Recent Additions to Convict Stories
Older Stories

 

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.

Recent  additions:

 

Emma COTTON

Rubicon 1833 & Marian Watson 1838

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

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.

 

Read more …

 

Mary Ann Manley

(Cadet, 2, 1848)

by

Don Bradmore

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.[1] 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:   

 

Read more …

Rebeccca Gentles
Hector, 1835
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.

Read more …

Elizabeth SMITH

Hector, 1835

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

​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?

Read more …

 

Mary Ann GATLEY

Hector, 1835

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

Unlucky in love or destined for destruction?

Mary Ann Gatley was born around 1816 in Manchester, England[1] but available records do not definitively identify her family.[2] With no prior convictions, Mary Ann was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) for 7 years when she was barely 19 years old.[3] In the colony, her behaviour frequently involved insolence, drunkenness and a lack of control in public places.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] More than likely she died alone, destitute and in a back alley somewhere - missed by no one.

Read more …

Mary AHERN

Earl Grey (1851)

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

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’,[1] 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.[2] 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[3] she was acknowledged as having been a ‘true and faithful servant of Mrs Colvin for 37 years’.[4] 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.

 

Read more …

Janet Johnston

Hector, 1835

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

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,[1] roughly 190 were 15 or younger – 1.4 percent; and approximately 39 were 13 or younger – 0.3 percent.[2]

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. 

Read more …

Mary Harvey

(Hector, 1835)

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

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.[1] 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.

Read more …

 

Older Stories

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.

 

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Further stories:

Edges of Empire Biographical Dictionary: 

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.)

 


 

 


Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

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].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].

 

 

 

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