CHARLOTTE GRAHAM (Phoebe, 1845) and SARAH GRAHAM (Blackfriar, 1851)

by Don Bradmore

Sisters Charlotte and Sarah Graham were both convicted of theft in Ireland and sentenced to transportation for seven years.[1] Apart from that, their stories have little in common. Charlotte, the younger of the two, had had no previous convictions. She was nineteen years old and single when she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) per Phoebe in 1845.  In 1847, she married and, in the following year, gave birth to a son. It soon became obvious, however, that she was mentally disturbed and, in 1848, she was committed to the New Norfolk Lunatic Asylum where she remained until her death forty-four years later. Her sister Sarah, on the other hand, thirty years of age and unmarried when she arrived in VDL per Blackfriar in 1851, had been convicted of four felonies and more than eighty misdemeanours in Ireland. Remarkably, she managed to avoid further trouble and, by 1855, had been granted a conditional pardon. What happened to her after that is unclear. No record of her marrying, death or departure from the colony has been found.

This is the story of the Graham sisters:

Sarah and Charlotte Graham, the daughters of Creighton Graham, were born in Dublin around 1821 and 1825 respectively. Their mother, name unknown, died when they were in childhood.[2] Their siblings were brothers William, Mark, George and James and sister Susannah. Nothing is known with certainty about their early years and upbringing.

At some time, the family appears to have moved from the capital Dublin to County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland.[3] It was there, on 28 June 1844, that Charlotte, the younger sister, then nineteen years old, was charged with the theft of ‘a quantity of ribbon of various patterns and different textures’ from the shop of Thomas Ingolsby, a silk mercer of Inniskillen. At her trial, the court was told that Charlotte had taken the ribbons from a covered drawer in the shop and had later been seen selling them in the streets. At the time of her arrest, she said that she had sold everything but, when searched, a large roll of ribbon was found hidden in her clothing. She was found guilty and, although she had had no previous convictions, she was sentenced to transportation for seven years.[4]

For three months after the trial, she was kept at Enniskillen but, in early September, she was transferred to Grangegorman Prison in Dublin to await embarkation on a ship to take her off to VDL to serve her time. There, she was described as being Protestant, five feet and three inches (about 160 cm) tall, with a fair complexion and brown hair. She could read but not write.[5]  

While she was at Grangegorman, two petitions on her behalf were presented to His Excellency, Lord Heytesbury, Lord Lieutenant General and General-Governor of Ireland. Strangely, the first was forwarded by Thomas Ingolsby, the shopkeeper whose goods she had stolen. In it, he stated that he had prosecuted Charlotte because, at the time, he had thought it was his duty to do so but, having heard that she had been sentenced to transportation for seven years, he regretted doing so. He said that he had since learned that she had stolen the ribbons in ‘an unfortunate and mistaken endeavour to appear engaging in the eyes of a young man whose affection she wanted to cultivate’. He believed that she was now ‘very penitent’ and hoped that His Excellency would see it as ‘a pardonable weakness’.[6]

The second petition was presented by Charlotte’s father, Creighton Graham. He told Lord Heytesbury that he believed his daughter was now ‘sorrowing and ashamed’. He said that he himself had always been ‘a good member of society’ but now, ‘incapacitated by age and infirmity’, he was a ‘broken father’. Pointing out that Charlotte had grown up without her mother, he begged His Excellency’s ‘merciful consideration’ of her case.[7]

Upon receiving the petitions, Lord Heytesbury sought the opinion of the magistrate who had presided at Charlotte’s trial as to whether or not the order of transportation should be carried out. The magistrate was in no doubt. He maintained that the crime was ‘of a description which required the sentence which had been pronounced’. And so, in early September 1844, Lord Heytesbury decreed that ‘the law should take its course’.[8]  

Later that month, Charlotte was put aboard the vessel Phoebe which, with William Dale as master, Alex Macelroy as surgeon-superintendent, one hundred and twenty-eight female prisoners and twenty-eight of their children, sailed from Dublin on 25 September and reached Hobart on 2 January 1845.[9]  After disembarkation, all of the women were taken to the Anson Probation Station at Hobart where, for the next six months, they were given training in what was to be expected of them when assigned to free settlers as convict servants.[10]

Soon after the completion of her probation, Charlotte was hired into service as a house maid in the Campbell Town area. It was not long before she was in trouble. On 8 May 1846, she was charged by her employer with ‘neglect of duty and insolence’. She was sent to the Female Factory at Launceston to serve a month’s gaol with hard labour but appears to have learned little from the experience.[11] On 19 June 1846, only two weeks after her release, she was charged again with ‘gross insolence’ and returned to the prison, this time for three months.[12] 

In February 1847, a ticket-of-leave convict by the name of John Wingfield applied for permission to marry Charlotte.[13] Approval was granted and, on 22 March that year, the marriage took place at St Luke’s Church, Campbell Town. The marriage register shows Charlotte as a twenty-one-year-old ‘spinster’ and Wingfield as a twenty-seven-year-old ‘bachelor’. Wingfield was able to sign his name; Charlotte signed with her mark.[14]

Wingfield had been in VDL since his arrival per Layton (4) in September 1841. Described upon arrival as a ‘trader, book-keeper and silk merchant’, he had been convicted at the Old Bailey, London, in January 1841 of the theft of a very large quantity of cloth and apparel from his employers and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years.[15] By 1845, despite a couple of relatively minor infringements in the colony, he had been appointed as a clerk in the police office at Launceston.[16] The marriage register shows his occupation as ‘constable’.    

Unfortunately, it was soon to become obvious that the marriage was not a happy one and that Charlotte was struggling to cope. On 5 August 1847, just seven months after the marriage, she was charged with assault and sent to the House of Correction, Launceston, for two months with hard labour, the magistrate ordering that she be kept isolated from other prisoners during that time. Her conduct record does not reveal who it was she assaulted on that occasion but, in view of what was soon to come, it is likely that the victim was her husband, Wingfield.[17]

A month after her release, Charlotte was back before a magistrate - again charged with assault – and this time the victim was identified as Wingfield. On 25 November 1847, she was charged with ‘being violent and outrageous towards her husband, apparently under temporary derangement’. She was returned to the House of Correction for another three months with hard labour.[18] On 6 February 1848, while still in prison, she gave birth to a son, James Wingfield. Telling of her relationship with her husband, perhaps, the record of the birth does not name the father of the child.[19] 

On 21 April 1848, Charlotte was charged once more with assaulting her husband and ordered back to gaol for another two months. No details of the assault, or the reason for it, have been located.[20] On 1 August of that year, she was admitted as a ‘convict pauper’ under her maiden name ‘Charlotte Graham’ to the Lunatic Asylum, New Norfolk, where her illness was described as ‘mania’. She remained there until her death at sixty-six on 30 March 1892.[21] Entries in the institution’s Patient Case Books tell the sad story of the last forty-four years of her life: ‘Mental condition unchanged’; ‘exhibits occasional paroxysms of excitement and violence but at other times amenable’; ‘very violent, incoherent and noisy’; ‘generally amenable and works at her needlework’; ‘quieter of late but still incoherent and health poor’; and ‘has improved but still subject to outbursts of passion accompanied by violent language’.[22]

In her mental condition, and locked away at New Norfolk, Charlotte would probably not have been aware that, in 1850, her elder sister, Sarah, then thirty years of age. had been convicted at Dublin of stealing the sum of eight shillings and had been sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. She had arrived in VDL as a convict per Blackfriar in May 1851.[23] There is no indication that the two ever met in the colony.

For fifteen years before her conviction and transportation, Sarah had been getting into trouble in Ireland. Her convict record reveals that, since 1837 – when she was sixteen - she had been gaoled for felonies (theft of money and/or clothing) on four occasions and had been either gaoled for short periods or fined an incredible eighty-two times for misdemeanours (disturbing the peace, disorderly behaviour and/or drunkenness).[24] Moreover, she had been ‘on the town’ – usually a euphemism for ‘working as a prostitute’ – for four years.[25]

What seems just as incredible for one with such a long record of offences before her transportation is that Sarah was able to avoid serious trouble in VDL, the only charge brought against her being in December 1851 when she spent seven days in the cells for being drunk. Two years later she was granted a ticket of leave and, in January 1855, she was issued with a conditional pardon.[26] Regrettably, nothing more is known with certainty about her. No record of her remarrying, or of her death or of her departure from the colony has been located. 


[1] Charlotte: conduct record: CON41-1-5, image 41; description list: CON19/1/4, image 185; indent: CON15/1/3, image 112 and 113; police no: 381; FCRC ID 10086. Sarah: conduct record: CON41-1-30, image 104; description list: CON19/1/9, image 130; indent: CON15/1/7, image 30 and 31; police no: 551; FCRC ID 2787.

[2] ‘Irish Transportation Record of Charlotte Graham per Phoebe 1845’, CRF 1844 – G29 – Film 54 via

[3] Indents: CON15/1/3, image 112 and 113 CON15/1/7, image 30 and 31.

[4] Letter of Magistrate James Bassonet to His Excellency, Lord Heytesbury, Lord Lieutenant General and General-Governor of Ireland, 7 September 1844; see Note 3, above.

[5] Trial: CON41-1-5, image 41; Grangegorman Prison Register, p.99 via

[6] As for Note 3, above.

[7] As for Note 3, above.

[8] As for Note 3, above.


[10] Anson Probation Station:


[12] CON41-1-5, image 41.

[13] Wingfield: CON33-1-10, image 234.

[14] Application to marry: CON52/1/2, p.397; marriage RGD37/1/6, no 610.

[15]; ref: t18410104-563a.

[16] CON CON33-1-10, image 234; clerk: Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 17 April 1847, p.304, 21 August  

[17] CON41-1-5, image 41.

[18] CON41-1-5, image 41.

[19] Birth of son James: RGD32/1/23, no 1959.

[20] CON41-1-5, image 41.

[21] Death: RGD35/1/61 no 463. The institution has undergone a number of name changes since its establishment: Lunatic Asylum, New Norfolk; 1829-1859; Hospital for the Insane, New Norfolk, 1859-1915; Mental Diseases Hospital, New Norfolk, 1915-1937; Lachlan Park Hospital, 1937-1968; and Royal Derwent Hospital, 1968-2001.

[22] Patient Records – Case Books (All Patients) (HSD246 and 247) Female (mental) at; see also ‘Research’ notes for Charlotte at

[23] CON41-1-30, image 104.

[24] Grangegorman Prison Registers – 1837-1850; see also ‘Research’ Notes for Sarah Graham (ID 2787) in d/base at

[25] CON15-1-7, images 30 and 31; CON41-1-30, image 104.

[26] Sarah: ticket of leave, Hobart Town Gazette, 20 December 1853; conditional pardon, Hobart Town Gazette, 18 December 1855; CON41-1-30, image 104.




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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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