Newcastle is located at the mouth of the Hunter River, initially called the Coal River, and was the site of a secondary penal settlement established in 1804. The Hunter region had large coal deposits and the government ran coal mines, cedar tree harvesting and lime burning enterprises, all of which were reliant on convict labour.


Convicts on arrival in the colony were sent there to be assigned as workers and servants, and also those who were under sentence of a secondary punishment from either Port Jackson, Parramatta or Van Diemen’s Land (VDL). Prior to the establishment of Macquarie Harbour and Maria Island penal settlements, the most incorrigible convicts were sent to Newcastle for punishment. Their punishments ranged from being flogged before departure, and after arrival, being made to work in irons and/or chain gangs.[1] 


During the period 1818–1823, the Newcastle penal settlement was under the command of Major Morisset, who gained a reputation of condoning the harsh treatment of male convicts. The scope of punishment for female convicts is less clear, although there are cases of women from Sydney being sentenced to transportation to Newcastle for 7 years with hard labour.[2]


In 1816-18, a gaol was constructed at Gaol Hill, Newcastle[3] - this was the receiving depot for female convicts. There they were either imprisoned and employed in the gaol; assigned as servants to the early settlers; or employed working for the government. Approximately 1,600 women were sent to the Hunter between 1804 and 1822.[4] 


In 1823 Governor Brisbane closed down the Newcastle penal settlement, and ordered convicts moved to Port Macquarie or, for the women to be sent back to Parramatta. The gaol continued being used as a depot for receiving both male and female convicts awaiting assignment as workers to the government, as coal miners, lime burners or as servants to settlers in the Hunter Valley[5] [6] [7].


In 1831, after a riot at Parramatta, Newcastle was again resurrected as a destination for female convicts with the gaol becoming known as the Newcastle Gaol and Female Factory, and operated in that capacity until 1846.


Between 1819 and 1821, ten female convicts from Van Diemen’s Land were sentenced to be sent to Newcastle as a secondary punishment, either through an Order of Transportation, or to complete their remaining sentence. It is possible as few as two women may have actually left VDL, the remainder granted exemptions due to age, illness or pregnancy. Research by the Newcastle Family History Society determined ‘that there was an intention to send an individual to the Newcastle settlement, but there is insufficient evidence to prove she actually arrived’.[8] 


Nine female convicts who spent time in VDL, were transferred to back to NSW, and their names later appeareed on lists of convicts or prisoners to be sent to Newcastle on Elizabeth Henrietta, Estramina, Governor Hunter and Lady Nelson.[*]


The following is a list of female convicts sentenced in VDL to be sent to Newcastle:




Ship – Arrival date




Angelina Beattie

Alexander 1816

transported to Newcastle for 2 years

Married Miller,

Located in VDL 19.02.1822


Mary Ryan

(along with her husband)

Canada 1817

transported to Newcastle for the remainder of her sentence.

Not located


Catherine Burns

Morley 1820

transferred to Newcastle for 2 years

Located VDL 12.01.1822


Elizabeth McEvoy

Alexander 1816

transported to Newcastle for the remainder of her sentence.

Died VDL 22.02.1821


17.03.1821 (Trove)

Margaret Keefe

Lord Wellington 1820

7 years transportation, to be sent to Newcastle

Located in Hobart  May 1821,

Macquarie Harbour 1822


17.03.1821 (Trove)

Ellen Sephton/Eleanor syton

Janus 1820

7 years transportation, to be sent to Newcastle

Located in VDL Aug 1821 (Birth of child)


Sarah Cole

Morley 1820

To be transported to Newcastle for 3 years

Died VDL 26.05.1821


Sarah Freeman

Janus 1820

Transported to Newcastle for 3 years

Married NSW 1826 Wm Turvey


Ellen Butler

Lord Wellington 1820

Transported to Newcastle for 3 years

Located in VDL 4.01.1823


Martha Fagan

Alexander 1816

To be transported to Newcastle for 2 years.

Located in VDL Aug 1821 (Birth of child)

24.03.1821 Sarah Wilson Elizabeth Henrietta 1818/Maria 1818 To be transported to Newcastle for 3 years.  (Source: Hobart Town Gazette 24 March 1821) located in Hobart 1823 as wife of Jack Marney.




Sarah Freeman, 39, was convicted of larceny in London and sentenced to Transportation for 7 years.   She sailed on the Janus and arrived in NSW in May 1820.  Within 2 weeks of arrival in NSW, Sarah was one of 73 women selected to be transferred to VDL on board the Princess Charlotte. 


After a year of penal servitude in VDL, Sarah was punished with being sent to Newcastle for stealing sundry articles the property of Bunster.


Sarah’s journey did not end at Newcastle.  In 1824, at a time when the Newcastle penal settlement was winding down, Sarah was again convicted and on this occasion was sent to Moreton Bay, (where Brisbane stands today), the location of a newly established secondary Penal Settlement to cater for hardened criminals and recidivist prisoners. [9]


Sarah was once more located in government employment at Newcastle in 1826[10] before becoming free by servitude in July; the following month she married William Turvey and they settled in the Newcastle region where Sarah died in 1833. 




Sophia Stratford, a 22 year old single woman, was convicted of Larceny at the Surrey Quarter Sessions on 26 October 1818 and sentenced to 7 years transportation.


Sophia arrived in NSW on the Janus in December 1819, and six months later was transferred to VDL on board the Princess Charlotte, arriving in June 1820. Her time in VDL was very brief, as Sophia’s name was on a list of seven women forwarded per Morley to the female factory at Parramatta in October of the same year for ‘alleged improper conduct’.[11]


Sophia Stratford/Stafford, who used the alias of Charlotte Hodges, was to be employed at the Parramatta Female Factory, however after repeatedly running away she was again sentenced and punished by being sent to Newcastle per Governor Bligh June 1821.


By November 1822 Sophia was back in the gaol in Sydney, whether it was because her time had been served at Newcastle or because the Newcastle Penal Settlement was winding down, is not known.  However, James Calvert, a former prisoner on the ship Minerva, and stationed at Newcastle as a chief constable, was wishing to marry Sophia and on 25/11/1822 put in a request for her to be sent to Newcastle. Sophia proceeded to Newcastle for marriage on 17/4/1823. She was free in January 1826.   In April 1827, under the name of Charlotte Sophia Calvert, she was again convicted – this time for stealing a pair of shoes – and sentenced to the Penitentiary for 12 months. In 1828, at 30 years old, she was free by servitude and a householder in Harrington Street Sydney.  Sophia had at least two further charges, in 1843 and 1850, before her death at Parramatta in 1853.



In January 1822, Macquarie Harbour Penal settlement was established and, along with the 1825 establishment of a penal settlement on Maria Island, would provide alternative locations for the punishment of recalcitrant VDL convicts, saving the government the cost of transportation to NSW, and providing labour for the local settlements.




[*]  Catherine Leeson per Tellicherry 1805, sent to Newcastle 1813 (2 yrs.)  and 1817 (4 yrs.).

Sarah Hall per Lord Melville 1817, sent to Newcastle 30 June 1818.

Bridget Lamb, per Alexander 1816, sent to Newcastle 30 June 1818.

Margaret Lyman per Aeolus 1809, sent to Newcastle for 1 year, 23.04.1813.

Mary McLean per Experiment 1809 sent to Newcastle 20 Dec 1811

Julia Millard per Broxbornebury 1814, sent to Newcastle 22.02.1820

Ann Rowe per Broxbornebury 1814, sent to Newcastle 2 Sept 1818.

Sophia Stratford per Janus 1819, sent to Parramatta 1820, Newcastle 1821.

Mary Usher (Murtagh), Elizabeth 1 (2), sent to Newcastle for 1 year, 3 August, 1819,




[1] HRA Series III Vol.2

[2] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 26 March 1814 - Page 2






[8] They Sent Me North: Female Convicts in the Hunter, Compiled by Mel Woodford with Jan Richards AM, Newcastle Family History Society, 2019.p.2.


[10] HO10/19

[11] Series: NRS 937; Reel or Fiche Numbers: Reels 6004-6016



Further resources:


They Sent Me North: Female Convicts in the Hunter, Compiled byMel Woodford with Jan Richards AM, Newcastle Family History Society Inc 2019

THE History of Newcastle. SOME INTERESTING RECORDS. Beginning of Free Settlement. No. II.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, Friday 23 August 1895 - Page 6


By E. Crawford (July 2021)





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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed online [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed online [date] from [http address].