So was Nicholas Delaney murdered? Did John Kennedy hang? (Trove Tuesday post, part 2)

Last Trove Tuesday I started to tell the story of how Nicholas Delaney was attacked and robbed on September 2, 1834, and died the next day. It’s a story about my own ancestor I came across using the National Library of Australia‘s online historic-newspapers-and-more resource, Trove.

After Nicholas was found lying dead near his house, a coroner‘s inquest into his death was held between September 4 and October 6. A coroner’s court was held at Penrith from 1821 onwards. I’ve tracked down where I could look to see if any record or index survives, but it’s on the other side of the world, so my trail has gone cold for the moment. (Update: Found it! I’ll post about it next time.)

Feloniously and violently stole

On November 1, the Attorney General, John Kinchela, informed the Supreme Court of New South Wales that “John Kennedy late of Penrith – in the Colony aforesaid Labourer… near the Kings [sic] Highway between Penrith and Mulgoa… in and upon one Nicholas Delany… feloniously did make and assault and him the said Nicholas Delany in bodily fear and danger of his life… and against the will of the said Nicholas Delany then and there feloniously and violently did steal take and carry away [his clothes and money]”.

Cutting out all the repetitive legalese of the Attorney General’s document*, John Kennedy was accused of violently assaulting and robbing Nicholas and making him fear for his life. Not of murdering him. Yet it’s quite clear from the newspaper report that Kennedy faced hanging. The trial was “put off” until Saturday, November 15.

For any more information we have to go back to the Sydney Monitor, since the only source of court reporting in New South Wales was provided by newspapers until 1862.

What Dr Black said about Nicholas's wounds

Dr Black’s opinion

The article continues: “Dr. Black, who attended the Coroner’s Inquest, deposed that he examined the body of the deceased; there were several contused lacerated wounds on the head, and one on the nose; probably caused by falling on a stump or stone; it was possible that a stick would have caused the wounds – but it was his (Dr. Black’s) opinion, that they were caused by falls; on examining the brain he found about three ounces of extravasated blood on the left hemisphere.”

Poor Nicholas.

Nobody seems to have mentioned those wounds when he was helped to Mrs Brooks’ hut, or when he got up the next morning to go home. But, Mr Justice Burton told the jury, “in order to constitute the offence for which the prisoner stood indicted, there must be either violence used, or bodily fear caused; a threat, or the production of an unlawful instrument would constitute a robbery, but the mere taking away would not. In the present case were the Jury satisfied there was a stealing? And if so, was that stealing with violence? For stealing from the person without violence, was not a capital offence.”

Everything depended on whether Kennedy assaulted Nicholas, or ‘just’ robbed him.

The judge elaborated. “In order to constitute the offence for which the prisoner stood indicted, there must be either violence used, or bodily fear caused; a threat, or the production of an unlawful instrument would constitute a robbery, but the mere taking away would not. In the present case were the Jury satisfied there was a stealing? And if so, was that stealing with violence? For stealing from the person without violence, was not a capital offence.”

Verdict on John Kennedy: guilty of larceny; plus editor's comment

Verdict on John Kennedy: guilty of larceny

That’s all the report tells us about the arguments in court. The jury must have been swayed by Dr Black’s opinion that Nicholas got “several contused lacerated wounds” on his head by falling over when drunk, or on his way home, nearly sober, the next morning.

Because, the report continues, they found Kennedy “guilty of larceny upon the person”. In other words, theft, but not assault or murder or, as the Attorney General’s document says, “taking in fear”.

Kennedy was “remanded to take his trial on another charge”, and the court document shows that on November 18 he was sentenced to be transported for life.

There’s a very interesting note by the editor at the end of the report: “(It seems very extraordinary if Delaney died of falls received when in a state of drunkenness, from which he recovered so far as to walk home.-ED )”

I feel very sad reading this. Sad that Nicholas had such a painful, lonely death and sad that he did not get justice. Because even if Nicholas’s wounds weren’t caused by Kennedy on the night of September 2, then who hit him so viciously? Was he attacked on the way home next morning?

And the story raises other questions, too. Why would the editor take the trouble to comment? And what sort of men were Dr Black and Justice Burton?

I’ll look at the background in my next post.


How did Nicholas’s murder go unnoticed by previous family historians, I wondered? The two people I could have asked, my mother and Antoinette Sullivan, are dead, so I can only guess that the Sydney Monitor article escaped those two meticulous researchers. But now with Trove, it’s so much easier to track down our ancestors.

So I apologise to everyone who has a copy of our book, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798 for not ending the story accurately. We just didn’t know. But that’s what this blog is for – publishing all the new research I’m doing into the stories of my ancestors and relatives.

In an earlier post I wrote about my 3xgreat grandmother, Sarah Marshall) and asked if she’d been murdered, as some people think. The evidence says that she wasn’t. But a legend has grown up around her haunting the graveyard anyway. This has proved to be one of the blog’s most popular (and controversial) posts.

* After my last post, Michael Wood, a Delaney cousin who has already been kind enough to let me use his photo of Sarah Marshall’s grave, got in touch and sent some pictures of the court document. The original is in the State Archives of New South Wales.

Here’s the whole Monitor article:

All the article about Nicholas Delaney's murder in the Sydney Monitor


 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

How did Nicholas Delaney die? A murder mystery (Trove Tuesday post)

Nicholas Delaney is something of a hero to me and many of his other descendants. An Irish rebel in 1798, he escaped being hung and built a new life for himself and his family in early colonial New South Wales. So it was a shock to find out that his death was tragic – possibly murdered and robbed by a man he knew.

I was idly browsing Trove, the wonderful (and free!) digital treasury of Australian newpapers, publications, pictures and more, when I came across this –

Search result on Trove

The search result that started it all

Supreme Court? Criminal? Assault? I thought. Oh, no!

Then I looked again at the date. ‘2nd September’, it said, and the newspaper, the Sydney Monitor, was dated 1834. That was they day before he died. This was getting worse. Was I reading about my own great-great-great grandfather’s murder?

I clicked on the article. “SUPREME COURT. – CRIMINAL SIDE.  SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15. – Before Mr. JUSTICE BURTON and a Jury of Inhabitants,” it started.

Nicholas Delaney's murder - Sydney Monitor, part 1

The story begins…

“John Kennedy was indicted for assaulting Nicholas Delaney, on the highway, near Penrith, on the 2nd September, and stealing from his person one coat, one handkerchief, and 4 one-pound notes. From the evidence it appeared, that on the day named in the indictment, the prisoner was at the King’s Head, at Penrith, when Delaney was paid the sum of £5. Shortly afterwards they were both seen in company on the road opposite Mrs Brooks’ premises, apparently both very much intoxicated…”

Nicholas fell “into a gulley” but the two staggered on for a quarter of a mile till they took a short cut towards his house, with Nicholas falling over again.

So far so almost comic. But, 10 minutes later, one of Mrs. Brooks’ servants, who was giving evidence, “saw Delaney lying on the ground with nothing on but his shirt, and the prisoner standing by him”.

The man raised the alarm and Kennedy was arrested. Nicholas’s clothes were in a bundle and Kennedy claimed that “he had taken the clothes off him for the purpose of taking care of them.” How kind, you might think, but why was he nearly naked in the first place? Mr Justice Burton didn’t seem to think it was odd, though.

Someone must have got Nicholas into his clothes again, though he “was unable to speak, and was removed to one of Mrs. Brooks’ huts, where he was put to bed, and slept for some hours”.


Meanwhile Kennedy was searched on his way to the watch-house, where suspected criminals were imprisoned, and a black handkerchief belonging to Nicholas was found on him, “but he told the constable that Delaney had stripped to fight him.” That would be a plausible excuse for his having the clothes, but why was the handkerchief in his pocket and not with them?

This was, of course, proof of theft. And, odd as it seems to us now, handkerchiefs were highly prized by thieves in the 19th century and before. Easy to hide, easy to sell, and fetching a good price, they were the favourites of Charles Dickens’ Artful Dodger.

The £5 Nicholas was paid was worth a lot more. Even after a few drinks, he still had four pound notes left. That would have been a huge temptation. £4 0s 0d in 1828 has been calculated as being worth £267.00 in 2010, using the retail price index, or  £2,920.00 using average earnings.

Top of the front page of the Sydney Monitor, November 15th 1828

Sydney Monitor, November 15th 1828 (top of front page)

So far, this has just been a story of drunkenness and an attempted robbery. But it gets far worse. “When [Nicholas] got up he missed the handkerchief out of his pocket…” so it was stolen, not given to Kennedy.

The report goes on: “He appeared nearly sober, and started for the purpose of going home, but was found the next morning lying dead about a quarter of a mile from his own house.”

So… how and why did Nicholas die? I’ll finish the story in my next post. (Sorry! But otherwise it would be just too long.) But I’m thinking I should put that black handkerchief on my head and pronounce sentence on John Kennedy.

Trove Tuesday

I’d planned to write this post to coincide with the anniversary of Nicholas’s death, but my own mother’s death meant that life has become a bit hectic and unpredictable. So I’m extra grateful to Amy from Branches Leaves & Pollen for coming up with the idea of Trove Tuesday posts, which celebrate the wonderful resource for genealogists and historians of Australia provided free by the National Library‘s online resource, Trove. It’s been a real incentive to get on with blogging again.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Back to Blog – death and renewal

I’ve been away from this blog for several weeks because my mother has died. With the funeral to arrange, relatives from the UK, Australia and New Zealand to contact, and our grief to cope with as well as the usual business of ordinary life to get on with, I hadn’t the time – or the heart.

My mother as a glamorous young woman

My mother as a young woman

But from a genealogy point of view, my huge loss has been balanced a little by some gains.  I’ll talk about those later.

My father died when I was quite young. He’d always told us family stories, but he didn’t speak much about his own life. I kept meaning to ask Mum more about it, but there was always something else to talk about, and there would be another time, wouldn’t there? Well, now there isn’t.

I wish I could send a message back in time to myself and say: “Just ask. Make the time. Take notes. Record her memories. Don’t lose them.”

But I am very lucky because she had, for several years, been writing down her own life story and her children and grandchildren will always have that.

I’m also lucky because it was on a visit to relatives in Australia in the 1990s that she finally tracked down our elusive Delaney ancestor, Nicholas. Our branch of the family had known his name, but nothing about his life before he came to New South Wales – or much about what happened after that, either.

Hidden truth

In fact, we’d been fed some myths, to cover up the facts, which were that he was a convict, an Irish rebel and a convicted murderer.

Thanks to the dedication of our cousins, we found out the truth about Nicholas Delaney and eventually wrote his biography and, when more stories came up, I started blogging about them. Finding new information about our ancestors was exciting for both of us, and Mum and I swapped facts and stories by email and over long chats around the table.

Mary Maude Delaney, nee Wilson, doing the weekly wash

Mary Maude on washday

There are still questions I want to ask her. Did you get any further with tracking down Mary Maude Wilson‘s mysterious mother, Sarah Emma? Where’s the evidence that James Thomas Richards‘ wife, Rebecca, was a foundling? And I so much want to share my new discoveries with her.

Some of these questions will never get an answer. But she’s not the only one I can ask.

One consolation of contacting relatives around the world is that they’ve shared some lovely memories of her with me, and some other family history as well. I’ve added some more twigs to our tree. And I’m going to go on letting them know about my discoveries, and hoping they’ll let me have their opinions and add to my knowledge. It’s wonderful to be in touch with my cousins again.

And I’ll always be grateful to Mum for getting me interested in genealogy. It’s a gift that has given me great pleasure, many frustrations and membership of an inspiring community of bloggers, tweeters and other fellow geneaddicts.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Blogging, Genealogy, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Goodbye to the last Delaney

In memory of Patricia, the last in our family to have the surname Delaney.

Died July 24 2012

My beloved mother

Rest in peace

Posted in Nicholas Delaney | 22 Comments

Illuminating Blogger Award – is one of your favourites here?

This week has ended in the most wonderful way. Sharn of Family History 4 u has done me the honour of nominating A Rebel Hand for the Illuminating Blogger Award, set up by Food Stories.

Thank you so much, Sharn.

Illuminating Blogger Award

Illuminating Blogger Award

To say I’m thrilled is an understatement. I’m also greatly humbled, because I’ve been enjoying seeing some of my favourite genealogy blogs receiving this award and they are inspiring, well-written, fascinating and pretty much what I want to do when I grow up. *

The last week has been a tough one, with looking after a friend who’s just come out of hospital, having my phone stolen, lots of calls from kind police officers, and a leaking radiator making huge puddles on the carpet. So when Irish Lives Remembered published a two-page article on my ancestor Nicholas Delaney it was like the sun breaking through the cold and damp of this miserable excuse of a summer.

And then to be given this award… well, you can imagine how happy I am. In fact, I had a little cry touch of hay fever earlier on.

Enough about me. How to choose blogs to nominate for their illuminating, informative posts when there are so many around? I decided to give the awards to ones which haven’t already been nominated. So here they are (drum roll and trumpets, please):


Tanya Honey’s sense of humour, lively writing style and dedication to genealogy make My Genealogy Adventure a joy to read as well as a source of compelling Australian genie information. She talks tech as well, which I always find impressive and useful.

For eclectic expertise you can’t go wrong with The Family Recorder from Audrey Collins, a well-known and respected name among geneabloggers. She, too, has that gift of mixing impressive research with humour to make a compelling read.

At Shakespeare’s England the historian known as Dainty Ballerina writes with wit, erudition and an eye for the unusual about, well, England in the time of Shakespeare – and a lot of other Early Modern stuff as well. The 17th century is my secret vice, though I don’t blog about it. Obviously. Or it wouldn’t be a secret.

The Chirugeon’s Apprentice doesn’t call itself a blog but, with Lindsey Fitzharris’s regular posts about the bizarre and horrifying world of pre-anaesthetic surgery, it certainly behaves like one. Anyone writing about those (thankfully) far-off days could learn a lot from this meticulously-researched site. Riveting, but not for the squeamish.

I have no ancestors from the West Indies but I always enjoy A Parcel of Ribbons, Anne Powers’ intelligent, fascinating and beautifully-designed blog about Georgian Jamaica. Sometimes it’s good to get out of my own niche and look at other places, times and ways of life.

She’s only been blogging since January but already Nicola Elsom at The Genealogy Workshop is a favourite for her blend of family history and clear, succinct and readable genealogy and techie advice.

The next two blogs are must-reads for anyone researching genealogy in the British Isles. That’s because they trawl the latest news and developments and serve them up daily with a dash of humour and a huge dollop of expertise.  Trust these guys. Put your hands together for Chris Paton at British GENES and Mick Southwick at British & Irish Genealogy.

The same goes for Irish Genealogy News, where Claire Santry is the one to go to for information about news and events in the island of Ireland. I don’t know how she does it, but if something’s happening in Ireland, Claire knows about it.

… And I’m going to break my own rule. He’s been nominated already, probably dozens of time, but Thomas MacEntee deserves every award around for Geneabloggers. For creating a wonderful online genealogy community, for his encouragement, for his knowledge, wisdom and humour. I would have had a much duller time blogging if not for him and the other geneabloggers around the world.

* And here are some of those great blogs which have already won the Illuminating Blogger Award: Ancestor Chasing, Anglers Rest, Dance Skeletons, Diary of an Australian Genealogist, Family History 4 uFamily history across the seas, From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard, Genealogy in New South Wales, Geniaus, Inside History, lonetester HQ, On a Flesh and Bone Foundation, Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family, The Armchair GenealogistTwigs of Yore, Queensland Genealogy, Western District Families. I hope I haven’t missed any…

If you are nominated, then you have received the Illuminating Blogger Award Please follow these steps:
  1. The nominee should visit the award site ( and leave a comment indicating that they have been nominated and by whom. (This step is so important because it’s the only way that we can create a blogroll of award winners).
  2. The Nominee should thank the person that nominated them by posting & including a link to their blog.
  3. The Nominee should include a courtesy link back to the official award site ( in their blog post.
  4. Share one random thing about yourself in your blog post.
  5. Select at least five other bloggers that you enjoy reading their illuminating, informative posts and nominate them for the award. Many people indicate that they wish they could nominate more so please feel free to nominate all your favorites.
  6. Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog, including a link to the award site (
And you don’t need to wait to be nominated to give your favourite blog an award.  Just visit the award site and see how to do it.
 grave (Michael Wood 2011)

Sarah’s grave (Michael Wood 2011)

When I started this blog in November 2010, I planned to write about the background to Nicholas Delaney‘s life. He’s the Irish rebel and convict transported to Australia who started me off on the genealogy trail. Then I started using Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to connect with other people talking about the history of the people and places I was interested in and found there was a big geneablogging world in cyberspace.

It was a revelation! I learned a lot and got so much encouragement from the people I ‘met’ online. I grew bolder and explored other branches of the family tree. In fact my most popular post is about my finding out that another convict ancestor, Sarah Simpson (nee Marshall) was allegedly murdered and haunts a Penrith graveyard to this day. So they say.

So it’s wonderful to know that people find A Rebel Hand worth reading.

Old photo of man sending mail by boat (Wikipedia)

Oh – and one random fact about me. I once got the chance to go to St Kilda, or more accurately the island of Hirta, by helicopter. Since I’d read Tom Steel‘s book The Life and Death of St Kilda, I was really excited at going. It was an unforgettable experience. A few years later, I met Tom himself and was lucky enough to see him many times until his too-early death in 1997.

Thank you, Sharn, from the bottom of my heart, and thank you, CJ at Food Stories, for starting the ball rolling.

Update, July 16th: Serendipity! This evening at 1930 on BBC One there was an hour-long programme about St Kilda, the first of three. I enjoyed it.

Another update: BBC Radio 4 has broadcast a An Outcast of the Islands: Lady Grange, about the wife of James Erskine, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, who was exiled on St Kilda in the 18th century. A sad story.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Blogging, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Transports of delight – researching the book about Nicholas

I’m feeling thrilled and very honoured. The Irish genealogy online magazine, Irish Lives Remembered, has just (July 10th) published a two-page article about Nicholas Delaney, the great-great-great grandfather and transported convict whose life inspired this blog and its sister website.

Irish Lives Remembered July edition cover

Irish Lives Remembered July cover

The magazine, which is free to read and download, has already featured stories about Irish convicts transported to Australia, so it was wonderful to be part of a series about this fascinating topic.

Eileen Munnelly, the editor, also asked me to write an introduction about how the book, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798, came to be written.

Phew – 200 words to describe the excitement, frustration, hard work and surprises of those five or so years from my mother’s coming across a file in the Old Post Office in Hartley, New South Wales to the last proof correction and the arrival of the printed books in my slightly shaky hands.

Of course there wasn’t room to give credit to everyone who helped us, and I’d like to mention the person who set us on Nicholas’s trail, Antoinette Sullivan. Her tireless research in the days before internet genealogy went into that file and surprised and inspired us. Until then we’d thought Nicholas had been a respectable emigrant from Ireland. Family myths had him as a butler in Government House, Parramatta, or even Lord Mayor of Belfast (how unlikely is that!)

And, like many others with Australian families, we were delighted and amazed to learn that he’d been a convict – and an Irish rebel, and a convicted murderer (or freedom fighter, take your pick) as well.

In fact the book could never have been written without the generous help of many of our relatives, including Jeff and Bruce Farrar, Sylvia Hollier, Owen Benson, Brian Soutter, Doug Honess, Edna Delaney and Geoff Wilkin, in Australia and New Zealand.

1798 memorial, Ballyellis (from A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798)

1798 memorial, Ballyellis

When we began our research in Ireland, in the exciting days leading up to the bicentenary of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, we realised how lucky we were. Counties Wicklow and Wexford were buzzing with preparations for the commemoration of ’98 and new research was coming to light – and to bookshelves – all the time.

Many writers and historians were generous with their time, including Joan Kavanagh of the Wicklow Family History Centre, Ruan O’Donnell, Vincent O’Reilly, Nicholas Furlong and Owen Dudley Edwards as well as the staff of the National Archives and National Library in Dublin.

I think it’s important to thank them all and to say that we could never have found out about Nicholas’s colourful life without the help we had from family members and experts in Ireland and Australia.

Along the way we learned about a period in Irish history which textbooks across the water never told us about. We had another myth debunked; sadly Nicholas did not kill the man called the ‘Walking Gallows‘ (I’d like to write more about that another time).


We met some fascinating people, travelled though beautiful countryside, took dozens of photos and spent happy hours in libraries reading old books. It was an unforgettable time.

At the end of the introduction I mentioned how rewarding it is to write a family history blog. Being part of the genealogy blogging community has opened my eyes to another level of research and information and I’ve ‘met’ some inspiring people and had a lot of fun. So I won’t apologise for saying again, if you have a great family story to tell, do join us and start blogging!

Thank you, Eileen, for the privilege of writing for Irish Lives Remembered, and for reminding me of that time my mother and I spent finding out about Nicholas and the others caught up in 1798, the convict system and early colonial Australia.

There’s a list of links to sites about Irish convicts in Australia here.

This is a good week for magazines – Australia’s Inside History is also out, in shops and to download.
Update, July 12: Chris Paton has just posted a guide to writing genealogy articles here.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, A Rebel Hand, Convicts, Ireland, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Support our archives! Guest post

After talking about International Archives Day recently, I have asked Patricia Owen, who has spent many years hunting down books and manuscripts in libraries and archives, to write a guest post about her experiences of using them.


The papers kept by a family, a firm, all the way up to the London Metropolitan Archives and the National Archives at Kew – all give us access to the original  documents which record the past.

Letter from the Marquis Cornwallis transmuting Nicholas Delaney's death sentence to transportation to Sydney Cove

Nicholas Delaney reprieved

To see the very words written to commute the sentence of hanging for my Irish rebel ancestor, Nicholas Delaney, to transportation to an ultimately prosperous life in Australia was a memorable result of visiting the National Library of Ireland in Dublin.

The first I knew about him was when I walked into the Old Post Office in Hartley, New South Wales, to ask if they had any information about the farm my father grew up on. I was handed a transcript of my great-great-grandfather’s trial  deposited by a relative of ours.

But consulting the archives at Borough level has become more difficult in this time of cuts. Hammersmith and Fulham [in London] was reduced to opening two days a month, with one trained archivist and volunteer helpers struggling to cope with a roomful of enquirers.

Postcard of 'Historic Hartley', New South Wales, where Nicholas Delaney's story started being traced

Postcard of Hartley, NSW

The co-operation of the borough with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea has just given us a day a week; a help, if not what we used to take for granted.

Ancestor tracing and local history are as popular today as they are valuable in bringing the past to life; we need to support the archives that let us see and handle its records for ourselves.

Patricia Owen was for many years a lecturer in teacher education. She has been an announcer with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and was the second-ever winner of BBC Television’s Mastermind. She writes about local history and is also the co-author of A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798.

The UK National Archives have just published a blog post guide to preparing for a visit to archives. I think it’s well worth reading.

Update: Patricia Owen died on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Rest in peace.



 © A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Ireland, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deep down in Deptford (and thumbs up for archives)

Deep into Deptford’s history, that is, looking for secrets in the streets. And possibly finding my great-great-great-great grandparents – how exciting!

English: Old medicine books of early 19th century

Today, June 9th, is International Archives Day and I’m hugely grateful to all the archivists and the archives, small and local or huge and national, that have helped me in my hunt for my ancestors and the world they lived in. From the post office in Hartley, NSW, to libraries in Counties Wicklow and Wexford, up to national centres in Australia, Ireland and London, they have all given me and my mother huge amounts of information. Thank you to all.

This week I went back to the London Metropolitan Archives, where I recently learned so much about researching London ancestors. I wanted to get a History Card, which will let me access original material (as well as their digital database). I also had a tour of the research resources there – indexes, files, other records, maps, books. I was especially excited to see maps I wrote about last time – looking at them in real life will be so much easier and more satisfying than scrolling around small images on a screen.

If you can’t get to London, do look at the LMA site and see what research you can do online.

Grove Street in 1827, from Greenwood's Map (from

Grove Street (Greenwood, 1827)

I had some spare time so I decided to do some more searching for my Thames waterman convict ancestor, James Thomas Richards. I knew he had been baptised in the church of St Paul, Deptford (now in south-east London, then in Kent) in May 1815. So with LMA’s parish records I was able to see his certificate of baptism, confirm his parents’ names and find out that they were living in Grove Street, a cluster of houses running almost north to south near the docks, at the time.

Working backwards through his parents’ marriage in 1807 I found his father’s (another James Thomas) baptism in 1787, again from Grove Street, and the names of the first James’s mother and father – Betty and William. Convict James’s mother was Ann Wicking and she was born, as far as I can see, in 1786 to Anna and William.

Now of course I need to double-check everything, but this is hugely exciting for me – it’s the first time I’ve traced an ancestor back six generations before mine. And being able to see where they lived is thrilling, too.

The secret history of a Deptford street

That evening, there was another wonderful surprise – a new BBC TV series, The Secret History of Our Streets, which started with an look at… yes, Deptford. It takes six streets which feature on the famous poverty maps compiled by Charles Booth and looks at the changes which have taken place since they were published in 1889 – 1891.

Grove St (Booth's map) showing it to be a 'mixed' area

Grove St (Booth’s map) – a ‘mixed’ area

This episode focused on Deptford High Street and the families who lived and worked in the area, many of whom lost their homes in the slum clearances of the 1960s. Sometimes controversial, always fascinating, it combined social history with family history and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

This isn’t a television review, so I’ll leave it to other people (see below) to comment. But the biggest excitement for me was listening to people who lived only streets away from where James Thomas Richards came from – people whose families (the Prices and Ovenells, for instance) had lived in the same place, often in the same houses, for generations.

Perhaps some of my own distant cousins were in the crowded market scenes seen on old film – or on the 2012 footage!

Which are your favourite archives – or archivists?

Here are some comments on The Secret History of Our Streets: from the BBC blog, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Time Out (naughty words alert), British & Irish Genealogy and bloggers The Deptford Dame and Crosswhatfields?

Deptford Miscellany has a great blogroll for SE8.

The Naval Dockyards Society is campaigning to make sure that developers do not destroy the character of historic Deptford.

The Shipwright’s Palace blogs about historic maritime Deptford.

Old Deptford History is exactly what it says.

Edward Walford‘s 1878 look at the history of Deptford

If you’ve got Kent ancestors, here’s a useful genealogy resource.

Caroline’s Miscellany has lively posts about Deptford then and now

And there’s a guest post on this blog about the importance of archives for family and local historians.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Convicts, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

When John met Sarah – convict courtship

How did my 3x great grandparents, John and Sarah Simpson, meet? They were quick workers, we know that. John Simpson disembarked at Sydney Cove on January 16, 1818 and Sarah Marshall a week or so after. About a month later, Sarah was pregnant with their first child, Lucy Simpson.

Lucy (later Delaney), born on November 18, 1818, is my great-great grandmother.

I’ve already written about what might have happened to Sarah when she first arrived – assignment to the old Female Factory above the Gaol – but before talking about convict courtship in the early days of the colony, here’s a bit of background about her and John Simpson.

The Lady Penrhyn convict transport ship.

The Lady Penrhyn (via Wikipedia)

They were both thieves from the North of England. John, a tailor, had been convicted at Derby Assizes on March 20, 1817, of “stealing two bales of muslins and shawls, at Hope“, a village in the Derbyshire Peak District. He was sentenced to seven years’ transportation and was one of 180 male convicts on the Ocean II. Sarah, also sentenced to seven years, was from the Manchester area. Her crime was stealing clothes and a sheet with the total value of fivepence. Her ship, the Friendship, was notorious for the ‘very indecent and licentious intercourse’ between some of the 101 women convicts and the male crew.

The situation didn’t change greatly when Sarah Marshall came ashore. In Sydney in 1818, prostitution – or sex without marriage, thought of as very similar – was just as much an issue for a young convict woman.

“The disgrace of their sex” – convict women

The problem for the administrators of the early colony was the unequal distribution of the sexes. With women making up about one in five of the population, most men – especially the poor and the convicts – would have little chance of finding a long-term partner. What was to be done about their sexual urges? More female convicts had to be transported.

Added to that, the convict women were seen to be morally depraved, for the most part. Governor John Hunter had described them as the “disgrace of their sex, are far worse than the men, and are generally found at the bottom of every infamous transaction committed in the colony”. The Reverend Samuel Marsden, the ox-faced Parramatta magistrate, thought them “destructive of all religion, morality and good order”.*

A painting of Sydney Cove in the early 19th century

And of course, even if they behaved, they still couldn’t win. The 1837 Molesworth Committee on Transportation found “that society had fixed the standard of the average moral excellence required of women much higher than that which it had erected for men…a higher degree of reformation is required in the case of a female, before society will concede to her that she has reformed at all”. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any comments made by these reviled women about how they were viewed.

What, then, to do with these impossible women? Marriage, of course, was the answer. Marriage would bring chaste behaviour, respectable and stable family units, and a new generation of legitimately-born girls and boys to populate New South Wales alongside the free settlers and convicts.

And so the colony courtship evolved.

Human cargo

When a ship bringing women convicts arrived and disembarked its human cargo, it was as if the circus had come to town – on the last shopping day before Christmas. Most came to stare, but many came to get themselves a servant or a wife.

Amid the shouts and catcalls of the crowd – which was sometimes barely held back by troopers – the hopeful masters stepped forward to eye up the talent. The doctor James O’Connell compared the scene to a slave market, but also found it diverting.

Those women who were to be servants might go to a family, or to a single man, in which case they might be expected to provide service in his bed as well as in the rest of his domestic life.

Drawing of Australian convict woman and man

Convict woman and man

As for the ‘Botany Bay courtship’, one voyeur, the landowner and convict-hater James Mudie, wrote that the hopeful groom “goes up and looks at the women, and if he sees a lady that takes his fancy, he makes a motion to her, and she steps to one side; some of them will not, but stand still, and have no wish to be married, but this is very rare.”†

O’Connell wrote that some “were all sheepish smiles and blushes”, while “others would avert their faces in a sort  of indifference; as though a refusal is seldom met by an applicant, still these seekers for help mates are not all of such an appearance as to tempt a woman half way. A third set would most prudishly frown upon a proceeding which pays so little respect to prescriptive rights of the ladies…” And who could blame them, we might think now.

Still, he thought, they were all “agog for a husband” and noted others who “would make attempts, not always successful, or with the best grace, to appear as amiable and pretty as possible.”

O’Connell’s tone darkens when he speculates on why women might be so keen. He describes them as “ready to take anything for a husband, rather than remain in the factory” (though he is talking about the later Female Factory here). And he adds that such a marriage may be “only the exchange of a mild government for a despotic”.‡

No choice

As for the left-over women, those thought too unfit, unattractive or old, or who had small children, it was back to the Female Factory for them. And many of these, with nowhere there for them to sleep, would have to take lodgings in town, where they might take a ‘protector’ for the sake of a roof over their heads.

It was a hard choice; indeed, almost no choice at all.

Of course, this wasn’t a convict woman’s last chance to marry. Men would apply to the Female Factory for a line-up of suitable girls, and, according to the Bigge report, “female convicts often married only to alter their civil status” and gain a measure of freedom.

We don’t know if this is how John met Sarah. Would a convict just off his own ship be given permission to pick a partner? I haven’t seen any evidence that says yes or no. I’d love to hear from you if you have.

Maybe something else threw them  together – being chosen by the same master, or working for neighbours. Whatever happened, they lost no time in becoming lovers, if not husband and wife.

How did your ancestors meet? Did any of them get jobs or spouses from the Female Factory?

There is some controversy surrounding the issues of women, marriage and (perceived?) prostitution in early colonial Australia. If you’re interested, here is some further reading online:

Anley, Charlotte, The Prisoners of Australia (1841), free downloadable ebook (PDF) from KK Genealogy here

Bass, Randall, Convict Women and Sexual Subjugation in Nineteenth-Century Australia, (1991)
Croome, Rodney, ‘True and Good Citizens': The history of freedom to marry in Australia on
† Damousi, Joy, Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia(Cambridge, 1997)
Fahey, Warren (curator), Australian Folklore Unit Has a description of the voyage of the Friendship
Forell, Caroline Anne, Convicts, Thieves, Domestics, and Wives in Colonial Australia: The Rebellious Lives of Ellen Murphy and Jane New on Social Science Research Network
Frances, Raelene, The History of Female Prostitution in Australia in Perkins, R., Presage, G., Sharp, R. & Lovejoy, F. (eds.) Sex Work and Sex Workers in Australia (Sydney, 1994)
* Hendriksen, Gay, Women transported: Myth and reality, (2009) on
Jones, Cecily, University of Warwick paper
‡ O’Connell, James, A residence of eleven years in New Holland and the Caroline Islands (e-book)
Australia – Women Convicts on Jane’s Oceania, which also has a slightly different view in Australia – The Women of Botany Bay

I’m grateful to Sylvia Taylor and her book The John Simpson and Sarah Saga for information about John and Sarah’s life, and to Wayne Morris for letting me read his copy.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Convicts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Would you like to start genealogy blogging?

Have you got fascinating family history tales to tell? Or would you like to write about genealogy – the research, the how-tos, dos and don’ts, the brick walls and frustrations, the gadgets and apps?

I’ve enjoyed reading two great blogs recently which will help if you’d like to join us geneabloggers. This is just a short post, but they’re both such good introductions I wanted to pass them on.


(Image via Wikipedia)

First, what  to write about? You might have a firm idea. like I did for this blog. It started out being about my ancestor, the Irish rebel and transported convict Nicholas Delaney, but it’s grown to touch on other branches of my family tree on the Australian side. I was lucky to have a focus – but what if I hadn’t?

That’s just one reason I love Genies Down Under’s latest podcast and shownotes. Episode 8 is all about starting a family history blog. It’s full of useful information and links. Don’t just take my word for it – Aillin at Australian Genealogy Journeys has a good review of it.

So – you know what you’d like to start writing about, but what platform will you choose? Two popular, free ones are Blogger and WordPress. Maria at Genies Down Under helps you with starting on Blogger, but if you prefer WordPress (which is what I use), take a look at The Genealogy Workshop‘s three-part introduction. I learned some new tricks from Nicola’s easy-to-follow but detailed guide.

Once you’re published, you might like to join Geneabloggers, where Thomas MacEntee pulls together a community of worldwide bloggers and dispenses information, links and ideas tirelessly. Read other blogs, submit your own one and let us know what you’re doing!

I’ve put together a list of blogs that relate to my own area of interest on the online resources page of this blog’s sister A Rebel Hand website.

PS: More great blogs! Inside History, the Australian magazine run by the excellent people at Irish Wattle, has an article by Jill Ball aka Geniaus about her top 50 genealogy blogs. Have a look here. And here are 2013’s top 50.

May 12th update: And the conversation about genealogy blogging is growing! Geniaus has added The Blogs that Got Away, with some more great ones to read on top of her original 50. Cassmob at Family history across the seas writes about her experience of family history bloggers. And at The Armchair Genealogist, Lynne Palermo has some advice on 8 Ways to Get Involved in the Online Genealogy Community.

May 16th: Aillin has written a great post about her experiences with social media, concentrating on her blog – read it here.

June 8th: Family Tree magazine has published its top 40 genealogy blogs around the world. Some of my favourites are on it – do you recognise any? What would you add?

July 17th: Copyblogger has published its own guide to creating a WordPress website, with your own domain name, here. Thanks to DearMYRTLE for the tip-off.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Blogging, Genealogy | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

My ancestor was from London – where do I start?

I’ve concentrated mainly on Nicholas Delaney, Sarah Marshall and John Simpson in this blog so far. They are three of my earliest Australians, all convicts. And because convicts tend to be well-documented, they are easier to trace.

And I’ve been given some wise advice – don’t jump around your family tree, concentrate on one line. (Do you agree?)

But this time I’m going to take a leap onto a far-away branch and look at the background of the man who is the fourth convict I’ve found (so far). James Thomas Richards was a Thames waterman, transported for theft on the Royal Sovereign in 1835. That makes him a Londoner.

Or does it?

On Friday I went to the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) headquarters in Farringdon for a day of workshops dedicated to researching London ancestors.

Map of London

Tudor London (viaWikipedia)

The first thing they said was that looking for Londoners was far from easy. (Great, I thought, having come up against all the well-known brick walls there are for Irish research.)

But they gave us a lot of tips to make the task easier and, since there will be plenty of people with London ancestor, I thought I’d share some of these while they’re fresh. I won’t put everything down here or it would be a huge post and dull reading, but I hope there will be enough tips, pointers and links to make looking for your Londoner a little easier.

What is London?

Map of London in 1806

London in 1806 (via Wikipedia)

That’s the first question. The City of London, as seen in the Tudor map above? The bigger city, now taking in Westminster, in this 1806 map – made just as London’s huge and fast population explosion was beginning, leading to the old London County? (The green area to the left is Hyde Park, then jutting out into countryside, now in the middle of town.) Or modern Greater London?

In other words, what is now in London may not have been part of it when your ancestor lived. My James  Thomas Richards was from Deptford; central London, you’d think. No – in 1835 it was part of the county of Kent. You can just see it as a small jumble of dockyards in the bottom right of the map.

So first find a map and see where your ancestor was at the time they lived there. Some excellent online maps include Horwood’s of 1799, with fantastic detail, Greenwood’s of 1827, fairly detailed, and Charles Booth’s poverty maps. Warning – it’s very easy to spend a lot of time playing researching on these sites. And another warning – your ancestor may have come to London from another town or village, so their birth details may not be found in your London region searches.

Registers and indexes

Now you’ve found where your ancestor lived, you’ll be able to work out which parish they were in, which you will need if they were alive in or before 1837. Why that date? Because that is when modern Births, Marriages and Deaths registers began in England. You won’t find James Richards on Free BMD – he was in Australia before those records began. (You may need to use Phillimore’s Atlas to find the name of the ‘old’ parish, as this post explains.)

A cobbled slum street in a Deptford, London, C...

A Deptford street, circa 1900 (via Wikipedia)

Here are some places you can find BMDs and their older counterparts, baptisms, marraiges and burials. You’ll probably find that will crop up a lot in this post. This isn’t because I’m endorsing it, but because LMA have a partnership with them to digitise all their records.

Parish registers are online at Ancestry under this arrangement. You can also look at the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on Family Search, though not all parishes have been transcribed. I’ve heard it said that the transcription on FS is better than on Ancestry, but of course I couldn’t possibly comment. You could also look at the appropriate National Index of Parish Registers booklet, published by the Society of Genealogists.

Pallot’s Marriage Index and Boyd’s Marriage Index are just what they say and again don’t cover all of London, but if you’ve got a subscription to Ancestry (Pallot’s) or (Boyd’s) they’re worth looking at. FMP also has London Docklands baptisms, which is great for James Richards.

Kensal Green cemetery in London

Kensal Green cemetery (CCL)

As for burials, those conducted under the rites of the Church of England are on Ancestry. The City of London Burials Index (also on FMP) covers 1813 to the 1850s, but earlier dates are being added. In 1852 the old London burial grounds were closed and new, larger ones, the ‘Magnificent Seven’, including Highgate and Kensal Green, were opened.

Finally in our ancestor’s life cycle, the will, or rather the court that dealt with probate. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury covers relatively wealthy individuals living mainly in the south of England and most of Wales and can be seen at the National Archives and online. There were 10 probate courts in London, all indexed on Ancestry. The Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster is separate, and can be found on FS and, recently, has an arrangement with FMP.

Huge numbers of London men were apprentices, like James Richards, or members of trade associations known as guilds or livery companies. The Guildhall Library holds their records at the moment, while the London Apprenticeship Abstracts are on

Old Bailey or Central Criminal Court

Old Bailey, C18th trial (via Wikipedia)

And then if you were like James and got caught committing a crime, there are the records of the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey). I found him in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, which are online and free (and another wonderful way to spend too much time), but these are not the original records, which are kept at the National Archives in Kew.

This is a long post, and I’ve only written about what I learned at LMA. I’ve checked most, but not all, online. I wanted to post while I could still see the workshops in my mind’s eye. And there’s so much more to add about researching Londoners, I’m sure.

Other places to go to for tips on finding your London ancestor include London Lives. GENUKI has an impressive list of London links, and Ron Lankshear has some more links on his page, which leads with the cheerful message: ‘London – a difficult place to research’. I think I can agree, Ron. But it’s also fascinating and fun.

If I’ve missed any important London resources please let me know – and if any of the information needs correcting, tell me that, too!

• Update, May 19th – since I wrote this post at the end of April, the best (in my view) site for detailed views of Horwood’s and Greenwood’s maps has become unavailable. The account at has been suspended. I’ve changed the links in the text to the next best I could find. There is also a huge list of links to old London maps online here.
• Ancestry or FMP for UK research? Peter Calver of LostCousins has a useful overview here, about half way down the page.

• BBC Television screened A Picture of  London on Saturday, May 26 2012 at 2115 (BBC2). The programme-makers say about it: “Architects and social engineers have strived to organise London, but painters, writers and many more have revelled in its labyrinthine unruliness.

“This is the story of a city that tried to impose order on its streets, but actually discovered time after time that its true character lay in an unplanned, chaotic nature.”

I  enjoyed it – catch it via iPlayer if you can. It was a historical and pictorial tour from the Tudor map above to the present skyscrapers and some imaginary future Londons too. The beauty, squalor, disasters and recoveries of the always-changing city were well illustrated through paintings, maps and photographs (though I’d have preferred to see more of these and fewer of the shots of 21st-century people rushing around, but that seems to be the fashion this year). The people of London, past and present, were there, too, and just as interesting to me.

August 18th update: Map lovers – here’s a fascinating post about using a C17th map (1658, by Wenceslaus Hollar) and Google Earth.

And (September 4th) a new book, London: A History in Maps has just been published by the British Library. If you’ve got £30 to spare…

Read about the wonderful Visscher Panorama of London in 1616

Plus (September 19th) a post about digital mapping of London with some useful links



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Convicts, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Some happy finds

Sometimes I come across a batch of lucky A Rebel Hand-related discoveries on the net and it’s good to share them, so here’s a round-up.

The Convict Maid

Following on from my last one, about women convicts and the early Female Factory above the Gaol, here’s an Australian folk song, The Convict Maid, sung by Emily Pollard of Heartbeast Theatre Company.

They are putting on Mother Country from May 13-18 2012 as part of the Anywhere Theatre Festival in Brisbane, Australia. Heartbeast say that it’s “a play about a time when the English ruling classes deliberately got women convicted of crimes so they could send them as convict/prostitutes to the male-dominated Australian penal colonies.”

Here are the lyrics to The Convict Maid, which is sung to a variant of a tune familiar to anyone who knows the songs of 1798; The Croppy Boy.

The rebel Byrnes

Photograph of 1798 hero, Billy Byrne of Ballymanus, Wicklow © Frances Owen 1994

Statue of Billy Byrne of Ballymanus

One of the names connected with the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in County Wicklow is Byrne. The best-known are probably Miles Byrne of Monaseed and Garret and Billy Byrne of Ballymanus, who I’ve mentioned in another post.

A new website tells the story of Clann O’Byrne and there’s a great photo of the Chieftain, Val Byrne, who I met at the re-opening of Wicklow Gaol in 1998 – a fascinating man.

At the heart of 1798

Just over the border in Wexford lies Askamore, the area of seventeen townlands which make up the Roman Catholic curacy in the parish of Kilrush. It was at the heart of the rebellion of 1798 and the Askamore community website gives a lively picture of the area now as well as a look at its history. Ballyellis, Nicholas Delaney’s townland, is in the curacy.

Askamore’s very near to Gorey, a town which played its part in 1798, and I was delighted to find that one of my favourite Australian bloggers, Cassmob of Family History Across the Seas, has connections to it, too.

The finish of Doggett's Coat and Badge, Thames watermen's race

Doggett’s Coat and Badge, Thames watermen’s race (via Wikipedia)

Away from the internet, and I’ve finally started doing what I’ve promised myself for a while. I’m reading Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. This is not just because it’s a major novel about the early years of convict Australia.

It’s also because I recently found out that James Thomas Richards, one of my non-Delaney ancestors, was a Thames waterman, just like her main character, William Thornhill. I’m planning to look into James’s life once I’ve got the Delaney side of my family properly under my belt.

It was a post on one of my Facebook must-sees, the Australian Genealogy page, which reminded me to read The Secret River. Have you read it? What do you think?

If I posted every time I found something great on the net, though, I’d be square-eyed and arthritic, so for great history and genealogy resources I’ve compiled a growing list on this blog’s sister A Rebel Hand website. It covers Irish and Australian history as well as genealogy online research and some excellent blogs. If you can think of any I could add, please get in touch!
Next time, I’ll be back with a post on convict courtship in the early days of the colony of New South Wales.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, A Rebel Hand, Australia, Convicts | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Factory above the Gaol – women convicts in 1818


When my great-great-great grandmother Sarah Marshall stumbled off the convict transport Friendship on January 14, 1818, she emerged from a traumatic journey of confinement and scurvy which became notorious for ‘indecent and licentious intercourse’ to find herself in an alien land and facing an uncertain future.

Convict ship the Neptune (via Wikipedia). No picture survives of the Friendship.

Convict ship the Neptune (via Wikipedia)

She may have been a wily Mancunian ‘felon’ – she had been convicted of stealing fivepence-worth of clothing – but what was to happen to her during the seven years of her sentence? Who wouldn’t be daunted by being at the will of others for so many years and so far from her family and home?

The choice for women, outnumbered by men and potentially vulnerable to sexual predation, was stark. Go into service, go to the Female Factory, or get married (or live as the wife of a male protector). But at least she was alive. Theft was still a hanging offence.

In 1818 the famous Female Factory at Parramatta was about to be built by Francis Greenway, Governor Macquarie‘s emancipist convict architect. But in the meantime women who were not assigned a job or married off still went to the old combined gaol and factory on the north side of the Parramatta River, where Prince Alfred Park now is.

This gaol, the second on the site (the first was torched in 1799) was built between 1802 and 1804 from stone, not the wood and thatch of the earlier one. Construction was overseen by the ‘flogging parson’, as the Parramatta magistrate, the Reverend Samuel Marsden, was known. A “grasping Evangelical missionary with… the face of a petulant ox”, Marsden was to refuse to allow the legality of Nicholas Delaney and Elizabeth Bayly‘s marriage – which had been carried out by Major Abbott of the Rum Corps. The money for the new building was raised by a tax on spirits, which Terri McCormack thinks “probably led to the increased use of illicit stills”.

This gaol also incorporated a linen and wool ‘manufactory’ on the top floor, where these valuable materials were woven. This was ideal work for women. And convict women needed to be put to work – to pay for their keep; because they were considered even more degenerate than male convicts, and the devil made work for idle hands; to help reform them; and to divert them from consorting with men.

Victorian hand-loom, in Timmy Feather's Worksh...

C19th hand loom (via Wikipedia)

These two rooms with their looms were known as ‘the Factory above the Gaol‘. By the time Sarah arrived in New South Wales 200 women would have been working there. Each room was about 80 feet long and 20 feet wide, so there would have been about 100 women in 1,600 square feet of space, including their equipment. With the size of the looms and the dusty air it must have been cramped, as well as unhealthy.

Many of the Factory girls slept in the workrooms; there were no bedrooms as such. Women who had brought their own bedding with them from their old homes were relatively comfortable in the cramped space, while the others slept on the floor, on bales or on fleeces, or were found lodgings in town.

We have no evidence that Sarah Marshall went to the first Female Factory, but then we have no evidence of her being assigned to work for anyone either. She seems to fade out of documented history between leaving the Friendship in January 1818 and giving birth to her daughter Lucy, my 2x great grandmother, ten months later.

So it’s possible that she met her future husband, John Simpson, in the first days after she landed and lived with him straight away. I’ve talked more about how boy met girl in early colonial Australia in this post.

But it’s also possible that she spent some time at the Factory, like many prospective convict brides, and that her first days in her new home were among the clattering looms, breathing the lint-filled air and dossing down on a fleece among strangers in a cramped, dirty, rodent-infested room above the men’s gaol.

There are a lot of photos of the more famous Female Factory around but pictures of the Factory above the Gaol are hard to find. One is on this interesting website.


I’ve just squeezed this post into Women’s History Month. It’s been a fascinating time for me, reading some excellent and thought-provoking blog posts and doing research on a neglected part of my own family tree – and of history. Yes, researching most women’s lives is harder than most men’s, but it’s been hugely rewarding and I’ve got ideas for posts that will reach far beyond the month of March.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Convicts, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What did Mary do on Monday? Women’s work

Mary Maude Wilson (Delaney) hanging out the washing at Moyne Farm
Mary doing the washing at Moyne

I love this picture of my great grandmother, Mary Maude Delaney (nee Wilson). In all the other family photos, she is posed, poised and very formal, a respectable Victorian matron. But in this one, she’s turning round to smile as she pegs out the washing. Her whole face lights up and I can understand her great-nephew, Hartley Hollier, remembering her as very loving – if a bit too fond of hugging and kissing the young lad when he visited.

I’ve decided to concentrate on the women in the family for my posts this March, which is Women’s History Month. It’s not as easy as writing about the men. There is less on the record about them. Some seem to have no story before they arrive in New South Wales, like Elizabeth Bayly (or Bayley, or Bailey), Nicholas Delaney’s wife. Or else they are ‘just’ wives and mothers and don’t do anything that gets reported in the papers, or follow an interesting career.

Women like Mary just got on with life, making the best of their marriage, cooking, cleaning and having and bringing up children. For a Delaney wife, Mary had a smallish number of babies – five that we know about – and three survived to adulthood. She also looked after the paying guests who stayed to enjoy the ‘splendid accommodation’ and ‘good shooting’ her husband Tom’s advertisements promised.

Old watercolour of Moyne Farm, Little Hartley, by Yvonne Jenkins

Watercolour of Moyne Farm by Yvonne Jenkins

Splendid accommodation! Moyne Farm, their home, was a fairly typical early nineteenth-century farmhouse, with outbuildings to house members of the family as it grew (I’m guessing that the guests got proper bedrooms) as well as the kitchen and other utilities.

Moyne is also quite special historically, having been built by John Grant (‘the Father of Hartley’) but I’ll talk about that in another post.

So back to Mary, hanging out the washing. Sheets, cloths, workwear, underwear, all the family linen. A modern family loads up the washing machine often enough – but she would have done the entire wash by hand.

Here’s an idea of what doing the laundry would have been like for a woman living on a farm in Australia between 1875, when Mary married Tom, and 1917, when they moved to Randwick, a suburb south-east of Sydney.

Old scrubbing board and tub as used in the early C19th

Scrubbing board and tub ( under creative commons)

“Wash on Monday” is the old saying, and Monday was washday in many Australian homes, perhaps so that everything was clean and dry for Sunday and church.

Some may have had a wash house in an outbuilding, but a lot of women did their laundry – hot, heavy, sweaty work – out of doors in the ‘workplace, the area by the back door that houses toilet, wood pile, and bench or lean-to with wash tubs and buckets’, as historian Kimberley Webber describes it.

Washday began very early in the morning – they would need every hour of daylight to finish the work. Water would have to be fetched, poured into large pots or, if they had one, a copper, and heated. An iron pot was less ideal for clothes washing as it could leave rust stains on the otherwise clean clothes.

Stains would be dealt with by soaking, perhaps in lye (caustic soda, made from water and wood ash, which could cause nasty burns) and spot-cleaning. Ideally, soiled white linens would be boiled in a copper but if this was not possible, they would be washed like the rest of the laundry, in a wooden or cement tub or perhaps a high-sided metal dolly tub.


Soap, bought or home made from fat and lye, would be rubbed onto dirty areas or shaved into soap flakes and dissolved in clean, hot water. Then came the hardest part of the work. I’ve washed sheets by hand and it is back-breaking, time-consuming and scrubs your hands raw. Better to use a wooden implement to take the strain and do the heavy jobs of mixing, agitating and knocking out the dirt.

An old wooden manual agitator: a tool to assis...

Dolly (via Wikipedia)

Some women may still have been using a long, stout stick or bats, beetles or paddles but I hope Mary had the more modern gadgets, a posser or plunger (like an inverted cone at the end of a stick) or a dolly, which looked like a doll’s stool, again on the end of a stick with a handle. A dolly could plunge up and down or agitate round and round – do you remember the old top-loading washing machines which did that?

The there was a fairly new piece of washday equipment, the scrubbing board or washboard, with its horizontal ridges they could scrub the laundry up and down on. Later boards had metal or glass ridges but the early ones were all wood.

More muscle-power was needed to wring the dirty water out of the now heavy wet clothes. First the linen needed to be pulled out of the water with a stick or tongs. It could then be wound round a thick post or wrung by twisting, perhaps round a stick at one end – you’d need extra hands to do this. Then heat more water, rinse and repeat.

If Mary was lucky she’d have had a mangle, with two rollers you feed the wet cloth between. It would squeeze most of the water out, though you might have to feed things through more than once and trapped fingers were always a danger.

An exhibit of old laundry equipment arranged i...

Old laundry equipment at Bedford Museum (via Wikipedia)

To keep whites looking fresh, a blue bag could be added to the final rinse – the bluish tinge would cancel out any grey or yellowish tones. The same method has been used by women to brighten up their white hair, giving them the (not always complimentary) name of the blue rinse brigade. The strong Australian sun also helped by bleaching the washed whites as they dried.

Even now the job might not be quite finished, as many women went on to starch some white cotton garments and household linens to keep them looking smart and help them resist dirt.

No wonder Kimberley Webber described washing as ‘the most hated task’ women had to do (p86).

At the end of a long and exhausting day it was time to peg out the washing on the line and make a quick evening meal of cold leftovers from Sunday dinner as there was no time to prepare food on washday and the fire would have been needed to heat water.

And then later in the week when everything was clean and dry the ironing had to be tackled…


In the nineteenth century, respectability was determined by the cleanliness of your linen, such as shirts, chemises, collars and cuffs. It’s only in our modern world of washing machines and artificial fibres that outer clothes tend to be washed frequently. In past centuries they would have been brushed to remove loose dirt and spot-cleaned. At least Mary would have been spared washing all that extra heavy cotton and wool and the yards of skirt she and the other women wore.

I’m just about to put a load of clothes into the washing machine, including some really grubby jeans. The wash will take less than an hour. I remember mangling jeans and it’s not easy work. Today I’m really grateful that this ‘universally loathed’ (Webber, p99) job is so easy and quick.

This post was inspired by Cassmob’s Family History Across the Seas. Her Carnival of Genealogy post was in turn inspired by Jasia at Creative Gene. The challenge was to honour a woman from our family tree by starting with a photograph and telling the story of the photo and/or a biography of the woman pictured.

Newsflash – here are the Carnival of Genealogy posts with an introduction by Jasia. A fascinating read.

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

Some further reading:

Webber, Kimberley: Embracing the New: A Tale of Two Rooms in Troy, Patrick Nicol (ed): A History of European Housing in Australia (CUP 2000)

On the web:

Back in the Day in Not Yet Published

Exhibition – Women’s Work in The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame

History of Laundry  – After 1800 in Old & Interesting

History of Washing PDF by Science in-the-box

Laundry in the 19th Century PDF by Gaeta Bell

Monday Washdays in Join me in the 1900s

Washday in UKHomefront’s Washing Through the Ages

Just out: To the Tubs: Laundry as Female Punishment from The Female Convicts Research Centre Inc’s 2012 seminar, The Working Lives of Convict Women

New post on early modern laundry in a small household (mostly 17th and 18th centuries)

And an online exibition about women and laundry from the Women’s Library


 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The cook, the thieves, the prostitute and the postillion – convicts transported to Australia

My convict ancestors were an unusual lot – but three of them were also really common. That’s the conclusion I came to after looking at a clever take on transportation statistics on one Australian website.

English: Chain gang : convicts going to work n...

Convicts going to work near Sydney (via Wikipedia)

Three out of four of mine were thieves, the crime committed by the largest number (41.4%) of transported convicts in the records at, the online resource based on the British Convict transportation register for ships bound for Australia between 1787-1867. It covers 123,888 convicts from an estimated total of 160,000.

The database hasn’t got the records for Atlas II, the ship on which Nicholas Delaney arrived in 1802, and there seems to be a gap where a lot of Irish rebels – or political prisoners – from 1798 should be.

English: Hanging of suspected United Irishmen.

Half-hanging of suspected United Irishman (via Wikipedia)

There were four murderers, which was what Nicholas was convicted of, and one transported for high treason. I reckon that last one got off lightly. Until 1814, the punishment for a man was to be hung, drawn and quartered. This meant being hung, but without the long drop which could cause death. After a period of strangulation the victim was cut down, stripped naked, and, while still conscious, castrated, his belly cut open and his internal organs pulled out and burnt in front of him. At last he would be beheaded and his body cut into quarters which, with his head, would be publicly displayed as a warning to others. The punishment was designed to combine long torture (and half-hanging was notoriously also used against many suspected or genuine United Irishmen in the 1790s) with ritual humiliation.

After theft, the most common offences were larceny (12.7%), burglary (6.3%), housebreaking (5.2%) and robbery (3.9%) – there seems to be a pattern there. Some convicts were a little more imaginative in their crimes, though, with one transported for riotous conduct and felony, five machine breakers, one bigamist, seven sheep stealers and four horse thieves. There is also one convicted of being a shoemaker, but I suspect that just might be a mistake.


As for their jobs, my great-great-great grandfather John Simpson, who arrived in New South Wales on the Ocean II in 1818, was one of only four tailors on the database. James Thomas Richards of Deptford, the 2x great grandfather who I’ve just begun looking at, was the only waterman.

The top three occupations of transported criminals were those of labourer (12.3%), farmer (5.7%) and at 5.1%… convict. Were these repeat offenders? James Thomas Richards was convicted of another crime while serving his time in New South Wales, but the same convict system did not operate in Britain. Were they prisoners who re-offended while in custody? Do you know the answer?

Perhaps not surprisingly, housemaids come top of the specifically female occupations with 10 (2.9%) transported. They would have had plenty of temptation and opportunities to pocket the family silver and other portables. The two nursery maids, two general maids and one plain cook/house servant would have had fewer chances but probably no less covetousness.

English: Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plym...

Black-Eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth say goodbye to their convicted lovers (via Wikipedia)

Three needlewomen, three dairymaids and three housewives found themselves bound for Australia. Maids, laundresses and housekeeper/cooks went out two by two. One nurse/midwife is on the list, and there is one book folder, a trade which was often carried out by women. Perhaps surprisingly, there is only one prostitute. It’s interesting to note that nobody was specifically transported for plying the oldest profession.*

Back to the men, and there was a mill worker, possibly one of the machine breakers – or were the three weavers responsible, with their livelihoods threatened by the new mills? We don’t know whether these were hand weavers (usually male) or steam weavers (mostly female), but if they were male Luddites, they were lucky to be transported – 17 others were executed after a trial in York in 1813.

From the professional classes, one accountant got caught fiddling the figures and was sent overseas, as was one doctor.

Some of the more unusual occupations included a miniature painter, a gilt toy maker, a leather trunk maker, a coach painter, a glover’s assistant, a painter’s boy and a wool sorter. There was a shosebinder (is this something to do with shoe-making? It could be an alternative spelling). The only whitesmith listed worked with ‘white’ metals like tin, not ‘black’ iron.

English: "A Coach With Two Extra Horses, ...

Coach driven by a postillion (via Wikipedia)

And I’ve saved the best till last. I’ve always wanted to write this – a postillion. Not struck by lightning, but dealt a heavy blow by being transported to the other side of the world. Yet at the same time fortunate, like all my convict ancestors were, to keep their lives, to escape imprisonment and to be given the chance to make a new life in Australia.

I’ve found two of my ancestors on this list – have you spotted any of yours? Are you a descendant of the shosebinder, the prostitute or the postillion?

* Since writing this, I’ve come across a passage from Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, which says: “What is quite certain, however, is that no women were actually transported for whoring, because it was never a transportable offense. The vast majority of female convicts, more than 80 percent, were sent out for theft, usually of a fairly petty sort.”

(Extract taken from



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Convicts, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments