From a palace to penal servitude – could Martha ever have imagined this would be her fate? Having secured, at the time, what must have been considered a highly sought after position with English aristocracy, what circumstances inspired Martha to throw it all away by repeatedly stealing from her mistress? Did she think that being in the service of the diplomatic circle would provide her with immunity from prosecution? Surely, the fall from grace that found her in the confines of a convict ship with two hundred other prisoners headed for the antipodes must have been both devastating and frightening.

The early years

There are no definitive records for Martha’s birth or marriage and it is unknown whether Harrington (Herrington or Hetherington) was her married or single name. Nor is it known whether or not she was, as recorded, a widow. If Harrington was her married name, there are many possible deaths for her potential husband.[1]  While Martha’s transportation records state she was a widow with two children,[2] there are also many possible births for such children under those names in the period 1820-1830.[3] The same records also state that Martha had a brother working as a clerk in London and a sister, Mary, living at her native place in Warminster.[4]

When and why Martha left Warminster and made her way to London is also unknown. Did she travel with her brother? What was her life experience as a wife and mother? However, Martha could both read and write[5] which would have stood her in good stead for any employment. How did she secure a position with one of the most prestigious families in England living in one of the most famous palaces in history?

Hampton Court Palace

The 1841 United Kingdom census lists Martha (Hetherington) aged 40 as a female servant in the employ of Lady A. Paget at Hampton Court Palace.[6] She was one of eight servants and a governess in the employ of Lady Paget who had four of her own children living with her at the time.[7]

The original Tudor Hampton Court Palace was created by Cardinal Wolsey in the early 16th century, but it soon attracted the attention of Henry VIII, who brought all his six wives there. When William III and Mary II (1689-1702) took the throne in 1689, they commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build an elegant new baroque palace. Later, Georgian kings and princes occupied the splendid interiors.[8]

By 1737, George II no longer wanted to use Hampton Court as a royal palace. It was quickly filled with impoverished ‘grace and favour’ residents. Many of them were aristocratic widows in straitened circumstances, who were offered free accommodation in return for their husbands’ services to the monarch. Apartments continued to be granted as late as the 1960s and, although the practice has now ceased, there are still some elderly residents living at Hampton Court today.[9]

Applicants had to apply for rooms through the Lord Chamberlain and were given ‘warrants’ to live in the palace. Most of the apartments were held by single or widowed ladies and sometimes gentlemen. The number of men who received accommodation compared with women was extremely low, at times only two out of fifty. Demand for an apartment was intense and waiting lists were long. At the height of the practice, during the 19th century, there were as many as a hundred grace-and-favour residents living in the palace, with a retinue of 200–300 servants. Many of the apartments came to be inhabited by members of the same extended families. This was especially typical of distinguished families such as the Seymours, Wellesleys and Pagets.[10]

The average size of a grace-and-favour apartment was 12 to 14 rooms, many of them vast in scale. However, despite the grand location, the living conditions were not, even by the 20th century, full of modern comforts. In 1857, Charles Dickens described in Little Dorrit how the residents at Hampton Court lived in ‘the most primitive manner’ and William IV referred to the palace as the ‘Quality poorhouse’. It was a regular complaint from residents that the palace was cold and damp and difficult and costly to heat. Many bombarded the Lord Chamberlain with requests for alterations and improvements to their accommodation, but on learning that they would have to pay for the work themselves they invariably changed their minds. There were strict rules and regulations attached to the warrants: residents had to spend at least six months of every year living in the palace, apartments were not to be sub-let, boarders were forbidden, as, later, were dogs.[11]

After further renovations, Queen Victoria opened the palace to the public in 1838. Surrounded by gorgeous gardens and famous features such as the Maze and the Great Vine, the palace has been the setting for many nationally important events. It has remained a magnet for millions of visitors, drawn to the grandeur, the ghosts and the fabulous art collection.[12]

Lady Augusta Paget

Martha’s mistress, Lady Augusta Paget, was born Augusta Fane on 17 March 1786 to John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland (1759-1841) and Sarah Ann Child (1764-1793).[13] In 1804 she married John Parker, 1st Earl of Morley (1772-1840) with whom she had a son Henry Villiers Parker (1806-1817).[14]

 John Parker inherited the title of Lord Boringdon when he was sixteen years old together with substantial property and wealth. His mother had died when he was three and was raised by his aunt.[15] As a young man, after an affair with Lady Elizabeth Monck (then married with two daughters) which bore them three illegitimate sons, Lord Boringdon asked Lady Elizabeth to divorce her husband, Henry Monck. When she refused their relationship disintegrated.[16] In 1804 he met and married Lady Augusta Fane but, before too long, returned to his philandering ways producing yet another illegitimate child with a ballet dancer and, ultimately, resuming his affair with Lady Elizabeth. In November 1815, Lord Boringdon was created Earl of Morley for services rendered to the monarch.[17]

 Sir Arthur Paget (1771-1840)[18], a renowned diplomat and Privy Councillor and companion of Lord Boringdon, had befriended Lady Augusta during the difficult years of her marriage and in 1808, amidst great social scandal, they eloped. Several days after Lord Boringdon divorced Lady Augusta in 1809, she married Sir Arthur.[19] They were happily married until Arthur’s death in 1840 and together they had seven children.[20] Lady Augusta died from unspecified causes in 1871.[21]

Crime and punishment

When Martha started working at the palace is unknown but Lady Augusta was first registered as residing at Hampton Court Palace on 1 July 1840,[22] which is consistent with the date of death of her husband and the prevailing ‘grace and favour’ policy.[23] Yet, Lady Paget was noted in the 1841 census as ‘living on independent means’.[24]

In February 1842 Martha was indicted on various counts of stealing bank notes and cash, embezzlement and forging and uttering.[25] Before the Central Criminal Court in London she pleaded guilty to embezzlement of £30 and forging with intent to defraud various other amounts but not guilty to stealing bank notes to the value of £15 and cash. It was alleged that Martha had been given money by Lady Augusta to pay tradesmen’s bills but she forged receipts for their payment and retained the proceeds.[26] It also seems that the sums mentioned in the indictments ‘had been selected from many others’[27] suggesting that Martha’s transgressions had been more extensive than the indictments reflected. Her prosecutrix, Lady Paget

deemed it necessary for sense of public justice, to prefer the above indictment. Since the prisoner had been in custody her ladyship had received a letter from her, in which she expressed her regret for what she had done. Under the circumstances her ladyship did not wish that a severe punishment should be inflected [sic].[28]

 The Recorder[29] stated it was such a serious offence that it was impossible for the Court to pass it over without very severe punishment and, on 4 April 1842, having no prior convictions Martha was sentenced to transportation for seven years.[30] Many women received longer sentences for much less – could it be that Martha’s association with nobility saved her from more severe punishment? Or, given that she had no criminal history and did not meet the ‘breeding’ requirements for the colonies,[31] was she set up as an example to others who dared to defraud the privileged?

The Royal Admiral

Martha left London on 2 May 1842 aboard the Royal Admiral and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) on 24 September the same year.[32] According to the ship’s Surgeon Superintendent, many of the women who boarded the vessel, after long road and rail journeys from various prisons throughout England, Wales and Scotland, arrived with few, if any, possessions and in poor health. The voyage was forced to stop in at the Cape of Good Hope to take on water and additional supplies, extending the trip by seven weeks. Two women and five children died during its passage.[33]

While the women aboard were generally well behaved the same could not be said of the crew – the first mate Bell was excessively drunk for five days; the Master jumped overboard and drowned; the first mate then attempted suicide and was ultimately discharged;  for periods the crew refused to work and for some periods all were persistently drunk having obtained secret access to the rum casks; first mate Baker was discharged at the Cape for mutinous behaviour; the crew became increasingly insubordinate; one seaman who refused orders was shot at by the Master. The ship sailed into Hobart under the command of the officers and a small number of crew whereupon thirteen of the crew were arrested and taken to prison.[34]

 Due to the overcrowding in the female penitentiaries on VDL it was seven days before the Royal Admiral could be offloaded and many of the women were transported aboard another vessel to Launceston.[35] By this time, Martha must surely have been regretting the consequences of her actions at the palace!

Life in the colony

In January 1843 Martha was under assignment to J. Price Esq and was brought before the court for insolence but was only reprimanded. Still in the service of Price, two months later in March 1843, she was charged with larceny and her existing sentence of transportation was extended for 12 months with a recommendation that she be placed on 6 months’ probation at the wash tub.[36] It seems Martha had not lost her taste for pilfering!

 She was recorded as First Class (assignable class) on 12 April 1844 and then reclassified to Third Class (crime class) on 31 May 1844.[37] It is unclear if the J. Price Esq. to whom Martha was assigned was the same John Giles Price, the infamous and ruthless Police Magistrate[38] but, nonetheless, in April 1844 her assignor John Price wrote as follows:

Hobart Town
April 23/44

Finding that Martha Harrington Per Royal Admiral is in the first class I [enseize?] there must be some mistake in the classification list.

She has been in my service about 17 months and during that time her conduct has been always such as given me satisfaction except on one occasion when she was detected pilfering she is a sober industrious civil servant and I trust that the lengthened period of her remaining in my service with only one offence will operate in her favour and that she may be forwarded to the third class.

The sentence passed upon her at the time in question was remitted and she was returned to my service at my intercession since which period I have never had occasion to find fault with her. It is seldom that females remain so long a period as this woman has with me and I hope thus may be weighed against her one solitary fault. I may add to this that previous to her arrival in the colony she had not led a criminal or otherwise abandoned life.

I should be obliged by an answer to this as soon as it can be conveniently given for I could not, however desirous I may be of retaining her in my services, continue her as an inmate of my house upon such wages as she would then be in the receipt of feeling assured. That she could not clothe herself as I wish to [seen?] servants in my family.

I have the honour to be sir
your obed servant
John Price[39]

What was Price’s objection? On the assumption her sentence was not remitted, Martha would have completed her 6 month period of probation in September 1843 and, presumably, as a well behaved prisoner, would have been entitled to have worked her way up to first class – as she was so recorded – in April 1844.[40] Price spoke highly of her and yet requested that she be ‘be forwarded to the third class.’[41] This would be a serious demotion - for no apparent reason and for no recorded offence. Could it be that he wanted her in his service but did not want to pay her as he might have been required to do if she were classified first class? Martha had been a cook and housekeeper[42] at Hampton Court Palace, a highly sought after commodity within a largely unskilled colonial workforce.

And yet, Price maintained the sentence for the ‘pilfering’ charge she faced under his service 1843 had been remitted and she had been returned to his service at his intercession.[43]  Was it that, after prosecuting Martha, Price thought better of it once the severity of her sentence was passed down? Was the severity of the sentence a reflection of Price’s status and influence in the community which he then exercised to have her sentence remitted? Was he simply trying to teach her a lesson?

In any event, there appeared to be some confusion within the bureaucracy as to whether Martha’s sentence had been remitted as Price suggested. Nonetheless, a memo dated 17 May 1844 from the FH Correction to the Registrar (Convict Department Registrar’s Office) states ‘Martha Harrington per Royal Admiral was returned to the service of John Price esq by an order of the then Principal Superintendent John […]’.[44]  There is no date recorded for her return to Price’s service but it seems consistent with Price’s assertion in April 1844 that she had already been ‘returned to my service at my intercession’ and had ‘been in my service about 17 months’.[45] Logic suggests that her sentence must have been remitted as she could hardly serve a 6 month term at the ‘wash tub’ in private service. Still, this does not address the issue of Price’s request for Martha to be reclassified as third class at a time when, if there had been no remission, her sentence would have expired.

Martha was granted a ticket of leave in November 1844.[46] The ticket of leave, as part of a system of rewards and indulgences, permitted the holder to work for any employer for wages and to choose their own residence. Generally, those women transported for seven years received a ticket of leave after four.[47] Under this system, Martha would not have been eligible until 1846 which suggests that there may have been some remissions granted or her behaviour was exemplary.

Martha and James

Martha Harrington was granted permission to marry James Sands (33, baker, free) on 10 March 1845[48] and they were married in St George’s Church of England, Hobart on 1 April 1845.[49] Interestingly, Martha stated her age to be 30 at the time when, in fact, she was 43 – did she see this as a necessary ploy to maintain James’ interest?


A few months later in October 1845 the following notice appeared in the Hobart Town Advertiser:

I HEREBY caution the Public in general not to give credit to my wife Martha Harrington, now Martha Sands, as I will not be answerable for any debts she may contract after this date.
Antill Street, October 27.[50]

What was happening so early in their relationship? Had Martha’s penchant for pilfering re-emerged?

James was still baking in Hobart in 1848 when he charged a young delivery boy in his employ, Phillip Baynton, with embezzling 2s 6d. The boy was acquitted due to lack of evidence and his good character as attested to by James himself![51]

The end of the road

Whatever Martha’s life involved from hereon has not been the subject of public record. There is no shipping documentation suggesting either Martha or James left Tasmania (either interstate or overseas) or any relevant deaths for Martha in Tasmania, Victoria or New South Wales.[52] Did she manage to return to the UK to see her children? If Martha did return to the UK there are several possible deaths under both Sands and Harrington.[53]

A James Sands, baker, was advertising for ‘a young lad’ in Glebe, NSW in 1860[54] and a James Sands, baker, and Mrs Sands were the victims of a controversial house robbery in Sussex Street, Sydney in May 1879.[55] However, this was not our James and Martha.[56]

Martha’s story first emerged when she was charged with embezzlement at Hampton Court Palace in London. Apart from the fact that, by this time, she had been married with two children, we know nothing about her life prior to her employment at the palace. After squandering what must have been a comparatively privileged existence, she found herself alone in a convict colony half a world away. Was life at the palace not all it was made out to be? Undoubtedly, she had plenty of time to ponder the wisdom of her actions. Was her despair and humiliation such that she simply chose to vanish into the social fabric of her new existence? Sadly, any record of her life disappeared within a few short years of her arrival in VDL and the final chapter of Martha’s story remains a mystery.




[2] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON15/1/2 p18-19 DI 20-21; CON40/1/6 p69 DI 71


[4] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON15/1/2 p18-19 DI 20-21

[5] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON15/1/2 p18-19 DI 20-21

[6] 1841 Census: Class: HO107; Piece: 718; Book: 5; Civil Parish: Hampton; County: Middlesex; Enumeration District: 4; Folio: 26; Page: 4; Line: 23; GSU roll: 438825 And Class: HO107; Piece: 718; Book: 5; Civil Parish: Hampton; County: Middlesex; Enumeration District: 4; Folio: 26; Page: 5; Line: 7; GSU roll: 438825 Hampton Court Palace

[7] Ibid


[9] Ibid

[10] Sarah E Parker, Grace & Favour - A handbook of who lived where in Hampton Court Palace 1750 to 1950, Historic Royal Palaces, 2005 p14

[11] Ibid



[14][14] Little Lord Boringdon (Augusta's child) choked to death on an ear of rye plucked in a cornfield near Paris. Viveash, Chris, Lord Morley and the “Baron so Bold”;

[15] Viveash, Chris, Lord Morley and the “Baron so Bold”;

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] The Rt Hon Sir Arthur Paget, GCB (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath); Sarah E Parker, Grace & Favour - A handbook of who lived where in Hampton Court Palace 1750 to 1950, Historic Royal Palaces, 2005 p105

[19] Ibid

[20] Stewart Henry (1811-1869); Laura Caroline Jane (1815-1871); Cecil Augustus (1819-1838); Amelius (1821-1843); Augustus Berkeley (1823-1896); Rosa Maria (1825-1871) and Agnes Charlotte (1831-1858);

[21] Ibid

[22] Law, Ernest Philip Alphonse (1854-1930), The History of Hampton Court Palace (vol. 3) Published in 1903; Page 537 … LADY AUGUSTA PAGET. 1st July, 1840. (See Suite V.) formerly Ambassador at the Court of Rome;;  Sarah E Parker, Grace & Favour - A handbook of who lived where in Hampton Court Palace 1750 to 1950, Historic Royal Palaces, 2005 p


[24] Sarah E Parker, Grace & Favour - A handbook of who lived where in Hampton Court Palace 1750 to 1950, Historic Royal Palaces, 2005 p105

[25] Morning Post 06 April 1842; FMP;; 

[26] The Era 10 April 1842; FMP;;

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid; Morning Post 06 April 1842; FMP;; 

[29] a person who records, especially as an official duty; a judge in a city or borough court with responsibility for keeping a record of legal actions and local customs;  essentially a part-time circuit judge, and like being a deputy district or tribunal judge the role is fee-paid (i.e. paid by the day rather than salaried). Recorders are appointed either to the Crown Court or the County Court, the former doing criminal work, the latter civil and family.

[30] Morning Post 06 April 1842; FMP;;; refce no t18420404-1132;

[31] Swiss, Deborah J., The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, (2010), The Berkley Publishing Group, London. Extracted from

[32] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/6 p69 DI 71


[34] Ibid


[36] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/6 p69 DI 71

[37] Ibid

[38] Dr Stefan Petrow, AFTER ARTHUR: POLICING IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND 1837 - 1846, University of Tasmania, Tas;$stream;  

John V. Barry, ‘Price, John Giles (1808–1857)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2 , 1967,  online in 2006.

[39] Manuscript 3251: Van Diemen's Land 1821-1862 Original accounts from frontier Tasmania; ms 3251 1821-1844 box 1 vol 2; ECHOES OF BUSHRANGING DAYS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND: BRADY, MCCABE, PERRY, GEFFREYS, AND BRITTON1821-1844 pp 498-500
Manuscript 3251 Vol 2 in box 1  516pp.  Collection of the National Library of Australia; ms%203251%201821-1844%20box%201%20vol%202%20_%20Manuscript%203251_%20Van%20Diemen's%20Land%201821-1862.html

[40] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/6 p69 DI 71

[41] Manuscript 3251: Van Diemen's Land 1821-1862 Original accounts from frontier Tasmania; ms 3251 1821-1844 box 1 vol 2; ECHOES OF BUSHRANGING DAYS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND: BRADY, MCCABE, PERRY, GEFFREYS, AND BRITTON1821-1844 pp 498-500 Manuscript 3251 Vol 2 in box 1  516pp.  Collection of the National Library of Australia; ms%203251%201821-1844%20box%201%20vol%202%20_%20Manuscript%203251_%20Van%20Diemen's%20Land%201821-1862.html

[42] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON19/1/3 p372 DI 191

[43] Ibid pp 498-499

[44] Ibid pp502-503

[45] Ibid pp 498-500

[46] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/6 p69 DI 71

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

[48] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON52/1/2/p430 DI 430

[49] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/4 No 1595 DI 141

[50] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Hobart Town Advertiser (Tas.: 1839 -1861) Tues 28 Oct 1845 p3 Advertising

[51] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Britannia and Trades’ Advocate (Hobart Town, Tas.: 1846 -1951) Thu 1 Jun 1848 p2 Quarter Sessions

[52] PROV; VIC/BDM; NSW/BDM; nor are there any relevant deaths for James Sands in Tasmania.


[54] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842 -1954) Thu 2 Aug 1860 p1 Advertising

[55] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: Evening News (Sydney, NSW: 1869 -1931) Thu 29 May 1879 p3 A Burglary in the City

[56] No, this was not James and Martha. This James (Swan Sands) baker, died, aged 53, on 16 January 1889 at Central Cumberland (inner Sydney) from accidental burns and was buried at Leichardt Pioneer Cemetery. NSW/BDM 8217/1889;; He emigrated to NSW from Scotland with his parents as a free settler in 1849 aged 14. He married Catherine Smith (widow) in Sydney in 1867. NSW/BDM 1009/1867;



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