These stories have been submitted by members of the Female Convicts Research Centre, researchers and descendants of female convicts. We hope the selected stories help to put the women's lives in perspective and give the readers some understanding of the factors that might have affected their circumstances and the decisions they made.
The stories provide some historical background to shine a light on the lives of their subjects either before or after transportation. This contextual material could include prevailing social conditions, political ideology or geographical history relevant to the existence of the particular convict women and their families.
All stories are subject to copyright.
Submit a story
We welcome all stories about female convicts. However, in order to protect the integrity of this site and the quality of information provided, it is necessary to maintain certain standards of research and writing.
Writers are encouraged to incorporate into their stories, where appropriate, some historical background to assist in shining a light on the lives of their subjects either before or after transportation.
All such material should be factually based and referenced accordingly. As a general rule, stories should be limited to approximately 2500 words or less.
If you would like to contribute an interesting female convict story, please complete a submission form and ask about our style guide. Stories will be selected for publication on the basis of historical interest and quality of research and writing.
For those writers who also have photos they would like to share, database storage limitations prevent these being incorporated into the stories. However, please complete an image and document submission form for separate storage of photos in the database.
All stories are subject to copyright.
Rubicon 1833 & Marian Watson 1838
By Helen Ménard
Emma came from a large, apparently respectable family almost all of whom were born and bred around Holborn, London, England. Apart from the fact that she sailed to Australia as a 32 year old, unmarried, free settler and stated her trade as a needlewoman, we know little else about her life in England. Did she go to boarding school in the countryside like her elder sisters? Was she ultimately estranged from her family? There was a litany of tragic family events that must have impacted on her life - the accidental death and injury at home of her two older sisters; the death of several siblings in infancy; the death of her father when she was only 14 years old; the violent suicide of her grandfather. Was she also caught up in the social difficulties of the industrial revolution in England? While many of the socially disadvantaged in Britain sought transportation to the colonies for a better life, maybe Emma was also seeking brighter horizons.
Mary Ann Manley
(Cadet, 2, 1848)
In February 1847, Mary Ann Manley, a married woman of twenty-two, was convicted of ‘knowingly receiving a stolen watch’ and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. She arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) aboard Cadet (2) in January 1848, bringing with her a two-year-old daughter, Catherine. Despite the sadness of the death of her daughter a year after her arrival, she soon adapted to her changed circumstances and was of minimal trouble to the authorities. She married twice in VDL, gave birth to three more children, and lived quietly until her death at the age of seventy-four in 1899. Of particular interest in her story is the seemingly callous disregard of her by her first husband, William Manley, who married bigamously in England within months of her transportation.
This is Mary Ann’s story:
By Gregory Burn
Author Greg Burns searches for a plausible explanation for Rebecca Gentles, his great- great grandmother, serving over 10 years on an original sentence of 7 years. His research, applying statistical analysis, concluded that the only plausible explanation for Rebecca’s extended time served was her accusation of sexual assault against physician Dr. William Secomb. Various other possible factors such as her number of colonial offenses were well within standard norms for female convicts. Her accusation against Dr. Secomb was recorded as a colonial offense for “willfully, maliciously and falsely defaming Dr. Secomb’s character. The story of Rebecca Gentiles questions what happened to female convicts who had the strength to report sexual offences, and perhaps highlights the reason why such offences were rarely reported.
By Helen Ménard
There are many missing pieces in the jigsaw of Elizabeth’s life. The pieces we do have tell the story of a somewhat recalcitrant yet often resourceful woman who married several times and moved throughout the states in the colony masquerading under her different identities at will. At times she also demonstrated a propensity to manipulate reality and for the years under sentence posed a challenge for those for whom she worked and who had authority over her.
Like many of her contemporaries, details on Elizabeth’s early life are sketchy and her ultimate demise appears to be unrecorded. Again, as with many others, she grew up during a particularly difficult and unpleasant period in English history which undoubtedly shaped the life she was forced to lead and the decisions she made. Ultimately, her transportation to a foreign colony for a relatively minor crime may well have been the result of a decision to seek a better life. For those with links to the criminal justice system, few would have been unaware of the relative ease with which removal to another country could be achieved. With a partner and brother already transported was it Elizabeth’s plan to follow them?
Mary Ann GATLEY
By Helen Ménard
Unlucky in love or destined for destruction?
Mary Ann Gatley was born around 1816 in Manchester, England but available records do not definitively identify her family. With no prior convictions, Mary Ann was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) for 7 years when she was barely 19 years old. In the colony, her behaviour frequently involved insolence, drunkenness and a lack of control in public places. She was feisty to say the least! Over a period of sixteen years she had three husbands, two of whom died ‘on her watch’ and the third, having escaped the hangman’s noose, fled the colony. Mary Ann only had one child - a daughter Sarah Ann - who herself had two husbands, twelve children and many grandchildren.
Yet, while her daughter managed to establish herself as a long term and highly respected member of the Burnie community, sadly, Mary Ann’s own achievements were far less. There is no evidence to suggest that Mary Ann was even part of her daughter’s family life. Sarah Ann spent most of her life in and around Burnie on the northwest coast of Tasmania, whereas Mary Ann’s existence seemed to be in Launceston – some 150 kilometres inland. Following the death of her third husband in 1854, Mary Ann’s life seriously came off the rails. The next thirty years involved a continuous procession before the courts facing charges of drunkenness, disorderly behaviour, idleness, prostitution and assault – some of which involved incarceration. There is no record of Mary Ann’s death. More than likely she died alone, destitute and in a back alley somewhere - missed by no one.
Earl Grey (1851)
By Helen Ménard
Mary was one of seven or eight children born and raised in Cork County, Ireland whose Roman Catholic family, described as ‘once respectable and well conducted’, was decimated by the savagery of the infamous Irish Potato Famine. The family was certainly not the Irish mafia. Cataclysmic circumstances forced them into a brief and possibly strategic life of crime that changed their family dynamics forever. While Mary, her mother and two of her brothers were sentenced to transportation, only Mary and her older brother Michael ever saw foreign shores.
Mary was only 18 when she was sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) in 1850 and, with a spotless record in the colony, she was granted a ticket of leave in 1853. Shortly thereafter she entered the employ of Charles and Christina Colvin. At that time Christina Colvin, newly married and not yet with children, was much the same age as Mary. When Mary died in 1891 she was acknowledged as having been a ‘true and faithful servant of Mrs Colvin for 37 years’. It seems Mary never married or had a family of her own but was an integral part of the highly respected Colvin family in Hobart.
By Helen Ménard
Sadly, Janet’s story is a short one. The window into her life is miniscule – it barely covers eight years. We don’t know when she was born; anything about her family; where she went after she served her sentence; whether she ever married or had children; or where she died. What sets Janet’s story apart from many others is that she was probably only 12 years old when she was sentenced to be transported half a world away to a developing and often brutal colony. Of the 13,500 female convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) from 1803 to 1853, roughly 190 were 15 or younger – 1.4 percent; and approximately 39 were 13 or younger – 0.3 percent.
Although Janet had prior convictions for theft, she was hardly old enough to be a seasoned criminal and, like many of her contemporaries growing up in Glasgow during the industrial revolution, survival was undoubtedly her primary driving instinct.
By Helen Ménard
Lady Justice was not always blind for Mary. She spent many months in prison in England for alleged offences for which she was never convicted – including murdering her own child! In her mid-forties, she was ultimately convicted of theft and transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) for 14 years – many received lesser sentences for more serious crimes. Her only alleged transgression in the colony involved an unspecified felony of which she was, again, acquitted. Yet, she was still ordered to be detained in the house of correction for 12 months – for a crime she didn’t commit!
However, it seems Mary eventually managed to ‘shake the curse’. After she received a ticket of leave in 1841 and her daughter married the same year, Mary appeared to assume a low profile, never remarried or left Tasmania, and lived with her daughter Ann and her family in Hobart until her death in old age. Her burial site is marked in history - many women were not so fortunate.
Please note: There may be links in the stories below for conduct record, indent and description list which will take you to the Archives Office of Tasmania website.
- ACTON, Mary per Tory 1845. By Judith Cross (29/07/2020).
- ADAMS, Catherine per Sir Robert Seppings 1852 (The Dean Poisoning Case). By Colette McAlpine (17/11/2019).
- ARMISTEAD, Hellen Copeland (arrived free). By Don Bradmore.
- ARNOTT, Jane per Margaret 1843 (The Cook and the Blacksmith). By Jan Westerink
- ASHLEY, Sarah (Margaret 1843). By Helen Menard.
- ATTWOOD, Elizabeth per Tory 1848. By Geoffrey Court
- BARNES, Sarah per Hector 1835. By Helen Menard.
- BARRINGTON, Theresa Charlotte per Emma Eugenia 1851. By Don Bradmore (13/02/2021)
- BECK, Ann per Sea Queen 1846, A Journey to New Norfolk Asylum. By Stephanie McComb (26/11/2020)
- BENNETT, Sarah per America 1831. By Don Bradmore
- BIDWELL, Elizabeth (Emma Eugenia 1846). By Geoff Jarvis.
- BLACKWOOD, Jean (per Nautilus 1838). 'A tough way to get a new start' by Elisabeth Hannelly
- BLEARS, Charlotte per Woodbridge 1843. By Kath Graham 2016
- BRADLEY, Margaret per Sea Queen 1846. By Don Bradmore (21/03/2020)
- BRAID, Mary per Hector 1835. By Helen Menard.
- BRASH, Jean (Sir Robert Seppings, 1852). By Don Bradmore
- BRAYSON, Margaret (Gilbert Henderson, 1840). By Don Bradmore.
- BRODIE, Margaret per Emma Eugenia 1842. By Don Bradmore (22/05/2020).
- CALLAGHAN, Elizabeth per Providence (II) 1822. By Don Bradmore (29/05/2021).
- CASCADES, May 1847. By Maureen Mann
- CAVANAGH, Rosannah per Abercrombie 1841. By Don Bradmore.
- CHADWICK, Elizabeth per Sea Queen 1846. By Don Bradmore (13/12/2020)
- CHAMBERLAIN, Rachel per Mary Ann 1822. By Don Bradmore (15/08/2020)
- COBBETT, Norah per Persian 1827. By Don Bradmore (19/02/2021)
- CONNOLLY, Mary - Lord Auckland 1849. By Don Bradmore (1/03/2021)
- COPLEY, Mary and Sarah per Hector 1835. By Helen Menard.
- CORFIELD, Susan per Mary III 1823. By Don Bradmore (21/02/2020)
- COTTERELL, Mary (per Elizabeth and Henry (2), 1847. By Don Bradmore
- CUNNINGHAM, Hannah per Hector 1835. By Helen Menard
- CUTHBERT, Isobel per Margaret 1843 ('Do not use me so'). By Ian Billing
- DOCKERTY, Mary per Hydery 1832 ('Destinies plan for Mary Dockerty'). By Kay Buttfield (16/10/2017)
- DONOVAN, Ellen per Martin Luther 1852 ('Campbell Town Nell'), by Diane Honan (12/01/2020)
- DONOVAN, Margaret (Hector, 1835) by Helen Ménard.
- DONOVAN, Mary per Rajah 1841. By Erica Orsolic (16/10/2017)
- DORE, Eliza per Duchess of Northumberland 1853. By Barry Files
- DOVE, Mary per William Bryan 1833 ('A letter to my great great great granddaughter'). By Margaret Walsh (16/10/2017)
- DOWLING, Esther per Currency Lass 1834. By Don Bradmore (6/01/2020).
- DRAKE, Maria, (Margaret 1843). By Don Bradmore.
- DUESNAP, Elizabeth per Maria to NSW, 1818; Elizabeth Henrietta to VDL, 1818. By Don Bradmore (23/01/2020).
- DYER, Elizabeth per Royal Admiral 1842. By Don Bradmore (13/02/2020).
- DYKE, Ann (Angelina, 1844). By Don Bradmore.
- FARQUHARSON, Elizabeth (Arab 1836). By Don Alcock.
- FENTON, Sarah per Mary Ann 1822. By Don Bradmore (15/08/2020).
- FERRIS, Louisa (Cadet, 2, 1848). By Don Bradmore.
- FINDLATER, Margaret per Cadet 1848. By Arthur Davidson
- FISHER, Ann per Mary III 1823. By Don Bradmore (25/02/2020).
- FITZPATRICK, Ann per Sea Queen 1846. By Don Bradmore (13/03/2020)
- FRANCIS Frances (Tasmania, 1844) by Don Bradmore.
- GODWIN, Mary per Sea Queen 1846. By Don Bradmore (28/03/2020)
- GOULD, Jane per Baretto Junior 1850. By Don Bradmore (4/02/2020).
- GRADY, Jane per Emma Eugenia (3) 1844. By Don Bradmore (29/11/2020).
- GRAHAM, Charlotte (Phoebe, 1845) and SARAH (Blackfriar, 1851): 'Convict Sisters' by Don Bradmore.
- GREEN, Ann (2) per America 1831 by Don Bradmore (6/01/2020)
- GURNEY, Ellen (Hector, 1835) by Helen Ménard
- HALDANE, Mary Ann per Borneo 1828 ('A Lucky Escape'). By Victor G Malham
- HANLEY, Ellen (Greenlaw 1840). By Don Bradmore.
- HARFORD, Mary per Royal Admiral 1842. By Don Bradmore.
- HARRINGTON, Martha (Royal Admiral 1842). By Helen Ménard.
- HARRIS, Charlotte, per Anna Maria 1852 (The Orange Woman). By Rhonda Arthur (4/12/2019).
- HEATH, Hannah per Majestic 1839. By Don Bradmore (2/02/2021)
- HEMBLEN, Elizabeth (Royal Admiral 1842) by James Cosgrave
- HOLLEY, Sarah per Majestic 1839. By Peter Brennan (16/10/2017)
- HORE, Mary per Duchess of Northumberland 1853. By Don Bradmore (9/08/2020)
- HUDDERSFIELD FOUR per Sea Queen 1846. By T C Creaney 2015
- HUNT, Mary Ann (per Baretto Junior 1850). By Debra Norris.
- HUNT, Mary per Emma Eugenia 1851. By Diane Munro
- HUNTINGDON, Jane per Atwick 1838 ('Why my great great-grandmother is my heroine'). By Lorraine Roberts
- HUTCHINGS, Sarah per Providence II, 1826. By Don Bradmore (12/01/2020).
- JENNINGS, Elizabeth per Lord Sidmouth/Lusitania 1823. By Don Bradmore (1/01/2020).
- JOHNSTON, Eliza (2) (Sir Robert Seppings, 1852) by Don Bradmore
- JONES, Elizabeth per Siren 1835. By Don Bradmore
- KENNY, Bridget (Duke of Cornwall, 1850). By Don Bradmore.
- KING, Ann per Elizabeth Henrietta 1817. By Don Bradmore (21/06/2020).
- LAIRD, Mary (Woodbridge, 1843). By Don Alcock.
- LANDER, Agnes per Lloyds (3) 1845. By Don Bradmore (23/01/2021)
- LATHAM, Mary (Emma Eugenia, 3, 1844) by Don Bradmore
- LAYSHAW, Ann (Mary III, 1823) by Don Bradmore.
- LEGGATT, Sarah per Providence II 1824. By Don Bradmore
- LYNCH, Johanna per Janus and Princess Charlotte 1820. By Don Bradmore
- LYONS, Catherine per Nautilus 1838. By Geoffrey Court
- LYONS, Eleanor per Blackfriar 1851. By Don Bradmore
- MOORHEAD, Jane per Blackfriar 1851. By Don Bradmore (7/05/2020)
- MacCARTNEY, Jane per Hindostan 1839 ('The relative in the cupboard'). By Stephanie McComb
- MAGEE, Ellinor per Mexborough (1) 1841. By Don Bradmore (10/05/2021)
- MANNING, Mary per Persian 1827. By Don Bradmore (February 2020)
- MARKHAM, Essy (John William Dare, 1852) by Don Bradmore.
- MARTIN, Mary per Canada to Sydney, 1810; Emu to VDL 1815. By Don Bradmore (1/01/2020).
- McCABE, Catherine per Siren 1836. By Don Bradmore (18/12/2019).
- McDEVITT, Eliza per Phoebe 1845. By Don Bradmore (7/03/2020)
- McLAREN, Martha per Tasmania 1844 ('Martha's Shawl'). By Lyn Horton
- McSTAY, Mary Ann (Waverley 1842). By Helen Menard.
- MILLER, Janet (Emma Eugenia, 1851) by Helen Menard.
- MILLS, Julia per Providence 1826. By Don Bradmore
- MORGAN, Ann, per Sea Queen 1846. By Don Bradmore (8/04/2020)
- MUNSLOW, Harriet, per Tasmania (I) 1844. By Don Bradmore (2/03/2020)
- NEALE, Harriot per Friendship to NSW 1818, Duke of Wellington to Hobart 1818 ('Skirting the Law?'). By Fiona MacFarlane
- NIGHTINGALE, Sophia per Janus to Sydney 1820, Princess Charlotte to Hobart 1820. By Geoffrey Court
- NOTTINGHAM, Jane per Duchess of Northumberland 1853. By Don Bradmore (10/09/2020)
- OGILVIE, Agnes (Hector, 1835). By Helen Menard.
- PAGET, Ann per Asia 1847 ('Biography of Ann Paget'). By David Edwards (16/10/2017)
- PATERSON, Elizabeth (Harmony 1829) by Helen Ménard.
- PICKETT, Ann per Cadet 1849. By Don Bradmore (31/01/2020).
- POLLARD, Jane (Tasmania, 1844) by Don Bradmore.
- POWELL, Ann (Brothers, 1824) – 'From Childish Games to Transportation and Hard Labour'. By Ann Williams-Fitzgerald
- PREECE, Jane (Anna Maria 1852) by Don Bradmore.
- SAVILLE, Elizabeth per Sir Robert Seppings 1852. By Geoffrey Court
- SMITH, Anne (Emma Eugenia 1846). By Helen Menard
- SMITH, Elizabeth, per Morley 1820. By Don Bradmore (21/03/2020)
- SMITH, Jane per Sea Queen 1846. By E. Crawford and Don Bradmore (19/01/2021)
- SMITH, Mary per Eliza 1830. By Don Bradmore (6/12/2020)
- STEWART, Mary Ann per Elizabeth & Henry 1848. By Don Bradmore 28/04/2020.
- SURRIDGE, Elizabeth per Baretto Junior 1850. By Don Bradmore (2/09/2020).
- SUTTON, Ann per William Bryan 1833. By John Peck (2016)
- WATT, Hannah (Gilbert Henderson 1840). By Helen Menard.
- WATT, Isabella (Hector, 1835). By Helen Menard.
- WELL-TRAVELLED CONVICTS per Emma Eugenia 1842. By Margaret Jones
- WELLS, Emma (Tasmania, 1844) by Don Bradmore
- WHITBY, Sarah (Sir Charles Forbes 1837 to NSW, Louisa 1846 from NSW) by Helen Ménard.
- WICKS, Elizabeth per Brothers 1824. By Don Bradmore
- WILLIAMS, Maria Louisa per Mary III 1831 ('Maria Louisa Swinchatt transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land in 1831'). By Suzan A L Swinchatt (2019)
- WOMACK, Jane per Aeolus 1809 & WOMOCK, Jane per Maria 1818 ('a twist of fate'). By Rhonda Arthur (07/02/20).
- WOOD, Sarah (Aurora, II, (2), 1851). By Don Bradmore.
- WOODCOCK, Elizabeth (Angelina 1844). By Helen Menard.
- WOODS, Jane per Duke of Cornwall, 1850. By Don Bradmore (15/10/2020)
- WRIGHT, Ann Margaret per Providence II 1826. By Don Bradmore (11/12/2019).
- WRIGHT, Rachael per Friends 1811 and Lady Nelson 1812 ('Stealing an infant of tender years'). By Christopher Riley, PhD
Edges of Empire is a Biographical Dictionary offering accounts of nearly 200 female convicts who were tried or born outside the British Isles. All were transported to the Australian colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land between 1788 and 1853. Their life stories have been tracked from numerous sources around the world, sometimes in detail and sometimes with the merest trace of their existence.
Our Genealogy page also contains some interesting female convict stories researched and written by our genealogists, transcribers and researchers.
The Founders and Survivors project newsletters also contain interesting stories on convicts.
(Scroll down toNewsletter subscription and Previous issues on the left hand side of the page.)
- Euphemia McCaulfield, ship John Calvin in Chainletter August 2011
(conduct record, indent, description list)