(Sea Queen, 1846)

by Don Bradmore


Very few of the 13,500 (approx.) women who were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) as convicts between 1813 and 1853 returned home after their sentences had expired. For the vast majority, the fare was simply too expensive. Most were poor when they arrived and had had no opportunity to earn money as unpaid servants in the colony. Many had married, had started families and were making new lives for themselves in a far-off land. However, one who did manage to go back home to resume her former life was Elizabeth Toogood. A married woman of forty-two when she arrived in VDL per Sea Queen in August 1846, she had been convicted of theft in the previous year and sentenced to transportation for seven years.[1] By October 1852, she had served her time and was a free woman again. By 1861, she was back in England. What makes her achievement quite remarkable is that she had been extremely deaf since childhood. How she managed to do it remains a mystery but the available evidence seems to point to a most surprising solution.

This is Elizabeth’s story:

Elizabeth Toogood, the daughter of William Stafford, a shoemaker, was born at Coventry, Warwickshire, England in 1804. Her mother’s name is unknown. She had two brothers, James and Thomas. Nothing is known of her early life and upbringing. In adult life, she worked at Coventry as a ribbon maker.[2]

On 4 November 1834, at the age of thirty, Elizabeth married Thomas Tame Hollick at Holy Trinity Church, Coventry.[3] The following year she gave birth to a daughter, Ann Bruce Hollick, but her husband died a year later.[4] On 11 January 1841, at St John the Baptist Church, Coventry, she married again. Her second husband was widower Thomas Toogood, a watchmaker. The marriage register shows both of them as residents of Spon Street, Coventry.[5] There were no children of this marriage.

On 15 October 1845, Elizabeth was brought before the Court of Petty Sessions at Coventry charged with the theft of an iron fireplace crane - a frame used for holding a cooking pot or kettle above an open fire - from the rented house in which she and her husband were living. The owner of the house, a Mr. Hatton, told the court that Elizabeth had agreed to pay ten shillings and sixpence a week rent but, when nothing had been paid after three weeks, he had gone to collect what was owing. To his surprise, he found the house empty and he had been forced to break in. It was then that he discovered that the iron crane was missing. Another witness, a secondhand dealer named Mrs. Hewson, testified that Elizabeth had brought the crane to her, wanting to sell it. At first, she had asked for a shilling for it but had later agreed to exchange it for a kettle of the same value. Hewson, suspecting the crane had been stolen, had called the police. They had taken the crane back to the house, found that it fitted exactly to the fireplace, and promptly arrested Elizabeth.[6]

In its report of the trial, the Coventry Standard of 17 October 1845, mentioned that Elizabeth ‘appeared to be very deaf’ and that the evidence given against her had to be written down for her by her attorney. In that way, she had been able to cross-examine witnesses ‘with considerable ability’. She denied all knowledge of the theft, maintaining that if the crane had been taken illegally, it was done so by her husband whom, she said, had ‘brought her into trouble’ frequently in the past. Nevertheless, the jury took only a few moments to find her guilty. After the court heard that she had been imprisoned for nine months three years earlier for the theft of a shawl and other items of clothing, she was sentenced to transportation for seven years.[7]

A month after the trial, Elizabeth was taken to Millbank Prison, London, to await embarkation on a vessel to take her off to VDL.[8] While there, she forwarded a petition on her own behalf to Sir James Graham, Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department. Describing herself as ‘a distressed and afflicted prisoner’, she humbly begged mitigation of her sentence on the grounds of her deafness, an inherited condition from which she had suffered since the age of fourteen. In addition, she stated, she had an ‘internal disease’ which had prevented her from undertaking any labouring work for the last ten years. Maintaining that she was completely innocent of the crime of which she had been accused, she said that all she had done was to obey her husband, a man who had severely ill-treated her in the years of their marriage. It was he who had ordered her to take the crane they had found in the house they rented from Hatton to Mrs. Hewson, telling her that it was not suitable for the fireplace.[9]

Elizabeth concluded her petition with a list of local shopkeepers and neighbours whom, she said, would attest to her good character. However, while it is unlikely that any of them were contacted, it is possible that what they had to say about her might have surprised and disappointed her. A report on her behaviour while she was at Millbank read: ‘Previously convicted, character bad, and a great hypocrite.’ How her hypocrisy was exhibited was not explained.[10]  

The petition was unsuccessful. Eventually, Elizabeth was put aboard Sea Queen which, with George W. Wood as Master, Thomas William Jewell as Surgeon-Superintendent, one hundred and seventy female convicts and fifteen of their children, departed from Woolwich on 12 May 1846. It reached Hobart on 29 August that year.[11] In the medical journal that the surgeon-superintendent was required to keep during the voyage, Elizabeth was described as ‘indifferent, sly and artful’.[12] Again, these traits were left unexplained.

At Hobart, as was customary, a physical description of all of the Sea Queen prisoners was entered into their convict record for identification purposes. It was noted that Elizabeth was forty-two years old, married with one child - and deaf. She had a dark complexion, grey hair, brown eyes, a long nose, a wide mouth and a large chin. The most obvious feature of her appearance, however, was that she was only four feet and a half an inch (about 123 cms) tall.[13] She could both read and write. She was a Protestant. She was allocated the convict trade of ‘house maid’.[14]

After disembarkation, Elizabeth was taken to the Anson Probation Station where all newly-arriving female prisoners were given six months’ training in what was expected of them when assigned to free settlers as convict servants.[15]  Although it is unclear where she was employed immediately after the completion of her probation, she appears to have adapted well to her changed circumstances. During the entire seven years of her penal servitude, she was charged only twice with offences, both of them relatively minor. On 7 February 1848, she taken before a magistrate and charged by her employer with ‘using indecent language’. She was ordered to gaol, with hard labour, for six months. On 17 July 1849, she was charged again, this time for being ‘absent without leave’ and returned to prison, with hard labour, for another two months.[16]

On 26 March 1850, after nearly four years in VDL, Elizabeth was granted a ticket of leave and was free to find her own employment and accommodation within a prescribed area.[17] It would appear from her conduct record that she was in the Ross and Oatlands districts at that time. Two years later, on 16 October 1852, her seven-year sentence expired and she was granted a Certificate of Freedom.[18] She was a free woman again. She was forty-eight years old.

Like all other prisoners who had served their time and regained their freedom, Elizabeth now had a decision to make. Would she return home or stay in VDL? For most, returning home was simply out of the question because they could not afford to do so; they had arrived in the colony without money and had served their time as unpaid servants. Moreover, many had married and had started new lives in VDL. For those who had not, their prospects for success may have appeared brighter in the new and developing colony than in the impoverished circumstances that most had left behind when transported. In this matter, there is reason to think that Elizabeth had long harboured the thought of returning home. Her conduct record reveals that, in December 1850, she had petitioned the convict authorities for remission of the remainder of her sentence but her request had been denied.  

In any event, by 1861, Elizabeth was back in England. The England census of that year shows her living alone in ‘rooms over a Close in a dilapidated state’ in Spon Street, Coventry, the street on which she had lived when she married Thomas Toogood in 1841. She is described in the census document as being fifty-eight years old, married and a silk winder. An additional note reads: ‘Deaf 30 years.’[19]

That she was living alone is not surprising. By 1861, much had changed in the lives of those whom Elizabeth had been forced to leave behind when she was transported in 1846. First, her daughter, Ann Bruce Hollick, who was only ten or eleven years old when Elizabeth had been sent away, had married. The 1861 census shows Ann living with her husband, Stephen Hill, in Mill Lane, Coventry, only a short distance from her mother.[20] More significantly, however, the same census shows that her husband, Thomas Toogood, had taken a new wife, whose name was also Elizabeth, and was living with her and their two children, Thomas Chaplin Toogood, aged eleven, and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Ann Toogood, nine months, at nearby Earl Street, Coventry.[21]

But how had Elizabeth managed to get back to England? While the answer to that question might forever remain a mystery, a possible clue to its unravelling could lie in an article published in The Hobartian Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (Hobart) on 3 September 1851, while Elizabeth was still a ticket-of-leave prisoner at Oatlands:

George Haines and Elizabeth Turner were convicted of stealing, on 30th July, five night-gowns, valued at fifteen shillings; three shifts valued at nine shillings; one apron valued at one shilling; and two dresses valued at ten shillings from a person named Thomas Toogood … [The accused] were placed on trial upon an indictment charging them with breaking open a box belonging to one Eliza Toogood … and feloniously stealing some wearing apparel. The prisoners pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ and were undefended. The case occasioned much inconvenience in court, arising from the extreme deafness of the first deponent … The trial resulted in a verdict of ‘Guilty’.[22]

Although there is no record of Elizabeth’s husband ever having travelled to VDL, could this report, with its reference to the ‘extreme deafness’ of one of the deponents, possibly refer to anybody else but Thomas and Elizabeth Toogood, both formerly of Coventry, England? Did Thomas come out to VDL, reunite with Elizabeth while she was still a prisoner and arrange for her to return to England when she had her freedom? But, was this the action of a husband who had cruelly ill-treated his wife and who had been responsible for the crime for which she had been transported, as Elizabeth had claimed? Was this the action of a husband who had taken another woman as his wife while his first wife served her seven-year sentence on the other side of the world?  Why would he have done it? Was it guilt, perhaps?

It seems an unlikely thing for Thomas Toogood to have done – but, as yet, there is no other answer. 

Regrettably, nothing more is known about Elizabeth. Her name does not appear on the 1871 England census. According to Birth, Death and Marriage records in Warwickshire, England, a woman named Elizabeth Toogood, aged seventy, died there in 1872. It is possible that that was her but it has not been confirmed.[23] The 1881 England census shows Thomas Toogood, aged eighty-two, still living with his second wife Elizabeth, sixty-two and daughter Lizzie, twenty-one, at Moat Street, Coventry.[24] Records show that he passed away on 28 January 1883.[25]


[1] Conduct record: CON41-1-10, image 154; description list: CON19-1-5, image 206; indent: CON15-1-3, images 348 and 349; police number 579; FCRC ID: 11032.

[2] Birth year calculated from age at arrival; CON15-1-3, images 348 and 349.

[3] Hollick’s death not located.

[4] https://www.findmypast.com.au; www.familysearch.org/en/ via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[5] Marriage to Toogood: https://www.findmypast.com.au/transcript?id=R850182041

[6] Coventry Standard, 17 October, 1845.

[7] Coventry Standard, 17 October, 1845.

[8] Millbank Prison Register, HO 18 Piece No. 178, via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[9] Petition: ‘Research’ notes for Elizabeth Toogood in d/bast at www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[10] Gaol report: CON41-1-10, image 154.

[11] http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/shipsTAS.html

[12] Thomas Jewell’s medical journal: ADM. 101-66-10 at https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4106917

[13] Of the 13,500 (approx.) women in the FCRC d/base, only about twenty were less than four feet in height.

[14] CON41-1-10, image 154; CON19-1-5, image 206,

[15] Anson Probation Station: https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-institutions/probation-stations/anson

[16] CON41-1-10, image 154.

[17] Ticket of leave: Hobart Town Gazette, 9 April 1850; CON41-1-10, image 154; Cornwall Chronicle, 13 April 1850, p.240.

[18] Certificate of Freedom: Hobart Town Gazette, 19 October 1852; The Hobart Town Advertiser, 22 October 1852; CON41-1-10, image 154.

[19] 1861 England Census: Class RG 9; Piece 2203; Folio 118; Page 22; GSU roll: 542935 via https://www.ancestry.com.au

[20] Marriage, Ann Bruce Hollick/Stephen Hill per Ancestry.com, ‘England Select Marriages, 1538-1973’.

[21] Thomas Toogood in 1861 census: Class RG9; Piece 2203; Folio 55; Page 16; GSU roll: 542935 via https://www.ancestry.com.au; the surname/maiden name of Thomas Toogood’s second wife, Elizabeth, is unknown.

[22] The Hobartian Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (Hobart), 3 September 1851;

[23] Free BDM, England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915 [database online], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2006 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[24] 1881 England Census Class RG 9; Piece 3069; Folio 100; Page 9 via https://www.ancestry.com.au

[25] Thomas Toogood, death: Coventry, Warwickshire, England, March 1883, Vol. 6d, p.320 via https://www.ancestry.com.au



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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].