Margaret DONOVAN

(Hector, 1835)

By Helen Ménard



Records suggest that Margaret was born in County Cork, Ireland between 1818 and 1820.[1] As a young teenager she made her way to England and by the age of 15 was before the Central Criminal Court in London facing her first criminal prosecution. Whether or not her situation was orchestrated to escape the harshness of life in London is a matter for conjecture. Nonetheless, Margaret’s actions resulted in her being transported to a colony half a world away – for life.

While, sadly, her sentence was well within the scope of the law at the time, it is difficult not to wonder, as a young first time offender, what it was about Margaret’s particular circumstances that invoked such a heavy handed application of the law. Was it the nature of her offence? Was it because she was Irish? Or was it simply the prevailing legislative political and social imperatives to remove the ‘unsightly poor’ from the streets of Britain and populate the colonies with ‘breeders and tamers’.[2]

Maybe she should have considered herself lucky to have escaped the hangman’s noose. After all, while shoplifting ceased to carry the death penalty in 1823, under ‘The Bloody Code’, theft from a dwelling house remained a capital offence until 1837.[3] The English Penal Code in the period from 1723 to 1820 became increasingly severe, mandating the death penalty for an ever increasing number of offences. By 1810, 222 offences were capital offences[4] - including pickpocketing goods worth one shilling and stealing a rabbit![5]


 From Ireland to London

There are several church records indicating possible baptisms for a Margaret Donovan in Cork from 1815 to 1820 but there is insufficient information to link any one of them to Margaret.[6] County Cork is located on Ireland’s south coast and during the 19th century, important industries included brewing, distilling, wool and shipbuilding. Cork was also an important port.[7] Margaret’s transportation records noted her as a ‘nurse maid & needle woman’[8] but why or when Margaret moved to London or with whom is unknown.

Maybe her family was caught up in the violence and aftermath of the Irish Rebellion in 1797 which led to the destruction of many farms and houses by way of reprisal against the rebels.[9] As a result the Act of Union was passed in 1800. It formed a new country (‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’) by uniting England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. All regional parliaments were abolished and the entire UK was to be ruled from a centralised London parliament. The hated penal laws were still in force in Ireland in the early 1800s. These discriminated against non-Anglicans, principally Catholics and Presbyterians. It had been promised that they would be abolished with the Act of Union. However, this did not happen and it took the actions of Daniel O'Connell to lead a campaign for emancipation that led to the necessary legislation being passed in 1829.[10]

When Margaret appeared before the Central Criminal Court in London on 11 May 1835 she was stated to be 15 years old, had no previous criminal convictions and supposedly had been ‘on the town’ for nine months.[11] She was charged together with Elizabeth Rouse (18, spinster) with stealing goods belonging to Thomas Griffiths while in the dwelling house of one John Cormack at  11 Church-street, St Giles on 11 April 1835.[12]  The goods in question included ‘46 sovereigns;[13] 1 coat, value 30s.; 1 pair of breeches, value 10s.; 1 waistcoat, value 5s.; 1 pair of shoes, value 4s.; 1 hat, value 10s.; 1 pair of stockings, value 1s.; 1 watch, value 30s.; 1 watch-guard, value 1s.; 1 watch-chain, value 6d.; and 16 promissory notes valued at 5l [£5] each’[14] – all up about £130-11-6!

James (aka John) Egan (18, painter) was charged with receiving stolen goods being 9 sovereigns.[15]

Griffiths, a cattle drover, was allegedly ‘unwillingly’ enticed into the premises by the two women and stated

I was sober—they stopped me and wished me to go with them to their lodging—I was unwilling, but went with them both to No. 11, Church-street—they said they lodged there—I went to bed with them both, we were all undressed— about one o'clock a person named Asserton came into the room for the rent—I left my watch in my fob, and put my breeches under the pillow—I had forty-six sovereigns in my fob ... I awoke about five o'clock in the morning—I found the women gone, and missed my breeches and everything I had, I went out into the street and saw a policeman—I was then in my shirt—the room-door was bolted—nobody could have come in while we were in bed …[16]

Margaret in her defence, and while conceding she was in possession of some of the money and goods, stated

I bought nothing out of the money—I delivered up six sovereigns—it was not us that robbed him—the two girls that robbed him are Eliza Weatherall and another, whose name I do not know; and they gave us this money—Oakley [Police Inspector] knows it to be true—they gave us part of the money—we did not know that it was stolen …

He [Griffiths] was beastly tipsy when he came up and spoke to us there were four of us together, but he was not in our room—two girls came to the door after we left.[17]

All three were found guilty with Margaret and Elizabeth transported for life and Egan for 14 years.[18] No details of Margaret’s family situation were put before the court and no petition for clemency was filed on her behalf.


Transportation and early years in the colony

Margaret and Elizabeth were held in Newgate Prison, London until they were discharged to board the convict ship Hector which departed Woolwich on 13 June 1835 for Van Diemen’s Land (VDL).[19] The Hector arrived in VDL on 20 October 1835 with 134 female passengers.[20] While Margaret was described by the ship’s surgeon as ‘industrious and well behaved’,[21] her life was about to become somewhat less orderly. Let us not forget that, at this point, Margaret, despite claiming to be 17 on transportation,[22] was most probably only 15 years old.[23]

In August 1836 and October 1837, while under different assignments, Margaret was charged with insolence, and insolence and refusing to remain in her service, and sentenced, respectively, to 3 and 10 days solitary confinement on bread and water.[24] A few months later, in February 1838, she was charged with absconding and ‘pilfering a knife value 2 shillings’ from her master (Tyball). For her trouble she was sentenced to 6 months’ hard labour in the Female House of Correction at Launceston.[25] While serving this sentence, in July 1838, she was charged with ‘disobedience of orders in receiving bread thrown to her from the nursey at her own request’ and, thereupon, her existing sentence in crime class was extended for 3 months.[26]

A year after these sentences expired, this time in the service of one Mr Horne and again for insolence, Margaret was sent back to the house of correction for a month and ordered ‘not to be assigned to this side of the island’.[27] A few months later, in January 1840, she was charged with being absent without leave and ‘representing herself as Mrs Barrett of Norfolk Plains’. Accordingly, she was marched back to the female factory in Launceston for another 4 months in crime class.[28] Clearly, there was a very spirited side to Margaret’s character!


Margaret and Henry

Margaret Donovan and Henry Bowden (aka Boden) were granted permission to marry on 24 October 1840.[29] Given that Margaret was still under sentence and was not yet eligible for a ticket of leave, it was unusual for such approval to be granted. Nonetheless, they were married in St John’s Church of England, Launceston on 18 November 1840.[30] Margaret was stated as 20 and Henry, a labourer under a ticket of leave, was 24.[31]

Henry Boden was born on 21 June 1814 in Aldersgate St, Botolph, London to Isaac (c.1880) and Mary Boden (c.1890).[32] British census records in 1841 suggest that Henry had at least three siblings – Ann, Mary and Edward.[33] On 14 February 1833 Henry Boden, aged 19 and a labourer, was tried and convicted before the Old Bailey in London of pickpocketing a handkerchief valued at 2 shillings from one Alfred Gouger.[34] With a previous conviction for the same offence in July 1832 for which he was imprisoned for 3 months,[35]and at least three other convictions - theft of a purse (3 months’ imprisonment), theft of a snuff box (2 months’ imprisonment) and theft of a snuff box (3 months’ imprisonment) - Henry was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation.[36] And yet Margaret, as a 15 year old female, received life for her first offence!

After several months on a prison hulk[37] Henry was discharged to the convict ship John (2) on 20 July 1833[38] which arrived in VDL on 1 December 1833. On arrival in the colony Henry (Bowden) was assigned to the Public Works[39] and by March 1834 was a messenger for the Police Office. In this role he was charged with passing fire into a cell where women were confined but, on expressing contrition and with a reference stating his general conduct to be good, he was only reprimanded.[40] Over the next three years from January 1836 to November 1838 he was only charged with three conduct offences being neglect of duty and disobedience of orders; absence without leave; and improper conduct in refusing rations. He was sentenced, respectively, to 10 days in a cell on bread and water; 25 lashes; and to be returned to government services.[41] Henry was granted a ticket of leave in May 1840[42] and may have been under assignment as a servant to Rev. F.W. Gibbs of Blackman’s Bay in March 1843, when he was called to give evidence in a trial involving the burglary of Gibbs’ premises.[43] Henry received a conditional pardon in November 1843[44] and his certificate of freedom on 14 February 1847.[45]

There appear to be no registered births for Margaret and Henry in either VDL or Victoria.[46]


Ongoing troubles

Matrimony did not seem to settle Margaret’s life. Six months into their marriage in May 1841, Margaret was charged with ‘gross misconduct in leading a very irregular & improper life & having a valuable satin dress & velvet bonnet in her possession for which she could not account’ and was despatched back to the house of correction for 3 months’ imprisonment and hard labour in crime class.[47] In addition, she was ordered ‘to be assigned to the interior for 12 months before being returned to her husband’.[48]

What did ‘a very irregular & improper life’ mean? More than likely it entailed a life on the streets or in houses of disrepute. Did her incarceration and ‘time out’ spell the end for Margaret and Henry or had the nature of their relationship forced her back onto the streets? It is no secret that colonial women were often forced to endure violent and abusive marriages and, with the indissolubility of marriage reinforced by churches of all denominations, De Vries asserts that ‘No matter how bad the marriage, nineteenth century religious and civic authorities enjoined women to be meek and long suffering “in this vale of tears”’.[49]

In December 1841 Margaret was in the service of a Mr McKenzie in Campbell Town[50] and this appears to be her last confirmed sighting. Margaret was finally granted a ticket of leave in October 1843 and conditional pardon for VDL, Australian colonies and New Zealand on 15 January 1846.[51]


What happened to Henry?

Once he received his freedom, Henry wasted no time and one day later, on 15 February 1847, was aboard the Shamrock in Launceston bound for Port Phillip.[52] There is no record of Margaret accompanying him or, in fact, of her ever leaving VDL. Did she join him later or had they already parted ways? Henry’s death records in 1855 noted him as a miner and resident in Sandhurst (Bendigo),[53] and even though gold was not discovered in Victoria until 1850,[54] it is reasonable to assume he left VDL looking for a better life.

Henry Bowden married Catherine Ellen Olding in St James Church, West Melbourne on 21 February 1853.[55] Henry was recorded as ‘single’ and Catherine ‘widowed’.[56] While it is possible that Henry was being ‘creative’ about his marital status or now removed from VDL ‘across the water’ invoked the 7 year rule,[57] it is more likely to be a transposition error on the records. Conversely, Catherine was probably not widowed as on death (as Catherine Wilkinson) her father was recorded as Olding[58] and there is no prior marriage recorded in Victoria for Catherine Olding.[59] Henry died on 12 September 1855 and, while his recorded age of 34 was about 7 years short of the mark, his father was noted as Isaac and his place of birth Isli (Islington) less than 3 miles from where he was baptized in Botolph, London.[60]

Shortly after Henry’s death, Catherine Bowden remarried Henry Wilkinson in 1856[61] and in 1857 they had a daughter Henrietta.[62] Henry Bowden had died intestate (without a will) and Catherine Ellen Wilkinson (formerly Bowden), widow, was granted letters of administration to administer his estate (valued at less than £50) on 9 February 1857.[63] Catherine died in 1902 aged 78 at Echuca, Victoria.[64]


What happened to Margaret?

Did Margaret return to Henry after her time ‘in the interior’ ended around August 1842?

All the records reveal is that Margaret Donovan (Hector) was in the service of a Mr McKenzie in Campbell Town on 31 December 1841.[65] There are no relevant deaths for a Margaret Donovan or Bowden in VDL including the paupers’ lists.[66]

Did Margaret stay in VDL after Henry left for Victoria in 1847?

In November 1848 a Margaret Bowden was working as servant for John Strickley at East Bank Inn, George Town Rd, Launceston,[67] but there is no verification that this was Margaret.

A Margaret Donovan (CP) was found guilty of assault in the Hobart Court of Quarter Sessions on 29 April 1853 and fined 1 shilling.[68]

Was this Margaret? Almost certainly not as, while the ‘CP’ likely refers to conditional pardon, several newspaper reports referred to this person as ‘Mrs Donovan’, ‘wife of William Donovan candle maker’ and ‘free’.[69]  Even though Margaret received her conditional pardon in 1846,[70] there were several other female convicts with the same name but none of them was under a conditional pardon at this time.[71] It is therefore likely to be a transcription error by the court clerk.

Did Margaret revert to her family name (Donovan) and remarry in VDL after Henry left in 1847?

If she did, the most likely option is a Margaret Donovan (full age, spinster) who married Henry Yeend (full age, widower, livery stable keeper) on 31 December 1851 at St John’s Church in Hobart.[72] Henry was the licensee of the Farmer’s Arms Inn, Patterson’s Plains, Launceston in 1844[73] until liquidating the business[74] after his first wife (Madeline) died in April 1845 aged 26.[75] Henry subsequently moved to Hobart where he managed the livery stables attached to the Freemasons Hotel in Harrington Street.[76] Margaret and Henry had two children - Henry William in 1846 (before they were married and were still in Launceston)[77] and Emily Cecilia in 1853 in Hobart.[78] There are no relevant recorded deaths for a Margaret or Henry Yeend in VDL or Victoria.[79]

So was this Margaret? It is possible if she separated from her husband Henry (Bowden), reverted to her maiden name (Donovan), hooked up with Henry (Yeend) in Launceston after his wife died, became pregnant, moved to Hobart with him and misrepresented her marital status on marriage. After all, she had represented herself as Margaret Yeend (formerly Donovan) when their first son was born in 1846, five years before their marriage![80]


Did Margaret go to Victoria with Henry in 1847 and die before he remarried in 1853?

There are no shipping records for Margaret’s passage to Victoria or any relevant deaths for a Margaret Bowden or Boden or Donovan in Victoria during this period.[81]


Did Margaret go to Victoria with Henry in 1847 and remarry after he died in 1855?

There are too many marriage records under the name Donovan for the period to be definitive. The only remote possibility for a marriage under the name Bowden is a Margaret Bowden who married Syntax Harrison in 1884.[82] Margaret Harrison died aged 72 in 1890 at Fitzroy with her parents listed as Ann Downing and Henry Nelson.[83] Again, while the age is correct the parentage is not.


The last word

So, where did Margaret spend her final days?

We do know she left Ireland as a very young girl – possibly alone, possibly not – but undoubtedly from impoverished and difficult family circumstances, only to find that life in London was no easier and involved significant hardship and the need to pilfer and work the streets to survive. Compared to many her theft was significant but, as a 15 year old first offender, did it warrant transportation for life?

Once in the colony Margaret displayed a fiery character at times but, just maybe, on occasions her insolence, disobedience and absenteeism were justified. As De Vries maintains:

Most female convicts were given a hard time when they were assigned to work as domestics in households. The harshness of the penal system did not encourage convict women to be virtuous: an assigned female convict who rejected the sexual advances of her master could, on his word alone, be returned to the Female Factory as being of ‘bad character’.[84]

As there appears to be no real trace of her in Victoria, and with Henry’s remarriage in Victoria, it seems more than likely that Margaret stayed in VDL and reverted to her maiden name. Whether or not she became Mrs Yeend we will, doubtless, never know.


[1] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102; CON19/1/13 p152 DI 166;

[2]  Transportation Act 1717 Great Britain (4 Geo. 1 c. 11); Transportation Act 1768 (8 Geo. 3 c. 15); Swiss, Deborah J., The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, (2010), The Berkley Publishing Group, London. Extracted from






[8] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON19/1/13 p152 DI 166;



[11] ; LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102; Newgate Prison register,;;


[13] A £1 coin was called a sovereign and was made of gold. A paper pound often was called a quid.

[14] ; The symbol for the pound sterling resembles a capital "L" because of the Latin word libra, meaning scales or balance.



[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Newgate Prison Register;


[21] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102

[22] Stated age on transportation; see LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102

[23] Stated age before the court; see; stated age on marriage in 1840 was 20; LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/2 N 758

[24] Ibid

[25] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON52/1/2 p11

[30] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/2 N 758

[31] Ibid; Margaret’s stated age on marriage is consistent with her stated age before the court in London (c. 1820)

[32];;  Ref HO107 Piece 728 Book 3 Folio 20 Page 35

[33]; Ref HO107 Piece 728 Book 3 Folio 20 Page 35

[34] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/5 p296 DI 108

[35]; ref t18320906-112

[36] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/5 p296 DI 108

[37] Hulks were decommissioned (and often unseaworthy) ships that were moored in rivers and estuaries and refitted to become floating prisons. Originating with the penal crisis caused by the outbreak of war with America in 1775, the hulks were intended as a temporary expedient for housing convict prisoners, but they remained in use for over eighty years. Despite the fact they were intended as places to hold prisoners before they were punished in other ways (primarily by transportation), they constituted a form of punishment in themselves, and for some convicts they were the only form of punishment they experienced before their release.,and%20soil%20from%20its%20shores.

[38] Hulk Register;

[39] DHT / database

[40] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/5 p296 DI 108

[41] Ibid

[42] Ibid

[43] TROVE: Hobart Town Advertiser (Tas.: 1839-1840), Fri 28 Apr 1843, p2, Supreme Court – Criminal Side

[44] TROVE: The Courier (Hobart, Tas.: 1840-1859), Fri 10 Nov 1843, p4, Govt. Gazette No 270; CON31/1/5 p296 DI 108 suggests CP 15/6/1842 – most probably a transcription error in that this was the date it was recommended. See TROVE: Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas.: 1828-1857), Tue 21 Jun 1842, p4, Gazette

[45] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON31/1/5 p296 DI 108


[47] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102

[48] Ibid

[49] De Vries, Susanna, Strength of Spirit – Pioneering Women of Achievement from First Fleet to Federation, (1995), Millennium Books Australia, p12;


[51] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102

[52] LIB TAS: Names Index: POL459/1/2 p94

[53] VIC/BDM 5178/1855;


[55] VIC/BDM 6226/1853;


[57] English law stated if a couple were parted by water for more than seven years, even if both parties were still alive, each would be free to remarry and the resulting union would not be bigamous. See

[58] BDM 5393/1902; Mo Sarah Denton, Fa John Olding

[59] VIC/BDM; Catherine Olding, a Lady, English, 24, arrived in Port Phillip from London aboard the Admiral in November 1852. Of course, she may have been widowed in London but at 24 this seems unlikely.

[60] VIC/BDM 5178/1855;;

[61] VIC/BDM 366/1856

[62] VIC/BDM 3799/1857


[64] VIC/BDM 5393/1902; Mo Sarah Denton, Fa John Olding


[66] LIB TAS: Names Index

[67] TROVE: The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, 25 Nov 1848, p185, Quarter Sessions

[68] LIB TAS: Names Index: AB693-1-1/1853

[69] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Tasmanian Columnist (Hobart Town, Tas.: 1851 -1855) Mon 2 May 1853 p2 Police; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas.: 1828 -1857) Tue 31 May 1853 p3 Adjourned Quarter Sessions; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Tasmanian Columnist (Hobart Town, Tas.: 1851 -1855) Thu 2 June 1853 p2 Quarter Sessions; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Hobart Town Advertiser (Tas.: 1839 -1861) Fri 10 Jun 1853 p2 Local; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Tasmanian Columnist (Hobart Town, Tas.: 1851 -1855) Mon 13 Jun 1853 p2 Police; 

[70] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/3 DI 102

[71] Margaret DONOVAN (Greenlaw) married John Barrington in 1847 and received a COF in 1851; Margaret DONAVON (Providence) was FS in 1817; Margaret DONNOVON (Mary) married Charles Gray in 1827 and died in 1832. Nor is there any record of William Donovan marrying a Margaret in VDL. LIB TAS: Names Index.

[72] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/10 N420 DI 165

[73] TROVE: Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas.: 1828-1857), Sat 5 Oct 1844, p4, The Gazette

[74] TROVE: The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, Sat 19 Jul 1845, p11, Advertising

[75] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD35/1/16 N326 DI 133; licensed victualler’s wife; they had married in Launceston on 21/8/1839 [RGD37/1/1 N318 DI 111] and do not appear to have had any children.

[76] TROVE: Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas.: 1828-1857), Tue 24 Oct 1845, p2, Advertising

[77] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD32/1/2 N1926 DI 191; Father Henry Yeend, Patterson Plains; RGD37/1/35 N171 DI 90

[78] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD32/1/3 N4321 DI 228;

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

[80] LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD32/1/2 N1926 DI 191;

[81] VIC/BDM;; PROV; A Margaret Bowden died in 1901 aged 79 at the Bendigo Hospital (Father McLaughlan, John, Mother Margaret) VIC/BDM 4644/1901; While the age matches Margaret’s, the parentage doesn’t and this assumes that Henry remarried while she was still alive in Victoria and living in the same area - Bendigo. There are no other relevant deaths in Victoria from 1835 to 1910.

[82] VIC/BDM 1360/1884

[83] VIC/BDM 7172/1890

[84] De Vries, Susanna, Strength of Spirit – Pioneering Women of Achievement from First Fleet to Federation, (1995), Millennium Books Australia, p14;



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