MARY ANN McSTAY

Per Waverley (1842)

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

Why did Mary Ann say she had ‘no relations’?[1] After all, every child has at least a mother even if the father’s identity is unknown. Did her mother die in childbirth or leave her at an orphanage? Was she abandoned as a young child and left to survive on the streets of Belfast? If she had a family, did they desert her or was she forced to leave home under difficult circumstances?

In any event, by her early twenties Mary Ann had already served six months in prison for theft and had been ‘on the town’ for six years.[2] After another conviction for theft Mary Ann, aged 25, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) and in the years that followed her pattern of offending continued. Her behaviour could best be described as feisty and it was almost as though she might have derived some comfort from institutionalisation. During this time she also lost two infant children and some years later ended up back in gaol after a dispute involving her daughters. Mary Ann displayed all the hallmarks of a troubled soul.

The early years in Ireland

Accordingly, Mary Ann’s early years remain a mystery.  There appear to be no matching birth records for Mary Ann McStay in Ireland[3] or Northern Ireland.[4] This is not surprising as many Irish records were lost when, two days into the Irish Civil War in 1922, a massive explosion destroyed the Public Records Office attached to Dublin’s Four Courts and with it hundreds of years of documented history.[5]

While some records suggest Mary Ann had been imprisoned three times,[6] it is most likely these included periods of incarceration while awaiting trial, as other records state her charges were discharged on two occasions.[7] This included a charge of stealing a watch at Carrickfergus, the property of William Agnew, on 1 October 1839 for which she was found not guilty.[8] The only remaining recorded conviction was for theft of money and earned her a term of six months imprisonment.[9] Surely her crimes were those of survival.

Grangegorman

After being committed to trial for stealing £2.7.6 from James Duffy, Mary Ann was held in Carrickfergus Jail[10] before  being tried and convicted in Antrim, Ireland on 12 April 1842 and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation.[11] She was transferred to the Grangegorman prison in Dublin on 19 May 1842.[12] Grangegorman Female Convict Depot opened in 1836 as the first exclusively female prison in the British Isles.  It housed females with imprisonment sentences as well as those sentenced to transportation.  The prison's main function with respect to convicts was to provide employment training for them so that they might satisfy the ever increasing demands of the Australian authorities that they be fit to earn their living on arrival.[13]

Mary Ann was discharged from Grangegorman on 4 September 1842 to board the convict ship Waverley bound for VDL.[14]

Transportation

Mary Ann McStay, recorded as 24 and single,[15] arrived aboard the Waverley on 15 December 1842 along with 148 other female convicts and 40 of their children.[16] Her behaviour on board was described as ‘good’.[17]

Samuel Mackay, the ship’s Surgeon described the journey (in part) as follows:

… The only reasons which *I can assign for the healthiness of the Prisoners are the following, viz The Prison Water Closets and Berths were always kept clean, dry, and thoroughly ventilated – We were also extremely fortunate in having fine weather during the voyage, which enabled us to admit the whole of the Prisoners, and their children, on Deck every day, from 9 o’clock in the morning till six o’clock in the evening … The strictest attention was at all times paid to cleanliness not only in their persons, but in their clothes, and I am happy to add that the whole of the convicts with their children were landed in a clean and healthy state with two in addition to the number which were embarked. The only case of death which took place in the Ship, was John Reilly aged three years and six months and he was so obstinate I could not get him to take medicine. He died of Dysentery on the 17th December two days after our arrival in the River Derwent.[18]

A troubled young woman

After arrival in VDL in December 1842, Mary Ann was assigned to a Mr Anderson but only a few weeks later, in February 1843 she was charged with misconduct and sentenced to two months’ probation in the Female Factory.[19] In July the same year, while under assignment in the Brickfields [Hiring Depot], Mary Ann was convicted of ‘misconduct in trafficking’ and sentenced to 6 months’ hard labour in the House of Correction.[20] This takes her to about January 1844.

Mary Ann was assigned to a Mr Oakley sometime before July 1844 until December the same year. While under Oakley’s assignment, Mary Ann was cited for three offences – insolence, being absent without leave and misconduct. The first two offences resulted in 48 hours and ten days’ solitary confinement in the Cascades Female Factory respectively.[21] Given her spirited nature, was this her way of protesting against her treatment under assignment? Mary Ann was admonished for the charge of misconduct, possibly because the allegations lacked substance or her actions were seen as partly justifiable or it was requested by her master. In any event, this saw the end of her time with Mr Oakley.[22]

Lost souls

In amongst the turmoil of her life in and out of the Cascades, tragically, Mary Ann lost two babies within as many years. Henry (McStay/McKay) was born on 12 May 1845 and died, aged 2 months, on 27 July 1845 from opthalmia.[23] Within a month or so of Henry’s birth, Mary Ann was pregnant again. Is it possible that Oakley was Henry’s father?

De Vries maintains that:

Most female convicts were given a hard time when they were assigned to work as domestics in households. The harshness of the penal system did not encourage convict women to be virtuous: an assigned female convict who rejected the sexual advances of her master could, on his word alone, be returned to the Female Factory as being of ‘bad character’.[24]

Mary Ann (Marianne) McStay was born on 10 February 1846 and baptised in the Female House of Correction on 11 February 1846,[25] but died a few days later on 13 February. The coroner recorded the cause of death as ‘the visitation of God in a natural way to wit of haemorrhage of the navel’.[26]

The troubles continue

After leaving Mr Oakley in December 1844 Mary Ann received a ticket of leave in November 1845.[27] However, the loss of her infants must have been devastating for her and culminated in a series of offences over the next few months from March to November 1846 including being out after hours, two counts of disturbing the peace and one of unlawfully assaulting a Mr McGrath. These charges led to her incarceration with hard labour for fourteen days, one, four and six months respectively, keeping her almost continuously in prison until May 1847.[28] Did Mary Ann find solace in her grief in the confines of the Cascades with her fellow inmates?

Mary Ann was given permission to marry Samuel Cushion on 1 October 1847[29] but the marriage did not eventuate. Perhaps Mary Ann’s conviction, a week later on 8 October 1847, for indecent language and her sentence of eight days in solitary confinement caused him to look elsewhere! Nonetheless, it may have been a lucky escape for Mary Ann as Samuel, after receiving his certificate of freedom in 1840, never kicked the crime habit and, in February 1855, was transported for a further seven years for stealing a cheque for £20.[30] Samuel died a pauper, aged 45, in the Brickfields Depot on 30 November 1867.[31]

Mary Ann’s final recorded offence in April 1848 also involved the use of indecent language but the charge was dismissed.[32] While, clearly, her colourful character persisted, perhaps the worst of her grief was subsiding. It may have been around this time she met William.

Mary Ann received her certificate of freedom on 18 April 1849.[33]

Mary Ann and William

There seem to be no official records from 1844-1858 indicating Mary Ann ever married William Jones. But there is evidence that they were living in a relationship[34] and had at least two[35] children together – Mary Jones born 18 May 1852[36] and Elizabeth Jones born 9 October 1857, [37] both when Mary Ann and William were living at Argyle St, Hobart.[38]

Mary Jones married Laurence O’ Toole (bachelor, labourer) in Hobart Town on 22 March 1870.[39] They were married for less than ten years before Laurence collapsed and died in the Hobart General Hospital on 1 January 1880 from diarrhoea.[40] There are no records suggesting Mary remarried after Laurence’s death. Mary and Laurence had five children - William (1869-1888); Laurence (1871-); Mary Ann (Marian) (1873-1875); James Laurence (1875-); and Mary (1879-).[41] William was born nine months before they were married and died aged 20, Mary Ann died as an infant from dysentery and Mary was admitted to the New Norfolk Hospital for the Insane when she was only 22.[42] There is a recorded death for a Mary O’Toole at Lachlan Park Hospital (a secure mental asylum),[43] on 4 May 1945 from chronic myocarditis and heart failure.[44] If this was Mary (Mary Ann’s daughter) she would have been 93 years old. However, it is more likely to be Mary’s daughter Mary (Mary Ann’s granddaughter), who would have been 66 years old and had a history of admission to such institutions.

There appear to be no matching death records for Laurence O’Toole.

Elizabeth Jones, (recorded as aged 19), married Henry Chambers (23, mariner) in Hobart on 14 January 1871 with one of the witnesses being her sister, then Mary O’Toole.[45] Based on Elizabeth’s birthdate, she was 13 years and 3 months when she married. Tasmania was the first state to stop child marriages. But it wasn’t until 16 Nov 1942 that Tasmania passed a law raising the minimum age of marriage from 12 for women and 14 for men to 16 and 18 respectively.[46] This begs the question as to why Elizabeth’s age was cited as 19 on marriage when 12 was the legal marrying age for a female.

Elizabeth and Henry were married for 53 years before Henry died, aged 79, on 13 February 1924.[47] They had eleven children, four of whom died in infancy -  Henry (1871-1873); Albert Thomas (1874-1876); Sara Ann (1876-); George (1979-1944); Charles William (1882-1939); Emily Elizabeth (1885-1888); Harold (1888-1961); John Andrew (1891-1962); Ernest Henry (1894-1916); Violet (1898-); and Ileen (1902-1903).[48] Elizabeth also had at least six grandchildren before she died, aged 71 and only four months after Henry, on 27 July 1924 at the family home in Sackville St, Hobart.[49] As well as a seemingly successful marriage, they must also have been reasonably successful financially as, in Elizabeth’s will, she devised her two properties at Nos 4 and 6 Sackville St, Hobart to all her living children.[50]

A not so neighbourly dispute

After the birth (and survival) of Mary Ann’s two daughters with William, things went quiet for many years. Quite possibly she was busily engaged in family life.

But, once again, Mary Ann’s cantankerous character landed her before the courts. In December 1873, Sarah Geary (the plaintiff) alleged that she had been assaulted by Mary Ann Jones (the defendant). The matter was heard in the Hobart City Court on 23 January 1874 and The Mercury reported the case as follows:

The plaintiff stated that on the 29th of last month [December 1873] she went to the house of defendant's daughter in Bathurst-street. Defendant came out, called her names, caught her by the hair of the head, knocked her down, and kicked her on the side; she struck complainant more than one blow. This was the third time defendant had abused her, though she had not struck her before. Defendant's two daughters also rushed at her, and she had been under medical treatment, and confined to her bed since then.

After hearing a good deal of evidence, the Bench fined the defendant £3 3s. and costs.[51]

However, the Female House of Corrections Hobart - Description List of Prisoners records Mary Ann, aged 46,[52] as having been sentenced to ‘3 months’ (imprisonment) for ‘unlawfully beat’ on 23 January 1874.[53] This is more likely to be the correct sentence given there would be no reason for Mary Ann to appear in these records if she hadn’t been sentenced to incarceration.

Yet, this was not the end of the matter! Mary Ann’s daughters (then Mary O’Toole and Elizabeth Chambers) both gave evidence at her trial. Soon after her mother’s trial, on 25 January 1874, Mary was charged with perjury (arising out of her evidence before the court) and granted bail. The case was heard in the Hobart Supreme Court before His Honor Sir Francis Smith, Kt., Chief Justice on 21 May 1874 after Mary had entered a plea of not guilty.[54]

A man named William Williams had given evidence at Mary Ann’s trial in support of the claim by Mrs. Geery (Geary) and corroborated Mrs. Geery’s evidence regarding the assault by Mary Ann.[55] Mary Ann’s daughter (Mary O’Toole), obviously in an attempt to discredit Williams, gave evidence that Williams was not present during the altercation involving between her mother and Mrs Geery but ‘was drunk in bed.’[56] This statement formed the basis of the prosecution’s perjury charge against Mary. The Mercury reported the court proceedings as follows:

Prisoner [Mary] on her commitment made a statement to the effect that she was very sorry; but she had mistaken William Williams through his boy having told her that he was drunk in bed; and that as so many witnesses had sworn he was present, she supposed that he must have been.

Williams's son, an intelligent little fellow, now stated that he had never made such a statement about his father to the witness, nor to anyone else; and other witnesses deposed to the fact that Williams was present during the disturbance, and stood within a yard of the prisoner.[57]

Mary, still maintaining her defence that she must have been mistaken, called her father William Jones to give evidence who said ‘there were “a power of people” present during the row, and that he had not seen Williams during the whole evening.’[58]

The boy Williams when called to give evidence in relation to the original assault stated  

[he] told witness that his father had a summons, that it was for Mrs, Jones, and that his father could not know much about it as he was drunk in bed. It was dark when the row occurred. He thought it was near 9 o'clock in the evening, but the disturbance so agitated him that he could not tell exactly what hour it was. [59]

Elizabeth Chambers (Mary’s sister) stated that ‘little Billy Williams told her that his father was drunk in bed when the row occurred, and that his father was sorry he had anything to do with the case.’[60]

Evidently, the jury did not buy Mary’s story and, after a little more than an hour’s deliberation, returned a guilty verdict with a recommendation to mercy on the ground that the prisoner had a young family.[61]

The Chief Justice in handing down his sentence stated

he should be as lenient as though [sic] nature of the case would allow of his being. It was the prisoner's first offence that he knew of, but it was a serious offence; and had been aggravated by the defence she had resorted to in asserting that the boy Williams told what he had not.[62]

His Honor then sentenced Mary to 6 months' incarceration.[63]

So Mary Ann’s daughter, at this point with three young children, is marched off to prison for six months convicted of having perjured herself, possibly to save her own mother going to prison for assault. How did Mary feel about this especially as this was her first criminal offence? Did her mother (who, if she did go prison for three months, would have served her sentence by this time) care for Mary’s children while Mary was doing time? Or was Mary’s mother now ‘persona non grata’ with the rest of the family?

The final chapter

Whatever Mary Ann’s life involved from hereon has not been the subject of public comment. Was she a part of her daughters’ lives? Did she have any opportunity to share the lives of her grandchildren and great grandchildren? Or did her apparent tendency to create conflict isolate her from her family?

Mary Ann, ‘wife of William Jones pauper Woodbridge’, died aged 72, at Peppermint Bay, Woodbridge from bronchitis on 10 March 1899.[64] She had been treated by a Dr C Turner from Woodbridge who contacted William to register her death. William was living in Margate at the time (about 20 kms from Peppermint Bay) so they may well have been estranged. William signed a declaration stating he was the responsible person to register Mary Ann’s death but was unable to travel the distance from Margate to Gordon to do so.[65] Did Mary Ann die alone?

William (farmer, born in England) died nine months later, on 6 December 1899 aged 85, in North West Bay from bronchitis and old age.[66] He had also been treated by Dr C Turner and the informant who registered his death was ‘John Jones son, NW Bay’.[67] Was John also Mary Ann’s son? Was William living with his son at the time of his death?

In the end Mary Ann, who started out with ‘no relations’, had four children of her own, sixteen grandchildren and at least six great grandchildren. The death of her first two children in infancy undoubtedly contributed to the tempestuous path her life took in the early years in the colony. Prison life and punishment almost seemed to provide some consolation for her. But once William, Elizabeth and Mary came into her life did she find more reason to appreciate life? Nonetheless, her firebrand temperament was always just below the surface and might well have destroyed many of the family ties she had created.

 

[1] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON15/1/2 p80 DI 82

[2] Ibid; LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[3] www.irishgenealogy.ie.; findmypast.com

[4] nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/public-record-office-northern-ireland-proni; familysearch.org

[5] The Irish Times, Friday 13 August 2021: The census records for the whole of the 19th century going back to the first in 1821 were incinerated. Chancery records, detailing British rule in Ireland going back to the 14th century and grants of land by the crown, were also destroyed along with thousands of wills and title deeds. The records of various chief secretaries to Ireland and centuries of Church of Ireland parish registers vanished in the fire. The list of documents which were stored in the office’s record treasury departments are contained in a single manuscript which is 300 pages long and dates back seven centuries.

[6] Grangegorman Prison Register p 273 / see FCRC database

[7] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[8] Vindicator 30 January 1836; findmypast.co.uk

[9] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84; CON15/1/2 p80 DI 82

[10] Northern Whig 26 March 1842; findmypast.com.uk

[11] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[12] Grangegorman Prison Register p 273 / see FCRC database

[13] https://irelandxo.com/ireland-xo/history-and-genealogy/buildings-database/grangegorman-female-convict-depot

[14] Grangegorman Prison Register p 273 / see FCRC database

[15] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 184; CON19/1/2 DI 40

[16] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Waverley1842_SJ.pdf

[17] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[18] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Waverley1842_SJ.pdf

[19] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[20] Ibid

[21] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[22] Ibid

[23] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD33/1/2 N1024 DI 97; RGD35/1/2 N681 DI 63; Anne Ferran and Trudy Cowley, Infant Deaths at Hobart Nurseries pdf; https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/

[24] De Vries, Susanna, Strength of Spirit – Pioneering Women of Achievement from First Fleet to Federation, (1995), Millennium Books Australia, p14

[25] LIB TAS: Names Index: AF86/1/3 p5 1847; RGD33/1/2 N2229 DI 223

[26] LIB TAS: Names Index: SC195/1/20 (Inquest 1631)

[27] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[28] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[29] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON52/1/2 p304; Samuel CUSHION arrived in VDL from England aboard the Moffat on 9 May 1834, aged 14, having been tried and convicted in the London Gaol Delivery on 16/5/1841 for stealing a hat and transported for 7 years; LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/37 DI 255; CON18/1/15 DI 193

[30] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON37/1/8 DI 220

[31] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD35/1/7 N 7058 DI 251; nor did permission to marry Mary Cooley in Nov 1853 proceed to marriage; CON52/1/6

[32] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p81 DI 84

[33] Ibid

[34] She was noted as Mary Ann Jones (“Waverley”) with a husband working a labourer on the wharf in January 1874. LIB TAS: CON105/1/2 p42 N 5613; see also TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860-1954) Thu 21 May 1874 p2 Law Intelligence where she is referred to as Mrs Jones, mother of the prisoner (Mary O’Toole) and where the prisoner’s father is named as William Jones.

[35] William’s death certificate cites his son John Jones as the informant but his son’s details are unknown and there are no matching birth records for a John Jones from 1845-72. LIB TAS: Names Index.

[36] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD33/1/4 N1344 DI 140; mother Mary Ann McStay, father William Jones

[37] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD33/1/7 N957 DI 29; mother Mary Ann Jones formerly Makestay, father William Jones

[38] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD33/1/4 N1344 DI 140; LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD33/1/7 N957 DI 29

[39] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/29 N290 DI 158

[40] LIB TAS: Names Index: HSD145/1/1 Jan 1880

[41] LIB TAS: Names Index; see FCRC database / research notes for further details on Mary’s family.

[42] LIB TAS: Names Index: HSD285/1/2203 DI 2

[43] Lachlan Park Hospital, run by the government, replaced the Mental Diseases Hospital in 1937. It was in New Norfolk. Lachlan Park was a secure mental asylum which, in addition to adults, held children and adolescents, including wards of State. In 1968, it became part of the Royal Derwent Hospital. https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/tas/TE00240

[44] LIB TAS: Names Index: SC195/1/105 (Inquest 19085)

[45] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/30 N257 DI 148

[46] Western Australia followed suit in 1956 and South Australia in 1957. And in 1961, the [federal] Marriage Act set the minimum age at 18. https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/marriage-in-australia; https://www.amnesty.org.au/seven-times-marriage-changed/

[47] LIB TAS: Names Index: AF35/1/3 (BU 24112)

[48] LIB TAS: Names Index; see FCRC database / research notes for further details on Elizabeth’s family.

[49] LIB TAS: Names Index: AD960/1/49 Will No 15136; AF35/1/3 (BU 24409)

[50] LIB TAS: Names Index: AD960/1/49 Will No 15136

[51] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860-1954) Sat 24 Jan 1874 p2 City Police Court; CON105/1/2 p62 N5693 has the sentence recorded as 3 months (imprisonment).

[52] Based on Mary Ann’s probable birthdate her age here would have been closer to 56.

[53] LIB TAS: Archives: CON105/1/2 p62 N5693

[54] LIB TAS Names Index: AB693/1/1 1874; SC32/1/9 DI 187 Prosecution Project; LIB TAS: CON105/1/2 p62 N5693; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860-1954) Thu 21 May 1874 p2 Law Intelligence;

[55] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860-1954) Thu 21 May 1874 p2 Law Intelligence;

[56] Ibid

[57] Ibid

[58] Ibid

[59] Ibid

[60] Ibid

[61] Ibid

[62] Ibid

[63] Ibid

[64] LIB TAS Names Index: RDG35/1/68 N305 DI 126-128

[65] Ibid

[66] LIB TAS Names Index: RGD35/1/68 N 361

[67] Ibid

 

 

 

 


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