Hector 1835

By Helen Ménard



Approximately 12,500 female convicts were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) between 1803 and 1853.[1] Of these 782 were transported for life.[2] Sarah was one of these women. Ten percent of the women in this cohort had no offence recorded and, of the remainder, roughly thirty percent were convicted for serious violent crimes. The balance was convicted largely for property offences.[3] Sadly, many of those transported for life did not commit what today would be considered serious offences nor were they repeat offenders.[4]

Was it fair that murderers, arsonists, rapists and recidivist offenders (some of whom had been pardoned from execution) were lumped into the same basket as those who committed non violet crimes of theft, burglary, house breaking and the like, often for reasons of survival and many of whom were first time offenders? Of course, this is consistent with the prevailing government policy to populate the colonies with young women of child bearing age,[5] but unjust nonetheless.

As far as we know, Sarah was a first time offender and was convicted of stealing £12 and a hat valued at 20 shillings.[6] At the time, this represented the cost of two cows or eighteen stone of wool or sixty days pay for a skilled tradesman. It is the modern day equivalent of approximately £725.[7] For this she was sentenced to spend the rest of her life in a developing and often brutal colony thirteen thousand miles away from her home and family. Was it not slavery?

Life in England

Very little is known about Sarah’s early life except that, by 1835, she was allegedly widowed and had one child.[8] There is no definitive record confirming that Barnes was either her married or maiden name.

She is recorded as having lived with Major Newton and his wife for four years working as a housemaid.[9] There is no indication in the records as to whether her child was living with her during this period. Why she left this employment is also unclear.

However, in October 1834, she went to live with Elizabeth Schofield and Eliza Lewis who were partners in a millinery business at St James, Westminster.[10] Sarah was employed as a servant and, when she arrived, one of her employers stated ‘she appeared to have very little money – she appeared poor – she was very badly off for clothes’.[11] So, what happened to Sarah between her life with Major Newton and arriving at the milliners? In all the statements given at trial by Schofield and Lewis, there is no mention of a child living with Sarah on their premises.[12] If Sarah was widowed at this point and had a child, who was caring for her child?

Evidence and conviction

The court records state Sarah was indicted for stealing a hat (value 20s), 6 sovereigns, 2 half-sovereigns, 10 shillings and a £5 note from the dwelling house of her mistresses Elizabeth Schofield and Eliza Lewis, partners in a millinery business, at St James, Westminster on 7 February 1835.[13]

James Hale was concurrently charged with feloniously receiving stolen goods and receiving from an ‘evil disposed person’.[14]

Schofield stated she had seen Hale ‘about the house speaking to Barnes’.[15]

Lewis stated that when she asked Sarah about the stolen items found in her upstairs room ‘she cried very much and said she was led away to do it; she did not do it on her own account’. Lewis immediately reported Sarah to the police.[16]

When Sarah was taken into custody by PC Stone he stated ‘I took the prisoner to the station-house - I had great difficulty in getting her out of the house - she wished to go back to Miss Schofield, saying she could make it all up if she went to her friends - I would not let her go back.’[17]

It also appears that, on 25 February 1835, Sarah pawned a card-case belonging to Lewis for which she received 3 shillings. When questioned by Charles Williams at the pawn shop, Sarah gave her name as Betsy Hale and said the property was not hers but belonged to a Jayne Edwards.[18] Sarah was not charged with this offence.

In her defence, Sarah stated her mistress ‘asked me to say it was Hale who committed the robbery and she would give me my liberty - I said I would not bring an innocent person into it - I told the policeman how I came by the articles - mistress came to me like a mad woman, and said she knew Hale was the person who did it.’[19]
It is unclear whether Sarah is referring to Lewis or Schofield here.

It is unquestionably to Sarah’s credit that she refused to allow Hale to take the blame for the theft. Despite her lack of previous convictions, is it possible she contemplated that transportation might lead to a better life for her?

Sarah was convicted and sentenced to transportation for life.

Hale was found not guilty.[20]

Transportation and arrival in VDL

Sarah, aged 26,[21] was transported to VDL aboard the Hector arriving on 20 October 1835 along with 133 other female convicts.[22] Her behaviour on board was described as ‘well conducted’.[23] There is no indication in the records whether or not a child accompanied Sarah to VDL[24] nor is there any record of her child being admitted to any of the Orphan Schools in VDL.[25]

On arrival in 1835, Sarah was assigned to a Mr Thompson in New Norfolk and was still under his assignment in 1841.[26] She maintained a perfectly clean conduct record during this time.[27] Sarah was first granted a ticket of leave in November 1843 and, after recommendation for a conditional pardon in June 1847, it was approved in August 1848.[28]

She was now a free woman but, most unlikely ever to be able to return to England.[29]

Sarah’s husband David

Evidently Sarah remained in the New Norfolk area. On 4 December 1839, aged 28 and a widow, she married David Owens, aged 30 a widower and overseer, at St Mathews Church, New Norfolk.[30]

Were Sarah and David really both widowed when they married or did they assume that status knowing they would never be able to return to their families in England?

David Owens arrived in VDL aboard the Katherine Stewart Forbes on 16 July 1832 having been transported for 7 years for wounding. He was aged 22 on arrival and was a ploughman by trade.[31] According to his records, he was married to Hannah who remained in the UK with their one child.[32] Unusually, David Owens had no recorded offences in VDL[33] and, on 12 December 1855, aged 42, died from concussion and brain injury after falling from a horse on his farm at New Norfolk.[34]

There is no record of Sarah or David having any children in Tasmania.

On 24 August 1857, Sarah Williams applied for, and was granted, letters of administration of Owens’ estate which stated as follows:

KNOW all men by these presents that we Sarah Williams formerly the widow of David Owen deceased of New Norfolk in Tasmania farmer but now the wife of Warren Williams of the same place farmer, John Richards of Elizabeth Street Hobart Town in Tasmania licensed victualler, William James Hagan of Collins Street Hobart Town in Tasmania licensed victualler are …[35]

It seems that, by this time, Sarah was holding herself out as Mrs Williams even though she did not marry Warren Williams until about eight years later.[36] Clearly, they must have been in an established relationship. Living on properties in the same area, had Warren been watching Sarah from afar?

Sarah’s husband Warren

On 8 November 1865, now stated to be 48,[37] Sarah married Warren Williams, also 48 and a single farmer,[38] in the Manse of Chalmers’ Church, Hobart.[39]

Warren Collins Williams arrived in VDL aboard the Sir Robert Peel on 26 December 1844,[40] after being tried in the Monmouth Assizes (Wales) on 10 August 1844 and transported for 14 years. He was recorded to be a farm labourer, brewer and malter but there is no reference to his date of birth, marital status or reason for transportation.[41] He was sent to Salt Water Creek (probation station) on 25 January 1845 as a probation passholder 3rd class for 24 months and was granted status as a probation passholder on 24 December 1846[42] (after which he could be hired out for work).[43] His first employment was with George Lowe at New Town for whom he worked intermittently for the next three years.

Warren recorded three minor offences in VDL from March 1849 to October 1850; two for drunkenness for which he received two and ten days respectively in solitary confinement and the last for misconduct in leaving his master’s horses and cart and going into a public house, for which he was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and hard labour on Maria Island.[44] He was granted a ticket of leave on 26 August 1851 and recommended for a conditional pardon in September 1852 that was approved on 21 June 1853.[45]

Sarah and Warren - until death us do part

There appears to be no record of Warren and Sarah having had any children which, given Sarah’s age is not surprising; nor is there any record that Warren was married in Tasmania before marrying Sarah.

Warren Williams was an active member of the local community who was a member of the Upper Derwent Road District Landholders in 1862;[46] gave evidence in a Supreme Court horse stealing trial in 1864;[47] petitioned the government on behalf of the Upper Derwent Road District Landholders for road access in 1866;[48] sat as a jury member in a coronial inquest into the death of an orphan school boy in 1869;[49] gave evidence in a civil trial in which a neighbour was seeking compensation for trespass in 1874;[50] and sat as a jury member in a Supreme Court trial for perjury in 1875.[51]

Sarah and Warren, both seemingly law abiding citizens, had their own personal experiences with the law. In July 1873, William Hopkins, who was working on their property at the time, was charged with bestiality (the details of which the press declined to publish) and, on presenting no defence, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.[52] In August 1875, and still living at New Town, they both had cause to prosecute their own servant for theft. The Mercury reported the matter as follows:

Ann Kenny was charged with having fraudulently converted one half sovereign, the moneys of Warren Williams, of New Town, to her own use.

Sarah Williams, wife of the prosecutor, deposed that the defendant was in her service on the 10th instant. Witness gave her half a sovereign and a two shilling piece to purchase some articles of food. Had never seen her since.

Jane Shadwick, landlady of the Maypole Inn said that the defendant come to her house at 12 o'clock on the 10th instant for some ale. She came back again at 2 o'clock to pay for it, and tendered a half-sovereign. Gave her 9s. 6d. change.

Constable Ruddoch gave evidence as to the defendant being given into custody by Mr. Williams. Found a purse with 2s, 3d. in it. She was then very drunk.

The Bench sentenced her to two months, with hard labour.[53]

Warren obviously hankered for his homeland as is evidenced by this piece in The Mercury in 1874:

All our fellow colonists, both ancient und native, will be proud to learn that the pheasant of old England is going ahead after all. Mr. Warren Williams, who rents the Bishop's Glebe[54] at New Town, reports that he has at least live and twenty golden-fledged strangers amongst his grain; and so tame are they, that the old cocks crow in defiance at the sheep dogs when they bring up their wives and little army of fledgelings [sic] to the kitchen door. Mr. Williams says that they "play the devil" with his wheat and barley, but he does not mind that so long as he has something of old England about his barn door. It was only last year that we noted that this beautiful bird had located itself in the hop grounds of Stephen Wright, Esq., of O'Brien's Bridge, and it is to be hoped that the pair then seen there have increased to the same extent as those of the Holy Land.[55]

Subsequently, Warren would return to his birthplace in Wales but not before experiencing a series of unhappy events. His ‘beloved wife’ Sarah, aged 61,[56] died on 6 July 1876 after a long history of heart disease.[57] Warren, clearly, did not want to stay on in Tasmania. Six months later in January 1877, when he had decided to leave Glebe Farm, New Town and return to England, and having organised to sell his livestock and property, his haystacks and stables on the farm were the subject of an arson attack. The horses and other property were saved but he lost 35 tons of hay which was uninsured.[58] Two months later, in March 1877, his residence at the farm was burgled and reported as follows:

A burglary, which has all the characteristics of a planned affair, took place on Thursday night at the residence of Mr. Warren Williams, New Town. Mr. Williams is a small farmer, whose dwelling house is situated near the Glebe. Intending to leave for England, he recently sold his horses and cattle, and the thieves must have imagined that the proceeds of the sale were in the house. Mr. Williams  left home about eight o'clock on Thursday night, and the servant girl went away at the same time, leaving no one in charge of the premises. On returning about ten, Mr. Williams found that during his absence the door had been forced open; and on going into his bedroom saw that his chest had been broken into and rummaged, and that the bedding mid other things had been tumbled about, evidently in a search for money which the thieves believed to be secreted there. Being unable to find money, the burglars contented themselves with articles of wearing apparel and jewellery, which they carried off to the extent of £20 worth. Information was at once given to the New Town police, who are endeavouring to find a clue to the burglars. It will be remembered that a short time ago Mr. Williams’ hay stack was burned, the fire being, as is believed, the work of an incendiary.[59]

The same month, March 1877, Warren Williams finally left Hobart for Melbourne[60] and then travelled from Melbourne to London aboard the Somersetshire.[61] In June 1880 Warren Collins Williams married Margaret Thomas in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Wales.[62] There is no definitive record of his death in Wales[63] but Warren C Williams appeared in the 1881 census (EW&S) at Amroth, Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Wales with a date of birth of 1821.[64]

The end of the story

What happened in Sarah’s early life that took her from a seemingly stable employment situation with Major Newton to apparent poverty and then led her to steal from her subsequent employers Schofield and Lewis?

The disproportionate price Sarah paid for her self-confessed, non-violent crime saw her transported half way round the world for life and, in all probability, destined never to return. Was this her intention? Clearly, she was not a hardened criminal so what motivated the actions that turned out to be her one and only transgression with the law?

Whatever her life might have been in England, it is evident Sarah made the most of her new beginnings in Tasmania. She had stable employment with an untarnished conduct record until her marriage to David Owens which lasted for eighteen years before his life was cut short in a riding accident. Did they choose not to have any children together?

Sarah’s subsequent relationship and marriage to Warren Williams lasted another nineteen years but, sadly, ended with her suffering a protracted illness.

Did Sarah ever regret not being able to return to England? Did she ever know what happened to the child she left behind? Sadly, there are many unanswered questions about Sarah’s life but the lengthy relationships she had with David and Warren suggest she may have found some peace a world far away from her birthplace.


[1] Alexander, Alison, ed., The Companion to Tasmania History, Snowden, Dianne, “Female Convicts” (2005), Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania.

[2] FCRC database

[3] FCRC database

[4] Alexander, Alison, ed., The Companion to Tasmania History, Snowden, Dianne, “Female Convicts” (2005), Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania.

[5] Ibid

[6] Old Bailey t18350406-1007


[8] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/1 DI 224

[9] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/1 DI 224

[10] Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[11] Elizabeth Schofield, Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[12] Elizabeth Schofield, Old Bailey t18350406-1007; Eliza Lewis, Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[13] Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[14] Ibid

[15] Elizabeth Schofield, Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[16] Eliza Lewis, Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[17] George Stone (police constable C99) Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[18] Charles Williams, Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[19] Barnes’ Defence, Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[20] Ibid

[21] This gives Sarah a presumed date of birth of 1809-10.

[22] Charles Williams, Old Bailey t18350406-1007

[23] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/1 DI 224

[24] Ibid


[26] FCRC database: Barnes: employment, HO 10

[27] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/1 DI 224

[28] Ibid;

[29] A convict became eligible to apply for a Conditional Pardon after a certain amount of their sentence had expired. It was approved if they were of good behaviour. Convicts applied at their local Police Office and the application was sent to the King or Queen for approval, which was often given a year or so after the application. A Conditional Pardon gave the convict the status of a free person except that they were only allowed to travel within certain jurisdictions, usually the Australian colonies and New Zealand.

[30] LIB TAS / Names Index: RGD37/1/1 No 93 DI 32; this gives Sarah a presumed date of birth of 1811

[31] LIB TAS / Names Index: CON31/1/33 p99 DI 103

[32] Ibid

[33] Ibid

[34] LIB TAS / Names Index: RGD 37/1/1 No 577 DI 93

[35] LIB TAS / Names Index: AD961/1/3 No 379 p890-894 DI 1-5

[36] At the time her application for letters of administration was lodged, would the Supreme Court have required proof of her marriage to Williams (as part of proof of identity and given the fact that his consent was required)? It seems not, as this would mean that the dates on the marriage records were incorrect. Maybe she only had to provide proof of marriage to Owens as potential administrator of his estate.

[37] This gives Sarah a presumed date of birth of 1817 which is inconsistent with her stated age on arrival in VDL and her marriage to Owens.

[38] This gives Warren a presumed date of birth of 1817 which is not consistent with his date of birth of 1822 when he left Tasmania and of 1821 when he appeared in the census in Wales in 1881.

[39] LIB TAS/Names Index: RGD37/1/24 No 202 DI 108


[41] LIB TAS/Names Index: CON31/1/63 DI234; CON18/1/43

[42] Ibid


[44] LIB TAS/Names Index: CON31/1/63 DI234

[45] Ibid

[46] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Sat 4 Jan 1862  p3 Advertising

[47] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Wed 31 Aug 1864  p2 Law

[48] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: Tasmanian Morning Herald (Hobart, Tas.: 1865 -1866) Mon 25 Jun 1866  p1 Advertising

[49] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Tue 7 Dec 1869  p3 Death of an Orphan School Boy

[50] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Fri 9 Jan 1874  p2 Law Intelligence

[51] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Wed 15 Sep 1875  p2 SUPREME COURT

[52] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Mon 21 Jul 1873  p2 Law Intelligence

[53] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Wed 18 Aug 1875  p2 CITY POLICE COURT

[54] A piece of land serving as part of a clergyman’s benefice or providing income; land; fields

[55] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Sat 12 Dec 1874  p2 The Mercury

[56] This again raises the question of Sarah’s true date of birth. Her death records would suggest a birth date of 1815 which is more consistent with her stated aged on marriage to Williams (presumed date of birth 1817) but less so with her stated age on marriage to Owens (presumed date of birth 1811) and age on arrival in VDL (presumed date of birth 1810).

[57] LIB TAS / Names Index: RGD35/1/8 No 3455 DI 400; TROVE: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860-1954) Sat 8 Jul 1876  p1 Family Notices

[58] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Thu 25 Jan 1877  p2 The Mercury

[59] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 -1954) Sat 3 Mar 1877  p2 The Mercury

[60] PROV: Passenger Records & Immigration / Coastal passenger lists 1852-1923 /

[61] He was recorded as 55 years of age with a birth date of 1822; PROV: Passenger Records & Immigration / Outwards passenger lists 1852-1923

[62] /England & Wales Marriages 1837-2005

[63] There are two possible deaths in Wales for Warren WILLIAMS: one occurred in 1887 (dob 1817) in Cardigan, Wales (which would be consistent with his stated age as 48 on marriage in 1865 but not his actual age) and the other in 1892 (dob 1827) in Monmouthshire, Wales;

[64] / 1881 England, Wales & Scotland Census




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