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Second chance: Elizabeth McBride (1819-1897)

(Elizabeth and Henry 1847)

C.J. Eddington

Elizabeth McBride was born as Elisabeth Campbell McBride to John McBryde and his wife, Mary McKinnon, on 19 August 1819 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland. Elizabeth had two older brothers, Peter, born in 1804, and John, in 1813, and a sister, Catherine, born in 1816. Greenock at this time was a centre of shipping and ship building. Elizabeth, as her name was recorded in Van Diemen’s Land, was the only one of her siblings to have a middle name – a fact which made possible researching her life and finding documents referring to her. But even so, nothing of Elizabeth McBride’s Scottish life was discovered until 1840, when she was 21, when she married David Urquhart in her local parish church of Greenock Old or West.[1] David was a mariner and oral family history suggests that Elizabeth’s family was also involved in this business.

By August 1843, Elizabeth McBride was living with her 2-year-old daughter in Glasgow.[2] In the 1840s, Glasgow was a boom town – in 1842, the Glasgow to Edinburgh railway opened: ‘The most rapidly growing areas of population were the industrial cities. Glasgow’s population mushroomed from 77,000 in 1801 to 275,000 forty years later’. Life was tough in Glasgow in the 1840s – there was no welfare state and those who fell into poverty relied on handouts from charity and the Poor Law. Glasgow was considered the unhealthiest city in Scotland at the time – it experienced the worst instances of overcrowding, disease, and poverty.

Between April 1843 and October 1844, Elizabeth had three convictions for theft. In April 1846, she was tried in Glasgow for stealing a bed quilt and was sentenced to transportation for seven years. She sailed on the Elizabeth and Henry in September 1846, reaching Van Diemen’s Land on 4 January 1847, after 113 days at sea.[3] There were 790 people transported to the Australia colonies in 1847 – 174 were women.

From her criminal and convict records, we know that Elizabeth was 5ft 2½ inches tall, with brown hair and grey eyes, and that she had worked as a housemaid at the Tontine hotel in Glasgow. Her husband, David Urquhart, was a sailor, and they had one child, Mary. In 1851, Mary was being cared for by her uncle, John McBride, a block maker, and his wife, Margaret, in Gorbals, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Mary McBride, mother, was also living in the household.

In December 1848, while still serving her original transportation sentence, Elizabeth was convicted of ‘Feloniously stealing a pair of linen sheets’ and was sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour in the Female Factory. Some of this sentence was remitted and she was ‘out’ in October 1849. Then, on 6 February 1850, Elizabeth was again convicted, this time for ‘(Addison) having a man in her mistresses house without authority’; she was sentenced to nine months hard labour at the Cascades Female Factory. There is a corresponding entry in James Duncan’s convict record on 7 February 1850. Duncan was absent from his master’s residence and in the house of Captain Addison with a female servant. He was sent to the interior.

Elizabeth received a ticket-of-leave in January 1851. She was free by servitude in April 1853 and shortly afterwards, on 2 May, she was issued with her Certificate of Freedom.

Elizabeth married James Duncan as Elizabeth Urquhart in 1862. He was a former convict and fellow Scot. Elizabeth was described as a widow.

Elizabeth and James had a son, William James Duncan (1853-1863), and two daughters, Elizabeth Duncan (1857-1897) and Agnes Duncan (1863-1935).

William’s birth registration stated that he was born to James Duncan, shipwright, and ‘Jane Bride’. The informant was a neighbour, and it is likely that ‘Jane Bride’ was, in fact, Elizabeth Campbell McBride. Later evidence confirms that Elizabeth was his mother: William James Duncan, son of James and Elizabeth, was admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School in February 1859, aged 5 years six months. He was discharged to his parents in July 1860. In September 1860, when he was 7, he was admitted to the ‘Asylum for the Insane’ at New Norfolk, as ‘a person of unsound mind’, his condition indicated by frequently recurring attacks of epilepsy. He was also recorded as ‘quite deaf and dumb’ and was ‘unable to understand directions given to him for his safety – constantly wandering into places of danger’. His condition was supposedly caused by measles, which he contracted when he was 7 months old. His address when he was admitted to the Asylum was Franklin Wharf, Hobart Town, and his father, James Duncan, of Elizabeth Street, was recorded as his next-of-kin.

William James Duncan, a pauper aged 11, died of disease of the brain and lungs on 20 June 1863 at the New Norfolk Asylum.

According to family oral history, Elizabeth McBride’s first husband, David Urquhart, on a trip to Hobart, asked her to return with him to Scotland and she refused, saying ‘Go back to the one who took you from me’.

Elizabeth McBride told her daughter, Agnes Duncan, the story of her life and this was in turn told to Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Mildred Standven – my great-aunt. This story was written down by Mildred’s daughter, June McCredie, and sent to my father. Both June and my father were great-grandchildren of Elizabeth. In this version of her history, her criminal past and transportation to Van Diemen’s Land were massaged away.

June writes of Elizabeth that ‘[H]er parents were “well-to-do” people who did a lot of entertaining, especially [of] Naval Officers … [she] married a Captain Harcourt [sic]. They had one child’. The documentary evidence suggests that this is partly right: Elizabeth did marry David Urquhart, who was a seaman, and they did have one child. There is a marriage entry for this couple, and a census entry for a daughter, Mary Urquhart. Further, a daughter was mentioned on Elizabeth’s convict conduct record, and it was stated that her husband, David Urquhart, was away at sea and last heard of in Port Phillip. It does, however, appear to be a stretch to say her parents were well-to-do, given that in the Scottish census of 1851, her brother was a block maker in Gorbals (a very poor area of Glasgow) and, in 1861, he was a saw sharper in a saw mill.

June continues: ‘This Capt. Harcourt started to have an affair with [Elizabeth’s] girlfriend and when she found out about it, she started carrying on with some of the officers … she also started to drink’. It is clear from McBride’s criminal history that she went off the rails soon after her marriage – but it is difficult to say why, or to verify at this distance, the truth of an affair. In this version of her past, Elizabeth’s parents sent her to Tasmania as a remittance woman – no convict past here.

Elizabeth Campbell Duncan (née McBride), a widow aged 77, died of old age in 1897. She had four children and eventually 15 grandchildren. Sadly, her daughter, Elizabeth Muir (née Duncan) died three days later in child birth. Their death entries are on adjoining pages of the Hobart death register.



Ancestry.com. 1851 Census Scotland, Gorbals.

Ancestry.com. 1861 Census Scotland, Glasgow St. George.

A history of the Scottish people: https://www.scran.ac.uk/scotland/pdf/SP2_10Economy.pdf

Scotland’s People, Birth Records, National Records of Scotland.

Birth Records, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Convict Records, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Crown Office Precognition 1846 Precognition against Elizabeth McBride or Urquhart. National Records of Scotland. AD14/46/411

Death Records, Scotland’s People, National Records of Scotland.

Death Records, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office

Marriage Records, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office

Marriage Records, Scotland’s People, National Records of Scotland.

Private papers, Letter from June McCredie to Len Eddington 30 June 1975. Original held by CJ Eddington, Western Australia.

Roscoe, Kathrine. Convict voyages: A global history of convicts and penal colonies. Tasmania Van Diemen’s Land 1804-1853 http://convictvoyages.org/expert-essays/tasmania online [accessed 27 Sept 2018]


[1] Scotland’s People, Marriage Elisabeth McBride/ David Urquhart, Church registers OPR 22 Sept 1840 564/3 80 407 Greenock Old or West. Accessed 7 September 2018.

[2] National Records of Scotland [NRS] AD14/46/411 Precognition 1846 Elizabeth McBride or Urquhart.

[3] Tasmanian Archives [TA], CON41/1/11 Elizabeth McBride or Urquhart Elizabeth and Henry (2) 1847 No.691 [Image 82].

Latest News:

Convict Lives: Young girls transported to Van Diemen's Land.

Edited by Alison Alexander

Launched  May 7, 2023 by Emeritus Professor Kate Warner, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania

Female Convicts Research Centre and Convict Women's Press are pleased to announce the latest publication in the Convict Lives series.

This book tells the stories of 28 convict girls transported at a young age to Van Diemen’s Land. These vivid stories from Convict Women’s Press continue our series of books that bring convict women to life.

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Available from selected bookshops or online at Convict Women's Press Inc.

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Lost Voices Presents FORGOTTEN - Hobart Playhouse 14-16th July

This haunting, unforgettable drama by acclaimed playwright and social historian Cate Whittaker relives one of the few female rebellions in World History at the Parramatta Female Convict Factory Penitentiary in 1827 led by Irish Catholic women. Struggling to survive starvation after two women have died these courageous women go on strike, and then overpower their guards to take control of the Factory yard. When the military are called ,they are fired on at point blank range and rise phoenix-like to hurl back their stones and fill the yard to bursting such that the soldiers dare not enter. It is a pyrrhic victory for the new Matron arriving the next day has been told to get the ringleaders names and they are to be hanged at the gates. Facing final defeat they break down the gates and dodging bayonets make it to the town to tell the press of the Governor’s mismanagement and manslaughter. Governor Darling’s contract was not removed yet all records of the event were wiped from colonial records, til now. Now Forgotten gives these brave women, from whom one in seven Australian’s descend, their rightful and respected place in our History.

This production is under the gifted direction of NIDA MFA Madeleine Diggins leading a young cast for new Drama Graduates in a not-for-profit Actors Cooperative. It comes to Hobart, after its second sell-out audience success at the National Theatre of Parramatta and has been endorsed by the Irish Consul General to appear in the Dublin Festival as a fine example of Irish Australian Art.

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Book at the Playhouse, Hobart: https://playhouse.org.au/shows/forgotten-the-female-convict-rebellion-14-16-july-2023/


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.  Entries are to be in the form of a published work appearing in the three years preceding the year of the award. More information is available here...

Entries open on 14 June 2023 and close 30 September 2023.

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