Was Sarah murdered? Is she a famous ghost?

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.

And including the details of their crimes and sentences we only had about four pages’ worth of information about Sarah and John. Until now.

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’

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Here are a few more snippets and links:

I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to Sarah’s story in the future…

And I did – here’s Sarah’s grave and here’s more about her life.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014

About rebelhand

A Rebel Hand is: about Nicholas Delaney, Irish rebel of 1798, transported as a convict to New South Wales, roadbuilder, innkeeper and farmer. My great-great-great grandfather. Other ancestors transported to Australia, like Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards, pop up as well. This blog's also about the historical background to their lives, in England, Ireland, and Australia. My respectable Welsh ancestors sometimes get a look in.
This entry was posted in Australia, Convicts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

77 Responses to Was Sarah murdered? Is she a famous ghost?

  1. Pingback: Sarah Marshall 200: a floating brothel | A Rebel Hand

  2. Grant says:


    Hoping to find any relatives of Reverend Henry Fulton also buried at the CASTLEREAGH CEMETERY in 1840. Clive Fulton a descendant placed a plaque back in 2009 (ish) so he would be good to get in contact with him. Any help appreciated.



  3. Pingback: Sarah Marshall 200: convict ship Friendship II | A Rebel Hand

  4. Pingback: Criminal Lives, 1780-1925 | A Rebel Hand

  5. Pingback: Seven years of genealogy blogging | A Rebel Hand

  6. Elyse Hedberg says:

    That’s very scary


  7. Suz says:

    The general rule about sharing someone else’s image is giving credit to that person with a link back to their website. Everyone’s happy. Or simply ask the owner as most people love to share and be acknowledged.


  8. Jasmine says:

    People honestly have no respect t for her grave.they only use it as a place to scare themselves
    Well guess what?
    It’s not funny to harass her grave or her spirit
    She needs to be left at peace


  9. Pingback: Five years of blogging | A Rebel Hand

  10. sharonarudd says:

    Hi Rebelhand, not a relative of Sarah’s, though she is buried very close to my relatives. I feel really saddend to hear her story and quite angry to hear of many people being so disrespectful to her. My family and I last visited Castlereagh Cemetery on Australia Day and found Sarah’s grave along with my relatives are all ok. We always say hello to Sarah on our visits. We will be taking some flowers on our next visit and will be creating a photographic memorial collage. If you like I can do one Sarah 🙂 Regards Sharon 🙂


    • rebelhand says:

      Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for getting in touch! I do worry about Sarah’s grave – you probably heard that it and many others were vandalised last year (graffiti sprayed on them).

      I’d love to see your collage, what a great idea! If you’ve got time a photo of Sarah’s grave would be wonderful. Thank you! 🙂

      Regards, Frances

      Liked by 1 person

      • sharonarudd says:

        Hi Frances. Your welcome, Yes I did see the damage done in the local Penrith paper. I have emailed you with a few collages.. 🙂

        Regards Sharon


      • rebelhand says:

        Hi Sharon, and thank you. I’m catching up with emails and people I’ve neglected over a very busy period. I really appreciate your generosity! 🙂


  11. John maughan says:

    Sarah is a relative of mine too


  12. Pingback: Accentuate the positive: 2014 | A Rebel Hand

  13. reg beaver says:

    Hi everyone,, Melissa, by the research i have done and not wanting to reveal to much detail about the other Sarah, the storey has always been about a young girl in her teens, 17 in fact. I have been to her grave, and i know what i experienced in the following days, in comparrison to the calm , loving feeling i get when i visit Sarah Marshall/Simpsons grave, and i think the the reason that the horrible crime against the other Sarah was kept hushed up is the fact that she was the daughter of a highly respected minister, and that it was decided to keep the act that took place quiet to avoid


    • reg beaver says:

      Hit post again, hate doing this on my phone,, was to avoid her father from public embarrassment and ridicule. To this day her father is still held in high esteem in that particular area. It is horrible that such crimes like that take place, no matter what era or circumstance, women/girls do not deserve to be put through a ordeal like that period.


    • melissa Norris says:

      Are you basing this on a supernatural ‘feeling’ you experienced while standing at the grave site, or some tangible documented evidence?


  14. reg beaver says:

    Hi my friend, i have posted a few times before,, and with my persistant nature i feel that the ” rumoured ” cause of Sarah’s passing is just that, a rumour. I do believe that the “urban legend ” did happen, but not to our Sarah,,,,, there is a cemetary in that area where a 17 y/o Sarah is buried and i feel this is the Sarah that the storey is about. I wont reveal the exact location of the cemetary or any other details of this young lady out of respect. I am in my 50’s and that storey has been around for more than 40 years, but for some reason people have been harassing Sarah Simpson, our friend.


    • rebelhand says:

      Hi Reg,

      I agree with you. I’ve heard – it could well have been you who said it – about the other young lady and the story of ‘Sarah’s Grave’ somehow getting transferred to Sarah Marshall/Simpson.

      ‘Our’ Sarah was not murdered. I’ve seen the coroner’s report and it is clear that she died of natural causes.

      Thank you very much for your comment, and for your respect for the ‘other’ Sarah.

      I do wish people would show the same respect to Sarah Marshall/Simpson…


      • melissa Norris says:

        Hi, it is also unlikely that the urban myth occurred to that ‘other’ sarah also. I have spent a number of years searching all records for any truthful occurrence that could have been the influence of that myth but have not found any such instance. In the colony at that particular time, everything was recorded, a violent rape or incidence such of that nature would have been in all of the newspapers from here to Sydney, far lesser things were. Also it would most likely have been in the colonial secretary correspondence.

        Kind regards,

        Melissa Norris


      • rebelhand says:

        Hi Melissa, thanks for that helpful information. Just an urban (rural?) myth, then, for both Sarahs.

        Certainly ‘our’ Sarah died of a ‘Visitation of God’, which is pretty much translated as “died of natural causes, but I can find no evidence of what they were”.

        I really appreciate your letting us know this.



  15. Reg Beaver says:

    Hi everyone, in an update it gives me great pleasure to announce that arrests have been made in the vandalism at Castlereagh cemetary , where several graves ( including Sarahs ) were sprayed with graffiti.


  16. Reg Beaver says:

    ,,, sorry hit post by mistake. as i was saying i hope any of Sarah’s family dont have any issues about my regular visits to her resting place. I continue to have quite strong feelings when i visit, and a little over a fortnight ago i was there ( middle of the day ) and after sitting there for a couple of hours, i wanted to have a look around at some other graves, i said to Sarah i would come and say goodbye before i left, then preceded to look around. To my amazment i spotted the figure of a lady playing peek a boo with me, then she would vanish, and re-appear shortly to continue our game. To some this may sound far fetched, but i know what i saw. Now the heart breaking part is this, today the 19th May 2014 i went to visit and discovered that Sarah’s head stone has been vandalised, sprayed with graffiti, as were a few others, but Sarah’s is the only one that was damaged on the face side. It brought me to tears that some scum-bag would do this. Any of Sarah’s decendants that would like to make contact with me ,,,, tamsman.rb@gmail.com , thankyou.


    • rebelhand says:

      Hi Reg, thank you for letting us know about Sarah’s grave being vandalised. This is shocking. I can’t believe anyone would be so stupidly destructive. Were you able to see how badly it was damaged? Please keep us posted.

      Have the police been of any help?

      I’m so sad to learn about such a hideous desecration.


      • Reg Beaver says:

        Thankyou for your reply, yes her headstone has been sprayed with graffiti spray paint, with some unreadable tags followed by the letters QHF , and the act of vandalism is being shown on channel 7 news tonight at 6pm, our local news in Sydney. I intend on going back to see Sarah this coming weekend in an attempt to remove the paint from her head stone ( with out ) causing any further damage.


      • rebelhand says:

        I hope the authorities will respond and clean up the headstones. Maybe the channel 7 news item will inspire them to take better care of the cemetery, though I don’t know what measures they could take.


  17. Reg Beaver says:

    Hi, i have posted a couple of times re; sarah’s grave. I am not a paranormal tripper, just a respectful genuine guy who is deeply spiritual, and i do have my own thoughts on the whole ” sarah ” rumour that has been around for years. I still visit Sarah on a very regular basis, and i do hope that Sarah’s


  18. Pingback: Australia Day Challenge 2014: C’mon Aussie | A Rebel Hand

  19. Sharon says:

    This was a great read. Well Done.

    Have you managed to obtain a copy of the book?
    I was after a book which mentioned one of my ancestors and put a google alert on it. When a copy came available for sale, I was alerted. Maybe you should try it?
    I explain how to set an alert at the following blog


    • rebelhand says:

      Great idea about a Google alert – I’ll do that, thanks. I did get the relevant pages sent to me by a cousin (I do love their generosity!) but one day I’d like to have a copy of Sylvia’s book.


    • melissa Norris says:

      Penrith City Library (Local studies collection) have a copy. Not being able to purchase a copy, I photocopied a portion of the book.


  20. Pingback: The Bloggers’ Geneameme – my answers | A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798

  21. Pingback: National Family History Month – and some of my ancestors | A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798

  22. Kelly says:

    Sarah is an ancestor of mine also. She is my 5th great-grandmother. Her daughter Mary Anne Simpson is my 4th great grandmother. When I first found the “Sarah’s grave” stories and what some people do to her grave disturbed me.
    My mother and I visited her grave last year which we found very interesting. Coincidentally we also found some of our other ancestors at the same small cemetery and happen to be ancestors of Sarah’s daughter, Mary Anne’s husband Robert Frost. There were Robert’s mothers parents Anthony & Elizabeth Rope and her siblings.
    I know there are a lot of stories, some true and some not true but still feel proud to be her descendant.
    If anyone (other descendants) of Sarah’s are looking for more information please feel free to look on ancestry.com as I have some info on here there.


    • rebelhand says:

      Hi Kelly, thanks for commenting. It’s good to meet another descendant of Sarah and John.
      I do envy you and your mother visiting the grave. Was it in good condition when you saw it?
      I’ll definitely look on Ancestry – is there any particular tree to search for? (if you prefer not to say what it is here, please do email me a arebelhand at gmail dot com. There are many stories, as you say, and some about John, too, eg was he born in Derby or Yarm, and was he married before he was transported?
      I knew there was a connection with the Rope/Pulley family somewhere. It’s good to know that it’s through Mary Anne. So you’ve got First Fleeter ancestors, too – kudos!


    • jim simpson says:

      I am John & Sarah 4th great grandparents, Elizabeth was Mary Ann sister. Elizabeth married William Simpson also a convict from Scotland who arrived several years after John & Sarah & worked as a tailor for John at Penrith I believe. I hope you get this and can you please contact me on my email address.
      I have just started to trace my ancestry trail, but would love to meet any lost cousins out there. Reading between the lines if you are a 5th generation I am about your parents age as I am a 4th generation. I have just retired & hope to put more time into my research, I haven’t progressed very far this year. (not the greatest PC operator) My postal address is 35 Saint Georges Tec, Dubbo. 2830. NSW……………Ph. 0268829243
      Regards, (long lost cousin)
      Jim Simpson


  23. Pingback: Two today! | A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798

  24. Pingback: So was Nicholas Delaney murdered? Did John Kennedy hang? (Trove Tuesday post, part 2) | A Rebel Hand

  25. judy jensen says:

    I am Sarah’s great great grand daughter and I visited her grave this week and left flowers and said a few words and asked her to be at peace. I noticed that the 3 crows that were up in the tree above her grave came down as I walked away. I watched them for some time, they only stayed near Sarah’s grave. Does anyone know if this means anything? Possibly she hasn’t made peace with God. I am doing my family history research and find her story(some of which may not be true) very moving.


    • rebelhand says:

      Hi Judy, thanks for commenting. I can’t believe I haven’t replied sooner – please forgive my bad manners. I don’t know anything about what the crows might mean, but I very much hope she is at peace. Good luck with your research, it’s fascinating, isn’t it?


      • Judy Jensen says:

        I spoke to Sylvia Taylor last year after my visit to Sarah’s grave, and Sylvia doesn’t have anymore copies of The John Simpson and Sarah Saga. She told me she gave what copies she had left to the libraries. I live in Queensland and my local library got a copy on loan from the National Library for me, there was a fee, but it was well worth it, and it was a very interesting read and contained all the family trees and stories and photos from family members. So try your local library. I couldn’t find one for sale either. Sarah and John are my G/G/Grand parents.


      • rebelhand says:

        Thank you, Judy. That’s useful to know. Even if a tiny bit disappointing.


  26. Pingback: Illuminating Blogger Award | A Rebel Hand

  27. Pingback: A Rebel Hand

  28. Melissa says:

    Hi, i also searched some time back for any record of a murder of Sarah. i have completed tertiary historical studies many years ago and also remember visiting the site as a silly teenager. For this reason i wanted to find out any relevant, reliable and accurate information i could as i think it is disgraceful her grave is used as a site for paranormal imagination. I spent some time going through all possible resources (including many hours on Trove) and could not find any record of her death contradicting the coroner’s report of natural causes. However, i am interested in how this urban myth eventuated. As with all urban legends they change over time and it was a different story of Sarah when i was a teenager. I believe out of respect for a woman who has become more famous in death, i would like to know more about her life. I can understand the neighbour’s frustration, 25 years ago on any given Saturday night there were hordes of cars and teenagers hanging around the cemetary, most of them under the influence of drugs or alcohol. With no lighting other than the headlights of old cars, many would experience the signature ‘haunting’ of cars refusing to start (obviously dead batteries from the lights being left on for hours) is it any wonder they thought they saw things! 🙂


    • rebelhand says:

      Thanks for posting, Melissa. It’s great to get your thoughts about the whole Sarah’s Grave story. I’m very grateful for your information and for telling me about your personal experience, too.
      You’ve given me plenty to think about.


  29. Pingback: When John met Sarah – convict courtship | A Rebel Hand

  30. Pingback: Convict courtship – when John met Sarah | A Rebel Hand

  31. Reg Beaver says:

    I have heard so many stories about ” sarahs grave “, so i went there for the first time on saturday night (5th of may 2012 ). I was with several people including my wife and children and told them that we would not be entering the site because the gates were closed and locked. After being there for a while i asked the others to leave me alone so i could ” have a moment “, you see, i believe in spirits and have comunicated several times. Having no idea the location of Sarah’s grave, i started to communicate with the spirits that may have been present ( please do not ask how ) and not long after i clearly saw a figure appear, so i kept talking and thanked the spirit for appearing, then as we were having our moment, more figures started to appear.
    Now i felt really at ease as i feel they knew i was not there to disturb or bother them, and as i returned to my family and friends my 2 older sons ( 19 & 22 ) asked me did i ( have my moment ) , clearly mocking me. So i offered them the chance to witness what i saw, and told them that they have to believe,, so we returned to the area i was standing, and i began to communicate again, before long my sons began to witness my ability themselves, and at this moment had their first encounter, ( which brought them to tears ), as they now truelly believe in my gift. I was so proud to be able to share this and returned to the site the following day while the gates were open, and began to look for Sarah’s grave site, which i found, and was surprised to realise it is in the same area as the appearence of the first spirit the night before. I am convinced that i was sharing moment with Sarah, so i proceded to talk with her some more and placed the flowers i had bought for her. My wife stood by silently as she knows i have a gift and take it very seriously, and as i removed some weeds from around my new friends grave, i have never felt so at ease. Thankyou Sarah for accepting me and for sharing this this with my sons and our friend Anna the previous night, and may you rest in peace. I will come back and visit with you again soon.


    • rebelhand says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Reg.


      • Reg Beaver says:

        I wrote to you last year, since then i have had several very strong spiritual encounters, most being with. female who i genuinely believe to be Sarah. I have also been back to visit her grave in daylight, and have taken fresh flowers to her. I cannot. help but feel we have become friends, i would love to know more about Sarah, and what really happened on that night she passed. There is a valid reason i ask and i hope someone can help me. Thankyou.


  32. Pingback: My ancestor was from London – where do I start? | A Rebel Hand

  33. Pingback: The Factory above the Gaol – women convicts in 1818 | A Rebel Hand

  34. Pingback: The cook, the thieves, the prostitute and the postillion – convicts transported to Australia | A Rebel Hand

  35. Pingback: Family myths, cover-ups – what did Nicholas Delaney really do? | A Rebel Hand

  36. greg says:

    According to the coronor’s report for Sarah she died from natural causes (i.e. Visitation of God).

    Although it makes good reading, as there is no evidence of murder in the local papers at the time of her death.


  37. Pingback: 2011 – what a year it’s been! | A Rebel Hand

  38. Pingback: My first Christmas – a link with the past | A Rebel Hand

  39. John says:

    The inscription on the gravestone is start of a famous Wesleyan poem. The Simpsons lived apparently on a 5 acre plot at Upper Castlereagh but not known where as nobody seems to have researched this unless it is in the Sylvia Taylor book. Sylvia Taylor was born in 1924. She also compiled notes on other Castlereagh families.


    • rebelhand says:

      Thanks for this information, John, it’s fascinating.

      Some family trees have Sarah coming from Salford in Lancashire, and John Wesley preached there both before and after his break with the Church of England, so there is a strong possibility that Sarah followed his teachings.

      I’d love to get hold of Sylvia’s book, which is held in several libraries in NSW, but not available for purchase online as far as I can see.


      • judy jensen says:

        I have borrowed Sylvia’s book from the National Library via our local library in Queensland. It is a very interesting read. Currently a 2 x grand daughter is over in UK doing some research on Sarah. When I hear from her I will pass on any new information. I did give her a copy of what Sylvia wrote on Sarah and there are questions as to where her trial took place as well.


      • rebelhand says:

        Sylvia’s book is certainly a good read! I’d love to know what 2x granddaughter finds out. Is she in Lancashire at the moment? Fingers crossed – Sarah is difficult to track down (as we know!) before the voyage of the Friendship. Thanks, Judy!


  40. Pingback: Tombstone Tuesday: Sarah’s haunted grave | A Rebel Hand

  41. Pingback: I’m one! | A Rebel Hand

  42. Kara says:

    Currently helping you out with as much info as possible.
    Also sent you a clearer photo to use if you wish.

    Keep in Touch


  43. Pingback: The day we met the President | A Rebel Hand

Leave a Reply to Sharon Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s