by Don Bradmore

Ann Elizabeth Earnshaw was the middle-aged mother of an eight-year-old daughter when, in April 1844, she was found guilty of shoplifting in England and sentenced to seven years’ transportation.[1] Her story is an unusual one. Whereas the vast majority of the 13,500 (approx.) women transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) between 1813 and 1853 were uneducated and from impoverished backgrounds, she had been brought up in refined and comfortable circumstances. At the age of twenty-one, she had inherited a very substantial sum of money and, at about the same time, she had married. However, the marriage was an unhappy one. Within eight years, she had parted company with her husband, alleging not only that he had mistreated her but also that he had squandered more than half of her inheritance. Afterwards, she had hired a young woman named Emma Wells as a salaried ‘friend and travelling companion’.[2] Later, she was to claim that it was this trusted friend who had been solely responsible for the thefts of which both of them had been convicted. Not unexpectedly, as one who had never had to do manual work, Ann had difficulty in adapting to life as a convict servant in VDL. Within five years of her arrival, she had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away. She was forty-one.

This is Ann’s story:


Ann Elizabeth Earnshaw (nee Laverack) was born at Reedness, near York, England, in 1808 and baptized at the neighbouring village of Whitgift the following year. She was the only daughter of Joseph Laverack, a relatively well-to-do farmer. She had a brother, Benjamin. As there is no mention of her mother on her convict documents, it is assumed that she had died quite early. Little else is known about Ann’s upbringing but, as she could both read and write, it is likely that she had received a level of education appropriate at the time to her family’s position in society.[3]  

When Ann was in her late teenage years, she was the fortunate recipient of legacies from both her grandmother and a great aunt. In total, she inherited the very significant sum of twenty thousand pounds. She was a wealthy young woman.[4] Two years later, she married Edward Earnshaw, a man about three years her senior.[5] He was a local farmer, probably well-educated and also from a financially-comfortable family.[6] The marriage was not a success. By 1832, Ann had given birth to a daughter, Emily Cornwall Earnshaw, but, by 1840, the couple had separated.[7] Later, Ann was to say that her husband had not only ‘cruelly ill-treated’ her but also that he had ‘dissipated’ most of her inheritance.[8] Nevertheless, after settlement of affairs with her husband, she had been left with ‘considerable property’ and was able to live well as ‘a woman of independent means’.

Soon after her separation, Ann let it be known that she wished to engage a ‘friend and travelling companion’. Eventually, she hired a young woman named Emma Wells, to whom she agreed to pay a salary of twelve pounds per annum.

Emma, the third child of Thomas and Charlotte (nee Brown) Wells of Walworth, Surrey, England, was born in 1815. The following year, her father had been convicted of embezzlement from the firm for which he worked as a clerk in England and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years.[9] Shortly afterwards, Emma’s mother, Charlotte, had decided to follow her husband to VDL and, two years later, she had arrived at Hobart with three of her four children. The child who had been left behind - in the care of her grandmother - was little Emma. She was a sickly child and it was thought unlikely that she would survive the long voyage.[10]

In the household in which Emma had grown up in England, there had never been much money but she and her grandmother had managed to support themselves well enough by taking in lodgers, selling their needlework and with the occasional help of relatives. By 1840, however, Emma, then about twenty-four and single, was looking for more in life. When she happened to hear that the affluent Mrs. Ann Earnshaw was looking for a paid travelling companion, she had applied eagerly for the position - despite the misgivings of her grandmother about the older woman’s character – and had been accepted. During the next few years, Emma’s grandmother heard little from her. In May 1844, however, she had been told by friends that Emma had been convicted of shoplifting in London and sentenced to transportation.[11]

At their trial at the Old Bailey, London, on 8 April 1844, Ann Earnshaw and Emma Wells were charged together on four separate counts of theft. It was alleged that, at one retail establishment, they had stolen a fruit-knife valued at six shillings and sixpence. At another they had stolen three rings valued at three pounds and seventeen shillings. At a third, they had stolen a watch valued at thirty pounds. At a fourth, they had stolen a locket valued at twelve shillings and sixpence. The court was told that their customary way of operating was for one of them to distract the shop attendant while the other took the desired items and hid them in secret pockets they had cut into the feather boas they wore around their necks. Emma was found guilty on all four counts but Ann on only two of them. Although it was the first time that either had been convicted, both were sentenced to seven years transportation.[12] On 27 May 1844, Emma and Ann were transferred from Newgate Prison, where they had been held since their arrest, to Millbank Prison, London, to await embarkation on a ship to carry them off to one or other of the Australian colonies.[13]

While they were in prison, petitions for the mitigation of their sentences were presented to the authorities. In Ann’s case, the petitioner was Ann herself. She declared that she had always treated Emma as a friend rather than a servant but that Emma had betrayed her trust. Like other women, she said, she and Emma had been in the habit of going out daily and shopping together and it was on those occasions that Emma had stolen the items from the shops. She stated that she had given Emma the care and management of all her possessions, even entrusting her with the keys to drawers and trunks that she herself had seldom, if ever, bothered to open. It was in those places that some of the stolen articles had been found. It had never been shown that she herself had ever used, or been seen with, any portion of the stolen goods. She concluded her plea for clemency by asking the authorities to consider the improbability of her being involved in the acts of dishonesty with which she had been accused when her income was sufficient for her needs and her transactions with tradespeople and others with whom she dealt had always been honest and honourable.[14]

In Emma’s case, the petitioner was her grandmother. She stated that Emma had been brought up ‘religiously and honestly’ and that she had had ‘no habit or propensity towards shoplifting’ until she had come under Ann’s influence.[15]

Both petitions failed and, on 30 August 1844, the two women were put aboard the convict vessel Tasmania which, with William Black as Master, Thomas Seaton as Surgeon-Superintendent, one hundred and ninety-one female prisoners and a number of their children, sailed from London on 8 September and reached Hobart on 20 December that year.[16]

At Hobart, Ann was said to be thirty-six years old and married. She was four feet eleven and a quarter inches (about 151 cm) tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. Her face was slightly pock-pitted. She was a Protestant. Having stated that she was able to teach music, she was allocated the convict trade of ‘governess’.[17] Interestingly, a note on her indent reads: ‘My property $10,000 made over to my daughter.’ She seems not to have been aware at that stage that, by law, the property of convicts became forfeited to the crown upon conviction of a felony.[18] 

After disembarkation, Ann was taken to the Anson Probation Station where, for the next six months, she was given training in what was expected of her when assigned to free settlers as a convict servant.[19] Soon after the completion of her probation, she was were hired into service in the Launceston area.

However, as one who had had servants to attend to her since childhood, she was not accustomed to hard work and it was obvious from the start that she was going to have difficulty in adapting to her new circumstances. In December 1845, she was charged with ‘disturbing the peace’ - her first offence in the colony – and ordered to gaol for three months, to be served with hard labour.[20]

By the time of her release, Ann had been made aware that the government had taken possession of the ‘considerable property’ she had had in England at the time of her conviction.[21] Although this news must have come as a blow to her, she would have been pleased to learn that the decision had been made to allow a certain amount annually from her forfeited funds to defray the living and education expenses of her daughter, Emily, whom she had had to leave in the care of friends in England.

Encouraged by that news, perhaps, Ann decided to petition the Secretary of State for the Colonies for some support for herself.[22] In November 1846, she wrote:

… by the Colonial Regulations your petitioner will shortly receive a ticket of leave and will be allowed to employ herself for her own benefit, but being near forty years of age and her constitution much impaired by the sufferings she has undergone, she is becoming more and more unfit for servitude, to which, never having been accustomed, she is almost unequal, it being, besides, extremely difficult, now, for persons, unhappily circumstanced as is your petitioner, to obtain respectable employment … [And so], your petitioner humbly prays … that you will be pleased to order that she shall receive out of property now in the hands of Government such a moderate allowance as may enable her to decently support herself during the remainder of her exile to this distant land.[23]

To the petition, Ann had affixed a brief note of support written by Mrs. Rachel Barrett, the free settler to whom she was assigned at the time. It read: ‘I beg leave to certify that the petitioner has been in my service upwards of a year and has conducted herself with the utmost propriety.’[24]   

While Ann waited for a response to her plea, her struggle to adjust to her much-changed life continued. In April 1848, she was sent to gaol, again to be served with hard labour, for three months for ‘being out after hours and drunk’.[25] That was the second of only two offences with which Ann was charged in VDL.

It was not until 1849 that the Lords Commissioner of the Treasury in England announced that they were pleased to accede to Ann’s request for an allowance for herself from her confiscated assets. On 28 April, a Treasury official advised the authorities in VDL that:

… My Lords have directed the officer in charge of the Commissariat in VDL to pay Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Earnshaw, a convict, or to such persons on her behalf as the Governor may think proper to appoint, the sum of £50 per annum from 1st January 1849 in quarterly payments ...[26]

However, it is unlikely that Ann ever received any money. In May 1849, she was granted a ticket of leave but, sadly, she lived for only another few months.[27] On 9 November 1849, she passed away at Launceston.[28] The cause of her death was given as ‘apoplexy’, a condition caused by a cerebral haemorrhage or stroke.[29]

Interestingly, just two months prior to her death, Ann had been one of the witnesses to the marriage of Emma, her former friend and travelling companion, to a former convict by the name of Edward Desmond.[30] If, as Ann had claimed in the petition she had written while awaiting embarkation in 1844, Emma had been the cause of her misfortune, she had obviously forgiven her - and the two had managed to remain in contact with each other during their period of servitude.

As it happens, Emma’s marriage was no more successful than Ann’s had been. In 1852, a year or two after her marriage, she was convicted in the Supreme Court at Launceston of the theft of a roll of fabric from a store at Launceston and was gaoled for eighteen months. Soon after her release, she and her husband separated. Regrettably, what became of her after that remains a mystery.[31]


The author acknowledges the outstanding contribution to the research for this story of FCRC volunteer, Eileen Ball.


[1] Conduct record, Ann Elizabeth Earnshaw: CON41-1-4, image 48; description list: CON19-1-4, image 137; indent: CON15/1/3, pp. 60 and 61; police no: 131; FCRC ID: 11866.

[2] Conduct record, Emma Wells: CON41-1-4, image 179; description list: CON19-1-4, image 171; indent: CON15/1/3, pp. 94 and 95; police no: 602; FCRC ID: 11988.

[3] CON15: birth year calculated from age on arrival in VDL; baptism:, FHL, film no. 98542, per; father described in 1841 census of England as ‘of independent means;’ and in 1851 census as ‘retired farmer’; brother Benjamin shown as retired farmer died in 1881 census. 

[4] Petitions at transcribed by E. Ball (FCRC volunteer) and available at ‘Research Notes’ at 

[5] Marriage, 29 October 1829, by licence in the parish of Sneath, Sulcoates, Yorkshire at  via

[6] per E. Ball, FCRC volunteer researcher per

[7] Emily Cornwall Earnshaw: see Note 4, above.

[8] As for Note 4, above.

[9] ‘Thomas Wells (17887-1833)’ in Australian Dictionary of Biography, online at

[10] Petition of Mrs. Bellamy Wells, Emma’s grandmother, via, ‘Research Notes’, Emma Wells (ID 11988), in FCRC d/base at

[11] As for Note 4.

[12] Reference Nos: t18440408-1051, t11840408-1052, t11840408-1053 and t11840408-1054, 8 April 1844, at;

[13] ‘Millbank Prison Register’ per ‘Research Notes’ at

[14] Petitions at transcribed by E. Ball (FCRC volunteer) and available at ‘Research Notes’ at 

[15] As for Note 14.


[17] CON19-1-4, image 137.

[18] As for Note 14.

[19] Anson Probation Station:

[20] CON41-1-4, image 48.

[21] See Note 18, above.

[22] Earl Grey was Secretary of State for War and the Colonies from July 1846 to February 1852.

[23] As for Note 14.

[24] As for Note 14; the note is dated 3 December 1846.

[25] CON41-1-4, image 48.

[26] As for Note 14, above.

[27] Ticket of leave: Launceston Examiner, 2 June 1849, p.8.

[28] CON41-1-4, image 48.

[29] Ann Elizabeth Earnshaw, death: RGD35/1/16 no 125; Launceston Examiner, 10 November 1849, p.7.

[30] Marriage: Emma Wells/Edward Desmond, RGD37/1/8 no 509.

[31] Emma, gaoled for theft at Launceston, 1852: Launceston Examiner, 3 July 1852, p.420 and 10 July 1852, p.5; The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 30 June 1852, p.412.




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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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