For a change from thinking about Nicholas, I typed Sarah Marshall into Google. She’s my g-g-g grandmother, a convict who arrived in New South Wales on the Friendship in 1818. She married* John Simpson (Ocean II, arr 1818) and later that year their daughter Lucy was born. Lucy married Nicholas Delaney’s son Thomas in 1834.
Imagine how surprised I was when result after result came up. The first I clicked on had a query about her – did anyone know anything about Sarah, who was murdered?
Murdered? Some mistake, I thought. Not ‘my’ Sarah. But I checked the dates, and the convict ship, and the places, and it looked more and more as if I’m descended from a woman who was brutally killed in Castlereagh, NSW in 1838 at the age of 42.
How could this not have come up in our research? How could the family not remember such a shocking event? I wondered.
I went on a googleathon. Some very lurid stories came up. Pretty soon I was reading that she haunts her grave in Castlereagh General Cemetery. She was murdered by a gang of men ‘in a fit of lust’.
I also read (and these are urban legends) that she was 17 when she died, that she had eight children out of wedlock with John, ‘an independent, well-to-do man’ who married her as she lay dying so that she could pass into the next life without sin.
Romantic touches, but the truth is that she had a husband, a tailor and freed convict, at the time of the first Australian census in 1828.
I learned that Sarah and John may both have been already married before they were transported to Australia. So that’s two more possible bigamists in my family tree.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find any newspaper articles about her death on Trove.
As for the haunting, the net’s full of it. Apparently ‘Sarah’s Grave’ is a well-known scary place in the Penrith area, and she’s been seen by a lot of people, a spirit in white with a strong dislike of men. So many people go there at night that the graveyard has been fenced off. There are even tours to her grave.
I’m not putting an image of her grave up because the ones on the net belong to other people, but I’ll put some links at the bottom (Update – I’ve posted one by my cousin, Michael Wood, here). This is the inscription:
the memory of
died Decr 10th
aged 42 years
And am I born to die
To lay this body down
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown
A land of deepest shade
Unpierc’d by human thought**
The dreary regions of the dead
Where all things are forgot
So for the moment I’m stuck.
And more than a bit surprised.
In the space of a few hours my obscure ancestor has become a bigamist, a murder victim and a famous ghost. I’m left wondering how a murder which spawned local legends in the Penrith area could have been forgotten by Delaney family members who lived nearby. Or did they suppress the story, ashamed of its notoriety (especially if Sarah had been sexually assaulted)? After all, our convict origins were hushed up for at least four generations.
Or – is the murdered, ghostly Sarah not my ancestor at all? Was she a woman in another graveyard – whose story has been attached to Sarah Simpson, as Sydney Spirit Stalkers wonder?
And I’m yet again amazed at how different genealogy and historical research is now, with the net, from how it was when we started researching Nicholas Delaney and his family. Finding information like this is what makes writing this blog so worth while – I can put so much in here that’s an add-on to A Rebel Hand.
And of course now I would like to see her grave. I’d like to leave some flowers and wish her peace.
Is there anybody there…….. who has any answers?
*Since writing this, I’m not so sure they were married. They were certainly a couple and Sarah is referred to in the 1828 census as John Simpson’s ‘wife’
** The original epitaph reads ‘Unpeirc’d by humam thought’
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Here are a few more snippets and links:
- Sarah was buried by Henry Fulton, who was implicated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. (The torture referred to in the ADB article might have been pitch-capping or half-hanging)
- The clearest photo of the inscription on Sarah Simpson’s grave
- The most widespread ‘Sarah’s grave’ story on the net plus some updates (scroll down about ¼ of the way)
I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to Sarah’s story in the future…