(Hydery, 1832)


Don Bradmore

One of the most remarkable of the stories of the 13,500 (approx.) women who were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) as convicts between 1813 and 1853 is that of Isabella Renshaw.[1] She was nineteen years old and single when she arrived at Hobart in August 1832. In November of the previous year, she had been convicted of ‘compounding the felony’ of an acquaintance by the name of Edward Jones who had been sentenced to transportation for fourteen years for theft. For her participation in that crime, she was sentenced to transportation for seven years. After less than a year in VDL, she married James Kerr, a free settler, and went to live with him on a property on the Nile Rivulet in the northeast of the colony. There, on 18 June 1836, they were attacked by the bushranger Henry Hunt, a cold-blooded murderer. Heroically, Isabella saved her husband from certain death and together they over-powered and captured Hunt. For her meritorious conduct, she was granted a free pardon by Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur. In the following year, she and her husband left VDL and settled at Carcoar, 150 miles (about 250 kms) west of Sydney, New South Wales. There, survived by her husband and nine children - and with her convict past seemingly forgotten – she passed away in 1856. She was forty-three years old.

This is Isabella’s story:

Isabella Renshaw, the third child of William and Mary (nee McBride, formerly Berry) Renshaw, was born at Liverpool, England, on 18 March 1812.[2]

Nothing is known about Isabella’s early years. Her parents had married in 1806. At that time, her mother was a young widow with a two-year old daughter, Hannah. Soon after the marriage little Hannah passed away but, over the next ten or twelve years, Mary gave birth to at least six Renshaw children: John (in 1807), Jane (1809), Isabella (1812), Rosannah (1814), and twins Ann and Elizabeth (1817).[3]

Isabella’s father was a hairdresser by trade but the family was poor. By the time Isabella was nineteen years old, she, her mother, an elder brother and a younger sister had been convicted of separate acts of larceny. All had been sentenced to transportation to the Australian colonies.[4]

Isabella’s brother, John, twenty years old, was the first to be transported. In 1827, he was convicted of theft and sentenced to transportation for seven years. He arrived at Sydney aboard Countess of Harcourt on 8 September 1828.[5]

On 24 October 1831, Isabella’s sister, Rosannah, seventeen years old, was convicted of housebreaking and, on 7 November 1831, Isabella herself, just nineteen, was convicted of a felony for her role in a robbery. Both sisters were sentenced to transportation for seven years.[6]

After their trials, Isabella and Rosannah spent four months in an English gaol while awaiting the ship that was to take them to VDL. Isabella’s gaol report states that she was ‘known as a disorderly girl’ and that she had been ‘on the town’ for twelve months.[7] (The term ‘on the town’ usually meant that the prisoner had been working as a prostitute for the time specified. However, it sometimes simply meant that she had been dependent on the parish for her upkeep.)[8] Rosannah’s report also described her as ‘disorderly’.[9]

Eventually, both women were put aboard Hydery which, with 150 female prisoners, sailed from Plymouth on 11 April 1832 and reached Hobart on 10 August that year.[10]

Upon arrival, Dr. Allan McLaren, the surgeon-superintendent aboard Hydery, reported that ‘most of the women had arrived in good health’ but his medical journal reveals that he had had to treat Isabella for ‘epilepsia’ twice during the voyage. Describing her as ‘a remarkably stout girl’, McLaren stated that, on 21 May 1832, she had suffered ‘violent convulsions’ and ‘a most furious delirium’, the onset of which he ascribed to the heat of the prisoners’ quarters below decks. On 18 June, he had had to treat her again. In both instances, he had been able to restore her to her senses with blood-letting and cold effusions. Afterwards, she was ‘tolerably well’ but had been left drowsy and confused. There is nothing in her convict documents to suggest that she had suffered from epilepsy before her conviction and there is no evidence of her suffering in that way after her arrival at Hobart.[11]

On 9 April 1832 - just two days before the departure of Hydery - Mary Renshaw, the mother of Isabella and Rosannah, was convicted of stealing ‘two handkerchiefs, two coats, a waistcoat and five shillings and sixpence’ and she, too, was sentenced to transportation for seven years. She was fifty years of age. Her gaol report described her ’bad’, noting that she had been in prison five times previously. Later, she was put aboard Frances Charlotte which, with about a hundred female prisoners, sailed from the Downs on 15 September 1832 and arrived at Hobart on 10 January 1833.[12]

It seems unlikely that the Renshaw women would have had contact with each other after their arrival in VDL. By the time their mother reached Hobart, Isabella and Rosannah had been assigned, separately, to free settlers as servants.

Isabella, who was described upon arrival as being nineteen years old, single, five feet three and a half inches (about 161 cms) tall, with a fair complexion, light reddish-brown hair, hazel eyes and a slightly pock-pitted face was assigned as a ‘house and nurse maid’ to a Mr. Gavin Hogg.[13] Hogg was an immigrant from Scotland. In 1827, he had been the licensee of ‘The Black Bull’ in Barrack Street, Hobart, but had lost that licence amid reports that he was an unsavoury character. By the time Isabella was assigned to him, he was the licensee of the Campbell Town Inn and the owner of a substantial property, ‘Craglechie’, on the nearby Macquarie River. Isabella remained in his employ for almost five years. She appears not to have been bothered by him. Nor was she ever charged by him with an offence.[14]

Rosannah, Isabella’s sister, was not so fortunate. Her first assignment appears to have been to Henry Oakes, a wealthy landowner at New Norfolk, but by 1833 she was in the Johnson household. There, on 18 October 1834, she was charged with being out after hours and given a reprimand. However, when she was charged with the same offence again on 29 December 1834, she was imprisoned for two months at the Cascades Female Factory. On 15 June 1835, now assigned to Moore, she was charged with being ‘found in an indecent situation with a man in a privy’ and sent back to the Cascades for another three months. Sadly, she died there ten days later. The cause of her death is unknown. She was twenty-two years old.[15]

While Isabella must have been devastated to learn of Rosannah’s sad death, she had a lot to think about in her own life at that time. After just ten months in VDL she had married James Kerr, a twenty-nine year old free settler. The marriage had been solemnised on 8 August 1833 in the Church of England at Longford, near Campbell Town.[16] 

Kerr had emigrated from Scotland with his elder brother, Andrew, two or three years earlier. While Andrew had decided to settle at Carcoar, near Bathurst, in New South Wales, James had opted to make his life in VDL.[17]

On 5 March 1836, Isabella gave birth to her first child, a son whom they had named Andrew.[18] At that time, she and James were living on a small plot of land on the banks of the Nile Rivulet near Evandale, twenty miles (about thirty-two kms) from Launceston. The owner of their land was the renowned landscape painter, John Glover who had been granted a large tract of land after his arrival in VDL in 1832. There, he had built his home, ‘Patterdale’, and had employed Kerr as his overseer.[19]

 It was on the Kerr’s small plot that Henry Hunt, the bushranger, had suddenly appeared on 18 June 1836. An escaped convict and a desperate and dangerous man, he had been living in the bush for the past few months, replenishing his supplies of food and ammunition by robbing the huts of settlers and shepherds in isolated locations. Hunt had been in VDL since his arrival as a convict aboard Persian (2) in November 1830. At his trial in County Kent, England, in December 1829, he had been convicted of stealing rabbits and sentenced to transportation for seven years. It was not his first offence. He had previously served gaol terms for theft and vagrancy.[20] In VDL he had been frequently punished for ‘insolence’ and ‘idleness’ and, for one offence, he had spent fourteen days on the tread-wheel. His worst offence, however, was the theft of a shot-gun in July 1835 and for that he was sentenced to three years on the Launceston Chain Gang and, in addition, his original term of transportation was extended by fourteen years. By early September 1835, he had received twenty-five lashes on three separate occasions for ‘neglect of work’ on the chain gang. He had then escaped and fled into the bush, preying on anyone he happened to come across. He was known to have shot and killed at least one shepherd whose hut he had attacked.[21]  In late November 1835, Hunt had bailed up Captain William Serjeantson, late of the 40th Foot Regiment and now a highly-respected Justice of the Peace, as he (Serjeantson) was making his way through the bush from his home to Wanstead near Campbell Town, a distance of twelve miles (about seventeen kms). Hunt, who was on foot at the time, had ordered Serjeantson at gunpoint to get down from his horse. Serjeantson had refused to do so. Instead, he had charged directly at Hunt who had shot him in the chest at close range. The next morning Serjeantson’s lifeless body, covered with blood and battered about the head, had been discovered. Since then, Hunt had been on the run, undoubtedly aware that a very big reward had been posted for the capture of Serjeantson’s killer and that many people would want to claim it. [22] James and Isabella Kerr had never seen Henry Hunt, of course – and when he surprised them with his appearance at their hut on 18 June 1836 they were not immediately aware that he was the notorious bushranger. It was not until after they had managed to overpower him that they became aware of his identity. In the days and weeks which followed, the story of Hunt’s capture by James and Isabella Kerr was told many times in newspapers of the day. Claiming that some of these accounts were inaccurate, The Hobart Courier of 6 July 1836 quoted Kerr directly:   

On the 18th June I was digging potatoes in my garden, when my dog scratched me twice and the third time he leaped upon my back. I turned round and desired him to go to it which he accordingly did in the direction of an old hut twenty five yards distance from me. I followed him when a man stepped from behind the hut who, presenting his gun, ordered me to stand or he would blow my brains out. He desired me to kneel down which I did. He then leaped over a four-railed fence with his gun cocked. He cleared the fence without touching it at one leap. He then came behind me. I looked over my shoulder and asked, ‘Who are you?’ To which he answered, ‘I will very soon let you know who I am.’ I then wheeled round and got under the muzzle of his gun which I turned upwards and attempted to seize him by the throat but caught him under the ear. Upon this he drew a pistol from a belt at his side. I snatched it by the barrel and threw it on the ground. He struggled with me and threw his gun from him when the muzzle fell towards us. We then struggled about ten yards distance. In falling, he took another pistol from his belt which he cocked and put to my right side. He fell under me. He then got the pistol to my breast. I seized his hands holding his finger from the trigger and called out ‘Murder’. My wife came to my assistance with my musket loaded with ball ... She put the musket to the man's side, who was under me, and asked if she should shoot him, but instead of cocking the piece she opened the pan and the priming fell out. She then said, ‘What shall I do? The powder is gone? Shall I hit him?’ I directed her to hit him on the head. She stepped on the opposite side and struck him with the butt which broke in her hand. At this time, the man's pistol snapped at my breast and she tried to wrench it from him but could not. She then repeated the blow upon his head with the barrel of the musket. He received four blows from her and he called out, ‘Hit me no more. I am a done man.’ We then turned him on his face and having secured him, I desired my wife to go for assistance, Mr. Sevour came and Mr. Glover arrived with six armed men and [then] we ascertained [that] I had captured Hunt. He was forwarded in a cart to Mr. Glover's house, and on the Sunday we conveyed him to Launceston Gaol. He acknowledged he had murdered Capt. Serjeantson and Mr. Humphrey Gray's shepherd.[23]

 Despite a doctor’s effort to save him, Hunt died in Launceston Hospital three weeks later.[24] Before he died, he made a full confession, acknowledging that he had killed Serjeantson and the shepherd and naming others whom he had robbed.[25]  A subsequent inquest found that his death had been caused by ‘certain wounds and fractures inflicted upon his head with a musket by Isabella Kerr’, and that the conduct she had displayed on that occasion was not only ‘fully justifiable’ but deserving of the ‘highest commendation’.[26]

On 28 June 1836, the Colonial Times, quoting an official announcement in the Hobart Town Gazette, carried the news that ‘the Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to grant a free pardon to Isabella Renshaw per Hydery, (the wife of James Kerr) as a reward for her service and meritorious conduct in the capture of Henry Hunt.’[27] 

However, while Isabella must have been delighted to learn of her free pardon, she might well have wondered why there had been no mention as yet of the monetary reward that had been promised – in addition to a free pardon - for the capture of Hunt. On 4 December 1835, The True Colonist (Hobart) had carried this advertisement:



Police Office, Hobart Town, Dec. 3, 1835.

WHEREAS William Serjeantson, Esq., Justice of the Peace, was most barbarously murdered on Monday evening last, at a place called Guydon's Bottom, on the bye road from Hauleth to Wanstead, in the District of Campbell


This it to give Notice, that I am authorised by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor to offer the reward of 100 sovereigns to any person that shall discover the perpetrators of the said murder; and if a convict shall perform such service, then, in addition to the foregoing reward, such convict shall be recommended to His Majesty the King's Mercy for a free pardon, provided that no principal or accessory shall in any degree benefit hereby.            

                                                                                       M. FORSTER, C. P. M.[28]


By the end of June 1836 – two weeks after Hunt’s capture – the reward money still had not been paid and a number of newspapers began to wonder why. Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart) of 2 July 1836 was clear in its opinion that, by this time, money should have been handed to the Kerrs:


Mrs. KERR.—This brave woman has not only obtained a free Pardon, for being instrumental with her husband, in taking Hunt, but is entitled to the pecuniary rewards offered by advertisements for the apprehension of the murderer of Captain Sergeantson and the shepherd ... Kerr and his wife ... certainly richly deserve such a reward.[29]


The reason for the delay soon became apparent - the Government had reneged on the monetary reward! It had decided that, because Hunt had died before he could stand trial, he had not been convicted of Serjeantson’s murder. Therefore, James and Isabella did not qualify for the one-hundred sovereigns reward. Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register of 6 August 1836 put it this way:

The rewards offered for the discovery of murderers cannot be too punctually paid. This remark suggests itself in consequence of hearing that Mr. Kerr, the capturer of Hunt, is kept out of the reward offered for his apprehension, under the excuse that he was not LEGALLY convicted ... Kerr is entitled to the reward offered, although the murderer died in the hospital. He confessed himself guilty of the crime, and afforded proof sufficient to believe him.[30]

Happily, however, James and Isabella did receive a reward eventually. The exact amount of money and the names of all the donors are still unclear but a notice which was published in The Hobart Town Courier of 29 July 1836 provides some idea: We the undersigned agree to pay the amounts following to form a fund to be placed in the hands of the Rev. William Bedford to be applied as a reward to any person or persons (not being a principal) who shall be the means of convicting the party or parties guilty of the murder of Captain Sergeantson ...[31] The list which followed held the signatures of sixty-eight donors. Their donations amounted to four hundred and ninety-four pounds and sixteen shillings. A further note stated that it had now been established to the satisfaction of the Government that the bushranger Hunt was the murderer of Captain Serjeantson and that in recognition of the high regard for Serjeantson, the Lieutenant-Governor had added a further hundred pounds to the reward offered by the petitioners.[32]  Now with money to start a new life, Isabella and James and their baby had left VDL within a few months to go to Carcoar in New South Wales where James’s brother, Andrew, was doing well. Shipping records reveal that a ‘Mr. and Mrs. Kerr’ departed the colony aboard Arab on 15 April 1837.[33] It is likely that that was James and Isabella. The final entry on Isabella’s conduct record reads: `Gone to Sydney with her husband James Curr (sic) by permission of the Lieut. Govn. Free pardon 164, 24 June 1836'.[34] 

At Carcoar in 1838, Isabella gave birth to another son, James. Eight more children followed in quick succession: John (1840), William (1842), Charles (1844), Albert (1847), Joseph (1849), Brittaner (1852), Isabella (1854) and Mary 1856).[35]

Unfortunately, James was never to fare as well at Carcoar as his brother Andrew had done. Andrew had been granted 1195 acres of land soon after his arrival there in 1831 and had quickly added to that by purchase. He had prospered. However, by the time Isabella and James had arrived at Carcoar in 1837 the issuing of land grants had ceased.[36]

In 1840, James was appointed pound-keeper at Carcoar before eventually being able to purchase a small property of his own.[37] However, baptismal records of the younger children show his occupation as ‘butcher’, suggesting that his farming ventures had not been successful.[38]

On 25 July 1856, Isabella passed away.[39] She was forty-three years old.

Soon after Isabella’s death, James remarried.[40] He died at Eugowra, near Forbes, New South Wales, on 12 November 1884. He was eighty-eight.[41] 


[1] Conduct record: CON40-1-7, image 289; description list: CON19-1-13, image 126; Police No: 106; FCRC ID: 6628.

[2] ‘Baptisms and Marriages, Liverpool, Lancashire, England’ via FCRC database; the name of Isabella’s mother is sometimes seen as ‘Rosannah Mary’ and ‘Mary Rosannah’ but she was convicted and transported in 1832 as ‘Mary Renshaw’.

[3] and via FCRC d/base; Mary’s conduct documents indicate that she had eight children.

[4] All were convicted at different times at the Liverpool Quarter Sessions.


[6] Isabella’s trial date: 7 November 1831. A record of Isabella’s trial has not been located. There is uncertainty about the details of her crime; her convict documents reveal that she was transported for  ‘compounding the felony of an acquaintance named Edward Jones who was transported for fourteen years for theft but other researchers claim she was transported for  stealing in the company of two others the sum of five shillings from Bezaleel Burgess at Liverpool. See, for instance,

[7] CON40-1-7, image 289.

[8] CON40-1-7, image 289;

[9] Rosannah Renshaw: CON40-1-7, image 289; Rosannah and Isabella share the same CON4o image.

[10] Shipping details:


[12] Isabella and Rosannah: CON40-1-7, image 289.

[13] CON19-1-13, image 126; CON40-1-7, image 289.

[14] CON40-1-7, image 289; see also Dorreen Borrow (1998): ‘Descendants of James Kerr of Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland’ (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) via; muster rolls 1832, 1833 and 1835: HO10 via FCRC d/base.

[15] CON40-1-7, image 289. assignments: muster roll: CON13-1-5, image 295; death: 24 June 1835, RGD34/1/1, 3932/1835, Hobart; burial: St David’s, Hobart, 26 June 1835. 

[16] RGD36/1/2, No. 2361, 1833, Longford.

[17] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) via

[18] Birth  - son Andrew Kerr: RGD32/1/1, No.7281/1836, Launceston.

[19]; see also

[20] CON31-1-20, image 53.

[21] CON31-1-20, image 53; murdered shepherd: The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 25 June 1836, p.2.

[22] Serjeantson’s name is sometimes seen as ‘Sergeantson’; see The True Colonist, Van Diemen’s Land Political Despatch and Agricultural and Commercial … (Hobart), 4 December 1834, p.8; The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 5 December 1835, p.2; Launceston Advertiser, 10 December 1835, p.3; The Hobart Town Courier, 11 December 1835, p.2; The Hobart Town Courier, 8 July 1836, p.4; The Hobart Town Courier, 29 July 1836, p4.

[23] The Hobart Town Courier, 8 July 1836, p.4; see also The Hobart Town Courier, 24 June 1836, p.2.

[24] Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart), 9 July 1836, p.2.

[25] The Hobart Town Courier, 29 July 1836, p.4; Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart), 6 August 1836, p 4.

[26] Hunt death: 5 July 1836 – see CON31-1-20, image 53; inquest: SC195/1/2, no. 94; see also ‘Echoes of Bushranging Days in Van Diemen’s Land: Original Accounts from Frontier Tasmania’ @’

[27] Colonial Times (Hobart), 8 June 1836, p.3; see also The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 25 June 1836, p.2;

Colonial Times (Hobart), 28 June 1836, p.3.

[28] The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial... (Hobart), 4 December 1835, p.8.

[29] Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart), 2 July 1836, p.4.

[30] Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart), 8 August 1836, p.4.

[31] The Hobart Town Courier, 29 July 1836, p.4; The Cornwall Chronicle, 25 June 1836, p.2, mentions that the sum of eight hundred pounds might have been promised.

[32] The Hobart Town Courier, 29 July 1836, p.4; the reward was £800 according to Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart), 2 July 1836, p.4.

[33] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) via

[34] CON40-1-7, image 289.

[35] NSW BDM at

[36] ([email protected]).com via

[37] See, for instance, The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (NSW), 26 September 1840, p.3.

[38] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) via

[39] NSW 1974/1856, Carcoar; death notice: Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW), 6 August 1856, p.3.

[40] James Kerr /Mary Ann Hawes marriage - NSW 1350/1857, Bathurst; for a more complete account of james Kerr’s life, see This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) via, James might have married for the third time after the death of his second wife, Mary Ann Hawes but verification of that has not been located.

[41] NSW 8967/1884, Forbes.

[1] Conduct record: CON40-1-7, image 289; description list: CON19-1-13, image 126; Police No: 106; FCRC ID: 6628.





Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed online [date].

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




Initiatives of the Female Convicts Research Centre Inc.

Female Convicts Research Centre Convict Women's Press Female Convicts Database Edges of Empire Biographical Dictionary


Terms of Access     Privacy Policy    Copyright     Disclaimer     Contact us     Search    Sitemap

Find Us on Facebook

FCRC is a registered charity.

ACNC Registered Charity Logo RGB

Hosted by Red Rook

© Female Convicts Research Centre Inc.