In itself, the story of Mary Smith is unremarkable but it highlights a serious problem that existed in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) in the first half of the nineteenth century – that is, the common but very dangerous practice of giving infants opium-based preparations to pacify them. In July 1829, Mary had been convicted of theft at Norwich, England, and sentenced to transportation for seven years.[1] She arrived at Hobart per Eliza III (2) in February of the following year, Upon arrival, she was described as a thirty-year old widow and a ‘cripple’.[2] Assigned to free settlers as a ‘housemaid’ between 1831 and 1835, she was returned to the authorities on three occasions when, because of her physical disability, she was unable to do the work required of her. In 1835, she married former convict John Cawthorne (Medina, 1825) and, in March 1836. gave birth to a son, also named John. When the child died suddenly eleven months later, suspicion fell upon the parents. A subsequent inquest cleared both Mary and John of any deliberate wrong-doing. In doing so, it helped to raise public awareness of the too-easy availability of opium-based concoctions and of the often poorly-educated and ill-trained people who prepared them and advocated their use.   

This is Mary’s story …


[1] Conduct record: CON40-1-9, image 83; description list; CON19-1-2, image 354; police number: 166; FCRC ID: 4230.

[2] CON40-1-9, image 83.


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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 online [date].

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




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