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.[1] 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:      

 

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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.

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One of the most interesting of the stories of the 13,500 (approx.) female convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) between 1812 and 1853 is that of Elizabeth (or, more commonly, Eliza) Callaghan.[1] In September 1820, at the age of seventeen, she had been convicted of passing a counterfeit banknote in London, England, and sentenced to death.[2] Later, the sentence had been commuted to one of transportation for fourteen years and she had arrived in Hobart the following year. In 1823, she met (and later married) John Batman, soon to  hailed as a hero for his capture of the notorious bushranger Matthew Brady and afterwards to become even more prominent for his role in the infamous ‘Black War’, the violent conflict between settlers and aborigines in VDL from the mid-1820s to 1832, and for the establishment of the settlement at Port Philip, which was to become the city of Melbourne in the neighbouring colony of Victoria. Unfortunately, the marriage was to end acrimoniously.[3] After Batman’s death, reportedly from syphilis, in 1839, Eliza married his clerk, William Willoughby, but that marriage, like the first, ended in sadness. In 1852, described then as ‘a somewhat abandoned character’, she was murdered at Geelong, Victoria. She was forty-nine years old. Although she has been mentioned frequently in books and articles about Batman, relatively little has been written about her exclusively.

 

[1] CON40-1-1, image 256; FCRC ID: 1126.

[2] https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18200918-57-defend705&div=t18200918-57#highlight

[3] See ‘Eliza Batman’, Geelong Cemeteries Trust at https://www.gct.net.au/eliza-batman/

 

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 Introduction

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’[1] while Sarah was ‘very well conducted’.[2] In the colony, Mary committed a series of behavioural offences for which she spent some time in the House of Corrections,[3] whereas Sarah had a completely clean record.[4] 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?

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‘The Convict Who Never Was’

 

In mid-May 1847, brothers Michael and John Connolly brutally murdered a man named Thomas Dillon in the small village of Kilmakil, County Tipperary, Ireland.[1] On 22 April of the following year, they were hanged for their crime. A few months after their execution, their elderly widowed mother Mary Connolly and two of their brothers were arrested and charged with their involvement in same grisly crime.[2] At their trial, the court heard that the bloody slaying of Dillon, a bailiff, had been in retribution for his eviction of the family from their small rented farm. These were difficult times in Ireland. It was the time of the ‘Great Famine’ when a potato blight had led to the failure of crops throughout the country. Poor tenant farmers such as the Connolly family could scarcely find enough food to keep themselves alive, let alone to sell to earn an income. When they were unable to pay their rents, their heartless English landlords were quick to force them off the lands on which they had lived and worked for generations.[3] Nevertheless, this was no justification for murder, and Mary was found guilty and sentenced to death. Later, the sentence was commuted to transportation for life.[4] Described then as ‘wretched’ and as ‘an old, emaciated-looking woman, nearly eighty years of age’, she was put aboard the convict ship Lord Auckland for the long voyage to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL). On 3 March 1849, a New South Wales (NSW) newspaper reported that Mary had been shunned by her fellow prisoners on the ship for the blood-thirsty nature of her crime.[5] They had refused to sit with her to eat, or to have anything else to do with her. But, as it happens, when Lord Auckland arrived at Hobart on 20 January 1849, Mary was not aboard. Her name is not listed among the 13,500 (approx.) female convicts known to have been transported to between 1812 and 1853. What had happened to her?[6]

 

[1] A report of the trial at Nenagh, Ireland, of Michael and John Connolly has not been located but see The Warder & Dublin Weekly, August 12 1848; see also http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/ir1835.html.

[2] Freeman's Journal (Dublin), 9 Aug. 1848. British Library Newspapers at https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?p=BNCN&u=61sltas&id=GALE|Y3204569414&v=2.1&it=r&sid=BNCN&asid=6e7b4e35; Gale Document Number: GALE|Y3204569414, accessed 14 Feb.2021.

[3] Smith, C. E. (1993). ‘The Land-Tenure System in Ireland: A Fatal Regime’ in Marquette Law Journal, Vol. 76, Issue 2, Article 6.

[4] As for Note 2, above.

[5] The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW), 3 March 1849, p.4.

[6] www.femaleconvicts.org.au

 

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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].