Sarah Ann Cox


Sarah Ann Cox was convicted at the Bristol Quarter Sessions on 13 January 1817 for stealing a gold watch, and sentenced to 7 years transportation. She did not have to wait too long before she was mustered onto the Friendship, which arrived at Port Jackson in January 1818. Her age then was stated to be 20 and she was a needlewoman by trade. She had not impressed the ship’s Surgeon, Peter Cosgreave, who described her as ‘A prostitute mutinous and extremely insolent’. Her journey was not quite completed as Sarah Ann joined the other 56 women convicts who were transferred to Hobart on the Duke of Wellington and from there to Port Dalrymple and the settlement of George Town on the north coast.

I have not found a record to indicate how this cohort travelled to the Port Dalrymple district. Perhaps they took the route described by Commissioner Bigge. He noted that convicts arriving at Hobart, but destined for Launceston and George Town, were sent to a landing place on the river Derwent and then, under escort, proceeded by easy marches to Launceston some 120 miles north, and then by boats along the Tamar river to George Town.

It was at Port Dalrymple that Sarah was mustered in 1820 and 1822. When she arrived there to serve out her sentence ‘The Factory’ consisted only of a shed set up in the lumber yard. The convict women worked there during the day making woollen cloth and leather shoes (for which Sarah’s needlecraft skills may have been useful) but, as no sleeping quarters were provided, they had to find their own board and lodgings off-site. Many of them took the opportunity afforded by this modicum of ‘freedom’ to meet and ‘take up with’ a partner – usually a prisoner, ex-prisoner or a soldier. It was not until 1825, and after Sarah’s time there, that a more suitable building was found to serve as both Factory and accommodation quarters. And indeed Sarah had taken up with a person by the name of Richard Beard by whom she bore a son, Charles Cox, who was born on 2 December 1820, and baptised on 21 October 1821 at Launceston.

There is nothing in the records to indicate that Sarah had been assigned to any of the local households during her sentence which officially came to an end on 30 January 1824, when she (together with another of the Friendship girls, Ann Kennicott) received her Certificate of Freedom, almost exactly seven years after her conviction, suggesting that she had been reasonably well behaved during this time.

However, having made a big mistake in choosing to associate with Robert Burke, she was apparently in trouble before the year was out. On 14 October she was accused of receiving from Robert Burke one sow pig, valued at £3, and five fowl, valued at 5 shillings, the property of Mr. Thomas Palmer, knowing them to be stolen. The pair was committed for trial at the Launceston Supreme Court on 28 December 1824. This time Sarah was fortunate – she was acquitted, but Burke was found guilty and remanded.

The authorities maintained a conduct sheet for each of the convicts. On average, each convict woman was found guilty of six offences while a convict. So, while Sarah’s record of offences was not as comprehensive as others, her misdemeanours point to a quarrelsome women. She was back in court on 16 March 1827 when she was bound over for her good behaviour and to keep the peace for 6 months towards one Sarah Sillitoe (previously Sarah Griffen and one of the Friendship convicts who was constantly in trouble), and five months later, on 1 August, again bound over to keep the peace towards Andrew Rhind and others for three months. Once again her temper got the better of her when she assaulted one Prudence Mason for which, on 5 May 1831, she ‘hath prayed sureties of the peace’ and ordered to find Sureties of the peace for 6 months’.

At this point the trail for Sarah Ann Cox ‘goes cold’, but it was so often the case that the fortunes of the women were intrinsically defined and shaped by the men with whom they associated.

Robert Burke was an Irish man, born about 1801 in Dublin and a cotton spinner by trade. Described as 5ft 5ins, with a fair pale complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes. With no scars or other detracting features recorded, he may well have been a good looking young man. He was tried at Dublin in September 1818 for robbing a paper mill, and sentenced to seven years transportation. Aged about 18, he was one of 150 prisoners who sailed from the Cove of Cork on 24 April 1819 on the Bencoolen which arrived in the colony on 25 August 1819. Refreshingly, the ship’s surgeon, William Evans, remarked on the good behaviour of the prisoners. No corporal punishment had been meted out, there had been no gambling or impropriety, and the prisoners paid great attention to their prayer books. Indeed Mr Evans believed that,

… their decency and propriety of behaviour and submissiveness to all those placed over them indicated they meant seriously to retrieve their injured characters.

Governor Macquarie noted in his diary for Monday 6 September 1819,

This morning early The Private Merchant Ship Adml Cockburn Capt. Briggs, sailed for the Derwent. By this Ship I sent 130 Male Convicts (of those arrived in the Bencoolen) for the use of the Settlements on Van Diemen’s Land.

Robert Burke was one of those on board the Admiral Cockburn, and for the 1823 muster was shown as being employed on public works. He had, however, come to the attention of the authorities before then. Robert Burke was to prove Surgeon Evans’ faith in at least one of his passengers to have been misplaced. Robert’s conduct sheet chronicles a series of misdemeanours. On 1 July 1820 he was put to work in irons for three months for losing a quantity of sheep belonging to his master, Mr. Sutherland. Four weeks later, on 29 July, he was sentenced to 25 lashes for refusing to work. A punishment of 25 lashes resulted from him being absent from the Penitentiary all night on 1 January 1822. On 13 December 1822 and again on 23 September 1823 he was ordered to receive 25 and 50 lashes respectively for disobeying orders and insolence. Disobedience again resulted in his being ordered, on 2 October 1823, to spend two months on the Government Gang at George Town. Absenting himself in August 1824 incurred another 14 day punishment. We have already noted the theft in October 1824 of Mr. Palmer’s livestock. While awaiting trial at Launceston Gaol his disorderly behaviour earned him confinement on bread and water for a fortnight. On 5 October 1825, working in irons and 100 lashes were his ‘reward’ for having absconded into the woods, and yet a further 18 lashes were prescribed in September 1826 for Robert’s neglect of duty and insolence to his overseer. But by far his most serious offence was committed in 1829, by which time this incorrigible man had been sent to the dreaded and infamous Sarah Island in the middle of Macquarie Harbour, ‘the place for the most disorderly and irreclaimable convicts’. A mountainous wilderness, surrounded by treacherous seas and ‘guarded’ by Hells Gate, escape from this convict settlement was considered next to impossible. But, against all the odds, some convicts did try to escape, but very few succeeded. Robert Burke was one such convict who attempted to escape. In partnership with five others (including William Watts, husband of “Bristol Girl” Hester Wright), he commandeered a boat. But the convict crewmen were quickly spotted and chased and so they turned back and ran the boat ashore and escaped into the woods. The would-be sailors were re-captured and Robert’s only ‘escape’ was to Hobart where he was sent for trial and convicted for ‘being a felon at large before the expiry of his sentence’ and for stealing a boat valued at £20 and various sundry items of government property worth £5. The sentencing hearing was held on 13 June 1829. It would have been little consolation to Robert to hear the judge suggest that his arrest had been a blessing, ‘before opportunity had been afforded to commit new crimes’. Robert Burke had committed a capital offence and he was duly sentenced to death. He ‘suffered the awful penalty’ of his crime 10 July 1829.

The account of Sarah Ann Cox raises some questions. When, in 1824, Sarah Ann received the stolen goods from Robert Burke, was this a one-off business transaction or did they have a closer attachment? Had she met and perhaps cohabited with him while doing her time by day at the Factory? If they had discussed marriage, Robert’s premature death put an end to any such plans. But did she marry? Was she the Sarah Cox, listed as spinster, who married Charles Cox, listed as bachelor, at Hobart on 24 November 1834?

At the age of 26 Charles Edward Cox had been tried at the Old Bailey in May 1814 for the theft, in February, of a gold watch (coincidentally the same crime as committed by Sarah Ann), valued at £25, found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. His legalistically flamboyant defence statement is quite different from the usual run-of-the-mill responses.

Situated as I am, not having time to send to my friends, trusting entirely to a jury of my country, which is the greatest gratification to a prisoner, the trial by jury. Gentlemen, the man who knows his innocence can put his hand to his heart, and has nothing to fear. I declare, most solemnly, gentlemen, that I am as innocent as any of you. I am situated without a counsel, having been committed on Saturday. Gentlemen, I have been at large having undergone three examinations. I was acquitted of the whole charge, but I fell within the domain of Bow-street. I now appear before you. Gentlemen, now the prevarication of the witness I will ask you. The witness now swears positively to me. It is now three months ago; whether from that period to four months, which positively did not exceed a minute and a half, how he can prevaricate before a jury. I should be sorry to say that he is the individual than did the act himself. I can thus much declare, no property has been found. It is something extremely singular, at the office he felt a degree of agitation in swearing to me, now he can swear to me. If I had shrunk from the court I must have been a guilty man, though conscious I am whatever your verdict may me I shall be satisfied. To my God and my country I leave it. I have not been allowed time to call my friends, or else I could have confirmed my innocence.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find that according to the convict indents Charles was a lawyer by calling. Further, he was a native of Tiverton, about 5ft 2½ tall, with a ruddy complexion, black hair and dark hazel eyes. He arrived at Sydney on the Indefatigable in 1815 and was then sent on to the Derwent in 1817 on the Governor Macquarie.

Charles Cox established himself as a corn-dealer and seedsman in Liverpool Street, Hobart. He must have done rather well for himself – well enough for him and his wife to take an extended overseas holiday. When he married Sarah, Charles seems to have adopted her son Charles, who would have been nearly 15 at the time, and who was referred to as to as Charles Cox jun. In 1841 the following notice appeared in the Colonial Times of 21 September.

THE Undersigned being about to leave the colony, begs to return his sincere thanks to his numerous friends and the public, for the very liberal support he has received for the last seven years, and begs to state that the business will be carried on from the 1st October next, by his son, Charles Cox, jun., for whom he solicits a share of that patronage so liberally bestowed on himself. All persons having claims will present them forthwith, and all those who may stand indebted, will please to pay them at the earliest convenience.

It would have been quite a responsibility for Charles the younger. Mr and Mrs Cox were away for quite some time, returning in December 1850, travelling cabin class aboard the barque Rattler, which had departed from London on 26 August. During their absence Charles jun. married 18 year old Sarah White in January 1842 and five children had been born to the couple, one of whom had died in infancy. In 1846 Charles jun. had also acquired the licence for the “Salutation Inn” in Liverpool Street near the Union Bank. The return of the elder Charles and Sarah was heralded in the Hobarton Guardian of 18 December.

The Rattler has conveyed to these shores, once more, Mr. and Mrs. Cox, the worthy parents of Mr. Charles Cox of the Salutation Inn, Liverpool Street, to remain we hope, permanent residents in the Colony.

Such hopes were soon dashed – unfortunately, within three years, both Charles senior and Charles junior had died, the latter predeceasing his step-father. Sarah Ann Cox’s only known child died on 19 September 1852, having suffered for some time from inflammation of the lungs. The following notice was placed in the Hobarton Guardian of Wednesday 22 September. What the notice does not say is that his widow was about seven months pregnant when she lost her husband.

At his residence, the “Salutation Inn,” Liverpool-street, on the 19th instant, after a lingering illness, MR. CHARLES COX, jun., in his 32nd year, much regretted by a large circle of friends. He has left an affectionate wife and four children to deplore his loss. His funeral will take place on Thursday next at 2 o’clock, to which friends are invited.

Six months after the death of her son, Sarah Ann Cox was widowed. Charles Cox sen. (named Edward Charles Cox) died of the same disease as his step-son – inflammation of the lungs, and a recognised occupational hazard for grain handlers – on 30 March 1853. The Colonial Times of 31 March carried the following death notice.

Yesterday, 30th March, at his residence, Brisbane-street, Mr. EDWARD CHARLES COX, aged 54, late corn-dealer, Liverpool-street. Friends are respectfully informed that his funeral will take place from his late residence, Brisbane-street, on Monday the 4th April, at 3 o’clock p.m.

There is a memorial plaque to Charles at the St. David’s Anglican Church, Hobart. Charles Cox sen. left a will, which is barely legible, but consists of four pages of tightly written legalistic provisions. It was drawn up on 28 October 1852. Essentially, he leaves everything to his ‘dear wife Sarah Ann Cox’, but does make provision for the children of the widow of his late step-son. Probate on the the estate, valued at not exceeding £800, was granted to Sarah Ann Cox on 21 August 1853.

How much longer did widow Sarah Ann Cox live? Was she the subject of the following death notice in the Hobart Tasmanian Tribute of Saturday 3 May 1873?

COX – On the 3rd instant, at Church-street Sarah Ann relict of the late Charles Cox, in the 78th year of her age. The funeral will move from her late residence, No. 1 Church-street on Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock, when friends are invited.

Cross referencing this with the register of deaths in Hobart for 1873 reveals that the deceased was born in England, and that she was a widow. The combined cause of death was diabetes and convulsions.

Hopefully further research will confirm or otherwise the suppositions of this account.

Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922
Australia Cemetery Index, 1808-2007
Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985
Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950
England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892
New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Indents, 1788-1842
New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856

Other Websites
Biographical Database of Australia (BDA),
Convict Female Factories Research Association,
Convict Records,
Female Convicts Research Centre,
Founders & Survivors: Mugsheets,
Free Settler or Felon?,
Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive (LEMA),
LINC Tasmania,
Old Bailey Online,
Project Gutenberg Australia,
The National Archives (UK),

Online Newspapers
The British Library Archive
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Bristol Mirror

Colonial Times
Hobarton Guardian
Hobart Town Gazette
Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser
Tasmanian and Port Dalrymple Advertiser
Tasmanian Tribune
The Hobart Town Courier
The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Study of the Prevalence of Chronic, Non-Specific Lung Disease and Related Health Problems in the Grain Handling Industry”, West Virginia, 1986
Philip Tardiff, Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls, CD electronic format, Gould Genealogy and History, Ridgehaven, South Australia, 2008
Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, Pan Books, London, 1998

© Leonie Fretwell, 2017

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