and orderly upbringing in Wales. She had been trained by her mother as a dressmaker. She had married a man who had a reliable trade and who should have been able to take care of her adequately. She had given birth to four children. In a newspaper report of her first court appearance in VDL, she was described as ‘a decent-looking needle-woman’. Later, she was to tell an employer that she had not been brought up to work as a servant. On the other hand, she had had already served gaol time for theft in Wales before the conviction that had led to her transportation and she had been described there as a ‘dissolute drunkard’.

Unlike many of the 13,500 (approx..) women who were transported to VDL between 1813 and 1853 who eventually settled down, took advantage of the opportunities offered to them in their new land and became useful citizens, Jane was never able to adapt to her changed circumstances. Described in a later court appearance as ‘a vixen-ish woman’, she seems to have found little, if any, happiness in her life. Alone in VDL, her need for companionship and the protection of a strong man is understandable but her choice of partner in Michael Kennedy was unfortunate. Was this, as well as the fits of temper to which she seems to have been subject throughout her life, the loss of her husband and children, and her fondness for alcohol, all factors that brought her to a state of mind that contributed to her relatively early death?   

 

[1] Conduct record: CON41-1-32, image 153; description list: CON19/1/10, image 40; indent: CON15/1/1, pp. 180 and 181; police no: 448; FCRC ID: 1799.

[2] CON19/1/10, image 40; CON15/1/1, pp. 180 and 181; .

[3] https://archive.swansea.gov.uk/article/33709/Swanseas-hidden-slums; https://localhistories.org/a-brief-history-of-wales/; https://museum.wales/welsh_womans_history/background_information/.

[4] findmypast.co.uk; refs. HO107, Piece 1426, Book 8, Folio 16, p.25 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[5] Marriage to Preece: St James Swansea, Wales; the marriage entry shows both partners as ‘minors’ (findmypast.co.uk via www.femaleconvicts.org.au)

[6] Trial and gaol report: CON41-1-32, image 153.

[7]http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/shipsTAS.html; https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/AnnaMaria1852_SJ_GR.pdf

[8] CON41-1-32, image 153.

[9] Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (Hobart), 3 April 1852, p.3. (The report refers to Jane, incorrectly, as ‘Jane Priest’.)

[10] Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (Hobart), 3 April 1852, p.3; (This report refers to Jane, incorrectly, as ‘Jane Priest’); Colonial Times (Hobart), 2 April 1852, p.2; Colonial Times (Hobart), 2 April 1852, p.2.

[11] The Hobart Town Advertiser, 11November 1852, p.3.

[12] CON41-1-32, image 153.

[13] CON41-1-32, image 153; ticket of leave granted: Hobart Town Gazette:  !7 June 1856; ticket of leave revoked: Hobart Town Gazette: 21 October 1856; conditional pardon: Hobart Town Gazette:  20 January 1857.

[14] See ‘Police’ in Companion to Tasmanian History at https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/index.htm; see also Petrow, S. (1999). ‘After Arthur: Policing in Van Diemen’s Land 1837-1856’ at http://ecite.utas.edu.au/21604

[15] Kennedy: CON33-1-104, image 155.

[16] The Hobart Town Advertiser, 6 December 1860, p.2.

[17] The Mercury (Hobart), 1 December 1860, p.2; Launceston Examiner, 8 December 1860, p.3.

[18] The Mercury (Hobart), 6 December 1860, p.2

[19] The Mercury (Hobart), 6 December 1860, p.2

[20] SC32-1-8, p.101; The Mercury (Hobart), 6 December 1860, p.2; CON33-1-104, image 155;

[21] CON33-1-104, image 155; prison records show Michael Kennedy at Port Arthur in 1861:  https://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/tpl/PPWeb/1861/HA1861pp128.pdf

[22] Launceston Examiner, 8 December 1860, p.3.

[23] Tasmanian Police Gazette, No 1086, p.929; the record shows that this woman had been born in Ireland but that seems to be an error, probably due to the fact

[24] RGD35/1/50, no. 394.

 

 

 

 

 


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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed [date].

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