Sarah was the oldest of five children born in Nantwich, Cheshire, England to William Davenport and Ann Ashley. Sarah’s mother died in 1836 when Sarah was only twenty and, around this time, it seems Sarah left home and went to live in Liverpool, Lancashire where she ended up ‘on the town’ for several years. Within a year of her mother’s death Sarah’s father remarried and, in 1840, emigrated to the USA with his new wife and Sarah’s three younger sisters. Sarah was never to see her father – and most probably her sisters – ever again.
What prompted Sarah to leave home, change her age and her name from Davenport to Ashley, her mother’s maiden name? What type of relationship – if any - did she have with her father and step mother? How did she feel about her father and younger siblings moving to America? Was she ever invited to join them?
Sarah’s crimes were typically trivial and she was young – as such, she was one of the thousands of females who became victims of the prevailing British government economic policy to populate the colonies with ‘tamers and breeders’. Evidently no one petitioned on Sarah’s behalf to mitigate her sentence. Conversely, did Sarah see this as an opportunity to escape the social ravages of the industrial revolution in England? Did her family in America ever know she had been transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL)? Did any of them care?
This is Sarah's Story...
Between 1803 and 1853, approximately 75,000 men and women were transported to Van Diemen's Land (VDL) as convicts. Of these, roughly 67,000 were shipped from British and Irish ports. The remainder were either from other British colonies or had arrived in the colony as ‘free’ immigrants and had been convicted later. While poor documentation in the early years makes it difficult to be precise about the number of those convicted locally, about one hundred and twenty-five females in this category have been identified to date. Hellen Copeland Armistead was one of them.
Believed to have been from a respectable family, but possibly one that had fallen on hard times, in England, Hellen, had arrived ‘free’ at Hobart, single and alone, in 1837. She was thirty-eight years old. Four years later, while employed as a governess at Hobart, she was accused of stealing a tablecloth. Although she denied the charge, she was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for six months. After serving her time, she left the colony and never returned. For some years a teacher at Port Macquarie, New South Wales, where she was highly admired, she died at the age of seventy-one in 1870. She had never been in trouble with the law again.
This is her story:
Elizabeth Attwood was born at Pinfold St, Birmingham on 27 December 1813 to parents Thomas and Hannah Attwood. Thomas Attwood was born in 1766, was a jeweller and died in 1823. Hannah was born in 1785 and died in 1821. Thomas and Hannah were married circa 1808 and had three other children – John died as an infant, Thomas Jnr born in 1815 and Maria. Thomas and Hannah both died young, with Elizabeth being only 8 when her mother died and 10 when her father died. We do not know how the children were raised, but can assume that things were very tough for them.
We can find no trace as to what happened to Maria, but we do know that Elizabeth started a relationship with Charles Spratt around 1832, with a daughter, Emma Attwood, being born in 1833. In April 1835 Charles and a pregnant Elizabeth, were living in Birmingham when they robbed a man of two shillings and five pence.
Mary Acton was well known to the police in Warrington, Lancashire, with the authorities finally managing to have her convicted in 1844 for a crime committed five years earlier. She was transported on the Tory arriving in Van Diemen’s Land in July 1845. Despite marrying early in her sentence, she did not have a settled life and spent most of her sentence at Hobart and Ross Female Factories.