Elizabeth Hemblen was born in Bath, Somerset, England about 1824, the youngest of four children of Isaac and Mary Hemblen. Her mother died young and her father remarried in 1832 to Elizabeth Rose, with whom he had another four children.

Family stories passed down through the generations suggest that Elizabeth Hemblen did not get along with her step-mother, and rebelled. On 11 October 1841, 16 year old Elizabeth Emblin appeared before a judge at the Bath City Sessions, charged with larceny, for stealing a pair of boots. She was convicted and sentenced to one month in prison.

Elizabeth obviously fell in with bad company, as soon after her release from prison, she appeared before a judge at the Bath City Sessions on 29 December 1841, along with Mary Ann Elmes and Elizabeth Stokes, charged with stealing a frying pan worth 12 pence, property of William Pullen, on 20 November 1841. As all three of the accused had previous convictions, they were each sentenced to 7 years transportation.

On 2 May 1842, Elizabeth Hemblen, Mary Ann Elmes, Elizabeth Stokes and 200 other convicted women departed England on the ship Royal Admiral, bound for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The Royal Admiral was a 414 ton, three-masted barque, built at King’s Lynn in 1828, and this was her fourth convict voyage. The water casks on board were very leaky, requiring the ship to stop at the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) to take on fresh water, which lengthened the voyage. By the time the ship arrived at Hobart, on 24 September, 145 days after leaving England, two of the passengers had died.

At this time the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart was full, already housing more than 700 female convicts and their children, so on 8 October 1842, Elizabeth Hemblen, and many of the other women from the Royal Admiral, were transferred to the ship Lady Franklin, for the journey to Launceston, on the north side of the island. On arrival in Launceston, the women and children were taken to the Launceston Female Factory, which had been designed to house 100 inmates, but with the addition of the women and children from the Royal Admiral, it soon housed 278 women and 43 children[1].

The Australian convict records provide invaluable information about each convict. The convict description[2] for Elizabeth tells us that she was a little over five feet tall, with a ruddy complexion, large head, light brown hair, hazel eyes, a broad chin, upturned nose with large nostrils, and a broad low forehead. She was a housemaid by trade. Elizabeth had a tattoo on her right arm, consisting of seven dots and the letters E, F, JC, JF, JR and HN. We will likely never know what this tattoo represents, but it is amazing, 180 years later, to even know that she had a tattoo.

Her indent record[3] states that she could read and could write a little, that she left a father named Isaac, one brother named John, and four sisters – Sarah, Mary Ann, Jane and Emma, at her native place. Her character on board ship was described as good. At that time Elizabeth would have been unaware of her half-sister, another Elizabeth, who was born a few months after Elizabeth arrived in Tasmania.

The female convicts were assigned to free settlers, to whom they provided work, in return for food and clothing. We have no record of who Elizabeth was assigned to work for, but it was perhaps James Elder, as on 10 January 1844, the already pregnant Elizabeth requested permission to marry James Elder.

Elizabeth Hemblen married James Elder on 11 March 1844 at the Church of England parish church in Evandale[4], a few miles outside of Launceston. Elizabeth is described as a 21 year old assisted servant, and James is described as a 33 year old free settler, although he may have been closer to 39 years old. It is likely, but not certain, that James Elder was transported on the ship Phoenix which arrived in Tasmania on 21 July 1824, at which time he was described as a 19 year old Plasterer from Glasgow. He would have completed his sentence by 1831, hence was ‘free’ at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Hemblen.

Marriage did not mean that Elizabeth was spared the balance of her sentence. She was still obliged to attend the regular convict musters to show that she had not absconded, but the authorities were probably relieved that she now had a husband to be responsible for her.

Their first child, whom they named Elizabeth, was born 1 July 1844, and the birth was registered in the Bothwell district. James Elder, Plasterer of Black Marsh is listed as the informant on the birth registration. No further record has been found of this child, but it is believed that she died in Tasmania before 1854.

With good behaviour, Elizabeth Hemblen was granted a ticket of leave in February 1845, and the family moved south to Hobart. Seventeen months later, on 9 July 1846, Elizabeth gave birth to her second child, James Elder, in Hobart. James lived into adulthood but died of tuberculosis at the Provincial Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand on 22 January 1868, at the age of 21 years.

Elizabeth received a conditional pardon in July 1848, having spent four years and seven months in the colony and having completed five and a quarter years of her seven year sentence, without having once being charged with misconduct. She became free on 29 December, 1848, having completed her seven year sentence.

On 14 April 1849, Elizabeth’s husband, James Elder, died in Hobart, from inflammation of the brain. On his death registration he is described as a 44 year old Plasterer, and the informant is Elizabeth Elder, of Murray Street, his wife. Just a month after James’ death, on 14 May 1849, Elizabeth was officially granted her certificate of freedom.

At the age of 25 years, Elizabeth Elder, nee Hemblen, a widow with a three year old son, was now free to leave Tasmania, and she could return to England if she wished. It was around this time that she met John Fothergill. John was born in Leeds, Yorkshire in 1818 and had been transported to Tasmania on the Anson in 1843, leaving behind a wife and three children in England.

Elizabeth Hemblen, her son James Elder, and John Fothergill travelled from Tasmania to Auckland, New Zealand, where John assumed the name John Meale. On 13 June 1854, Elizabeth Hemblen and John Meale were married in St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Auckland. The civil marriage record identifies Elizabeth as a 28 year old spinster, and John Meale as a 33 year old Bachelor.

John and Elizabeth Meale soon moved north to Upper Waiwera where they farmed and raised five children. Their eldest child, John James Meale died in a shooting accident in 1870[5] at the age of 15 years. Ellen Meale, the second child was born in 1859 and is my great grandmother. The remaining children, Joseph, George and Elizabeth all married and raised families of their own[6].

John Meale died at Upper Waiwera on 7 January, 1889, after a three week illness and was buried at Puhoi. Elizabeth Meale, nee Hemblen, lived on for ten more years, and died at Upper Waiwera on 13 March 1899, from general debility, at the age of 70 years, a long way from her native Bath. She too was buried at Puhoi.


[1] Convict Lives at the Launceston Female Factory / Lucy Frost and Alice Meredith Hodgson, editors; Hobart, 2013, ISBN 9780987144348, page 18

[2] Tasmania Libraries, CON19-1-3-page 195, Convict Description

[3] Tasmania Libraries, CON15-1-2-pages 22,23, Convict Indent

[4] Tasmania Libraries, RGD37-1-3-page 224, number 882

[5] New Zealand Herald newspaper, 25 June 1870, page 4

[6] Website https://treesandgenes.com/hemblen-information/



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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].

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