Mary Ellen Walsh
Earl Grey (1850)
By Rae Blair
During Mary Ellen Walsh’s lifetime, she was abandoned by her family as a child. She was arrested and gaoled twice, and was forced to leave her home country. In her teenage years, she resisted authority, often paying a heavy price. With so much against her, Mary was determined to create a life for herself. She looked for opportunity; marrying twice and delivering twelve children—sadly burying three of them. At times, she struggled to feed her children, being forced to give some of them up. Later, with her husband away for long periods of time, and despite constantly having children hanging onto her skirts, Mary ran a business in Campbell Town and became a popular figure in the village. In time, Mary achieved the life she wanted and knew prosperity.
Mary was a survivor. This is her story.
An act of desperation – Part I
How does a family make the decision to sell their child into service then leave the country? What impact does that have on the child being abandoned?
When over a million people are dying of starvation, and around two million more flee, it contextualises decisions made by desperate people. It might provide some insight into how a young girl could be traded for cash by her family, to work as her aunt’s servant, to fund their escape to Nova Scotia. Sacrifice one to save the many, perhaps?
Those who lived in the south and west of Ireland suffered the most in the Great Famine, and the disaster was felt even more keenly for native Irish-speaking Roman Catholics. Mary Ellen Walsh and her family were unfortunate enough to be all three: Irish-speaking, Roman Catholic southerners from Cork. But they had an opportunity. Provide Mary to her Aunt Cath Walsh as a servant, in return for the means to essentially save the family by escaping the Great Famine of Ireland.
The worst year of the Great Famine of Ireland occurred in 1847 when Mary was ten. But we are soon to see how Mary felt about her situation. On 24 April 1849, Mary appeared at the Waterford County Court and convicted of stealing £11 from her aunt. Her sentence, seven years’ transportation.
What was Mary’s state of mind, having been abandoned by her family to work as a servant? Perhaps her aunt, having already given funds to her family for Mary’s services, refused to pay anything further? Whatever the reason for Mary’s theft, this twelve-year-old would now be incarcerated for the next eight months awaiting her departure from Dublin to Van Diemen’s Land. Mary’s world was to be turned upside down once again.
The nightmare continued
On 17 December 1849, in the biting cold of Dublin’s winter, Mary was shepherded onto the convict transport Earl Grey with two hundred and thirty-five other women.
The women would have had little to keep them warm, but when they arrived in Hobart, five months later on 9 May 1850, it would have been a relief to be greeted by mild autumnal weather.
In processing Mary when she stepped off the Earl Grey, they could not find her Gaol Report. We know of Mary’s indictment because of what she told authorities: “Stealing £11 from my Aunt Cath Walsh.”
Her formal report described her as: Height: 5' 2" Complexion: Fair freckles. Head: Oval medium size. Hair: Sandy. Visage: Oval full. Forehead: low. Eyebrows: Sandy. Eyes: Blue. Nose: Medium. Mouth: wide. Chin: medium. Native Place: County Cork. Marks: Small mole on upper lip. The surgeon’s report indicated her health was ‘good’.
A teenage rebel
Within a year of her arrival, Mary was sent to The Ross Female Factory, one of four such places built in Van Diemen’s Land. Between 1847 and 1854 it operated as a probation station for female convicts and their babies. Mary was sorted into one of the three classes in the factory—Punishment Class, Crime Class, or Hiring Class—and allocated a bunk in the Crime Class Ward. Here, she shared a room with several other women, and they were taught how to sew, clean, cook, launder and care for their children.
In April 1851, thirteen-year-old Mary got herself in trouble, and as a result ordered to be moved from her bunk in the Crime Class Ward to a cell, a bleak prospect. The Ross factory had six narrow solitary cells, used for punishment of misdemeanours. The cells were located on the west side of the factory, with a narrow exercise yard attached. The cramped conditions and isolation from the rest of the community didn’t appeal to Mary and she refused to go. For her obstinance, she was punished with three months hard labour.
One month into her ‘hard labour’ sentence, she was written up for ‘idleness’, on 10 May 1851, and punished with a further two months hard labour—but to be cumulative with her previous sentence.
Then, another month later, Mary had had enough. On 7 June 1851, she was written up for ‘insubordination’, and punished with another eighteen months of hard labour, to which Mary responded by breaking some windows. As a result, Mary was required to pay £0.6.8 to cover the cost of the broken windows, before she would ever receive her Ticket of Leave.
One week later, Mary was written up for ‘assault’—was she being taunted or was she defending herself, it is unknown, but it resulted in her having to spend another twenty-one days in the cells.
Her misdemeanours over the past three months show us how thirteen-year-old Mary coped with her new reality—having her liberty withdrawn, isolation from her family, and being thrown in with women of all ages and walks of life. It must have been extremely difficult for her at this young age.
Freedom of sorts
Mary started to learn important lessons about accepting her situation. On 20 September 1852, Mary, now fourteen and with her attitude apparently more controlled, was assigned as a servant to Anglican Reverend Mr Trollope at Oatlands.
Oatlands is located on the shores of Lake Dulverton about half way between Hobart and Launceston. The reverend was a difficult character. Despite him just founding a school at Oatlands—in the striking two storey stucco Georgian house built around 1840—he was under a lot of pressure from journalists. He was considered as “semi-political” and someone who brought “disgrace upon the Church of England” and also “made himself very unpopular by preaching about the chronic state of Sabbath day drunkenness in Green Ponds.” Many “pray(ed) for his removal.” Mary stayed with the reverend until December 1852, when she was re-assigned to Mr R. Harrison in Woodbury (15 kms north of Oatlands). She remained there for a month, when she was re-assigned on 24 January 1853 to Mr J. Dougherty in Oatlands.
Things take a turn
Fifteen-year-old Mary, seemed to have reverted to her old ways when barely a month into her assignment with Mr Dougherty she was found “having a quantity of apparel in her possession for which she cannot satisfactorily account.” She was returned to The Ross Female Factory and punished with nine months of hard labour. The bare details of recorded facts don’t give us a sense of whether Mary was justly dealt with, so from this vast distance we can’t begin to judge her actions.
By 20 July 1853, she was assigned to a Mr Roberts, but absconded. She was reissued with four months of hard labour, and returned to The Ross Female Factory.
At the end of her four months hard labour sentence, they assigned Mary to a Mr Clarke, but on 16 November 1853 she was cited for ‘refusing to work’. One can’t help wishing to reach back through history to the young Mary to counsel her to keep her head down. They punished Mary with five days in the Ross Female Factory cells.
A married woman
Mary’s rebellious ways seem to settle after she meets convict John Alcock (who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land aboard the ‘Palmyra’ in 1846). Their application for marriage was approved and they married at the Anglican St Luke’s Church, Campbell Town on 21 February 1854; Mary was sixteen and John, twenty-six.
Her situation further improved when, six months later, her Ticket of Leave was approved providing she paid the outstanding money owed for breaking the windows. The outstanding amount was paid, and her Ticket of Leave was granted on 29 August 1854.
A year later, on 15 August 1855, Mary delivered her first child, a son, John, and by 12 April 1856, Mary’s seven-year sentence expired; she was reclassified as ‘Free by Servitude’. Then, Mary delivered a succession of children in each of the three following years to John in Campbell Town: Martha (7 February 1857), Johanna (21 May 1858) and Mary Ellen (31 December 1859).
With her youngest just eighteen months old, Mary delivered another daughter, Matilda, on 22 July 1861—she now had five children under the age of six.
Eight years into their marriage, the police came knocking at John and Mary Alcock’s door. The police were there to arrest them on the charge of ‘receiving’. They were both tried at the Supreme Court Oatlands on 27 December 1861; John was found guilty and sentenced to four years gaol at Port Arthur. Mary was acquitted as being ‘coerced’, and returned home to her children.
An act of desperation – Part II
Once John was found guilty, his property was seized and sold for a fine of £50 imposed under the Sheep Stealing Prevention Act. This left Mary without ‘means’, and with Matilda as an infant, she was unable to go into service. Mary was in a desperate situation as to how to feed her family and needed to find a solution to their very survival—reminiscent of her own parent’s situation fifteen years ago. There was a solution available to her that many families in her situation used. If her own parents could leave her behind for the greater good, could she do the same with her own children? On 6 January, 1862, with Matilda in her arms, and the other children trailing behind her, Mary went to the Campbell Town Police Office and applied for the four older children to be admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School. The children were accepted, and Mary left her children, aged six, four, three and two and returned home with just Matilda in her arms. One can only imagine how the children reacted to their mother leaving them behind—and how Mary felt.
But things went from bad to worse for Mary. Not long after, baby Matilda perished before her first birthday. Mary was on her own.
Queen’s Orphan School
The Queen’s Orphan School facility was located in New Town, Hobart, over 130 kms away from Campbell Town. It took in mostly convicts' children, who were not released until their parent/s had their Tickets of Leave and could care for their children. Many were never released to their parents and were apprenticed out until they were eighteen years of age. And like Mary’s children, most of them were not orphans bereft of both parents.
A report on the Queen’s Orphan School in 1864, when Mary’s children had been there for two years, listed 463 children at the institution, of whom 411 were the children of convicts and seven were Aboriginal. Other reports indicated that conditions within the school were harsh: the buildings were sparsely furnished and cold; food was often in short supply; and many of those responsible for caring for the children treated them harshly. Mary’s six year old son, John, was separated from his sisters, and placed in the boys’ ‘school’, her daughters, Martha (aged four), Johanna (three), and Mary Ellen (two), were placed in the girls’ ‘school’.
Mary secures her future
While John Alcock continued to serve his sentence in Port Arthur and their children remained at Queens, Mary needed a plan to secure her future. Fourteen months after she placed the children in the orphanage, Mary became pregnant to local trader (emancipated ex-convict) Jabez Bartlett. She delivered another baby girl on 16 November 1863, named Emma Bartlett Alcock. This child sadly survived only sixteen months and died on 4 March 1865.
Two weeks later, John Alcock was released from Port Arthur. But by this time, Mary was already three months pregnant with her seventh child, and delivered a son, James Francis Xavier Bartlett on 14 September 1865. It is unclear what John Alcock made of his wife’s new life with Jabez Bartlett, but he didn’t remain in the Campbell Town area.
With Mary now running a haberdashery business at 84 High Street, Campbell Town, and Jabez successfully peddling goods through the Fingal Valley, particularly Mathinna, and purchasing skins and hides, Mary found stability and purpose. She turned her back on her husband, who could not provide the life Mary needed, and instead chose Jabez, who had begun to buy property. Despite now having ‘means’, neither Mary nor her husband John retrieved the children from the orphanage.
Mary and Jabez continued to expand their family on 13 September 1867 when she delivered another daughter, Elizabeth Imelda Bartlett in Campbell Town.
The children and Mary are released
On 16 April 1870, Martha Alcock (who had been at the orphanage for eight years and had now turned thirteen) was discharged from the Queen’s Orphan School to the servitude of Mrs C. Anderson (in New Town) where she stayed until 28 June 1872, when she was readmitted to the orphanage by Mrs Anderson on the grounds of “insolence, neglect of duty, and positive refusal to do her work”—sounds so much like her mother. The Members of the Board of Guardians were of the opinion that the girl's conduct can be traced to the improper interference of her mother and a change of service is desirable for the parties involved.
When Johanna turned thirteen, in 1871, she was discharged to the service of Mr Henry Hanton, but the arrangement became unsuitable and, like her sister, she was readmitted to the orphanage.
While her daughters were experiencing life on the outside, albeit for short stints, Mary had her hands full, giving birth on 14 September 1871 to a son they called William Nicholas Bartlett.
Then, on 2 September 1872, Martha was finally released from Queen’s Orphanage to the servitude of Mrs Shelverton (in Green Ponds) and was at least in her service on 4 December 1873, when Martha became involved in a turkey stealing incident, in which she was required to give evidence. She was never charged. Martha eventually moved to Bendigo and died at age eighty-five. She didn’t appear to marry.
The orphanage records show that Mary’s son, John, was also released from the orphanage, but a date is not recorded, nor to whom he was apprenticed. Ancestry records show that John married Margaret Neil and they had at least four children. He potentially changed his name from John Alcock to John Jones, and he died in Berrigan, New South Wales on 22 August 1896, aged forty-one.
It wasn’t only Mary’s children who were experiencing some freedom that year. On 2 June 1872, Mary’s husband, John Alcock died (aged forty-five) at St Helens (about 120 kms north-east of Campbell Town) officially making Mary a widow. But she didn’t rush to marry Jabez, instead delivered another baby: on 12 April 1873, their son Jabez was born.
With Martha freed from the orphanage, it was now her sister, Mary Ellen Alcock’s turn. Fifteen-year-old Mary Ellen was discharged from Queen’s Orphan’s School on 9 March 1874 to the servitude of Mary Lewis, but was re-admitted back to the orphanage after a short time. A month later, on 24 April, she was released again, for a final time, to her mother (who needed help with her four Bartlett children aged between nine and one). Mary Ellen Alcock was a bright girl, having won an arithmetic prize in 1872 and a writing prize in 1873. She married Alexander MacDonald when she was nineteen, but sadly died in Victoria seven years later.
Mary and Jabez make it official
On 13 February 1875, Mary (three months pregnant and listed as age thirty-eight, but she was actually thirty-seven) and Jabez (forty-six) married. On their marriage certificate they were listed as Mary Ellen Alcock (spinster—she was actually a widow) and Jabez Bartlett, General Dealer (bachelor). They married in the presence of Thomas and Jane Smith, in the Anglican Church of St George.
A week later, Johanna received her second chance at freedom and was discharged from the Queen’s Orphanage School to live with Mary and Jabez, like her sister Mary Ellen, but this arrangement lasted only a short time, before Johanna again returned to the orphanage. But by 16 June 1875, Johanna was released for the last time to the servitude of Joseph Scanlan, who was reported to have abused her. Johanna subsequently left Van Diemen’s Land and went to Melbourne, where she married (Thomas Smithwick and George Wight) and had eleven children. She died at Ascot Vale aged seventy.
Six months after Mary and Jabez were married, another son, Charles Edwin Bartlett was born on 10 August 1875, but the happiness of that year was not to last, as three months later, on 8 November 1875, their two-year-old son, Jabez, died.
Finally, when Mary was forty-two, perhaps believing her baby production days were over (with her youngest child, Charles now five), she became pregnant one last time. On 7 June 1880, she delivered her last baby, a daughter, Alicia Maud Bartlett.
A lifechanging accident
It is family legend that Jabez Bartlett’s mother, Elizabeth Bartlett, was a court harpist, and Jabez insisted his children learn to play music. This was to be a particularly special gift to his son, Charles, who in 1883 at age eight was blinded in an accident.
Jabez and Mary sent him to the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind and Deaf, where he received a sound education and became an accomplished flautist and singer. In 1892, as a seventeen-year-old, he was chosen to be a member of a concert party for the blind and toured country towns in Victoria. His brother, William, became the band’s manager and toured with them, creating a lucrative business.
Shame for the family
Whilst his brothers, Charles and William, were building a successful business in the entertainment industry, James Francis Xavier Bartlett, had moved to Beechworth, Victoria, at least as early as December 1890, where he was presenting false cheques.
At his conviction hearing, James admitted to presenting fourteen fraudulent cheques and said “He was glad to have been arrested as he wished to lead a better life in future.” The judge commented that “the scheme by which he obtained the goods and money was a very cleverly constructed one.” He was found guilty of two charges of false pretences on 8 February 1893 and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment with hard labour in each case (sentences to be concurrent)..
On 16 February 1893, James faced three cases of forgery and uttery and was convicted of another two counts of fraud (the third was dropped) in the Bendigo Assize Court, and was sentenced to three years hard labour with solitary confinement. The judge commented that “the prisoner had evidently determined to set the law at defiance and it would be necessary for a somewhat severe sentence to be passed on him.”
He faced the Supreme Court, Melbourne on 26 July 1893 for Shop-breaking and was sentenced to four years hard labour with periods of solitary confinement.
Four years later, on 9 December 1897, James appeared at the Wangaratta General Sessions charged with breaking into a counting house (Bethanga Post Office) and stealing, with an accomplice, Samuel Butt. A witness described he knew “Bartlett as the advance agent for the blind troupe.” The pair apparently created an explosion which blew off the Post Office door. After the robbery, the pair escaped on a bike (one riding, one standing on pegs). Butt caught a train for Warrnambool, Bartlett returned to the Oriental Coffee Palace North Melbourne (his place of residence) and needed a rag to tie up his hand as he had hurt it falling from a bicycle. Both men were convicted and received a sentence of eight years hard labour. The judge said that “with the assistance of a bike (it) placed great power in the hand of the burglar” and added they were “clever criminals.”
James died unmarried at Gordon House (subsidised housing) on 16 September 1926 (aged sixty-one).
Getting affairs in order
In 1895, when Jabez was sixty-seven, the hawker and dealer formalised his will. With James in gaol and Charles blinded, Jabez turned to his remaining son, William, to act as co-executor.
When Jabez died at the age of seventy-two, despite not mentioning Mary in his will, his death notice mentioned he was the ‘beloved husband of Mary Bartlett.’ His obituary noted that the deceased “was widely known and respected throughout the whole colony, [who] died after a very short illness at Mathinna on Tuesday last. He leaves a widow, at present dangerously ill, and three sons and two daughters.”
Mathinna was part of Jabez’s trading route, some 90 kms away from their home in Campbell Town. His sons, William and Charles, were away touring and returned only in time to bury their father. Mary’s poor health is mentioned in the obituary, but she survived Jabez for another twelve years. Perhaps Jabez considered that his elderly wife would not have needed her own assets, as he expected that her children would care for her in her dotage?
Mary died at age seventy-six on 15 March 1912 at the home of her daughter (Alicia) Mrs M Bendall, 263 Charles Street, Campbell Town. After all of Mary’s marriages in Anglican churches, her faith was recognised in her burial service, which was held at St Michael's Roman Catholic Church, Campbell Town, and she’s buried at St Michael’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. Her grave is marked by a large stone cross, which is relieved with a ship’s anchor, to symbolise her steadfast faith.
In the end, a comfortable life
A review of Jabez Bartlett’s will sheds light on how successful his and Mary’s businesses were, which provided them with many assets and security. From nothing, they created a comfortable life for themselves through hard work and perseverance. While the Bartlett children benefitted from this success, it is not obvious whether Mary’s children with John Alcock received any support.
The Bartlett’s assets
Jabez Bartlett bequeathed his horses, carts, harnesses and all other his personal estate and effects which may belong to him at the time of his death to his son, William, as well as an allotment of land containing eighteen perches, together with the four roomed house and stables in Campbell Town at the corner of Bridge and King Streets, and an allotment of land containing one rood and thirty nine and one half perches situate in Campbell Town fronting on King and Glenelg Streets.
To his son, James, he bequeathed his four acre land in Campbell Town fronting onto Forster and Torlesse Streets.
He directed that his home should not be sold until Alice reached the age of twenty-one, died or married, whichever came first (she was twenty when he died and married the next year).
To his son, Charles, he bequeathed an allotment of land situate on Bridge Street in Campbell Town containing twenty one perches together with a brick cottage.
To his married daughter, Elizabeth Kennedy, an allotment of land containing eleven and one half perches in Campbell Town fronting on the esplanade together with a four roomed cottage.
To his daughter, Alice, an allotment of land containing one rood thirty nine and one half perches in Campbell Town, corner of Queen and Glenelg Streets. Plus land two roods thirty two poles purchased in the name of Alice (as an infant) and that she was entitled to the same in fee simple.
The residue of his real estate was to be divided to his said children in equal shares.
Of Mary’s nine children who made it into adulthood, only one, William, chose to make a life in Tasmania and continued to live there all of his life.
An enduring image
The sole photograph we have of Mary as an adult shows little of the eleven-year-old convict girl who landed on the shores of Van Diemen’s Land in 1850 as a waif with nothing to her name. In the image, Mary wears a fitted hat, trimmed in velvet and embellished with ribbon and possibly flowers, and her burgundy satin gown has a detailed bodice and sleeves, lace collar and cuffs and a gold brooch at her throat. Her hands are clasped together as she leans on the arm of an upholstered sofa. But it is her eyes which give a hint of her history. Her steel blue gaze is direct and unwavering.
During her lifetime, she was abandoned by her family as a child. She was arrested and gaoled twice, and was forced to leave her home country. In her teenage years, she resisted authority, often paying a heavy price. With so much against her, Mary was determined to create a life for herself. She looked for opportunity, marrying twice and delivering twelve children—sadly burying three of them. At times, she struggled to feed her children, being forced to give some of them up. Later, with her husband away for long periods of time, and despite constantly having children hanging onto her skirts, Mary ran a business in Campbell Town and became a popular figure in the village. In time, Mary achieved the life she wanted and knew prosperity.
Mary was a survivor.
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 Daily Telegraph, Launceston, 16 March 1912
 William Bartlett married Mary Foster and had ten children. He died aged seventy-one at Bridge Street, Campbell Town.
 Alice Bartlett married Thomas Bendall and had ten children. She died aged seventy-three in Essendon.
 Charles Bartlett married Elizabeth Williams and had eight children. He died aged fifty-five in Melbourne.
 Elizabeth Bartlett married Alexander Kennedy, David Patterson and Reginald Webb, and had at least one child. She died aged seventy-nine in Coburg.