Of the 101 convicts who embarked on the Friendship in readiness for its departure from England on 3 July 1817, 97 arrived at Port Jackson, 4 having perished en route. What was the composition of this ‘convict cargo’? Where and when had they been tried and what sentences had been meted out to them? What crimes had they committed? How long had they spent in gaol after their trials and prior to boarding the Friendship? How old were they on arrival, and what could they offer the Colony in terms of skills and experience?
In all, the Friendship women occupied the minds of the legal fraternity across the length and breadth of England, Scotland and Wales, the trials being held in twenty-four different jurisdictions.
Lancashire accounted for 15 trials, followed by London with 11, Bristol with 10 and Scotland with 8. At the other end of the scale, Durham, Kent, Leicestershire, Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex contributed just 1 convict each.
There was an even spread between NSW and VDL for trials held at Bristol (5:5), Warwickshire and Yorkshire (3:3). However, of the 11 trials held in London, 8 were for VDL women. No NSW women had faced trial in Derbyshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Shropshire. None of the VDL women had been tried at Cumberland, Durham or Hampshire.
Drawing an imaginary line roughly down and across the middle of the map above provides a regional perspective of where the trials took place. As indicated in the following table nearly half (47%) of the convicts were tried in the northern and midlands regions of England, the southern counties accounted for 25%, London and Middlesex for 18%, and Scotland and Wales for 11%.
As indicated in the following table for the NSW women, just over half (51%) were tried in the northern and midlands regions of England, the southern counties accounted for 21%, London and Middlesex for 13%, and Scotland and Wales for 15%.
A complementary table for the VDL women repeats the pattern of the greatest number of trials being held in the northern and midlands region (42%) with the southern counties accounting for 38%. The chart also reflects the higher number of VDL women tried in London which, combined with the Middlesex trials, accounts for 22%. The balance is made up with Scotland and Wales at 8%.
NOTE: Place of trial does not necessarily correspond to place of birth.
Time in Gaol
Most of the women had spent time in remand pending their trial, but the following tables relate to the length of time spent in gaol post-trial and up to July 1817 when the Friendship set sail for New South Wales.
The average time served in prison was 10.42 months. The longest time spent behind bars was 27 months, endured by Elizabeth Burrell tried at Northumberland; the 40 sentenced in 1816 were held for periods ranging from 16 down to 7 months; those sentenced in 1817 accounted for 60% of the transportees Of this group, the 25 sentenced in April 1817 were kept waiting only a short time before their transfer to the Friendship.
Of the 101 sentences meted out to the prospective Friendship women, 16 were for transportation for life (often commuted from a death sentence) with these allocated evenly between NSW and VDL. Nearly a third were sentences of 14 years, with 20 of this group of 30 being assigned to NSW. By far the majority were transported for seven years and of this group 36 of the 55 were sent to VDL.
It is generally recognised that ages, and particularly those for women, are notoriously unreliable ‘facts’ upon which to draw reliable findings, and that over a lifetime a person’s stated age can often vary markedly. The Age column of the 1818 Indent recorded the ages, as provided by the Friendship convicts on their arrival at Port Jackson. For some of them this column was blank – Sarah Armstrong, Mary Bridge, Mary Buxton, Sarah Chandler, Ann Dudley, Mary Eginton, Jane Jones, Margaret Lang, Susannah Mason, Barbara Oliver, Jane Rogers, and Ann Ross – and of course no arrival age was recorded against the names of the four who had died during the voyage. However, based on other documentation it has been possible to ascertain or make an educated guess for the ‘missing’ ages as at January 1818 for all except Susannah Mason.
The following tables gives a breakdown of the age groups of the remaining ninety-five on arrival in January 1818. The oldest was Mary Davis aged 56 and the youngest was Ann Kennicott, barely 18, who were both sent to Van Diemen’s Land. Those in the 20-29 age group accounted for 51% of the total Friendship women.
Looking at the breakdown of age cohorts between the NSW and VDL women we find again that the 20-29 age cohort account for the majority, but a greater number of this group were sent to serve their time in Van Diemen’s Land. But for the next age group, 30-39, the majority were assigned in New South Wales. The women in the 40-49 age group were shared equally between NSW and VDL but the ratio for the oldest and youngest groups was 4:1 ‘in favour’ of VDL. There was minimal difference in the average ages – NSW – 31; VDL – 30; Total – 29.
Across the board, larceny/theft topped the listing followed next by crimes related to coining and/or uttering and possessing forged bank notes. Almost all the seven year sentences were handed down for crimes that came under the general classification of ‘larceny/theft’. Interestingly, the one instance of child stealing, by Elizabeth Brady, also only warranted a seven year sentence. The standard sentence for receiving stolen goods or for possessing forged bank notes was fourteen years. Those found guilty of more serious crimes such as coining (forgery), burglary, highway robbery, and grievous wounding could expect to be sentenced to death, almost always commuted to transportation for life – as in the cases, for example, of the highway women – Ann Tilling, Frances Sibley and Ann Wheldon – and the Duffy/Courtney/Moen coining gang. Some, like Margaret Yates and Elizabeth Gunton, who were charged initially with uttering forged notes escaped the death/life sentence by agreeing with the Bank of England to plead guilty to the lesser charge of possessing.
Not surprisingly, given that they were the largest age cohort, those aged between 20 and 29 were responsible for the highest level of larceny/theft offences. It is perhaps significant that the crimes related to forgery tended to be confined to the 20 to 50 age group and, in the case of the Duffy family, involved two generations of one family.
The clerk responsible for compiling the Bound Indentures for the Friendship women assiduously recorded the details of their trials and sentences, but was not so conscientious when it came to recording details of their ‘Calling’. And where this information was included it would have reflected what the Friendship woman themselves claimed to be their ‘legitimate’ line of business.[i] Apart from the four who did not survive the voyage, there were ten for whom nothing was entered in the ‘Calling’ column. These were Mary Bridge, Mary Buxton, Mary Eginton, Hannah Jarvis, Jane Jones, Margaret Lang, Susannah Mason, Elizabeth Quantrell, Ann Ross, and Helen Stewart.
Of the 87 for whom a trade has been identified, 46 of them were classed as servants. Servants was a ‘catch-all’ classification. A domestic servant might, for instance, find service as a general maid within a household, a shop, a public house, etc which might also include such duties as a nursemaid. A country servant might be employed in a range of farm work, which could include duties as a milk-maid and dairy-maid. These women may have had a limited range of menial skills to offer prospective employers in their colonial environment. But limited or otherwise, they were in fact eminently employable at a time when there was a shortage of domestic labour. A step up the economic scale were the 9 housekeepers. However, they may not have been formally and/or formerly employed as housekeepers, rather, their experience may just as likely have been gained by their pre-trial roles as ‘housewives’. The apparel/needlework category included, obviously, women who described themselves as needlewomen, but also embraced lace makers, dress makers, mantua makers, and a tailoress. A small group of 9 had experience in the textile trade, including cotton weaving and spinning, stocking weaving, silk winding, fustian cutting, straw work and flax spinning, and a yet smaller group of 5 had been involved in some form of manufacturing – hat binding/picking and shoe binding, wire work, pipe making and straw bonnet making – although it could be argued that some of these roles might also fit in the apparel category. The commerce category comprises a market woman, a fruit seller and a shopkeeper. The two labourers were a laundress and a washerwoman.
Some of the women claimed to be multi-skilled. For instance Grace Blaker was recorded as both mantua maker and shoe binder; Frances Wilson was a mantua maker and a stay maker. Jane Rogers was described as both a shopkeeper and a servant. Hannah Hammond Crampton could combine housekeeping with needlework skills and Ann Kennicott combined pipe making with domestic service. As well as shoe binding Sarah Gordon could offer services as a child’s nurse. And stocking weaver Rosannah Euden and cotton weaver Mary Bridge were prepared to offer themselves as servants. Perhaps these women thought that by giving prospective employers a choice they had a better chance in the assignment stakes. However, those who gave ‘servant’ as an alternative occupation must have had a better understanding of the market – there may not have been much call, for example, for pipe makers but, as noted above, servants were very much in demand. Indeed, according to Portia Robinson, referring to New South Wales, but no doubt with relevance also to Van Diemen’s Land, the contemporary colonial market place would have offered opportunities for the majority of the Friendship women.
There was a continual shortage of skilled and experienced female labour in the penal colony, especially during the first thirty years of settlement when most of the women had arrived as transported convicts. The dressmakers, the seamstresses, the hatmakers, the mantua makers, were as much in demand as assigned servants as were the skilled male tradesmen among the convict men. Those women who could brew and bake, sew, knit and spin, make butter and cheese, who were experienced cooks or confectioners, had formerly worked as dairywomen, or even as lady’s maid or child’s nurse, laundress or ‘fine washerwoman’, were the most sought after as assigned servants. They were also the ones who had the greatest opportunities after they had become free women.[ii]
It is interesting to note that of the 46 women designated as servants, 31 of these were included in the VDL contingent. Similarly, two thirds of the women in the textile category found themselves in VDL. Otherwise there was a reasonably even spread between the NSW and VDL women.
Looking at the Occupation by Age Cohort chart below we find that only those women in the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups were classified as being involved in the apparel/needlework and commerce fields, accounting for 13 of the women. These age cohorts are equally represented in the country servant group, which also includes one each from the 19+< and 40-49 cohorts. By far the most of the domestic servants were in the 20-29 age group, with 3 each from the next two age groups. It is perhaps surprising to find one 19+< housekeeper – who may in fact have ‘lily-gilded’ a servant status. The two youngest age groups accounted for the manufacturing class, and all age cohorts were represented in the textile worker group.
As noted above, where a prisoner was tried was not necessarily the place where they were born, or regarded as their ‘native place’. Establishing the Friendship convicts’ native places has proved to be problematic. The Bound Indentures were silent on this point. One of the principal sources for such information was found in the ticket of leave butts, but even here the entry for NP was sometimes left blank. Some hints as to provenance can be gleaned from trial records, e.g. Ann Atkinson was described as ‘late of Manchester’ (although this may refer to her previous place of residence). Birth, death and burial records, and newspaper obituaries sometimes refer to the deceased’s place of birth. Other Friendship researchers have recorded rites of passage details which (subject to verification) has been helpful.
At this stage the native places for 48 of the Friendship women have been identified, of which a few are tentative. Of these, 28 were tried at their native place. Of those not tried at their native place, 3 of were tried in their home county. The two Welsh women and the Scottish woman were tried in their own countries. Reflecting the Irish diaspora, 5 of the women had been born in Ireland, including Mary Ann Caffry, who was known as “Dublin Poll” to her London friends. Sisters Lucy Meares and Sophia Richards, tried at Bristol, hailed from Kegworth in Leicestershire and Mary Jones was apparently born at Gibraltar.
[i] Ancestry, New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842, Bound Indentures, 1814-1818.
[ii] Portia Robinson, The Women of Botany Bay : A reinterpretation of the role of women in the origins of Australia society, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1988, p.194.