Sarah Hopkins


It was through her association with Lucy Meares and Sophia Richards that Sarah Hopkins had found herself incarcerated in the Bristol Newgate prison and subsequently tried by the Court of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Deliverer at Bristol on 12 April 1817. The trio were found guilty of having received stolen property – 1000 yards of ribbon valued at 80/ – and all three were sentenced to 14 years transportation. From the convict register and convict indents we learn that when she was convicted she was a married woman, and when mustered on arrival at Port Jackson she gave her age 27 and her calling as ‘servant’. She was also another convict woman to receive a scathing report from the Friendship’s surgeon, Peter Cosgreave, who described her as ‘A prostitute without the least shame’.

Sarah commenced life in the colony at the Public Factory. The convict list of 1820 seems to suggest that Sarah was to be sent to Van Diemen’s Land, but this may have been a recording error. There are no convicts named Sarah Hopkins in the Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database. However, by the time the 1822 Muster was conducted Sarah was living with, and was recorded as the ‘wife of W Jones Sydney’ who was a saddler by trade. This muster was also the first official record of daughter Elizabeth Hopkins, who was listed as an 11 year old, who had ‘come free’ and shown as ‘child of W Jones Sydney’. Both Sarah and Mr Jones had been granted their Tickets of Leave. So who was Mr Jones, the man who, while not married to Sarah, had assumed responsibility for her and her daughter?

On 3rd April 1816, 24 year old William Jones (alias Onslow) appeared at the Old Bailey charged with highway robbery, to whit :

… feloniously assaulting Henry Dewdney, in the King’s highway, on the 8th of February , for putting him in fear, and taking from his person and against his will, a watch, value 1l, a chain, value 6d, two rings, value 6d, a key, value 1s, and two seals, value 1s his property.

He was found guilty of stealing, but not of assault, and sentenced to transportation for life. Unlike many of his fellow ‘passengers’ William did not have to wait long before he embarked on the Sir William Bensley, which sailed from Portsmouth on 9 October 1816 and arrived at New South Wales on 10 March 1817. Of the 199 convicts, 69 were ‘Lifers’.

The 1825 Census records Sarah Hopkins as being employed by Wm Jones, and residing at Minto, a settlement some 30 miles west of Sydney town. Meanwhile, William Jones is listed as residing at Sydney, but still working as a saddler. Less confusing is the 1828 Census. William Jones, harness maker, was residing in the George Street home of John Brown. Sarah Hopkins was also living there as a servant to John Brown. William’s skills as a saddler may well have been called upon by publican John Brown.

By 1828 Sarah and William had been ‘a couple’ for at least six years. Theirs’ was an enduring relationship at a time when so many de facto pairings did not last, with both men and women very quick to change partners, seeking better ‘prospects’ or, ideally, marriage. As noted by Tanya Evans in her study “Fractured Families”:

… social and moral status was fluid for all classes in these early years of settlement. However, during the 1820s marriage was becoming increasingly regulated.

In March 1825, under the signature of William Cowper and Thomas Brisbane, a petition had been forwarded to the Governor seeking permission for banns to be published for William Onslow, Convict per Sir Wm Bensley and Sarah Hopkins, Convict per Friendship, in order that they could be married. The response, addressed to Reverend Cowper was immediate and favourable.

Herewith I have the honour to transmit the Governor’s approbation of the Banns being published between the Parties specified in your letter of this day’s date.

Two questions arise – why did William use his alias when submitting the petition, and why did the pair not marry once permission had been granted? We have seen that for the 1825 Muster they were not actually living together, William being at Sydney, and Sarah, for reasons unknown, was at Minto. Perhaps the distance was a temporary obstacle to them proceeding with the wedding. But they did not give up. In 1828 they lodged two applications. In August they sought to have banns published at St James Church, Sydney. William declared himself a bachelor and Sarah stated that she was a widow. But Richard Hill, the Minister at St James, having done his research, noted in the ‘Character’ column of the application form ‘Not allowed. Sarah Hopkins having a husband in England’. In support of his decision he had placed an asterisk against her name to draw attention to further remarks at the end of the page.

* This Woman was Convicted in the name of “Sarah, ux Joseph Hopkins” hence it would appear that she was married at the time of her Conviction.

Every marriage application involving a convict was supposed to be closely scrutinised and checked against the records before it was forwarded to the Governor for his approval or otherwise. In this process those convict men, and more particularly convict women, who had stated that they were married on arrival ‘came to grief immediately’. This begs the question – why was the issue of Sarah Hopkins’ wedded state not raised for the first application?

The second application was lodged in December, this time for banns to be published at St Philip’s Church Sydney. Witnessed by Mr. Cooper of Sydney, Sarah and William set out their case.

We the Undersigned do request that the bands [sic] of marriage may be published in the Church of St Philip by you as follows.
I William Jones Alias Onslow 38 yrs old Bachelor tried at Middlesex 1816. Sentenced for life. Arrived here per Ship William Bensley – Williams Master 1817. At present holding a Ticket of Leave from his Excellency the Governor on the one Part and Sarah 37 yrs married to Joseph Hopkins Deceased, tried at Bristol 1817. Sentenced 14 years arrived per Ship Friendship Armet Master 1818 and at present holding a Ticket of Leave from his Excellency the Governor on the other part.
William Onslow X His Mark     Sarah Hopkins X Her Mark.

Accompanying the application was a document which Sarah hoped would convince the authorities that she was now in a position to legally remarry.

This Affidavit made and sworn in the Town of Sydney in the County of Cumberland in the Territory of New South Wales – Showeth
That I Sarah Hopkins holding a Ticket of Leave from his Excellency the Governor – Do make Oath and Declare that my Lawful Husband Joseph Hopkins departed this Life Anno Domini Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen and that I am at present a Servant to John Brown Coachmakers Arms George Street and unmarried. Sarah Hopkins

In support of the application Joshua Holt (a publican of George Street) certified that he had been long acquainted with both applicants and considered them to be ‘Honest, sober and Industrious servants’. This time the commentary in response was more comprehensive.

It appears by the Indents of the Friendship that the female above mentioned was convicted in the name of Sarah ux Joseph Hopkins at Bristol 12 April 1817. Hence it is to be understood that she was at that time the wife of Joseph Hopkins, but she makes affidavit that the said Joseph departed this life Anno Domini 1813. How then could she be indicted as the wife of poor Joseph who, according to her own pleading, was dead four years previously?
[on the reverse of the page was recorded]
William Jones alias Onslow, Sir Wm Bensley. It is not stated whether he was married or single at home. Not recorded.
Sarah Hopkins, Friendship. It is not stated whether she was married or single at home. Nothing recorded.
[and written across the corner of this second page]
Cannot be allowed for the reason stated.

Clearly Sarah could provide no clear proof of her husband’s supposed or actual death. She could only hope that the affidavit would ‘carry the day’ and be accepted by the authorities. But, unless she was telling the truth in about the 1813 date, she seems to have made a fatal error of judgement. Surely her story would have had more credence if she had nominated a date of death for some time after her arrival in the colony?

An invaluable asset for a woman arriving in the ‘male-dominated’ colony was her eligibility to marry. This was particularly so for convict women because it gave them some level of control over their lives and future prospects. But it seems that friends and associates ‘back home’ encouraged convict women, who were leaving behind husbands and often children, to declare themselves married on arrival – but, as remarked by Babette Smith in her study “A Cargo of Women”, it proved their worst mistake’. The blighted marriage plans of Sarah Hopkins serve to illustrate this ‘misplaced’ honesty.

Whether or not Sarah was a wife or a widow when she embarked on the Friendship, all her convict records indicate that the former was the case, including that of her Certificate of Freedom, which lists her as Sarah (ux Joseph) Hopkins, and then 40 years old. From this record, issued on April 1831, we also learn quite a bit more about Sarah. Her native place was Birmingham and she had been born there in 1791. At 4 feet 10¾ in height she was quite short. She had a fair ruddy complexion, light sandy brown hair, and grey eyes and was ‘blind of right’. She had received her Ticket of Leave (282/1564) in October 1818, within a year of arrival in the colony.

On the basis of Sarah having been born in Birmingham, had married a Joseph Hopkins, and had a daughter name Elizabeth born about 1811, perhaps something more could be found out about her? What follows, however, is only speculative at this time. The marriage of a man named Joseph Hopkins to a woman named Sarah Smith was celebrated on 15 February 1808 at St Philip’s Church Birmingham. There are just too many Birmingham baptisms for ‘Sarah Smith’ for the years 1790-1792 to try and identify who may have been Joseph’s bride. If Sarah and Joseph were close in age there is one possible baptism candidate for Joseph – son of Charles and Ann Hopkins, on 5 January 1792, at St Philip’s Church. If he was older that Sarah another possibility could be the Joseph Hopkins, baptised at St Philip’s on 3 January 1776, the parents being Edward and Sarah Hopkins. At the same church, a girl by the name of Elizabeth Hopkins, born on 10 July 1811, was baptised on 29 July 1811. Turning to the burial records, I have not found any death of a Joseph Hopkins for 1813, but have located one for a Joseph Hopkins, born in 1776, who was buried on 7 May 1826.

So by 1831 we find Sarah Hopkins, having just turned 40, as the only one of the “Bristol Girls” not to have found a husband. Indeed, her two partners in crime were by this time into their second marriages. There had apparently been no questioning of the marital status of Lucy Meares and Sophia Richards when they married for the first time in 1823 and 1822 respectively, Lucy then declaring herself a spinster and Sophia claiming to be a widow. But they were apparently a bit smarter than Sarah Hopkins as they used the alias surname ‘Pear’ in their applications which may have confounded the scrutineers. I wonder how Sarah felt when her employer, John Brown, asked her to be a witness to his own 1829 marriage.

When Sarah Hopkins stepped onto the wharf in January 1818 she was very much on her own. Perhaps Sophia and Lucy kept an eye out for her but, unlike them, Sarah had no relatives to rely on to help her find her feet or to pull strings on her behalf. As a servant woman she had no specialised skills to offer the employment market, she was no longer in the bloom of youth, and she also had a child in tow. Further, without any proof of Mr. Hopkins’ death, she was helpless to challenge the establishment which insisted on classifying her as a married woman. In terms of the marriage stakes, women sentenced to fourteen years or life were disadvantaged in comparison to those who only had to serve out seven years. Unlike Lucy Meares and Sophia Richards, there was no was no early reprieve for Sarah and she served out her full term before she gained her freedom in April 1813. Now she was no longer required to seek permission to marry. But did she do so?

While Sarah was now free, William Jones did not receive his Conditional Pardon until 10 July 1834, and therefore would still have had to apply to marry. I have found no record to show that he and Sarah made any such application. Indeed I have found nothing to suggest that they ever did marry. There are just too many records for men named William Jones to follow ‘our William’ any further at this stage. But, and this is speculative, there is a marriage record for 1840 for a Sarah Hopkins and Peter Pearson, at St Andrew’s Scots Church, and also one for 1846 between a Sarah Hopkins and William Kirby, at Cook’s River, Petersham. In 1840 Sarah would have been about 50 and in 1846 in her mid-50s. I have also located a death record for a Sarah Hopkins, registered at Camperdown, Newton, in 1852 (but no age given) and another for a Sarah Pearson, at St James district in Sydney, for 1848, which gives the deceased’s age as 54. Incidentally, Elizabeth Pearson died a very painful death on 2 June as a result of her clothes catching alight when removing a pot from the kitchen fire.

Until anything further can be found to perhaps expand on Sarah Hopkin’s life in the colony her story ends here. But her memory lived on through her daughter Elizabeth, and perhaps Elizabeth passed on stories about her mother to her own children.

We have noted that, as an 11 year old, Elizabeth was listed as the child of William Jones for the 1822 General Muster, and as the child of Sarah Hopkins in 1825. Elizabeth was not with William or Sarah for the 1828 census because earlier that year she had married Thomas Salter at Scots Church, Sydney. The census records this young couple – Elizabeth aged 16 and Thomas, a 20 [?] year old, – living at Pitt Street. Thomas Salter earned his living as a brewer. Elizabeth had ‘upped’ her age when they married on 3 March 1828. For that occasion Thomas was a 23 year old bachelor and Elizabeth a 19 year old spinster. John Dunmore Lang conducted the ceremony and the witnesses were Abraham and Sarah Hearne. Thomas had signed his name, but the bride and the witnesses made their mark – X.

As is so often the case, here we have another example of flexible recorded ages. Thomas Salter had been born in the colony and, though no record has been found for his found for his birth/baptism, it is almost certain he was born about 1805. Indeed, it may be that any record was not made in the surname Salter, but who were his parents? Having checked the BDA for all men with the surname Salter who were in the colony early in the 1800s a likely candidate for Thomas’ father is Joseph Salter, but without definite proof, the following must be regarded as tentative.

Joseph Salter, aged 18, had been found guilty of theft at the Old Bailey in December 1798 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He arrived in the colony on 14 December 1801, one of 104 convicts on the Minorca which left Portsmouth on 21 June 1801 in convoy with the Canada and the Nile. Joseph Salter and Bridget Wallace were married at St Philips Church on 1 November 1807. Bridget, and her accomplice Mary Campbell, were convicted at Liverpool in January 1805 of stealing several items of silver from Mary’s employer, and both were sentenced to seven years transportation. Despite Surgeon Cleghorn’s concern about Bridget’s state of health she embarked on the Sydney Cove which arrived at Port Jackson on 18 June 1807. This arrival date is awkward – if Joseph was Thomas’ father, Bridget could not have been his mother. But continuing on – Joseph was given his certificate of freedom in 1810, the same year he was granted a licence to retail beer, ale and porter. His business expanded and by 1815 from his house in George Street he was dealing in a motley range of imported goods, such as tobacco, timber, clothing, napery, cutlery, grains, English pork and Bengal rum. His schooner “Mary” was making regular voyages between Sydney and Port Dalrymple. By 1817 he was also the licensee of the Lord Nelson. Ostensibly, Joseph Salter was well set up on the business front. The same could not be said for the domestic front, judging by a notice he placed in the Sydney Gazette in August 1814, although Bridget was still listed as ‘Wife to Jos Salter’ in 1817.

The Inhabitants are hereby cautioned against giving Credit to my Wife, Bridget Salter, on my Account, as I am determined to resist Payment thereof; and any Person having Claims on me by Book Debts or Notes of Hand, are requested to present the same for immediate Payment.

Despite appearances, all was not well on the business front judging by a June 1817 notice advertising an auction, ‘By virtue of Executions issued forth of the Supreme Court of Civil Judicature’. Up for sale were Joseph’s double house and premises at King’s Wharf, all his household furniture and effects at his George Street premises, and two lots of property at Windsor. Clearly he had some debts to settle. But worse was to come, which would impact severely on Thomas Salter and his future prospects.

In 1818 Thomas would have been about fifteen. It was on 5 October of that year that Bridget Salter died, aged 45, and, in December Joseph, ‘a long-known dealer in Sydney’ was convicted of uttering forged bills on the Bank of New South Wales and was sentenced to seven years transportation at Newcastle.

Thomas had acquired an acceptable level of education because, while in 1822 he was mustered as a servant to Daniel Cooper, merchant and investor, by 1825 he was living with and employed by Daniel Cooper as a clerk. It was Daniel who supported Thomas’ application, dated 25 October 1825, for a grant of land and undertook, if the petition was successful, to assist Thomas in his anticipated farming venture.

To His Excellency Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane KCB
Governor and Commander in Chief
The Humble Petition of Thomas Salter most respectfully showeth
Your petitioner was Born in the Colony in June 1805 and has been as Clerk in the Employ of Daniel Cooper Merchant of Sydney for six years past and during that period your petitioner has acquired a small herd of cattle and your petitioner now being of age wishes to settle on a Farm.
Your petitioner prays that your Excellency will Grant him such portion of Land as you may think proper.
Your petitioner in duty bound will ever pray
Thomas Salter
I respectfully beg leave to certify that the contents of the above Petition are true – that Thomas Salter is a young man of strict integrity and great steadiness of character and that I intend to assist him in his views of farming.
Daniel Cooper

So by the time Thomas married Elizabeth he had succeeded in making something of his life. A brewer in 1828, by 1830 Thomas was the licensee of the “Highlander” public house, situated in Clarence Street.. He subsequently took over the licence for the “Kings Head”, also in Clarence Street. Through land grants, Thomas built up a portfolio of property interests over the period 1825 to 1831. Interestingly, his grant for Allotment 1, Section 18, Parish of Saint Lawrence was next to that of John Beeson (Allotment 2), suggesting perhaps an ongoing association between Sarah Hopkins’ daughter and John Beeson and his wife Sophia (formerly Richards). As publicans, their husbands were also linked through the close-knit hotel trade.

Thomas and Elizabeth Salter had four children. The first was their only daughter, Mary Ann(e), who had been born on 20 December 1828 and baptised the following year on 11 January. She was followed by Thomas, born 10 December 1830 and baptised (privately) on 23 December and again on 16 January 1831. Next in line was William, born 26 April 1832 and baptised on 27 May of that year. These three were all baptised at St James Church by the Rev Richard Hill. Another son, James, has been identified, but no record has been found for his birth/baptism, unless his was the birth registration for 1836 with parents given as Elizabeth and [incorrectly?] James.

Very little more has been unearthed for Thomas. We know that he was still a publican in 1836 because it was in September that he was fined 40s plus costs for permitting people to drink at his public house on a Sunday. In May of the following year a call was put out on behalf of James Holt ‘To the next of Kin of Thomas Salter, late of Sydney, in the Colony of New South Wales, Brewer, deceased, intestate, and to all Christian People’. Mr Holt, as a creditor of the late Thomas Salter, sought administration of ‘all and singular the goods and chattels, rights, credits, and effects’ of the deceased Thomas.

No death record has been located for Thomas Salter. However a further notice of February 1846 and a legal case of 1851 provide a date, and also tell us more about Elizabeth Salter. The following notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in February 1846.

Pursuant to a decree of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, in its equitable jurisdiction, made in a cause of Freake and others against Holt, all persons claiming to be next of kin to Thomas Salter, late of Sydney, in the colony of New South Wales, brewer, who died on or about the 22nd day of March 1837, are to come in and establish their said claims before Samuel Frederick Milford, Esq, Master in Equity of the said Court, at his Office, King-street, Sydney on or before the twenty-eighth day of February next, or in default thereof they will be excluded the benefit of the said decree.

It was nearly seven years before the matter was finally settled. In the September 1851 case of Freake v Holt, it was found that the defendant Holt had not only taken out administration of Thomas Salter’s estate, but had also pocketed all the income derived from the properties. The next of kin, the plaintiffs, were identified as E. Freake, then E. Salter widow, and the four children of Thomas Salter. Mr. Justice Therry ruled that Holt repay the money he had appropriated. One third was to go to E. Freake and the balance was to be divided into quarters and placed in four separate accounts in the names of infants Mary Anne Salter, Thomas Salter, William Salter and James Salter.

E Freake was, of course Elizabeth Freake formerly Salter. She and Edward Freake had married in 1843 at St Philip’s Church, Sydney. His full name was Edward Christian Freake, and he had been born in 1803, but not baptised until August 1806, at St Mary’s, Whitechapel. He was convicted at the Old Bailey in December 1830 of stealing a coat, valued at 10s, and sentenced to be transported for 7 years. In fact he had appeared before the bench of the Old Bailey twice before, both times for larceny – in January 1822 he was found not guilty, but in 1826 he was convicted and sent to prison for six months. After a spell on the hulk Hardy he arrived in the colony on 26 November 1831 on the Surry. At the time of his 1830 trial he was a brass polisher, and a married man with one child. I wonder how much Elizabeth knew of his past, and his family in England, when she married Edward. He died on 16 April 1862 at his residence in Pitt Street and his funeral took place the following day. Elizabeth outlived him by almost twenty years. She died on 16 March 1882. Three notices advised of her funeral. One was placed by the funeral directors. The other two were placed by Mr Thomas Salter and Mr Sydney Putt who respectively invited their friends to the funeral of their ‘beloved mother’ and ‘beloved grandmother’. On the anniversary of her death a memorial to Elizabeth was published ending with the words ‘Not forgotten’.

Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary Anne, had married a mariner, James Thomas Putt [incorrectly/alternately recorded as Pett], at Christ Church, Sydney, on 18 July 1854. A son, William T, was born in 1855, but I have found nothing further for this boy. Sydney James Edward Putt was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, on 25 September 1857, and he and his mother returned to Australia on board the brig Lillies in December of that year. Nothing further is known about James Putt. Mary Ann died at her son Sydney’s home on 21 April 1888. As a widow, she had remarried in September 1868. Her second husband, also a mariner, was John M McCulloch. They had a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, born in 1869. Interestingly, Mary Ann’s death registration gives her father’s first name as ‘Edward’, not ‘Thomas’.

William, third child, and second son of Thomas and Elizabeth Salter, died at the young age of 22 on 21 June 1853. What happened to son James Salter is currently a mystery. We do know, however, from a notice Edward Freake placed in the papers, that he had been working in outback New South Wales.

James Salter – write to your Mother, or come home to Sydney immediately; was about 18 months ago in the service of Mr. Darley, Grubben, on the Murrumbidgee. Any person giving information of his whereabouts will greatly oblige. Mr. Edward Freake, Pitt-street, near Bathurst-street, Sydney.

This account started with ‘the matriarch’ Sarah Hopkins and ends with the third generation of her colonial family. Was great granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth McCulloch named for her great grandmother Sarah Hopkins and grandmother Elizabeth Salter? If she was, it suggests that Sarah Hopkin’s memory may have been kept alive within the family, and that she did not remain forgotten, to be just another statistic in the records of convict women.


Genealogy Websites
1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (TNA)
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868
Birmingham, England, Baptism, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812
England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892
Lancashire, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1911
London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812
New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867
New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1856
New South Wales, Australia, Convict Applications for the Publication of Banns, 1828-1830, 1838-1839
New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842
New South Wales, Australia, Convict Registers of Conditional and Absolute Pardons, 1788-1870
New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963
New South Wales, Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters
New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Convicts’ Applications to Marry, 1826-1851
New South Wales, Australia, Settler and Convict Lists, 1787-1834
UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849

New South Wales Deaths 1788-1945 Transcription
New South Wales, Marriages 1788-1935 Transcription

Other Websites
Biographical Database of Australia,
Convict Records,
Female Convicts Research Centre,
Free Settler or Felon?,
W. Davidson, “Cooper, Daniel (1785–1853)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,
New South Wales State Records, Indexes Online, Publicans Licenses,
NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages,
Old Bailey Proceedings Online,
Public Record Office Victoria (PROV), Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria, 1852-1924,

Online Newspapers
The British Newspaper Archive
Lancaster Gazette

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser
The Sydney Herald
The Sydney Monitor
The Sydney Morning Herald

Tanya Evans, Fractured Families, Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2015
Babette Smith, A Cargo of Women : Susannah Watson and the convicts of the Princess Royal, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2008

 © Leonie Fretwell, 2017

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s