“Mary Laird or Mackay was convicted of stealing a brown silk umbrella, the property of Captain Grove, R.N., aggravated by being habit and repute a thief, and sentenced to seven years' transportation”. Caledonian Mercury - 23 June 1842.

Mary Laird, a house maid, laundress and needle woman from Edinburgh, Scotland, was born into poverty in 1815. She received little to no education and could not read. She worked as a domestic servant and, by her early 20’s, had three children with her husband Alexander McKay[1].

In 1842, Mary McKay, aged 27, was charged with stealing a silk umbrella from the house Captain Francis Grove, R.N. a retired navy captain who lived at 7 Doune Terrace, Edinburgh.

The trial, on 20 June 1842 at Edinburgh’s High Court, outlined the charge and revealed Mary’s previous three convictions for theft by the Sheriff’s Court on 27 August 1840. They were minor convictions, but she had received jail time: stealing a shawl (three months), stealing a shirt (two months), and stealing ‘a measure’ (14 days). The court also heard Mary had been recently widowed; Alexander died six months previously. She stated: “Husband Alexander dead this six months and had a letter in her possession from his mother proving his death”. She said there was a brother James, and a sister, Ellen, near her ‘native place’.

The High Court found Mary guilty and sentenced her to seven years transportation.[2]

Mary probably gave her children into the care of her family, perhaps to her sister Ellen. She was interned at Bridewell prison, Edinburgh, for 16 months until being sent to London to board the female convict ship Woodbridge.  She had little to no possessions to her name; prison clothes and work tools to keep her occupied, perhaps sewing. In a report by John Gurney of a journey he made around prisons in norther England and Scotland, he wrote of the Bridewell:

This building is near to the jail.  This has working space for the prisoners.  It is planned as a semi-circle and there is a pulpit in the middle so that the preacher may be seen and heard by all prisoners in their cells.  The sleeping cells are airy and fit for one person.  Some of the more trusted females are employed in cooking and washing.  The prisoners are well-clothed and bathe once a week.  Their bedding is excellent. The deficiency in the circular arrangement is that prisoners are able to see each other and, despite the efforts of the warders, to converse.  Similar deficiencies exist in the night cells[3].

Mary boarded the 515-ton square rigged ship Woodbridge, which departed London on 3 September 1843 with 204 women prisoners from all parts of the country. She was issued clothing for the journey: a jacket, two petticoats, a pair of stockings, a shift and linen hat, a handkerchief, and apron and a pair of shoes. Her health and conduct aboard were good, although the ship’s surgeon, Jason Lardner, reported she had suffered from phlogosis (inflammation of external body parts) on the voyage, but was discharged after three days[4].

After one hundred and thirteen days at sea, Woodbridge arrived in Hobart, two days before Christmas, on 23 December 1843.  Upon arrival, Mary’s conviction, health, conduct and physical details were recorded in the Colony’s convict books.  Her maiden name was listed: Mary Laird, age 28, number 142. She was four foot, ten and a half inches tall. She had a brown complexion, brown hair, and hazel eyes. She had a round head, a wide mouth, and freckles. 

Mary, and the other women convicts, were then sent to the Anson, a penitentiary housed in a converted naval ship moored in the Derwent River, for six-months training in domestic skills. The women were then eligible to become probation passholders and could be employed privately, usually as domestic servants.

Mary was assigned to Mr George Woodward, of Fitzroy Crescent, Hobart, in September 1844 and remained there until October 1846[5]. She received a bed, food and clothing in return for labour. There was an annual clothing entitlement of a cotton gown, three shifts, two pair of shoes, three calico caps, two neckerchiefs, one bonnet, two bed-gowns, four petticoats, and three stockings.

Mary was punished in January 1845 with three months hard labour at the Cascades Female Factory for being ‘absent all night without leave’[6]. After returning to Woodward’s residence, she was punished again for being ‘absent’, and sent back to the Female Factor for another two months hard labour[7].

Mary was assigned to work at Hobart’s Police Magistrate’s Office, and the Comptroller General’s Office, from 1846 to November 1847. All in all, she was well behaved and received her ticket-of-leave in October 1847, with conditions of freedom, just over five years since her conviction in Edinburgh - although was absent from a muster in August 1848 and punished with another one month at the Female Factory. Mary finally received her certificate of freedom on 21 June 1849.

Mary married Elias (Ellis) Marriot in Hobart on 5 April 1847[8]. Elias, a carpenter from Somerset, was transported for 14 years, and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1838 on the Augusta Jessie.  He served much of his sentence in Hobart Town working on the Customs House labour gang. The large Georgian-style building was completed in 1841 and operated as the colony's first customs house. It has now become part of the State Parliament House.

During his years in Hobart, Elias was charged with additional punishments: absent without leave, drunk, misconduct, absconding, being disorderly, and being in possession of a half-crown. For these misdemeanours he received a number of harsh punishments - solitary confinement, bread and water, hard labour in chains, 36 lashes, 14 days on the tread wheel, and additional time added to his original sentence. All of this resulted in him being sent to Port Arthur Penitentiary.

After six months at Port Arthur, Marriott received two more counts of misconduct and his sentence was extended for another three months. His rebellious behaviour eventually mellowed, and he was rewarded by being transferred back to Hobart Town to work on the Public Works Gang.

Twelve months later he absconded. He had his existing sentence extended by 18 months and was returned to Port Arthur on probation. After ten years and nearing the end of his sentence he was transferred from Port Arthur to serve three months in the Royal Engineers Yard before qualifying for a Probation Pass and early in 1847, he was granted a Ticket-of-Leave.

Mary and Elias received their marriage permission on 28 February 1847[9][10]. On 5 March 1847 they were married at Bethesda, St Georges District, Hobart. Elias's employment was still listed as carpenter. The following year Mary gave birth to a son named James. Their second son, Robert, was born in 1851.

In November 1852, Elias, Mary and the children travelled to the Victoria at the beginnings of the gold rush to try their luck. They sailed on the Yarra Yarra from Launceston to Melbourne[11] but returned four months later, sailing from Melbourne to Launceston (Mr Marriott, 28, Mrs Marriott, 24, and Master Robert, 2) on the Clarence, in March 1853[12]. This may well have been a reconnaissance trip to judge if it was the right decision.

In December that year, Ellis travelled back to Melbourne on the ‘Clarence’[13]. Mary had sailed a week before on the steamer Lady Bird[14]. They eventually settled at the goldfields near Maryborough where Mary gave birth to a daughter, Lucy, in 1855. Little is known of their life in the goldfields, or if Elias was a miner or store owner.

However, in June 1857, Mary died, aged 42, at a place north of Maryborough called Chainman’s Flat[15]. The attending doctor noted her death was caused by ‘inflammation of the stomach and bowels’. Early the following year, Elias returned to Tasmania on the steamship Black Swan with his young family, James, 8, Robert, 6, and Lucy, 4. The heartbroken family departed Melbourne to Launceston on 16 January 1860[16].

The family settled at Glenora. Elias married a Martha Gray Farmer and became a store owner, mail delivery driver and licenced hawker, between Glenora and New Norfolk. They opened a hotel in 1880 in Glenora called the Fenton Forest Hotel, which advertised accommodation and mountain tours, but Elias died the following year, aged 63.


[1] Church registers - Old Parish Registers Banns and marriages, Parish No. 685/1, Ref: 640 464

[2] Scottish Indexes, High Court of Justiciary Trial Papers', NRS Reference JC26/1842/65

[3] Gurney, J.J. Notes On A Visit Made To Some Prisons in Northern England And Scotland

[4] Tasmanian Archives, NAME_INDEXES:1410135 Voyage No 225

[5] Tasmanian Archives, CON40

[6] Tasmanian Archives, Conduct Registers of Female Convicts arriving in the Period of the Assignment System. (CON40)

[7] Tasmanian Archives, CON40

[8] Tasmanian Archives, Marriage: NAME_INDEXES:858817


[10] Tasmanian Libraries, Marriage Permissions, NAME_INDEXES:1259790, CON52/1/2 p.130

[11] Tasmanian Libraries, NAME_INDEXES:579544 POL220/1/2 p254

[12] PROV Outward Passengers to Interstate, U.K. and Foreign Ports, VPRS 948/P0001, Mar - Apr 1853

[13] Tasmanian Libraries, NAME_INDEXES:579532, POL220/1/3 p390

[14] Tasmanian Libraries, NAME_INDEXES:579531, POL220/1/3 p381

[15] PROV, Registration number3855 / 1857, Fathers name recorded as James Laird. Spouse name recorded as Elias Morriott

[16] PROV, Outward Passenger Lists (1852-1923), Record Series Number (VPRS): 948, Passenger Names



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