Per Gilbert Henderson, 1840.

By Helen Ménard.



Crime was clearly not a novelty for the Watt family. Hannah was the youngest in a family of four children, all of whom ultimately ended up being transported from Scotland to Van Diemen’s Land as retribution for their criminal transgressions. Were they simply victims of clearly stated government policy to remove ‘the unsightly poor’ from the streets of Britain[1] or did they collude with one another to find a better life in the colonies?

The Watt family

Thomas Watt (1771-1851),[2] a shoemaker, was born and died in Aberdeen, Scotland and his first wife was Mary (Henderson or Phillips).[3] They had four children: John (1803-), Isabella (1806-10 – 1858), James (1811-) and Hannah (1809-12 - 1885).[4] After Mary died (some time before April 1839),[5] and then aged 76, Thomas married Isabella Black[6] in Aberdeen on 18 November 1847[7] after several years of living with her in a de facto relationship.[8]


John was the first of the siblings to leave Scotland. He appeared before the Aberdeen Court of Justiciary on 24 April 1832 for theft of whalebone and was sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) aboard the Atlas on 24 August 1833[9] single, a mariner and aged 30.[10] He committed a series of minor offences in the colony from November 1833 to July 1838, mostly involving absenteeism and drunkenness. He was granted a ticket of leave on 14 June 1838, a free pardon on 6 February 1839 and certificate of freedom on 25 April 1839.[11]


James was 22, single and a seaman when he arrived in VDL aboard the Isabella in November 1833, three months after his brother John. He was tried in the High Court Edinburgh on 11 February 1833 and convicted of highway robbery and, with a previous conviction for robbery, was transported for life.[12] By way of contrast, he had a completely clean offences record in VDL and was granted a ticket of leave in 1841 and a conditional pardon for the Australian colonies on 16 December 1845.[13]

In December 1851, James travelled from Launceston to Melbourne aboard the Shamrock,[14] presumably, in the hunt for gold.


Isabella was tried before the Aberdeen Court of Justiciary on 29 April 1835 for robbery together with co accuseds Mary Sim and, her then de facto partner, William Jamieson.[15] With a previous conviction for assault for which she had served thirty days, and having spent 12 months ‘on the town’,[16] Isabella was convicted and sentenced to transportation for life, as was William Jamieson. Mary Sim was acquitted, there being insufficient evidence to prove her guilt.[17] Isabella was recorded as 25 and single when she arrived in VDL in October 1835 aboard the Hector. The transportation records note she was accompanied by ‘one child 8 years old’[18] and the Ship Surgeon’s Journal stated in July 1835, Isabella was ‘nursing an infant of seven months old’.[19]


Hannah was the last of four siblings to be exiled to the Australian colonies. She had been living in de facto relationship for about eight years in Aberdeen with James Mackay, the father of her three children.[20] Born in about 1812, Hannah may have been approximately 20 when she took up with James.[21] This would suggest her three children were most likely born between 1832 and 1840: Catherine (date unknown),[22] James (possibly 1833-34) and Christina (Christianna) (possibly 1837).[23] Even though they all accompanied Hannah to VDL they are not listed on any of the ship’s records.

Hannah had two previous convictions for assault for each of which she served thirty days in prison.[24]  Records indicate that she was also charged, together with her sister Isabella, with robbery in April 1835 but ‘the case was not called’.[25] On 25 September 1839 Hannah was tried for robbery or theft ‘habit and repute’[26] along with her co accused Christian Dunn, in the High Court of Aberdeen. They were charged with stealing £2 in notes, 15 shillings in silver coins together with various other personal items from one Peter Low, aged 63, on 3 March 1839.[27]

Low maintained that Dunn dragged him into a house asking for a gill (a quarter pint) and money and, when he rejected both, Dunn refused to allow him to leave and began swearing at him. Then ‘another woman came into the room, who had a child in her arms, and Witness has seen that woman and recognised her and has heard her say that her name is Hannah Watt.’[28] They both proceeded to hold Low down and rob him of a silk neck napkin and a stiffener containing two £1 notes, a green cloth purse containing 15 shillings and a woollen mit.[29]

Low alleged a girl, later identified as Janet Will (Hannah’s niece and Isabella’s daughter), came into the room during the struggle and threatened him with a poker but did not strike him (despite having told other witnesses that he had been struck) or engage in the robbery.[30] Janet, who was residing with Hannah at the time, denied ever being in the room,[31] or speaking to Low or threatening him with a poker.[32] At the time of making her statement in April 1839, Janet was in Bridewell[33] having been convicted of theft.[34]

Both prisoners pleaded not guilty.[35] Hannah maintained that Low was looking for lodgings and entered her house ‘of his own account’.[36] She further declared that he

asked her to get a Girl for him and he said would call in the evening and pay her as he was only then possessed of a half penny – That as the man had no money the Declarant told him she would get no Girl for him and she ordered him out.

That the man then seized the Declarant by the throat and attempted to throw her down upon a bed which was in the room. That he seized the Declarant by the throat with one hand but she cannot say which and by her breast with his other hand and two of her children who were present commenced screaming. That the Declarant wrestled herself from the said man and ran out leaving the man in the house.[37]

On the basis that she was ‘the worse of drink’ Hannah denied statements given by her father (Thomas Watt) that she had given him money and that she had given the silk handkerchief to her mother.[38] However, later while in custody, Hannah admitted to a fellow prisoner that she had robbed a man of £2 and 15 shillings in silver.[39] She also stated that Dunn had struck the same man with a poker.[40]

William Walker, Sergeant of Police in the Aberdeen Police Establishment, stated that he ‘has known Hannah Watt for several years during which time she has been habite and repute a thief and her house is notorious as a place where robberies are often committed.’[41]

At the time in question, Christian Dunn was residing with Hannah’s ‘cousin german’[42] (Ann Henderson) and her mother (Isabella Phillips or Henderson, widow).[43] Ann Henderson stated that Dunn had denied any involvement in the robbery and was not even present when the man was robbed.[44] Dunn herself denied being in Watt’s house when the alleged robbery took place and that, afterwards when walking in the street, Hannah admitted to her that she had ‘taken a shilling or two’ from the man seen leaving her house.[45] She further denied any involvement in the robbery, striking the man with a poker or seeing any other person doing so.[46]

Of Dunn, Charles Dawson, Town Sergeant stated he ‘has known the Prisoner Dunn for upwards of 3 years to be habite and repute a thief and that she was convicted of theft on 28th November 1836 in the Police Court of Aberdeen.’[47]

Hannah and Christian Dunn were unanimously convicted by the jury and sentenced to 10 years’ transportation.[48] In October 1839 Thomas Watt, aged 70, lodged a petition for mercy on the basis that his daughter Hannah was his only remaining child able to support him and that she had three children of her own who needed her care and attention.[49] The petition was refused.

Hannah’s life in VDL

Hannah’s transportation records state she was single and 28 on arrival in VDL in April 1840, with her three children, aboard the Gilbert Henderson.[50] Also on board was her co accused Christian Dunn.[51]

James Mackay (McKay), aged 7 (suggesting a birthdate of 1833), was admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School, Hobart on 14 May 1840 and discharged to his mother on 24 June 1844; Christianna Mackay, aged 3 (suggesting a birthdate of 1837), was also admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School on 14 May 1840 and discharged to her mother on 22 April 1844; there appear to be no records of Catherine having been admitted to any of the orphan institutions so, presumably, she stayed with her mother.[52]

The first Orphan Schools in Tasmania were established in 1828 in temporary accommodation but quickly became overcrowded. From 1828, the institution was referred to as the King’s Orphan Schools, after George IV (1820-1830) and then William IV (1830-1837). From 1837, when Queen Victoria came to the throne, it was known as the Queen’s Orphan Schools. From 1861, it was known as the Queen’s Asylum for Destitute Children.[53]

Did Hannah have any contact with her siblings who were already in the colony? John, who received his certificate of freedom in 1839, and James were still in VDL. Isabella had been married for four years and her last period in the Cascades,[54] in August 1940, did not coincide with any of Hannah’s periods of incarceration.[55]

Hannah only recorded four offences in the colony from June 1841 to September 1843 which involved absence without leave and taking her child into a public house;[56] absence without permission; disobedience of orders and insolence; and drunkenness.[57] She was sentenced to 10 days solitary confinement and one, three and three months at the wash tub respectively.[58] She was granted a ticket of leave on 14 June 1844 and a certificate of freedom on 5 November 1849.[59]

Hannah and William

William Jamieson (Isabella’s previous partner) single, 21, a seaman and butcher, was transported for life aboard the Asia departing Sheerness, England on 8 November 1835 and arriving in VDL on 21 February 1836.[60] William’s criminal activity continued in the colonies and from June 1836 to December 1844 he committed no less than fifteen offences. Eventually, he was granted a ticket of leave in December 1844 and a conditional pardon in July 1848.[61] Yet, it seems William did not really appreciate his freedom!

Permission for Hannah Watt (Gilbert Henderson) to marry William Jamieson (Asia) was granted on 26 January 1846[62] and they were married on 6 April 1846 in Hobart Town.[63] Hannah was now married to her sister Isabella’s previous partner and possibly the father of Isabella’s youngest child. Still, marriage did not seem to temper William’s criminal activities. On 2 April 1849, aged 32, he was before the Hobart Town Court of Quarter Sessions for assaulting one Christine Barnwell and robbing her of three half crowns. He was sentenced to a further 15 years’ transportation[64] with two years to be served at Port Arthur.[65] So much for married life!

At the time of this conviction, William was stated to be married with two children[66] but there are no available records of any children being born to Hannah and William in VDL.[67] Possibly, the reference was to Hannah’s two children discharged from the orphan school to her care in 1844, although by this time they would have been around 12 and 16 years of age. Hannah’s petition for a remission of William’s sentence in June 1849 was refused,[68] as was a further petition for commutation of sentence in May 1851.[69] Was she struggling to look after two young children on her own?

During his second period of transportation William committed a series of further offences from 1849 to October 1851, after which he was granted a ticket of leave in February 1852.[70] In April 1851 he was recorded as working for James Watt (possibly his brother in law) in Hobart and in July 1851 the Government Marine Department.[71] In December 1851 William was recommended for conditional pardon (in twelve months) available everywhere save the United Kingdom and VDL[72] which was granted in January 1853.[73]

The final chapter

Did Hannah and William relocate to Victoria, along with many others, to try their luck in the goldfields? A William Jamieson was fined 5 shillings for drunkenness in the City Court in Melbourne in February 1860.[74] Was this Hannah’s William? Although there appear to be no shipping records of Hannah or William leaving Tasmania, William Jamieson (born in Aberdeen) died aged 42 at the Heathcote Hospital, Victoria on 16 February 1861.[75] Hannah Jamieson (father Thomas Watt, mother Mary and spouse of William Jamieson) died 25 years later in 1885, aged 67,[76] in the gold mining town of Baillieston, Victoria.[77] What happened to Hannah in the many years after William died? At the very least, it would seem that she did not remarry.

Little can be found of Hannah’s life after about 1850 but, if leaving Scotland was an attempt to find a better life, did she find it? Were any of her siblings or their families part of her life in Australia? In the end, did Hannah find gold?



[1] Swiss, Deborah J., The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, (2010), The Berkley Publishing Group, London. Extracted from https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2018/06/the-founding-mothers-the-little-known-story-of-australias-convict-women/

[2] findmypast.com; familysearch.org; scotlandspeople.gov.uk; OPR168/A 370 152 Aberdeen; father John Watt, mother Margaret Hardy, baptised 8/8/1873;

[3] There appears to be no record of this marriage; there is an entry for  Thomas Watt and Mary (Unnamed) being married in Huntly, Aberdeenshire between 1683-1795; findmypast.com; OPR 202/1

[4] findmypast.com; familysearch.org; scotlandspeople.gov.uk; NAS AD14/32/86; NAS AD14/32/435VIC/BDM

[5] Statement Thomas Watt, (April 1839) margin note states “Watts wife is dead”; NAS AD14/32/86; NAS AD14/32/435VIC/BDM; there are two possible deaths recorded for a Mary Watt, both at Aberdeen, on 10/6/1831 (OPR 168A/34) and 15/3/1839 (OPR 168A/35); findmypast.com

[6] Father Peter Black, woolcomber; findmypast.com; OPR168A/31; OPR168A/40

[7] Findmypast.com; OPR168A/40

[8] Isabel Black appeared in the 1841 census as living in Thomas’ house and aged 30 (born 1811), however, on marriage in 1847 she was stated as 50 and by the 1851 census she was married and 54 (born 1797); findmypast.com

[9] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/46 p238 DI 241

[10] Ibid; CON18/1/3 p203 DI 110

[11] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/46 p238 DI 241; DHT / database

[12] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/47 p12 DI 16; CON18/1/9 p102 DI 56; DHT / database

[13] Ibid

[14] LIB TAS: Names Index: POL220/1/1 p487

[15] NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52 

[16] A term commonly used to indicate living off the earnings of prostitution.

[17] NAS AD14/35/31; AD14/35/30; JC26/1835/40; JC26/1835/52; Isabella’s story is available on the FCRC website under Convict Lives / Convict Stories https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/about-convict-lives/profiles 

[18] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/9 p379 DI 369; CON19/1/13 p207 DI 225

[19] Surgeon’s Journal of Her Majesty’s Female Convict Ship Hector
Mr Morgan PRICE, Surgeon
from 19th May 1835 – to 24th October 1835

[20] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p209 DI 186

[21] Records of Hannah’s age vary substantially from 1809-1818. John’s precognition papers in Dec 1831 state she was 22 and living with her sister Isabella, suggesting a birthdate of 1809 - NAS AD14/32/86; James’ precognition papers in June 1832 state she was 22 and unmarried, suggesting a birthdate of 1810 - NAS AD14/32/435; in Feb 1835 she declared she was 24 and ‘nursing a child’, suggesting a birthdate of 1811 - NAS AD14/35/30; in Mar 1839 she declared she was 27 and unmarried, suggesting a birthdate of 1812; in April 1840 on arrival in VDL she stated she was 28, suggesting a birthdate of 1812 – CON40/1/10;  no age was given on her marriage in 1846; on her death in 1885 she was stated to be 67 suggesting a birthdate of 1818.

[22] A Catharine Mackay gave a statement in April 1839 in the matter of Hannah and Dunn stating her age as 22. This means she would have been born in about 1807 and could not possibly be Hannah’s child Catherine.  See also statement Alexander Duncan, spirit dealer, NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[23] However, Hannah’s death records for 1885 state that James (Mackie, miner, son of the deceased) was 47 (suggesting a birthdate of 1838) and Christina (then Bruce) 45 (suggesting a birthdate of 1840). Vic / BDM 1885/7427 (death certificate sighted); see below footnotes 52 & 56.

[24] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p209 DI 186; CON19/1/12 p576 DI 603;

[25] NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[28] Statement Peter Low 5 March 1839, Aberdeen; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[29] Ibid                                         

[30] Ibid

[31] Statement Helen Ferguson 22 April 1839, Aberdeen; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[32] Statement Janet Will 22 April 1839, Aberdeen; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[33] A House of Correction in 16th century England did exactly what it said on the tin. They were established to correct what was considered as disorderly behaviour. Petty criminals and citizens considered ‘idle’ would receive whippings and be subjected to intense periods of hard labour. The first House of Correction was opened at Bridewell Palace in 1553 at the former residence of King Henry VIII. Houses of Correction, thereafter, became known as Bridewells. The name Bridewell came from the nearby ‘holy well’ of St. Bride’s church. Towards the close of the 18th century, prison reformers became increasingly critical of Bridewell along with other prisons. Far from reforming individuals, prisons were becoming training grounds for criminals, corrupting prisoners into more serious crimes upon release. https://www.prisonhistory.org/the-history-of-bridewell/

[34] Per Patrick Simpson B; Statement Janet Will 22 April 1839; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[35] NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[36] Statement Hannah Watt 4 March 1839; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[37] Ibid

[38] Ibid; see also Statement Thomas Watt; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[39] Statement Catharine Tait; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[40] Ibid

[41] Statement William Walker, Sergeant of Police; see also Statement James Horne, Town Sergeant in Aberdeen; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[42] A term meaning a first cousin or the child of someone's aunt or uncle.

[43] Statement Ann Henderson; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[44] Ibid

[45] Statement Christian Dunn, 8 March 1839; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[46] Ibid

[47] Statement Charles Dawson, Town Sergeant in Aberdeen; NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[48] NAS: AD14/39/50; JC26/1839/115

[49] Findmypast.co.uk; Criminal Petition Register 10th October 1839.

[50] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p209 DI 188; CON19/1/12 p608 DI 608

[51] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p209 DI 188

[52] https://www.orphanschool.org.au/showorphan.php?orphan_ID=3338; https://www.orphanschool.org.au/showorphan.php?orphan_ID=3339; see below footnote 56.

[53] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-institutions/children/the-orphan-schools

[54] Five female houses of correction, known colloquially as female factories, operated in Van Diemen's Land during the period of transportation, housing female convicts who were: awaiting assignment, awaiting childbirth or weaning children or undergoing punishment. The Cascades Female Factory operated in South Hobart from 1828 to 1856. https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/convict-institutions/female-factories

[55] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p209 DI 188

[56] As her children James and Christianna were not discharged from the orphan school to her care until 1844, this suggests that, when she committed this offence in 1841, she may have had another child with her – possibly Catherine. See above footnote 52.

[57] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/10 p209 DI 188

[58] Ibid

[59] Ibid

[60] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/25 p26 DI 26; CON34/1/6 p141 DI 146; CON37/1/5 DI 82; CON18/1/4/DI 121

[61] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/25 p26 DI 26; CON34/1/6 p141 DI 146; CON37/1/5 DI 82;

[62] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON52/1/2 p94

[63] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/5 No 186 DI 128

[64] Transportation was the primary punishment for … convicts convicted in Great Britain or throughout the British Empire. Convicts were relocated overseas to serve out a sentence of penal servitude entailing imprisonment and hard labour, or other manual labour through assignment or probation.  Transportation was also applied as a punishment for offenders who were inhabitants of New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land, including those who had previously been transported:  convicts already serving sentences of penal servitude or those who had served their sentences.  The sentence of transportation within an Australian colony was considered the highest form of secondary punishment, often imposed after a sentence of death was commuted.  Whilst many of the original crimes resulting in transportation from Britain were for very trifling offences, the sentence of transportation within the Australian colonies was reserved for more serious offences such as larceny, receiving, and attempted murder. https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/convict-institutions/punishments#

[65] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON34/1/6 p141 DI 146; CON37/1/5 DI82; CON16/1/4 DI 12

[66] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON16/1/4 p10 DI 12

[67] LIB TAS: Names Index; findmypast.com.au

[68] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON37/1/5 DI82

[69] Ibid

[70] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON37/1/5 DI82

[71] Ibid

[72] Ibid

[73] Trove: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas.: 1835-1880) Sat 22 Jan 1853 p60

[74] Trove: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1957) Wed 19 Sep 1860 p6 Police

[75]  findmypast.com.au; bdmvic.gov.au; death 2175/1861; FCRC database / research notes

[76] findmypast.com.au; bdmvic.gov.au; death 7427/1885 (death certificate sighted); FCRC database / research notes

[77] The settlement of Baillieston came about from a gold discovery in 1864 by M. Coy and others, leading to the creation of Coys Diggings. https://www.victorianplaces.com.au/baillieston




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.