Sir Robert Seppings 1852
By Rae Blair
Scottish-born Margaret Combs, a married woman, was twenty-six when she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in the middle of a Hobart winter on 8 July 1852. In the six years leading to her transportation, she was arrested at least three times, and was incarcerated in Calton Jail, Edinburgh. She stated her marital status as either married or single, depending on her circumstances. That she lived at times “at no fixed address” might have been as a result of an unstable marriage, and certainly might have contributed to her unlawful activities. She appeared to still be married to John Duff when she arrived in Hobart and that she could not read or write, however, that made little difference to Margaret. She didn’t let any of her past in Scotland get in the way of securing her future. What makes this story so special, is that Margaret turned her life around—from being condemned in court as being “habite and repute a thief” and the perpetrator of a “wicked attack” on a man, to being a respectable boarding house owner who employed servants and became a mother and grandmother.
Rubicon 1833 & Marian Watson 1838
By Helen Ménard
Emma came from a large, apparently respectable family almost all of whom were born and bred around Holborn, London, England. Apart from the fact that she sailed to Australia as a 32 year old, unmarried, free settler and stated her trade as a needlewoman, we know little else about her life in England. Did she go to boarding school in the countryside like her elder sisters? Was she ultimately estranged from her family? There was a litany of tragic family events that must have impacted on her life - the accidental death and injury at home of her two older sisters; the death of several siblings in infancy; the death of her father when she was only 14 years old; the violent suicide of her grandfather. Was she also caught up in the social difficulties of the industrial revolution in England? While many of the socially disadvantaged in Britain sought transportation to the colonies for a better life, maybe Emma was also seeking brighter horizons.
Many of the 13,500 (approx.) women who were transported as convicts to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) between 1812 and 1853 lived miserable lives in a society where females had few rights and were usually denied the means and opportunity to succeed and prosper. Some, unable to adjust to the circumstances of their new lives, continued in their criminal ways and were severely punished by having to spend long years in gaol. Others ruined their lives with alcohol or made bad choices in the company they kept and the men they married. The majority of those transported, however, soon came to realise that they had been given a chance to put behind them forever the evils that had brought about their convictions in the countries from which they had been banished. A few managed to establish and operate successful businesses. Most settled down, worked hard, became good wives and mothers and, in that way, made significant contributions to the development of a new and vibrant nation. One of those in the latter group was Mary Cotterell who, at the age of sixteen in 1845, had been convicted of theft from her employer in England and sentenced to transportation for seven years. In VDL, her behaviour was exemplary; she was never in trouble with the law again. By 1852, she had been granted a certificate of freedom and was a free woman again. She married twice and had nine children. However, while her life appears to have been a comfortable and contented one in the main, it was not untouched by sorrow. Her first husband was killed in a tragic farm accident. One of her daughters died at the age of five when her clothing caught fire in the home. A son died of an illness at the age of three. Her second husband passed away while in his mid-sixties. When Mary died at the age of sixty-six in 1895, she was a well-respected and highly regarded member of her local community. Her convict past had been long forgotten.
This is her story:
We are only able to get but a small glimpse into Hannah’s life. There are far more questions than answers in her story. More shadow than light; more illusion than definition. What we can piece together of her life's journey resembles an unfinished and tattered jigsaw. Nonetheless, her place in society, albeit elusive and ill defined, deserves its mark on the map of history.
As sisters, Mary and Sarah would have shared experiences in their early years as part of a large family and possibly when they were transported together to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL). However, once they reached foreign shores their lives took very different paths. A clue may be found in the ship records relating to their characters: Mary was recorded as being ‘indifferent’ although ‘believed to be good’ while Sarah was ‘very well conducted’. In the colony, Mary committed a series of behavioural offences for which she spent some time in the House of Corrections, whereas Sarah had a completely clean record. Neither, it seems, had previous convictions but each had spent time ‘on the town’ in England, presumably, to earn an income. Given their one and only conviction in England involved the theft of food and clothing, was this a crime of necessity?