In October 1843, Ann Dyke was convicted in Staffordshire, England, of the theft of a few small items of clothing and sentenced to transportation for fifteen years. She arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) aboard Angelina in August 1844.[1] Like many of the 13,500 (approx.) females who were exiled to VDL between 1812 and 1853, she was young, single, uneducated, and from a poor family.

After a brief period of probation, she was hired out to free settlers as a servant and, although she was charged again with a number of relatively minor misdemeanours, she was of little trouble to the authorities for the first eight or nine years of her penal servitude. During that time, she had formed a relationship with William Johnson, a former convict, had given birth to two of his children and had been granted a ticket of leave.

In 1855, however, her life changed dramatically.

In May of that year, she and Johnson were arrested on suspicion of their involvement in the murder of elderly Thomas Axford, a well-respected resident of the district in which they were living. Fortunately for the couple, the murder charge was dropped when, shortly after the killing, a man who had been staying with them at the time of the murder, confessed to the crime. He told the police that he had acted alone. That man was John ‘Rocky’ Whelan, a notorious bushranger and one of the most infamous criminals in Australia's colonial history. He is known to have committed at least five cold-blooded murders. He was hanged for his crimes at the Hobart Gaol in June 1855.

Although the details are unclear, it is believed that Ann spent a short time in gaol at Oatlands, accused of being an accessory to the murder but eventually that charge was dropped also. After her release, she gave birth to two more children by Johnson but little more is known of her. In 1864, she surrendered all four of the children to the Queen’s Orphan School at Hobart and, with Johnson, faded into the pages of history. The last mention of the pair appears to have been in the Tasmanian Police Gazette in 1866 when an appeal was made for information as to their whereabouts. Where did they get to? Were they ever found?    

This is Ann’s story:


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The story of Maria Drake, one of the 13,500 (approx.) females who were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) as convicts between 1812 and 1853, is an unhappy one.[1] In November 1842, she was convicted of the theft of a watch and watch-stand from a house in London, England, and sentenced to transportation for seven years. She was twenty-three when she arrived in VDL aboard the vessel Margaret in 1843. Soon after her arrival, she was living in a de facto relationship with a former convict by the name of John Thompson (Asia, 1, 1823) and, by 1854, had given birth to three children by him. During this time, she was never in trouble with the law. However, when Thompson was convicted of a felony in Hobart around 1855, and sent off to serve four years imprisonment in New South Wales, her life changed dramatically. In 1858, she was charged with the attempted murder, by poisoning, of a twelve-year-old boy and his mother. At her trial in the Supreme Court, Hobart, on 29 July 1858, she strongly protested her innocence. Although it was made clear to the jury that she had not acted with malice towards the boy and his mother, and that she had no motive whatsoever for wanting to harm them, she was found guilty as charged and sentenced to death. Later, the sentence was commuted to a term of imprisonment for life. It is believed that she was released around 1870 but what happened to her after that remains a mystery.

This is Maria’s story:


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My dearest Margaret

This letter is written to you by my son, Samuel, who can read and write, whereas I never learned to do so. Samuel urged me to tell my story, so that future generations know from whence they came.

I was born in Galway, Ireland on 1 August 1811, and was a nursemaid/needlewoman. You would probably think me to be quite a brave young girl when I tell you what happened next. I went over to London to try to make a living, as life in Ireland had no future for me. I also had a child, and on 27 February 1833 I left my child with a friend, Bridget Key, and told her I was going to sell some fruit, but I never went back. I never saw my firstborn again. If I’d known what was about to happen, I would never have gone. On 28 February, I met up with Mary Lee, who was a stranger. I asked her for lodgings, and she said I could stop with her, which I did for four nights. The next day, a cold winter’s day on 1 March 1833, Mary Lee met up with a journeyman silk-weaver, John Carlier. Mary asked him if he would give her anything to drink, so they went to a house on Bunhill Row and had some gin. Mary asked him to come to our house, which adjoined Chequer Alley. I was at home in bed when they arrived. Mary leaned over John Carlier and took something from his pockets, and before he realised what had happened, Mary had rushed downstairs talking in Irish. She’d taken a quarter of an ounce of pigtail tobacco, four sovereigns and some silver.

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A letter to Mary Donovan 1819 - 1891 by great great great great granddaughter, Erica.

'You were born in late 1819 in Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland. I’ve seen pictures of it on the internet. Lush green hills and fields. I read that it was a British Army barracks. One of the largest in all of Ireland at the time.

At age 20, for reasons unknown, you had travelled to London living “on the street” as they politely put it when you were arrested for larceny alongside Matilda Everdon. Was she your friend, Grandmother? Perhaps a roommate? Or just an acquaintance? I wonder what you were thinking when you pawned the stolen jacket of David May, upon Matilda’s request. Did you have any idea that one small action would have changed the course of your life forever? While you were drinking with your ill-gotten funds, at the back of the pub on that Thursday in March 1841, did you ever imagine you would be sent across the sea to the other side of the world to serve out your 7 year sentence and never return?'


Read the story of Mary Donovan 1819 - 1891




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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].