[Aurora, II, (2), 1851]


Don Bradmore



In December 1850, Sarah Wood was convicted of theft at Edinburgh, Scotland, and sentenced to transportation for ten years. She arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) as a convict per Aurora II (2) in August 1851.[1] She was thirty-two years old. In England, thirteen years earlier, she had married a man by the name of James Burrows but that marriage was short-lived and she and her husband were living apart at the time of her conviction. Two years after her arrival in VDL, she married again. Her new husband was a former convict, John Ganfield, who had been granted a conditional pardon just six months before the marriage.[2] For the next two or three years, all appears to have gone well for Sarah. In August 1854, she was granted a ticket of leave and, in June 1855, a conditional pardon. She was a free woman again. But six months later she took her own life. Reportedly, she had been ‘labouring for some days under temporary insanity’. What might have caused her to become so deeply disturbed?

This is Sarah’s story:


Sarah Wood, the daughter of William and Hannah (nee Rowbotham) Wood, was born at Prestbury, Cheshire, England, in 1818.[3] Apart from the fact that her father was a sawyer and that she had brothers named William and John, nothing is known about her early life.[4]

At the age of twenty, on 19 November 1838, she had married James Burrows at Manchester Cathedral, Lancashire, England. No children of the marriage have been located.[5] How long Sarah and James remained together is not known but it is clear that they had separated well before Sarah was convicted.

On 28 December 1850, the Alloa Advertiser (Clackmannanshire, Scotland) reported that Sarah, in company with two men - thirty-five-year-old James Hayes and twenty-seven-year-old James Shepherd - had appeared in the Court of Judiciary at Edinburgh a few days earlier charged with having robbed a man with whom they had been drinking in a public-house at Alloa. The court heard that the three accused had ‘wickedly and feloniously’ stupefied the man with laudanum or some other narcotic drug before robbing him of some items of clothing and taking two bank notes for ten pounds each and two bank notes for one pound each from his pockets. All of the accused were found guilty. Shepherd, for whom it was not a first offence, had been sentenced to transportation for fifteen years. James Hayes and Sarah had each been sentenced to transportation for ten years.[6] 

Within days of the trial, Sarah was taken to Millbank Prison, London, to await transportation. While there, she wrote on her own behalf to Sir George Grey, Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, begging mitigation of her sentence.[7]

Stressing that she had never been charged with any offence before, she declared that she was entirely innocent of the crime of which she had been convicted. She explained that she had been living as the de facto wife of James Hayes in London for some years. There, Hayes had been a long-term employee of the firm of Hosking and Brown but had left his job after a disagreement with a superior. He had decided then to go to Scotland in search of better opportunities and, as his wife, she had accompanied him. At Edinburgh, however, they had found that pay and conditions were not as good as they had expected and, after a month, they had had booked passage on a steamer to return to London. James Shepherd, a workmate of Hayes in Scotland, had asked to go with them. Just before leaving, all three had gone to the hotel where they had met the man who claimed he had been robbed and, later, they had been arrested. But, she insisted, she had had no knowledge of the theft at the time. She said that, shortly after they had gone on board the steamer to prepare for departure, Shepherd had asked her if he could put a jacket and waistcoat into her bundle of belongings and, not knowing they had been stolen, she had allowed him to do so. However, before the vessel had sailed, a police officer had come on board and arrested Shepherd for the theft. Because the stolen goods had been found in her bundle, she had been arrested also. After her arrest, she had written to Hayes’s former employers in London to seek assistance. In response, Hoskings and Brown had forwarded testimonials to the honesty and industry of Hayes and herself, as well as seven pounds to allow them to engage legal counsel. She had hired a leading attorney immediately but, on the day of the trial, he had had been unable to attend the court. Although he had sent a junior solicitor in his place, he had omitted to forward the testimonials and, consequently, they had not been seen by the court.

Unfortunately for Sarah, the petition fell on deaf ears. Sir George Grey declined to interfere in the matter and authorized the order of transportation to proceed.  

Soon afterwards, Sarah had been put aboard the convict vessel Aurora which, with Mr. Valentine Ryan as Master, Dr. W. B. Jones as Surgeon-Superintendent, two hundred and thirty-two female prisoners and thirty-five emigrants comprising adults and children, had sailed from London on 26 April 1851. By 10 August of that year, it had reached Hobart.[8]  Although there had been six deaths during the voyage – three prisoners and three infants - the journey had been a relatively safe and comfortable one. In his medical report of the journey, Jones had commented that Sarah’s conduct had been ‘exemplary’.[9]  

At Hobart, Sarah was described as being thirty-two years old, five feet five and a half inches (about 166 cms) tall with a sallow complexion, reddish hair and hazel eyes. She could both read and write. She was of the Church of England faith. It was noted on her conduct record that she was married, that her married name was ‘Burrows’ but that she had been co-habiting with James Hayes when convicted.[10]

Soon after disembarkation, having been allocated the convict trade of ‘housemaid and plain cook’, she was hired as a servant by a Mr. Milward at Hobart and, while in his service, was charged with her one and only offence in VDL. On 25 April 1853, she was brought before a magistrate charged with ‘being found lying on a bed with a man for an immoral purpose.’ She was punished by being sent to the cells at the Cascade Female Factory for ten days.[11]   

Actually, the man with whom Sarah had been lying on the bed was the man she would marry later that year. He was a forty-year-old former convict by the name of John Ganfield.[12]

Shortly after her release from prison, Sarah was sent into the service of a Mr. Barker, a settler at Macquarie Plains, about thirty-eight miles (fifty-five kms) north west of Hobart.[13]  There, she met Ganfield again and, on 13 July 1853, the pair applied for permission to marry. That application was unsuccessful, Sarah being informed that she must serve another six months’ probation before the application could be considered. However, when they made a second application on 8 November 1853, approval was granted and they were married at St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Macquarie Plains, on 14 December that year.[14] 

Seven years earlier, in August 1846, Ganfield had been convicted of housebreaking at his native Glastonbury, England, and sentenced to transportation for ten years. Forced to leave behind his wife Emma (nee Cox), whom he had married in 1840, he had been taken originally to the British convict settlement at Gibraltar where he had been held for five years. In early 1851, he had been transferred to VDL, arriving at Hobart per Cornwall in June that year. He was then thirty-eight years old. He was five feet and eleven-and-a-quarter inches (about 182 cms) tall, with light brown-to-grey hair and whiskers. He was a Protestant. He could both read and write.[15]

In VDL, Ganfield who, as his later life was to prove, was an astute and capable man, conducted himself well. He was only ever charged with one new offence – that of lying on a bed with Sarah for an immoral purpose – and, in September 1852, after being in the colony for only fifteen months, he had been granted his ticket of leave. In June of the following year, he had received his conditional pardon.

How, and where, the couple lived after their marriage is not known. However, just two years after the marriage Sarah was living on the estate of a Mr. Terry at Macquarie Plains. There is no indication that her husband was with her. Had they separated already? There is some reason to think that this might have been the case.

On 10 February 1856, Sarah took her own life.[16]

The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston) of 16 February reported the circumstances of her death in this way:

Sarah Ganfield, wife of Ganfield, living on the estate of E. Terry, Esq., [at Macquarie Plains] put an end to her existence on Sunday afternoon, by drowning herself in the River Derwent, having previously attempted to hang herself, but was prevented, and immediately rushed down to the river and threw herself in. Mr. Terry, in a most noble manner, jumped into the river to save her but it was too late, she having sank to rise no more ... With some difficulty, Mr. Terry succeeded in getting her out when life had become quite extinct. The deceased had been suffering under temporary insanity for some days.[17]     

In its wording, this newspaper account echoed the report of the coroner who, at the inquest into Sarah’s death held at Macquarie Plains on 12 February 1856, had found that she had been ‘of unsound mind’ when she had ‘suffocated and drowned after throwing herself into the river.’[18]

The coroner’s report had made no mention of Ganfield. Where was he at this time? Was he aware of his wife’s fragile state of mind? There are no answers to these questions yet.

What was soon to become clear, however, is that, at some time either before or after the marriage, Ganfield had applied for permission to bring his first wife, Emma, out from England.[19]

Was this the situation that had disturbed Sarah deeply enough for her to end her life?  Had Ganfield discussed with her his intention to bring his first wife out to VDL? What was he intending to do with her when Emma arrived? Was he planning to abandon her? What would that mean for her future?

Less than a year after Sarah’s death, Emma arrived at Hobart aboard the vessel Sir W. F. Williams which had sailed from Liverpool, England, on 11 September 1856 and reached Hobart on 2 December.[20] The ship’s manifest described her as a thirty-one-year-old needlewoman and glovemaker.[21]

Was Emma aware that her husband had re-married in VDL three years earlier? Could she have known that Sarah had died in the previous February? Would those facts have made any difference to her decision to emigrate?

Emma had arrived in VDL as a ‘bounty immigrant’, one of the three hundred and forty-one such passengers aboard Sir W. F. Williams at that time. The ‘bounty’ scheme had been introduced following the report of the Select Committee on Transportation to the British Government in 1812.[22] Its purpose was to enable the wives and children of convicts to join their husbands in New South Wales and VDL. It was thought that such a scheme would help to redress the imbalance of gender in the colonies and encourage good behaviour among the male convicts. To be eligible to apply, a convict must have received his ticket of leave. Between 1817 and 1843, more than five hundred men had applied to have their families join them and, during those years, almost three hundred wives and six hundred and fifty children had arrived in VDL as bounty immigrants. Under the scheme, the women and children were sent out free of charge.[23]

It is assumed that Ganfield met Emma upon arrival and that they had resumed the relationship that had been broken apart by Ganfield’s transportation ten years earlier. No children of the marriage have been identified and little is known of their lives for the next fifteen years. However, the occasional mention of John in newspapers during these years indicated that, despite his convict past, he had been well-accepted at Macquarie Plains and was prospering. In 1855, he was a generous contributor the Patriotic War Fund.[24] In 1862, he was among a group of citizens who met to establish a Church Union in the district.[25] He was purchasing land.[26]

But, in their domestic arrangements there was obviously trouble of some kind between John and Emma. On 19 August 1871, the following notice appeared in the pages of Hobart’s leading newspaper,

I HEREBY CAUTION the public in general that I will not be answerable for any debts my wife, EMMA GANFIELD, may contract after this date, and also caution all persons harbouring her. John GANFIELD, Green Farm, Macquarie Plains.[27]

What had caused this disharmony in their lives? Why had Emma fled from Ganfield? Where had she gone?    

As it happens, Emma may not have been away from her husband for very long. They were together at Macquarie Plains when John passed away there at the age of seventy on 15 August 1883.[28] In his will, he left all of his property and assets to Emma.[29] She died, a relatively wealthy woman, in 1899.[30]

To what extent, if at all, the suicide of poor Sarah Wood in 1856 had affected the later lives of John and Emma Ganfield will never be known, of course, but it is difficult to dispel the thought that it was Emma’s imminent arrival in VDL – and her own possible abandonment in a society that was hostile to women who were alone – that had been responsible for Sarah’s disturbed state of mind when she met her death.  


[1] Conduct record: CON41-1-31, image 231; Description List CON19-1-9, image 227; Indent: CON15-1-7, images

136 and 137; Police No: 929; FCRC ID: 2513.

[2] Ganfield was transported as ‘John Gandfield’; see CON33-1-103, image 119.

[3] Baptism: findmypast  via

[4] CON15-1-7, images 136/137.

[5] Ancestry UK, via

[6] Alloa Advertiser (Alloa, Scotland), 28 December 1850; Alloa is a town in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, on the north bank of the Forth in the Central Lowlands.

[7] Petition:



[10] CON41-1-31, image 231; CON19-1-9, image 227; Indent: CON15-1-7, images 136 and 137.

[11] CON41-1-31, image 231.

[12] See conduct record (Ganfield/Gandfield): CON33-1-103, image 119; trial: Glastonbury, England, 6 August 1846.

[13] Sarah at Macquarie Plains: CON41-1-31, image 231.

[14] Applications for permission to marry: CON52/1/6, G – April-Oct 1853 and G – Oct-Dec 1853, marriage: RGD37/1/12, no. 1335, New Norfolk.

[15] CON33-1-103, image 119; British convicts at Gibraltar:; marriage to Emma Cox: 9 September 1840 -  see England and Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915 for John Garfield, 1840, Q3, Jul-Aug-Sep, G, via ‘Ancestry’ at

[16] Sarah’s death: RGD35/139/1856, Hamilton.

[17] The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 16 February, 1856; see also The People’s Advocate or True Friend of Tasmania, 18 February 1856, p.2

[18] Inquest: SC195/1/38, inquest no. 3685.

[19] Ganfield’s application re Emma to VDL: CB7/12/1/6, Bk43, pp.310-311 via

[20] Arrival of Sir W. F. Williams:  The Tasmanian Daily News, 3 December 1856, p.2; see also:

[21] ‘Tasmania, Australia, Passenger Arrivals, 1829-1957, Descriptive List of Passengers, 1856, December’ at

[22] Report:

[23] ‘Parrott, J. (2008). ‘Convict Family Reunion Scheme’ in The Companion to Tasmanian History, at

[24] A fund intended to support Britain in the Crimean War, 1853-1855; see

[25] Church Union: see The Mercury, 30 June 1863, p.2.

[26] The Courier (Hobart) 13 June 1855; The Mercury (Hobart), 26 May 1862, p.3 and 23 June 1862, p.3; The Tasmanian Tribune, 19 January 1876.

[27] The Mercury, 19 August 1871, p.1.

[28] Death, John Ganfield: RGD35/1/10, no. 1073.

[29] Will AD960-1-14, Will no. 2715.

[30] Death, Emma Ganfield: RGD35/761/1899, Richmond.





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