Maria Louisa Swinchatt transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land in 1831
On 12th May 1831, a 15-year-old girl calling herself Maria Williams was standing in the dock at the Old Bailey accused of stealing a dress worth seven shillings, from a pawnbroker’s shop in Old Street Road, Shoreditch in the East End of London. The case was just one of hundreds during a regular four-day session with each hearing lasting only a matter of minutes. William Bird is called as a witness. “I am in the employ of Mr. John Burgess, a pawnbroker, in Old Street. I was behind the counter on the 9th of April - I came round and saw the prisoner... putting this gown into her apron”. Now Maria’s version of events. “I met my sister; we were both at the door and my sister took this gown and looked at it; when she saw him coming, she threw it on my arm and ran away”. Then a man named George Osterman stands up and tells the court “ I have a certificate of the conviction of Maria Swinchatt, on the 8th of July last. I attended and know the prisoner is the person who was convicted by that name.”
The verdict was ‘Guilty’. This being her second offence, Maria Swinchatt recorded under her alias “Maria Williams” became the youngest woman that year to be sentenced to transportation for life at the Old Bailey.