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(Providence II, 1826)


Don Bradmore and Jan Humphreys


Little is known about Margaret Norman before her conviction for theft in London in 1825 and her transportation to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) the following year.[1] According to her convict documents, she was born in Limerick, Ireland, and was sixteen years of age at her trial. The parish registers of St. Munchin’s Catholic Church, Limerick, list the marriage of a William Norman and Maria Ryan in 1806 and the baptism of their daughter in 1809. Although the infant was christened ‘Maria’ Norman, it is thought that these entries refer to Margaret and her parents.[2]

For some years before her conviction, Margaret had been living in England.[3] The circumstances in which she was taken to England are unknown but, as ‘Norman’ is a relatively common surname in England - and quite rare in Irish genealogy - it is possible that her father, William, was in the British Army and based in Limerick at the time of her birth. Supporting this speculation is a military record showing that a soldier of the 20th Light Dragoons named William Norman died in Limerick in 1818.[4] That seems to offer a reasonable explanation for how Margaret came to be destitute in London at the time of her conviction.

At her trial at the Old Bailey, London, on 15 September 1825, Margaret was charged with ‘stealing from a dwelling house, on 9 July that year, a shawl, value three shillings; two coats, value two pounds and eight shillings; a pair of trousers, value ten shillings; a waistcoat, value one shilling; two handkerchiefs, value two shillings; two petticoats, value four shillings; a gown, value four shillings; a tippet (or stole), value six shillings; three caps, value three shillings and a towel, value sixpence.’ The wife of the owner of the goods told the court that she had left them, tied in a bundle, inside her locked house when she had gone out that day and that when she returned the bundle was missing. Later, she had seen Margaret in the street wearing her shawl and had called the police. Margaret denied having entered the house and stolen the goods. She claimed to have bought the shawl from a woman in the streets. The judge did not believe her. She was sentenced to transportation for seven years.[5]

After the trial, Margaret was held for three months in a London gaol while awaiting a ship to take her away. Her gaol report stated that her conduct there had been ‘good’. In mid-December 1825, she was put aboard Providence II which, with John Wauchope as master, Matthew Burnside as surgeon-superintendent, one hundred female prisoners and a small number of free settlers, sailed from the Downs on Christmas Eve 1825.[6] By 16 May 1826, it had reached Hobart.

Except for the death of one of the free women, the voyage had been without incident.[7]  However, Margaret had had a most unpleasant few months at sea, having spent some part of the time in isolation because of her poor behaviour. In his report to the Admiralty, Surgeon Burnside was scathing in his comments about her. He wrote:

Although she is represented as having conducted herself well during her confinement in prison, in my opinion it must have been an omission on the part of the Governor, for she commenced almost immediately a different line of conduct after embarkation, which character she [at] all opportunities attempted to support during the passage. I have been put to the disagreeable unpleasantness of confining her in the Coal-Hold. She is one of the basest and most abominable description of women.[8]

At Hobart, Margaret was described as being eighteen years old and single. She was five feet and a quarter of an inch (about 153 cms) tall, with brown hair and hazel eyes. She told the authorities that she had been living in Broad Street, St Giles, London, and working as a servant at a public house. She also remarked: ‘I got my living by thieving.’ She admitted to having been ‘on the town’ for some time. [The phrase ‘on the town’ can have several meanings but, in this context, it is usually taken to mean ‘working as a prostitute’.][9]

After disembarkation, Margaret was assigned as a convict servant to a free settler in the north of the colony and, not unexpectedly perhaps, was soon in trouble with the law again. Her first recorded offence was on 14 February 1828 when, in the employ of a man named Reeves, she was charged with disobedience of orders and imprisoned for three months at the Female Factory at George Town, thirty-five miles (about fifty kms) north of Launceston. Afterwards, she was returned to the Government to await further assignment.[10] Further offences - and more severe punishments - were soon to follow. On 20 September 1828, while assigned to a Dr. Paton, she was charged with insolence and gross misconduct. For that, she was forced to sit in the stocks for four hours, after which she was to be returned to the Female Factory for another six months. [Margaret might have been one of the last convicts to have endured the humiliating and degrading stocks. By the early 1830s, that form of punishment had been abandoned.][11] 

It was while Margaret was at the George Town Female Factory that she was involved in an incident which, although it ended satisfactorily for her, could have had dire consequences. She was named as an accessory to a murder. On 28 September 1829, the Launceston Advertiser reported that a police constable had been shot dead while on duty at the Factory and that Mr. Gordon, the coroner, had left Launceston for George Town to hold an inquest.[12]  The report concluded with the news that a woman named Mary Sullivan, an inmate of the prison, had escaped on the night of the shooting, implying that she had been involved in the incident in some way. Within days, Sullivan had been apprehended and, on 10 November 1829, she was charged with ‘having wilfully aided and abetted some persons unknown in the murder of the constable, Joseph Parker.’[13] Although she was fully committed for trial, it did not take place. On 10 May 1830, the Launceston Advertiser, informed readers that five more women – described in its report as ‘poor misguided creatures who bear that name however unworthy thereof’ – were being held as accessories to the murder.[14] On 5 June 1830, the Hobart Town Courier, naming the six women as Mary Sullivan, Hannah Bouin (sic), Martha Slater (sic), Lydia Hines, Ann Wright, and Margaret Norman, carried the news that all had been discharged by proclamation.[15] [To be ‘discharged by proclamation’ means to be released without trial or verdict but subject to being called back if further evidence comes to light.] No-one was ever charged with the murder – and what part, if any, the women were supposed to have played in the murder of the constable was never revealed in newspaper reports.

Whether or not Margaret considered herself fortunate to have avoided more serious trouble on that occasion will never be known but, in any event, the experience had done nothing to curb her unruliness. Assigned again as a convict servant soon afterwards, she was charged with offences seven times during the next two years and spent most of that time in prison. On 25 June 1830, while in the employ of a Mr. Eagan, she was charged with ‘absconding from her master’s service’. She was ordered to be returned to gaol for ten days and kept on a diet of bread and water. While her Conduct Record indicates that that punishment was suspended, her avoidance of it did not deter her from further misconduct. Just a month later, on 28 July, still assigned to Eagan, she absconded from her service once more and this time she was imprisoned, on bread and water, for fourteen days. On 22 September 1830, now assigned to a Mr. Caryl, she was charged with ‘being drunk and absent from her master’s service’ and was sent back to the George Town Female Factory for three months. For fourteen days of this time, she was to be fed on bread and water.[16]

Interestingly, records in VDL show that, on 17 December 1830, a free settler by the name of John Payne applied for permission to marry Margaret but approval was not given.[17] While a reason for this has not been found, it is thought that a directive from the office of the Colonial Secretary published in the Hobart Town Gazette of 29 September 1829 might explain it. It read: ‘It is hereby notified, that no such applications will be received until the Female shall have conducted herself properly in service for the period of at least one year, without any fault being recorded against her.’[18]  

Because nothing more is known about John Payne, it is impossible to know whether Margaret was pleased or relieved that the marriage did not eventuate. The fact that approval for it to take place was not granted, however, had no effect on her behaviour. On 21 February 1831, assigned to a Dr. Brown, she was charged with ‘drunkenness and disorderly conduct’ and returned to gaol where she was to be kept in solitary confinement, on bread and water, for another fourteen days. On 7 April 1831, still assigned to Dr. Brown, she was charged with for absenting herself from his service again but this time managed to escape with a reprimand. However, the very next day, she was charged with being absent from her duties again, and with insolence to the doctor’s wife. This time she was sent to gaol, to be kept in solitary confinement and fed on bread and water for another fourteen days. On 23 April 1831, she was charged by Dr. Brown with refusing to work and, when taken before a magistrate, a Mr. Willis, with insulting him in the execution of his duty. She was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment, to be served in the ‘C’ (Crime) Class section of the Cascades Female Factory at Hobart.[19]

Shortly after her release from the Cascades, the seven-year term for which Margaret had been transported came to an end. On 15 September 1832, she was issued with her Certificate of Freedom.[20]

How, and where, Margaret lived for the next two or three years is unclear but in that time her life changed significantly. In 1834 or 1835, she gave birth to a son whom she named James but, sadly, the boy did not survive infancy. The father of the child was a forty-five-year-old ticket-of-leave convict named John Giles.[21] [Neither the birth nor death was registered but that was not unusual. Registration of births, deaths and marriages was not made compulsory in VDL until 1839.] On 12 October 1835, he applied for permission to marry Margaret. The application was approved and they were married at St David’s Church, Hobart, on 21 December that year.[22]

Born at Chilton, Wiltshire, England, in 1799, John had been in VDL since his arrival per Chapman in October 1826.[23] A ploughman, he had been found guilty at the Berkshire Assizes in February 1825 of stealing from a dwelling house. The court had heard that, in late 1824, in company with a young acquaintance named George Breadmore, he had broken into the home of the village schoolmaster at Hungerford, Berkshire, and stolen money and a quantity of silver plate. Both men had been sentenced to transportation for life. In the colony, John’s conduct had been exemplary. From the time of his arrival, he had not been charged with any new offence and, in October 1834, he had been granted a ticket of leave.[24]

After the marriage, the couple settled at North West Bay, in the vicinity of present-day Margate, where, in 1836, Margaret gave birth to a second son, Zachariah.[25] Unfortunately, the life John and Margaret were making for themselves was disrupted when, in 1837, John was accused of stealing four chairs. It was his first charge in VDL. Although the case was eventually dismissed, John was ordered to leave the district - presumably to keep the peace between neighbours.[26]  Within a short time, the family was living at Kettering, about ten miles (12.5 kms) south of Margate. There, in 1838, a third son, Thomas, was born but, like the first, he died in infancy.[27]

At Kettering, all went well for the family for the next fifteen years. Margaret and John appear to have lived quietly, both avoiding further trouble with the law. In November 1840, having served fifteen years of his life sentence by that time, John was granted a conditional pardon.[28] He was now free to leave the colony if he wanted to do so – the condition of his pardon being that he not return to England.[29] It seems unlikely that he would have wished to do that. However, the discovery of gold at Ballarat and Bendigo in the neighbouring colony of Victoria in 1851 – soon to be hailed as the richest alluvial goldfields in the world – appeared to offer him and his family an opportunity to improve their lives that was too good to ignore. As stories of the fabulous riches that were to be found on the diggings reached their ears and, and as people from all over the world joined the rush to the diggings, John and Margaret decided to try their luck.[30] Joining the large-scale exodus of hopefuls from VDL, they sailed from Launceston aboard the vessel Goldseeker bound for Melbourne on 24 April 1852 and never returned.[31]

As it happens, John, Margaret and Zachariah did not get to the diggings. At Kyneton, midway between Melbourne and Bendigo, they took up timber-cutting instead.[32] The reason for that decision has been lost in time. Perhaps they were deterred from going on by their encounters on the road with hordes of exhausted, empty-handed and disillusioned diggers who were already returning from the goldfields. Perhaps the stories of the grim conditions under which most people were living on the diggings put them off. Perhaps it was their own lack of resources, or the state of their health. In any event, for the next decade and a half they made their lives at Taradale, a small village close to Kyneton.

Attracting little attention to themselves, the family appears to have lived quietly. Occasional mentions of them in local newspapers and official documents, however, give some indication of the way they were living there. In 1855, Margaret appeared as a witness at an inquest into the death of a woman named Susan Tucker whom she had come across lying seriously ill outside a public-house at Taradale. Although Margaret had done what she could for her - comforting her for some hours and administering a little brandy and pain-relieving laudanum - the woman had died. The finding of the coroner’s jury was that her death was due to the effects of a miscarriage. The picture of Margaret painted in the report of the inquest was a highly commendable one.[33] In December 1861, John was charged with being violent and disorderly while in charge of a horse and dray. The court heard that he had been cautioned previously for a similar offence. Defending him, his solicitor, a Mr. Makinson, described John as ‘a hard-working man’ who had led a comparatively steady life since that previous offence but that he had rather a ‘termagant’ [violent, turbulent, brawling] wife, and it was she who was partly the cause of him giving way to his propensity to drink. The sympathetic magistrate fined him the mitigated penalty of ten shillings plus costs.[34] In April 1862, Margaret was charged at the Police Court at Taradale with keeping cows and living on Crown land without a licence. When the court was told that she had obtained a licence since being summoned, the case was dismissed.[35] In August 1862, Margaret was charged by the Inspector of Nuisances at Taradale with ‘allowing on her premises an accumulation of offensive matter’. She was fined a shilling and ordered to pay costs.[36]

Interestingly, the Rate Books of 1866 list Mrs. Giles of Faraday Street, Taradale, as a midwife but no account of her activities in that regard has been located.[37] There can be little doubt, however, that she had considerable experience in assisting at births at this time. In November 1856, her son Zachariah, then twenty years old, married twenty-two-year-old Julia Kirby (or Kerby) at Kyneton.[38] After the marriage, the couple lived with Margaret and John at Taradale where, in 1857, Julia gave birth to her first child, a daughter whom they called Margaret after her grandmother. Five more children followed: Katherine in 1859, John in 1862, Zachariah in 1864 (died in infancy), Julia in 1866 (died in infancy) and Thomas in 1868. [39]

By 1867, John was in failing health and making a living as a timber-cutter had become beyond him. With Margaret, Zachariah, Julia and their young family, he moved to Ballarat.[40] There, on 2 January 1869, he passed away. He was in his seventieth year. He was buried in the Ballarat Cemetery.[41]  For the next few years, the family remained at Ballarat, occupying a house in Raglan Street. In 1876, however, they moved to Melbourne.[42] By then, Margaret was in the mid-sixties. 

Within a few months of the family’s move to Melbourne, Margaret was involved in a police matter again – but, this time, fortunately, she was on the right side of the law. In June 1876, the Victorian Police Gazette carried a notice informing members that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of a young woman named Catherine Kearney who was wanted in relation to the theft of a broach from Margaret’s home at 42 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Although the broach had been recovered quickly and returned to Margaret, the whereabouts of Kearney was still unknown. In the following month, interestingly, the Gazette carried a similar notice. It read that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of a Mrs. Millikyn who was wanted in relation to the theft of an umbrella from the dwelling house of Julia Giles, 42 Lonsdale Street. While the umbrella, too, had been found soon afterwards, Millikyn was still missing. Though later notices advised that Kearney and Millikyn had both been apprehended, the circumstances in which they were able to steal the items were not revealed. Were Margaret and Julia taking in boarders at their home?[43]  

Margaret was never in trouble with the law again. On 20 February 1886, she died at the Old Melbourne Hospital, East Melbourne.[44] The record of her death gives her age as sixty but she was about seventy-seven. The cause of her death is shown as ‘mitral regurgitation’ and ‘cardiac dilation’. She was buried in a public grave at the Melbourne General Cemetery.

It is impossible not to feel great sympathy for Margaret – as with most of the 13,500 (approx.) women who were transported as convicts to VDL between 1812 and 1853. The vast majority were young, poor and uneducated. Torn from family and friends, alone and vulnerable in a highly paternalistic society, they had to fend for themselves in the best way they could. It is little wonder that many of them, including Margaret, had difficulty in adapting to their new circumstances. In her tumultuous early life, Margaret was certainly wilful and rebellious. Eventually, however, with maturity, marriage and motherhood, she managed to find peace within her herself. Was it imaginable, by the end of her life, that she had once been described as ‘one of the basest and most abominable’ of women’?


[1] Conduct record: CON40-1-7, image 122; indent not located; police no: 20; FCRC ID: 693.

[2] Microfilm 02413/05 Page 57 St Munchin’s Limerick city, Diocese of Limerick, Baptisms Apr.1809 to May 1809; personal communication with descendants, March 2023.

[3] Margaret’s conviction in 1825 was not her first; her conduct record shows a prior conviction.

[4] William Norman: Burial/Death Record, Soldier, 20th LT. Dragoon; date of death 18 January 1818, parish/district St. Munchin's, County Limerick, sex male @ www.rootsireland.ie; personal communication with descendants, March 2023.

[5] Old Bailey trial, 15 September 1825; reference: t18250915-41 at www.oldbaileyonline.org

[6] https://www.perthdps.com/convicts/shipsTAS.html

[7] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Providence1826_SJ.pdf

[8] Tardif, P. (1990). Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls. Sydney: Angus and Robertson; as quoted in ‘Trial and Transportation’ for Margaret Norman in FCRC d/base at www.femaleconvicts.org.au;

[9] CON40-1-7, image 122; ‘thieving’ quote from Tardif, see Note 8; ‘on the town’: see Cassidy, D. (2020). On the Town: Prostitutes and Brothels of 19th Century Launceston. Launceston: Published by the Author.

[10] CON40-1-7, image 122.

[11] CON40-1-7, image 122; see also Bradmore, D. (2018). ‘Sarah Wallace: Punishment at the Cascades Female Factory: Effective? Futile? Farcical?’ in Convict Lives at the Cascades Female Factory, Vol. 2. Hobart: Convict Women’s Press, pp.92-99.

[12] Launceston Advertiser, 28 September 1829, p.3; see James Gordon in Australian Dictionary of Biography at https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gordon-james-2106

[13] Mary Sullivan: CON40-1-9, image 50; Launceston Advertiser, 12 October 1829, p.3.

[14] Launceston Advertiser, 10 May 1830, p.3.

[15] Hobart Town Courier, 5 June 1830, p.2; Hannah Bouin, Martha Slater and Ann Wright have not been identified; Lydia Hines: CON40-1-5, image 28.

[16] CON40-1-7, image 122.

[17] Payne, application for permission to marry: CON45/1/1, ‘P’, Mar 1830-Jan 1831.

[18] Hobart Town Gazette, 29 September 1829, p.201.

[19] CON40-1-7, image 122.

[20] Hobart Town Gazette, 14 September 1832.

[21] Giles: CON31-1-15, image 117; on his death certificate (Vic BDM 133/1869), to which his son, Zachariah, was the informant, he was named as the father of Margaret’s three sons.

[22] Application for permission to marry: CON52/1/1, p.065; marriage: RGD36/1/2 no. 2794.

[23] Giles, birth and age: Wiltshire, England, Church of England, Baptisms, Marriages, Burials, 1538-1812, Parish registers, Ref. No: 735/7.

[24] Giles, ticket of leave: Colonial Times (Hobart), 21 October 1834, p.3; trial: see Bradmore, D. (2012). George Bradmore: A Convict in Van Diemen’s Land. Maldon (Vic): Published by the Author; George Breadmore: CON31-1-1, image 327.

[25] As for Note 21, above.

[26] CON31-1-15, image 117.

[27] As for Note 21, above.

[28] The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 7 November 1840, p.4.

[29] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/administration/freedoms

[30] https://earthresources.vic.gov.au/geology-exploration/minerals/metals/gold/gold-mining-in-victoria; https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/gold-rushes; https://www.utas.edu.au/tasmanian-companion/biogs/E000104b.htm

[31] CSU36/1/243.

[32] Interview with Zachariah Giles published in The Herald (Melbourne), 7 November 1923, p.5.

[33] Mount Alexander Mail, 16 March 1855, p.3.

[34] Mount Alexander Mail, 11 December 1861, p.3.

[35] Mount Alexander Mail, 16 April 1862, p.2.

[36] Mount Alexander Mail, 29 August 1862, p.4.

[37] Personal communication with descendants, March 2023.

[38] Giles/Kirby marriage: Vic BDM 3580/1856. Zachariah’s name is shown as ‘Zachary’.

[39] Births and deaths at Taradale per Vic BDM: Margaret: Vic BDM 16725/1857; Katherine: 21268/1859; John: 5378/1862; Zachariah James: 18587/1864 (death: 7757/1865); Julia: 18260/1866 (death: 12113/1866); Thomas: 12679/1868.

[40] Interview with Zachariah Giles published in The Herald (Melbourne), 7 November 1923, p.5.

[41] Death, John Giles: Vic BDM 133/1869; burial, Ballarat Old Cemetery, plot E2, Section 22, Row 1, Grave 23 at https://www.findagrave.com

[42] Personal communication with descendants, March 2023.

[43] Victoria Police Gazette, 28 June 1876, p.175; 5 July 1876, p.181; 19 July 1876, p.175 and p.193.

[44] Death: Vic BDM: 2343/1886.

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FCRC Seminar: Sunday 5 May 2024:  Call for papers

Topic: Freedom: Time served, moving on

This seminar will focus on the pathways to freedom for convict women and will explore the lives they led once emancipated.

Possible topics may include:

  • Pathways to freedom.
  • Emancipation – prosperity or poverty? How the emancipated women lived out the rest of their lives. Individual stories.
  • Exploring subsets – return to their home country, moving to another colony or country; marriage; non-marriage; business women; relying on the State to survive.

If you would like to present a 20-minute paper at the seminar, please forward an abstract for consideration to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 20 October 2023. The abstract should outline your intended topic, the points you will highlight and the sources you will be using to inform your paper.


Call for submissions for the next Convict Women's Press book: Convict Motherhood

Cut-off date for submissions extended to 14 October.

You are invited to submit a chapter for the next CWP book, provisionally titled Convict Motherhood. It will cover all aspects of this fascinating topic:

  • women with children in Britain prior to conviction
  • those who brought children with them
  • childbirth on board ship
  • the loss of children and mothers
  • children born under sentence at convict institutions
  • children born elsewhere
  • children born once women free again

How did women cope with the stresses of the convict system? How did they experience childbirth and child rearing? How many did/could not have children? How did these experiences affect children?

We are looking for papers under 2000 words, about individual convict women, groups of women or more abstract discussions of the topic.

If you are interested, please submit a 100-word abstract by 14 October to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 



The 13th BIENNIAL CONFERENCE of the George Town & District Historical Society Inc.


This conference will be held in the Performing Arts Centre at the Port Dalrymple School with registrations from 8.45 am ready for a 9.15 am start and finishing around 4 pm. Registration required.

Website: www.gtdhs.com


The Marita Bardenhagen Memorial Award

The Marita Bardenhagen Memorial Award for Local History is a biennial prize acknowledging outstanding original research in the field of local history with significant Tasmanian content.  Applications are now open for the 2023 Award and will close on 30 September.

To obtain an entry form, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 0409 140 657.

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Voyages: The Voyage of the Tasmania 1844, including a map of the voyage, by Dee Hoole (14/09/2023)

Convict Ships  Martin Luther 1852, Surgeon's Journal, transcription courtesy of Colleen Arulappu (10/07/2023)

Books, Theses & Reports - Convict Orphans by Lucy Frost. (14/06/2023)

Books, Theses & Reports - Convict Lives:  Young girls transported to Van Diemen's Land edited by Alison Alexander (4/05/2023)

Freedoms - The Path to Freedom. Page updated and edited by Helen Menard 1/05/2023, to include  'Freedom v emancipation'.

Featured in Publications - A list of VDL convict women featured in publications (compiled and updated by Ros Escott April 2023).

Pre-Transportation: The British Justice System in the 18th & 19th Centuries -  A new page for the website, contributed by Helen Menard 18/03/2023.

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