By Helen Ménard
Lady Justice was not always blind for Mary. She spent many months in prison in England for alleged offences for which she was never convicted – including murdering her own child! In her mid-forties, she was ultimately convicted of theft and transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) for 14 years – many received lesser sentences for more serious crimes. Her only alleged transgression in the colony involved an unspecified felony of which she was, again, acquitted. Yet, she was still ordered to be detained in the house of correction for 12 months – for a crime she didn’t commit!
However, it seems Mary eventually managed to ‘shake the curse’. After she received a ticket of leave in 1841 and her daughter married the same year, Mary appeared to assume a low profile, never remarried or left Tasmania, and lived with her daughter Ann and her family in Hobart until her death in old age. Her burial site is marked in history - many women were not so fortunate.
Surely one of the most depressing stories among those of the 13,500 (approx.) women transported as convicts to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) between 1812 and 1853 is that of Irish-born Ellen Hanley, one of a number of convict women who were sentenced to transportation on more than one occasion. She had arrived in the colony aboard Greenlaw as a much-troubled youthful offender in July 1844 and died in a Victorian gaol in her sixties in May 1893. Described then as ‘dirty and debilitated’, her entire life had been one of almost unrelieved degradation and misery.
This is her story:
(Royal Admiral 1842)
by James Cosgrave
Elizabeth Hemblen was born in Bath, Somerset, England about 1824, the youngest of four children of Isaac and Mary Hemblen. Her mother died young and her father remarried in 1832 to Elizabeth Rose, with whom he had another four children.
Family stories passed down through the generations suggest that Elizabeth Hemblen did not get along with her step-mother, and rebelled. On 11 October 1841, 16 year old Elizabeth Emblin appeared before a judge at the Bath City Sessions, charged with larceny, for stealing a pair of boots. She was convicted and sentenced to one month in prison.
Elizabeth obviously fell in with bad company, as soon after her release from prison, she appeared before a judge at the Bath City Sessions on 29 December 1841, along with Mary Ann Elmes and Elizabeth Stokes, charged with stealing a frying pan worth 12 pence, property of William Pullen, on 20 November 1841. As all three of the accused had previous convictions, they were each sentenced to 7 years transportation.
This is Elizabeth's story.
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.
Between 1812 and 1853, 13,500 (approx.) women were transported as convicts to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL). Most of them were young, poor and uneducated. Torn from their families and friends with little hope of ever being re-united with them, many lived wretchedly unhappy lives. Ill-treated by disdaining masters and mistresses to whom they were assigned as servants, humiliated and abused by cruel gaolers and subservient always to the whims and mandates of a patriarchal society, some made hasty marriages which they soon regretted. Others sought the companionship of unruly acquaintances and reverted to crime or turned to alcohol to ease the pain of their existence. In doing so, they were locked away in prisons for lengthy periods, lost whatever dignity remained to them, and died before their time in misery and poverty. There were still others, however, who were prepared to make the most of their changed circumstances and took the opportunity to make better lives for themselves than ever they could have hoped for previously. While a few went into business for themselves with great success, most became ordinary and peaceful citizens - good wives and mothers - and, in doing so, helped to forge a new nation. Among this latter group was Mary Harford who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) aboard Royal Admiral in September 1842. She was twenty-four years old and single. She married twice, first in VDL in 1845 and later in the neighbouring colony of Victoria after her first husband had passed away. She gave birth to seven children, lived a blemish-free, unostentatious but comfortable life and died at the age of sixty-seven, a much-loved and seemingly-contented woman. But who could ever have imagined that her life would have turned out so well? A year before her transportation, she had been convicted of stealing a watch from a man in a brothel - and then attempting to cut his throat! She had been sentenced to ten-years of penal servitude
This is Mary’s story: