JANE POLLARD (Tasmania, 1844)

by Don Bradmore

 In April 1844, eighteen-year-old Jane Pollard, a servant, was convicted of stealing clothes from the home of her employer and sentenced to transportation for ten years.[1] While she was at Millbank Prison, London, awaiting a vessel to take her off to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL), her fifteen-year-old sister, Charlotte Pollard, was also convicted of theft. She, too, was sentenced to transportation and joined Jane at Millbank to await transfer to VDL.[2] In late July 1844, both young women were put aboard the convict ship Tasmania as it was being prepared to sail for the Australian colonies. Within days of their embarkation, however, the surgeon-superintendent aboard the vessel, greatly alarmed at the younger girl’s state of health, sent her back to Millbank for treatment. Sadly, she passed away there a week later. Consequently, Jane arrived alone at Hobart and, not surprisingly, had much difficulty in adjusting to her new circumstances. In her first five years in the colony, she was gaoled frequently for new offences. For one of her offences, her original term of transportation was extended by a year. For eighteen months, she was confined in the Lunatic Asylum at New Norfolk. Nevertheless, by 1853, she had been granted a ticket of leave and, in the following year, she married. There is no record of children. In 1854, her conditional pardon was approved and, in 1857, she received her certificate of freedom. Disappointingly, what happened to her after that remains a mystery.

This is Jane’s story:

Jane Pollard was the third of seven children of James and Mary (nee Charman) Pollard. She was baptised at Pulborough, Sussex, England, on 29 October 1826. Her siblings were Emily (baptized 1821), Sarah (1824), Charlotte (1828), Charles (1831), William (1834) and Rhena or Rany/Reney (1837).[3] Although very little is known with certainty about the way in which the family lived, there is evidence to suggest that the children grew up in impoverished circumstances, receiving little, if any, education – and certainly no moral guidance from their parents.[4] It is likely that, as soon as they were old enough to earn their own living, they were sent out to work.[5]

The 1841 England census shows Jane, at sixteen, working as a live-in servant in the household of William Sowter, a shoemaker, at Nutbourn, near Pulborough.[6] In the following year, she was gaoled for the first time. Found guilty of theft, she was imprisoned in England for six weeks.[7] The details of that offence are unknown.

Just two years later, Jane was convicted of the crime that led to her transportation. At the Sussex Petworth Quarter Sessions on 11 April 1844, she and a seventeen-year-old acquaintance named Mary Burchell, both servants, were charged with the theft, on 27 January that year, of a woollen shawl, valued at seven shillings and sixpence and two printed dresses, valued at seven shillings and ninepence, from the home of their employer. They were found guilty. As a first-offender, Mary was sent to prison, with hard labour, for three months but Jane, because of her prior conviction, was sentenced to transportation for ten years.[8] Soon after the trial, she was taken to Millbank Prison, London, to await a vessel to take her away. She arrived there on 25 April.[9]

Little did Jane know at that time that one of her younger sisters was soon to join her there. On 4 July 1844, fifteen-year-old Charlotte had been convicted at the Sussex Horsham Quarter Sessions, of ‘stealing one cheese’ and sentenced to transportation for seven years.[10] She, too, was sent to Millbank to await transfer to VDL. She arrived there on 15 July.[11]

The reports written on the sisters while they were at Millbank were telling of their home life and upbringing. Jane’s report read: ‘Previously convicted of felony; well-behaved in prison; parents and connexions of indifferent character.’ Charlotte’s report was even more damning of the parents: ‘Ignorant and depraved; parents very disreputable; is supposed to have been the chief cause of her misfortune for they, in fact, encouraged their children to plunder.’[12] (Note the ambiguity in Charlotte’s report. Surely the writer of the report meant that her parents were ‘ignorant and depraved’ rather than that Charlotte was.)

On Friday 29 August 1844, both young women were put aboard Tasmania as it was being prepared to sail to VDL with a cargo of female prisoners.[13] On the following day, Charlotte, the younger sister, who had been seriously ill at Millbank, was so pleased to be out of the prison that, reportedly, ‘she amused herself by dancing on the deck.’[14] However, on Monday 2 September, she was so unwell that Thomas Seaton, the doctor who was to accompany the prisoners to VDL as surgeon-superintendent on Tasmania, returned her to Millbank, thinking that that was ‘the only means of saving her life’. Sadly, she passed away at the prison six days later. The cause of her death was given as ’inflammation of the lungs’.[15]

An inquest into Charlotte’s death was held at Millbank in the days which followed. Described as ‘a very delicate girl’ when admitted to Millbank on 15 July, she had suffered from a severe attack of diarrhoea soon afterwards. However, by 29 August, when put aboard Tasmania, she was ‘in her usual health’. But, the inquest concluded, ‘her constitution being very delicate’, ‘the sudden change from the warmth of the [Millbank] prison to the damp chilly air of the river’ [where Tasmania was moored at Woolwich] had caused the condition of which she had died. The coroner was satisfied that ‘there was no blame on the score of humanity to any of the authorities who had charge of the deceased’.[16]       

Nevertheless, many of those who were involved in the situation, or read of Charlotte’s death later, were not satisfied with the verdict of the inquest. Under the heading ‘Treatment of Convicts’, the Weekly Dispatch (London) explained:

… It must strike any man of any feeling that the poor creature was most cruelly treated, in being sent so quickly after her illness to [Woolwich], where she was only five days when a fatal relapse ensued - and then, instead of protecting her from the vicissitudes of the season, she was in a dying state, re-conveyed [her], contrary to all custom, to Millbank, where … death terminated her sufferings. Comment upon this tragical affair is unnecessary and uncalled for. It is a case which peremptorily demands a thorough investigation, and an exemplary punishment upon the parties who may have acted a guilty part in it.[17]  

But, was it ‘contrary to custom’ to remove a seriously ill prisoner from a ship before it sailed? Were the master of the ship and the surgeon-superintendent within their rights in sending Charlotte back to Millbank? Had she been ‘most cruelly treated’ by them? These questions are difficult to answer as no explicit instructions on the matter of the removal of medically-unfit prisoners from ships before sailing have been located. However, in a report on the workings of the transportation system generally, released in 1845 - the year following Charlotte’s death - Millbank Prison officials appear to make clear the wishes of the authorities in the matter of the treatment of convicts who were considered to be unfit for transportation:

All female convicts under sentence of transportation, who are in a fit state of health to be transported, are sent to Van Diemen’s Land … Those convicts who are not in a fit state of health to be transported are recommended for removal to the invalid hulk at Woolwich … [where they are to remain] … until they are so far recovered as to be able to undertake the voyage.[18]

Thus, in returning Charlotte to Millbank, Dr. Seaton appears to have acted in accordance with the desire of the authorities. In any event, could he have been thought of badly for returning her to the prison when he considered that that was the only way to save her life?    

Tragically, Charlotte had died on Sunday, 8 September 1844 - the very day on which Tasmania, with William Black as master, Seaton as surgeon-superintendent, one hundred and ninety-one female prisoners – including Charlotte’s sister, Jane - sailed from London. Was Jane made aware before sailing that her sister had passed away? When, if at all, was she informed?

On 20 December that year, Tasmania reached Hobart. [19] In his report on the voyage, Seaton mentioned discipline problems that he had had with a number of the women but made no specific reference to Jane in that regard.[20] His only comment on her was that she was ‘artful [cunning? crafty? sneaky?] tho’ quiet’.[21]

At Hobart, Jane was described as being eighteen years old and single. She was just over five feet and two inches (about 158 cm) tall, with a fresh complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. She was of the Church of England faith. She could read but not write. She was allocated the convict trade of ‘house servant and nurse maid’[22].  

Soon after disembarkation, Jane was taken to the Anson Probation Station, the hulk of a former British warship which, after its arrival in 1844, had been refitted as a prison and moored in the Derwent as a way of alleviating the overcrowding which had occurred at the Cascades Female Factory as more and more prisoners had arrived in the colony. There, all newly-arrived female prisoners were to spend six months being trained in the duties expected of them when assigned as servants to free settlers.[23]     

With her probation completed, Jane was assigned into service but it was not long before she was in trouble. On 16 March 1846, she was charged with misconduct in that she had been ‘harbouring a strange man on her master’s premises’ and was sent to the Cascades Female Factory for three months, with hard labour. More offences followed. Between 13 January 1847 and 25 April 1848, she was gaoled another seven times, for periods ranging from a week to six months, for offences including ‘misconduct’, ‘being drunk’ and ‘absence without leave’.[24]

Those gaol terms, however, did nothing to improve Jane’s conduct and, in early 1849, she was imprisoned again. On 20 January, she was charged with being ‘absent without leave’ again and returned to the Cascades for another six months. On this occasion, the magistrate had ordered not only that the sentence be served with hard labour but also that she be kept isolated from other prisoners in a separate compartment for half of the term. On 30 January, ten days later, she was charged with ‘using indecent language, breaking the door of her separate compartment and destroying clothes issued to her.’ As punishment, the six-month term for which she had been gaoled was increased to twelve months.[25]

Worse was to follow. On 25 April 1849, she was taken before a magistrate again this time for an assault she had committed within the gaol. Although her conduct record does not specify whether the assault was upon another prisoner or a warder, it is likely that it was the latter. As punishment, her original term of transportation was increased by a year. When informed by that magistrate of the decision, Jane was obviously distraught. For ‘behaving in a violent and disorderly manner and using obscene language to the Bench’, she was ordered to spend a month in the cells at the Cascades.[26]

And that was still not the end of it. On 26 February 1850, she absconded from the Cascades. Although she was apprehended quickly, she was punished by having her existing term of transportation (which was now eleven years) extended by another year.[27] On 14 February 1851, still incarcerated at the Cascades, she was charged with ‘disorderly conduct’ and sentenced to another month of hard labour. On 16 April 1851, and again on 23 May that year, she was charged with ‘insubordination’ and spent a month in the cells on each occasion. On 10 July 1851, she was charged with ‘talking while in a separate compartment’ and was returned to the cells for another ten days.[28] Fortunately, that was to be the last charge brought against her as a convict.

It must have become obvious to the authorities at this time that Jane was struggling to cope mentally and, in early September 1851, she was transferred to the Lunatic Asylum, New Norfolk.[29]

She remained there for a year and a half. When released after rest and treatment in mid-1853, she appeared to in a satisfactory enough condition to be assigned again as a servant. Her hospital report at the time of her discharge read:  

… (8 Sept 1851) Five years in colony, under observation for insanity in hospital and at Cascades, labours under moral insanity, of a paroxysmal [sudden attack or spasm] type, quiet, rational, at other times breaks out in most excited manner, sleeps little, burnt her chemise the other night, talks and mutters to herself that she has ‘bad thoughts’, threatened to take someone’s life, guilty of violence; … (10 Sept 1851) [Jane is] English, from Deighton [?], domestic servant, habits intemperate since she has been in this country, has not menstruated in months; … (5 December 1851)  Struck another patient with a pail; … (19 December 1851)  Quiet, amenable, industrious;  … (24 April 1853)  discharged to private service.[30]

Shortly after her discharge, Jane was granted a ticket of leave and, less than a year after leaving the asylum, she and a ticket-of-leave man by the name of Frederick Smith applied for permission to marry.[31] Their application was approved and they married at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Macquarie Plains, on 14 April 1854.[32]

Jane’s husband, Frederick Smith, had been convicted of burglary at the Old Bailey, London, in March 1845 and sentenced to transportation for ten years. After some months in an English prison, he had been sent first to the Norfolk Island Penal Settlement, arriving there per David Malcolm in August 1846. In May of the following year, however, he was transferred vis Pestongee Bomangee to VDL. His documents on arrival at Hobart show him to be thirty-three years old, a painter by trade and already a married man.[33] By May 1850, despite a number of relatively minor offences in the colony, he had been granted a ticket of leave.

Little is known about the couple after their marriage. Jane’s conduct record shows that, in November 1855, she received a conditional pardon and, on 31 August 1857, a certificate of freedom.  Frederick, too, was issued with his certificate of freedom in 1857.[34] What happened to them after that is a mystery, the commonness of their names making positive identification of them in records very difficult.

Did Jane eventually find peace and happiness? When, and how, did she learn of the sad death of her sister, Charlotte? Was the extreme difficulty she had in accepting her new life in VDL due, at least is part, to the fact that Charlotte’s death coincided with her own banishment from England? There are no answers to these questions yet.


[1] Jane Pollard: conduct record: CON41-1-4, image 133; description list: CON19-1-4, image 160; indent: CON15-1-3, pp.80 and 81; police no: 296; FCRC ID: 11943.

[2] Charlotte Pollard: no conduct record, description list or indent; police no: 295; FCRC ID 132279.

[3] Baptisms: findmypast.co.uk via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[4] See Note 12, below.

[5] Child labour in 19th century England: see www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/child-labour

[6] See ‘Research’ notes for Jane Pollard (ID 11943) in FCRC d/base at www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[7] Prior conviction: CON41-1-4, image 133.

[8] Sussex Advertiser, 16 April 1844 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[9] Letter to Petworth Gaol, Sussex, dated 13 April 1844, ordering transfer of prisoners to Millbank at findmypast.co.uk via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[10] Hampshire Telegraph, 15 July 1844 at at findmypast.co.uk via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[11] See Note 16, below.

[12] Comment on Jane’s parents in Millbank Prison Register at findmypast.co.uk via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[13] Millbank Prison Register: confirmation of Jane’s arrival from Petworth Gaol on 24 April and embarkation on Tasmania on 30 August at findmypast.co.uk via www.femaleconvicts.org.au .

[14] See Note 16, below.

[15] See Note 16, below; date of Charlotte’s death per inquest (see Note 13, below) was 8 September 1844.

[16] Report of inquest: The Morning Post (London), 11 September 1844 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[17] Weekly Dispatch (London), 15 September 1844 via www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[18] ‘The Millbank Prison: Transportation System’ in Yorkshire Gazette (York, England), Vol. XXVII, No. 1342.

[19] Inquest: as for Note 16, above; voyage: https://members.iinet.au/~perthdps/convicts/shipsTAS.html

[20] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Tasmania1844_SJ1.pdf

[21] CON41-1-4, image 133.

[22] CON19-1-4, image 160.

[23] CON41-1-4, image 133; Anson: https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-institutions/probation-stations/anson

[24] CON41-1-4, image 133.

[25] CON41-1-4, image 133.

[26] CON41-1-4, image 133.

[27] This penalty may not have been put into effect.

[28] CON41-1-4, image 133.

[29] The asylum has gone through a number of name changes: 1829-1859, Lunatic Asylum, New Norfolk; 1859-1915, Hospital for the Insane, New Norfolk; 1915-1937, Mental Diseases Hospital, New Norfolk; 1937-1968, Lachlan Park Hospital; 1968-2001, Royal Derwent Hospital - see https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-institutions/hospitals/new-norfolk-asylum

[30] ‘New Norfolk Records, Female (Mental), (Volume No. 13) – Patient Records – Case Books (All Patients), HSD246’ via ‘Research’ notes for Jane Pollard (ID 119423) at www.femaleconvicts.org.au

[31] Frederick Smith: CON33-1-80, image 169; permission to marry: CON52/1/7, p.450. – approved 10 February 1854

[32] Marriage: RGD37/1/13 no 1201, New Norfolk.      

[33] Married convicts re-marrying: see https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/administration/ptom

[34] Jane: conditional pardon, Hobart Town Gazette, 13 November 1855; certificate of freedom, Hobart Town Gazette, 8 September 1857; Frederick: certificate of freedom, CON33-1-80, image 169.




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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 [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].