‘Lady’ Janet Miller

(Emma Eugenia, 1851)

By Helen Ménard


Surely Janet’s story is a love story.

Of the thousands of women who made their way to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) under sentence of transportation in the nineteenth century, many dissolved into society once their sentences had been served, some returned to the United Kingdom (UK) and others continued a life of crime; but for many their life was miserable, steeped in poverty and brutality with their only possible escape to breed and seek shelter in confines of family life. Few seemed to find a long lifetime of happiness.

While Janet’s life started, as many others did, with a history of petty crime undoubtedly contrived to survive the harshness of life in Glasgow at the height of the industrial revolution, transportation to the colonies just may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When her husband William died 48 years into their marriage, a year after his death she said of him ‘One sad year, and still I miss you, Never shall your memory fade; Sweetest thoughts shall ever linger round my dearest husband’s grave.’[1]


 The early years in Glasgow

It seems Janet was born around 1829 in Glasgow.[2] Apart from having a brother William ‘at sea’,[3] nothing is known about Janet’s family and, being a relatively common name, there are many unverifiable possibilities in the Scottish birth records.[4] Was she a waif or an orphan? Was she forced out into the street as a young girl? In 1821 in Scotland approximately 49 percent of workers were under the age of 20. In the early nineteenth century, the average age children started working was 10, however, in industrial areas many started at the age of 8 and a half, if not younger.[5]  Mainly girls were employed as household servants, as there was a servant tax on male domestics. Families with an annual income of £150 would take on a girl of about 13 or 14 as a general maid.[6] The Millbank Prison Register in 1850 records Janet as a servant.[7]

Transportation records suggest Janet had at least two previous convictions for theft of clothing for which she served 30 days and 10 month’s imprisonment and theft of a watch earned her another 60 days’ incarceration.[8] When she faced the Glasgow Court of Justiciary on 27 April 1850 her life was about to change forever. Then aged 19 and living at Jeffray’s Close, Goosedubs St, Glasgow with a Mrs Kennedy (presumably as a servant) she appeared with four other accomplices – Agnes Barr, 23; William Arnot (alias Arnold) 18; Mary Kirkwood, 17; and James McLure, 19.[9] They were all charged with theft by housebreaking after breaking into the house of William Erskine (a spirit dealer in Main Street, Gorbals) on 21 February 1850 and stealing five pairs of blankets, five gowns, two shawls, a petticoat, a handkerchief and a looking glass.[10]  The three girls were also charged with reset of theft (receiving stolen goods) of the same goods in a house in Jeffray’s Close, Goosedubs St (presumably where Janet was living).[11] McLure, Arnot and Barr pleaded guilty while Kirkwood and Janet pleaded not guilty. All except Barr had previous convictions and all five were found guilty. All except Barr were sentenced to 7 years’ transportation.[12] Barr was sentenced to 12 months in Glasgow prison,[13] presumably it being her first offence.

A narrow escape

On 11 June 1850, Janet was transferred from the Glasgow Gaol to Millbank Prison, Westminster, London where she remained for the next four months.[14] Millbank Penitentiary had recently become Millbank Prison, a national prison serving as a depot for all convicts under sentence of transportation.[15]

Millbank Penitentiary was opened in 1816, but after severe subsidence of the building due to being built on a marsh, remedial work at the cost of £500,000, an immense sum at the time, saw the building finally completed in 1821. Initially it was hailed to be the greatest prison in Europe because of its proposed ‘panopticon’ design.[16] However, for logistical reasons, the panopticon plan was abandoned in 1812 and a modified design was adopted consisting of a hexagonal courtyard with an elongated pentagonal courtyard on each outer wall of the central courtyard.[17] At its centre was the Governor’s House, which allowed prison guards to keep watch over 1,500 transportation prisoners housed in separate cells in the surrounding pentagonal blocks. There were three miles of cold, gloomy passages: the turnkeys invented a code of chalked directions to stop getting lost in the maze![18] From above, it was like a vast six-petalled flower of dirty yellow brick, a multi-turreted fortress with bars at the windows. Surrounding it was a stagnant outer moat, enclosing over 16 acres of cold, damp squalor. It provided the perfect conditions for cholera to flourish. It was soon notorious enough for Dickens to include it within his novel David Copperfield. He described the area as 'a melancholy waste … A sluggish ditch deposited its mud at the prison walls. Coarse grass and rank weeds straggled over all the marshy land.'[19]

Millbank had been intended to replace the notoriously unhealthy 'hulks' as a staging post for convicts sentenced to transportation. However, Millbank Prison did nothing to improve the health of those awaiting exile. Indeed, the design and location of the prison was to ensure that it was to be devastated by the cholera pandemic of 1849.[20]

At the time of its establishment in 1816, crime rates in London were on the rise and Millbank Prison was built close to the Thames to allow for transportation to the colonies. This proximity to the polluted river Thames proved to be its undoing. Its water supply, despite filtration, was directly drawn from the river. The problems cholera created for Millbank Prison drew the attention of Dr John Snow who compared its terrible death rate to other prisons in London. His investigation highlighted the deplorable state of Millbank Prison - sordid conditions and poor treatment of the prisoners enabling diseases such as typhoid, scurvy, and cholera, to run rampant within its walls.[21]

Indeed, it seems, Janet was lucky to escape this horror and to even make it to her transportation vessel at all.

Transportation and beyond

Janet was transferred from Millbank to the Emma Eugenia on 25 October 1850 along with 170 female convicts and twenty children all of whom, according to the ship’s surgeon, ‘appeared generally to be in good health’.[22] The ship set sail from Woolwich on 30 October 1850 on what was to be its fifth and final trip to VDL arriving on 7 March 1851.[23]

Once Janet arrived in VDL it appears her life started to turn around. She arrived when the probation system was in full flight and, although it doesn’t appear on her records, she presumably completed the minimum mandatory period of six months’ probation.[24] During this time, she had a completely clean conduct record, which of itself was unusual, and was assigned to a number of different employers in Hobart.[25] Janet spent various periods in Brickfields Hiring Depot along with many others awaiting suitable assignment – for example, in January 1851, there were 276 female convicts awaiting deployment at Brickfields alone and 610 throughout the colony.[26] Is it any wonder that in 1848, despite the implementation of the regulations governing the hiring of probationary passholders, it was suggested the assignment of women from Brickfields Hiring Depot was subject to extensive bribery and corruption.[27] In August 1853 Janet was granted a ticket of leave and a conditional pardon in October 1854.[28] By April 1857, when she received her certificate of freedom,[29] Janet was finally a free woman.

Janet and William

As Janet did not receive her ticket of leave until 1853 she would have been required to seek permission to marry but there is no record of any such application.[30] Nonetheless, Janet Miller, 22 and a spinster, married William Waddle, 27 and a carpenter, in St George’s Church of England, Hobart Town on 19 April 1852.[31]

William Waddell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1826 the youngest son of Margaret White and Robert Waddell, a boot and shoemaker.[32] He had two brothers, Robert and Thomas, and two sisters, Jane and Margaret.[33] On 4 January 1844, William was convicted before the Glasgow Court of Justiciary of stealing a red flannel from George McKinley of Glasgow and, with five previous convictions for theft for which he had served imprisonment terms of 2-15 months, he was sentenced to transportation for 7 years. William, aged only 19 and single,[34] arrived in VDL aboard the Maria Somes on 30 July 1844 along with 263 other male convicts.[35]

William also arrived during the probation period and was required to serve 15 months’ probation with the Southport Gang emerging as a probationary passholder on 30 October 1845.[36] Over the next few years, from 1847 to 1850, he was charged with a series of conduct offences including drunkenness, absconding, being out after hours, disturbing the peace and assaulting a constable in the execution of his duty.[37] He received his certificate of freedom in January 1851.[38]

Was this Janet?

The Hobart Courier reported an incident that occurred on 6 March 1857 as follows:

Another lady's [sic] quarrel. Both parties reside in Macquarie-street and really looked as though they should know better. Mrs. Williams was dressed in black, looking the counter part of Hamlet in his suit of sables. Mrs. Waddel pleaded not guilty to the usual charge of calling the plaintiff a number of sundry very naughty and improper names. Mr. Fenwick considered the case proved, and bound Mrs. Waddel over to keep the peace.[39]

The court report stated ‘Janet Waddell, free, charged by Sarah Williams with abusing her with intent to incite her to commit a breach of the peace on the 28 February 1857 at Hobart Town.’[40] While this was most likely Janet she didn’t actually receive her certificate of freedom until a month later.[41]

Back to the UK

A Mr and Mrs Waddell (35 and 30 respectively) travelled from Melbourne to Launceston in September 1857 aboard the Queen.[42] However, Janet (now Jane) and William, it appears, remained in Tasmania until 1864 when, on 6 March 1864, they sailed from Hobart for London aboard the Percy described as follows:

The ship Percy is now full for London, her hatches being closed at noon yesterday. She will haul off from the wharf early this morning, sailing at daybreak on Sunday. The Percy takes the largest cargo of wool, which has ever been shipped from Hobart Town, namely 2,826 bales, she also has 100 tons bark, 75 tons oil and other produce besides a large number of birds and curiosities.[43]

After nine months abroad, they returned to Hobart from London via Plymouth on 5 December 1864, again aboard the Percy.[44] Did they go back to Scotland to visit William’s family? In any event, they obviously decided to return to a better life in Australia and it seems that they went on to be rather successful financially. Janet (Jane Waddell), when she gave character evidence in a perjury trial in Hobart in March 1868 involving a fellow convict, was described as a ‘shopkeeper in Bathurst-street’.[45]

William’s will

At some point Jane and William moved to Victoria and had obviously been living in Fitzroy for some time before William died at home at 46 Atherton St on 5 November 1900 aged 75.[46] He was stated to have suffered a long and painful illness[47] and his niece and nephew said of him:

In loving memory of our dear uncle, William Waddell, who departed this life on the 5th November, 1900, at Fitzroy. The face we loved is now laid low, His fond, true, heart is still, The hand we often clasped in ours Now lies in death's cold chill. Inserted by his loving niece and nephew, Jane and Mark Bonnitcha.[48]

William’s will was executed on 16 January 1888 as resident at 46 Atherton St, Fitzroy, a carpenter and wherein the sole executor and beneficiary was his wife Jane Waddell.[49] His estate was valued at £808 including real estate valued at £675 and £128 in the Melbourne Savings Bank.[50] The real estate included four mud stone cottages in Atherton St, Fitzroy which were rented for between 4 shillings and 5 shillings and 6 pence per week, and a four roomed brick cottage in Young St, Fitzroy which brought in 7 shillings per week.[51]

Jane’s will

Jane (Janet) died on 29 October 1910 aged 83 at the home of her niece Jane Bonnitcha at 245 Coppin St, Fitzroy.[52] She was said to have been a resident of Atherton St, Fitzroy for many years.[53]

Jane’s will was executed on 30 November 1904 as resident at 5 Greeves St, Fitzroy, formerly of Atherton St, wherein the sole executor was Fred Hart Heath, painter, Brunswick St Fitzroy.[54] She left specific legacies of £20 to Jane Arbuckle and £20 each to Jessie and Mark Bonnitcha, the daughter and son of Jane Bonnitcha, when they reached the age of 21.[55] At this stage Jessie was only 2 years old and Mark was 16.[56] The remainder of the estate was to be divided between Mrs Mary McCreadie married woman, 28 Cowcaddens St, Glasgow; Mrs D McMillan, married woman, 5 James St, Calton, Glasgow; Jane Waddell, spinster, 5 James St, Calton, Glasgow; and Mrs W Bardell, married woman, Mid Row Garnkirk, Scotland.[57] While Jane Waddell could have been William’s sister or niece,[58] who were the other women? What role had they played in Jane’s (Janet’s) life?

The distribution of Jane’s estate tends to confirm the fact that there are no records in Tasmania or Victoria indicating that Jane and William ever had any children.[59]

Two years later, on 24 October 1906, when Jane had moved from Greeves St to 13 Hanover St, Fitzroy she executed a codicil (amendment to a will) revoking Fred Hart Heath as the executor and appointing William Henry Banks, stationer, Brunswick St Fitzroy. She also specified that an inscription be placed on her tombstone and revoked the specific legacies of £20 to Jane Arbuckle and Mark Bonnitcha with no reasons given.[60] Why did she revoke the gift to Mark?

On 27 September 1910, one month before her death and now residing at 245 Coppin St, Richmond, Jane executed a second codicil revoking William Henry Banks as the executor and reinstating Fred Hart Heath. In addition to the remaining specific legacy to Jessie Bonnitcha, she devised all the monies and interest due in her account with the Savings Bank, Market St, Melbourne to her niece Jane Bonnitcha of 245 Coppin St, Richmond.[61] This legacy was presumably to compensate her niece for taking Jane in and looking after her in the last days of her life. The remainder of the will was unchanged.

When Jane’s will was granted probate her net estate was valued at a little over £610 and did not include any real estate.[62] Obviously, after William’s death she had sold the properties in Fitzroy. After Jessie received her £20 and Jane Bonnitcha the Savings Bank gift of £91.17 shillings, the remaining four beneficiaries in Scotland each received £78.18 shillings.[63]

So, who was Jane Bonnitcha?

Catherine Christina Jane McKenna was one of six children and the only daughter born to Jessie MacNulty and James McKenna (storeman) on 28 July 1861 at Elizabeth St, Hobart.[64] As Jane McKenna she married Mark Bonnitcha on 1 October 1885 in Hobart.[65] They had eight children – seven sons and one daughter – over the next twenty years. The eldest, Nicholas, was born in Bathurst St, Hobart in 1886[66] and died in Collins St, Hobart on 2 August 1891 aged 5 from diptheria.[67]  At some stage Jane and Mark must have moved to Victoria as the rest of their children were born in Melbourne – Mark (1888), William Alfred (1890), Leslie Norman (1892), Thomas (1894), Horace Daniel (1896), Joseph (1899), Jessie Euphemia (1902) and George Alexander (1906).[68] It seems they may have returned to Tasmania for a short period between the birth of William in 1890 and Leslie in 1892, as Nicholas died in Hobart in 1891.[69]

Jane’s husband Mark died on 1 September 1909 aged 47,[70] leaving her with a family of five children under 15 the youngest being only 3 years old. It is probably at this point that Janet (Jane) moved into her niece’s home in Coppin St, most likely to help her raise the children and cope with the grief of losing her husband or because she was ill herself and needed care. A year later, Jane Waddell died at the Coppin St home.[71] Jane Bonnitcha died at Prahran in 1924 aged 62.[72]

The end of the story

Even though the familial connection between Jane (Janet) and Jane as her niece is unclear, obviously, there was a close rapport between Jane (Janet) and William Waddell and Jane and Mark Bonnitcha. Jane and William, with no children of their own, quite possibly enjoyed the connection with Jane and Mark’s family.

The gift to Jane Waddell in Jane’s (Janet’s) will could have been William’s sister Jane and whom Janet may have met when she went to the UK with William in 1864. By the time the estate was distributed in 1910 Jane Waddell had married and was Jane Alice Black.[73]

In any event, Jane and William, both of whom were forcibly removed from troubled lives in their homeland, did find a better life in Australia. After serving their sentences, they had long dispensed with their previous lives of crime, became independently successful financially and had a long and loving relationship together. Maybe the inscription on their tombstone says it all:

William WADDELL born Edinburgh, Scotland 1826 died 5 Nov 1900 Fitzroy, age 75 years loved by affectionate wife also Jane WADDELL beloved wife of above born Glasgow, Scotland 1828 died 29 Oct 1910 Richmond, 83 yrs.[74]

Few achieved as much.


[1] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, VIC.: 1854 -1954) Tue 5 Nov 1901 p1 Family Notices

[2]  LIB TAS: Names Index: CON41/1/29 DI 107; CON15/1/6 pp312/3 DI 316

[3] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON15/1/6 pp312/3 DI 316

[4] scotlandspeople.gov.uk; familysearch.org

[5]http://www.amalgamate-safety.com/2018/06/12/horrible-health-and-safety-histories-child-labour/12/6/2018/Allan MacDonald

[6] Ibid

[7] Millbank Prison Register, findmypast.co.uk

[8] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON41/1/29 p107

[9] NAS Refce AD14/50/436; JC26/1850; JC26/1850/370

[10] Glasgow Chronicle, 1 May 1850, Glasgow Spring Circuit Court, 27 April 1850

[11] Ibid

[12] NAS Refce AD14/50/436; JC26/1850; JC26/1850/370

[13] Ibid

[14] Millbank Prison Register, findmypast.co.uk

[15] Hampshire/Portsmouth Telegraph Sept. 6, 1845

[16] http://www.choleraandthethames.co.uk/cholera-in-london/cholera-in-westminster/millbank-prison/


[18] http://www.choleraandthethames.co.uk/cholera-in-london/cholera-in-westminster/millbank-prison/

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs2/ships/SurgeonsJournal_EmmaEugenia1851.pdf

[23] Ibid

[24] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON41/1/29 p107

[25] Ibid

[26] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-institutions/hiring-depots

[27] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/administration/probation-system

[28] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON41/1/29 p107

[29] Ibid

[30] LIB TAS: Names Index

[31] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/11 No 276 DI 111

[32] VIC/BDM 12829/1900; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, VIC.: 1854 -1954) Tue 6 Nov 1900 p1 Family Notices

[33] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON14/1/22 pp218/9

[34] Ibid

[35] convictrecords.com.au

[36] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON33/1/57 DI 266

[37] Ibid

[38] Ibid

[39] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Courier (Hobart, Tas.: 1840-1859) Fri 6 Mar 1857 p2 Police Office this Day

[40] Hobart Lower court records 1855-1858 LC247/1/28 DI 169; familysearch.org; Friday Sixth March 1857, The Assistant Police Magistrate

[41] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON41/1/29 p107

[42] https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/passenger-records-and-immigration/coastal-passenger-lists-1852

[43] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) Frid4 Mar 1864 p 2 Shipping

[44] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) Mon 6 Dec 1864 p 2 Shipping

[45] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) Thu 26 Mar 1868 p 3; Perjury case Hall v Allen alias Jervis

[46] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, VIC.: 1854 -1954) Tue 6 Nov 1900 p1 Family Notices; Census records for Victoria from 1854-1901 were ‘pulped’ in 1892, so it’s not possible to determine exactly where Jane and William might have been living during their time in Victoria or with whom. https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/census-records

[47] Ibid

[48] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, VIC.: 1854 -1954) Tue 5 Nov 1901 p1 Family Notices

[49] PROV: Registrar of Probates, SCV / Will; Grant of Probate; 77/417 William WADDELL

[50] Ibid

[51] PROV: Registrar of Probates, SCV / Will; Grant of Probate; 77/417 William WADDELL;

[52] VIC/BDM 14229/1910; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, VIC.: 1854 -1954) Mon 31 Oct 1910 p1 Family Notices

[53] Ibid

[54] PROV: Registrar of Probates, SCV / Will; Grant of Probate; 117/729 Jane WADDELL

[55] Ibid

[56] VIC/BDM

[57] PROV: Registrar of Probates, SCV / Will; Grant of Probate; 117/729 Jane WADDELL; on distribution of the estate these women’s full names were as follows: Mary Elizabeth McCreadie, Theresa Pearson McMillan; Jane Alice Black; and Margaret Annie Bardwell.

[58] William had two sisters Jane and Margaret. By the time Jane’s (Janet’s) estate was distributed in 1910, Jane Waddell (the beneficiary under her estate) had become Jane Alice Black. There are no records of this marriage under scotlandspeople.gov.uk; familysearch.org. There was also a Jane A Waddell listed in the 1881 census in Calton, Glasgow as 3 years old; she would have been 26 by the time Jane’s (Janet’s) will was executed in 1904. Was this her?

[59] LIB TAS: Names Index; VIC/BDM

[60] Ibid

[61] Ibid

[62] Ibid

[63] Ibid

[64] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD33/1/8 N 4509 DI 128

[65]LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/44 N 511 DI 249

[66] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD33/1/14 N 1179 DI 149

[67] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD35/1/13 N 546 DI 69

[68] VIC/BDM; more information on these children is on the FCRC database under research notes for Janet Miller.

[69] There are no records indicating travel between Tasmania and Victoria for the period; LIB TAS: Names Index; PROV.vic.gov.au

[70] VIC/BDM 8584/1909; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, VIC.: 1854 -1954) Sat 3 Sep 1910 p5 Family Notices

[71] Probate records state that she ‘resided for some time prior to and at the date of her death with Jane Bonnitcha’ and £30.8 shillings were paid out of the estate to Jane Bonnitcha for ‘nursing the deceased and moneys expended by her during illness of deceased.’ PROV: Registrar of Probates, SCV / Will; Grant of Probate; 117/729 Jane WADDELL

[72] VIC/BDM 7038/1924

[73] PROV: Registrar of Probates, SCV / Will; Grant of Probate; 117/729 Jane WADDELL; see above footnote 56.

[74] Victoria, Australia, Cemetery Records and Headstone Transcriptions, 1844-1997; Melbourne Section: Q Grave Number: 612 Religion: Presbyterian




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