Sarah North


One of the Friendship’s ‘cargo’ was 23 year old Sarah North who, when not pilfering, had earned her keep as a market woman. She had appeared before the Quarter Sessions at Bristol on 13 January 1817 charged with ‘feloniously stealing the goods of Thos Carlisle – value 18/-‘, the booty comprising five silk handkerchiefs, for which crime she was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. At that time a ‘handkerchief’ was not the small square piece of fabric that we today know as a handkerchief, but a more substantial and desirable fashion item as modelled in the portrait below.

Marquise de Grecourt ca 1790

Marquise de Grecourt,  Jean-Laurent Mosnier, ca 1790

A handkerchief was a large square of fabric folded into a triangle, or cut and sewn as a triangle, worn around the neck throughout the 18th century. If you were upper class, your handkerchief would probably be white. … Handkerchiefs were not limited to women – men wore then as bohemian alternatives to cravats and stocks. They could be of linen or silk, or later cotton. For men and women, silk versions were the dressiest. They were frequently embroidered, and could be bought pre-made, but even the very wealthy frequently made their own, as the decorative finishes were considered appropriate needlework for a gentlewoman.

The Bristol Mirror reported on 7 June 1817 that Sarah was one of a group of ten female convicts who a week earlier had been transferred from the Bristol Newgate prison prior to embarking on the transport ship, Friendship, then lying at Deptford.

On arrival at Port Jackson the options for the Friendship’s female convicts were limited. They might be placed in private service or sent to the government-run Female Factory or, as happened to 56 of the women, trans-shipped to Hobart on the Duke of Wellington. Alternatively, they might marry or, failing that, find a man willing to take them on as a ‘wife’. Initially Sarah North was ‘disposed’ of as a servant to Mr Redman, possibly the John Redman who had arrived on the Surprise in 1790, who was subsequently appointed Chief Constable and Principal Gaoler, Sydney Gaol, and who was also a shipowner. It was not long, however, before Sarah had found herself a man.

In his report on the convict women, Surgeon Peter Cosgreave had described Sarah North as a ‘Prostitute and bad disposition’. Thanks to the scant regard given to ensuring that the Friendship’s crew and female convicts were kept separate, Sarah North and crewman Samuel Jones had become acquainted and, notwithstanding her unfavourable character reference, we find that Samuel (Free) and Sarah (Convict per Ship Friendship) were included in a ‘List of Persons praying for His Excellency’s permission to have their names published in the Church in order to their being married.’

With no apparent impediment, and with the blessing of the colonial authorities who encouraged marriage as far more preferable to ‘living in sin’, the couple legitimised their relationship at St Philip’s Church, Sydney, on 29 May 1818, Samuel’s age being given as 24 and Sarah’s as 20, and their respective occupations as ‘Sailor’ and ‘Convict’. Samuel was able to sign his name, as was one of the witnesses, Wm. Williams. The other witness, Elizabeth Williams, and the bride, ‘signed’ their names with an ‘X’. Samuel was not only Sarah’s husband, but would also have assumed the role of her master, a relationship that would continue until she was given her Ticket of Leave.

At this stage, while some possible leads are being pursued, nothing has been found to confirm the provenance of Sarah North and Samuel Jones.

During the early years of their married life Samuel continued his seafaring career as a crewman on the Campbell Macquarie, a 133-ton brig based in Sydney, but actually built at the Hobart boatyards in 1813 and one of the first locally built seagoing vessels. The Campbell Macquarie carried passengers and cargo as far as India and the Pacific Islands, but she mainly commuted between Port Jackson and Hobart Town. Timetables for the comings and goings of ships took up considerable space in the local papers. Just as important as the shipping arrivals and departures were the items included under the heading ‘Claims and Demands’, placed by passengers and crew concerned to settle their financial affairs prior to embarking. Thus, in August 1819 a notice in the Sydney Gazette advised readers that a number of men, including Samuel Jones, were about to leave the colony in the brig Campbell Macquarie, and that anyone having any claims on these men were to present them prior to the sailing date. Similar notices and passenger/crew lists over the next two years confirm that Samuel served on the brig until mid-1821. However a notice in the 21 July 1821 Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser heralded a change of occupation. This was a shore-based job which must have been a relief to Sarah after Samuel’s three years of coming and going, and now also that their first child Thomas, who had been born on 18 January 1820, was now eighteen months old.

His Excellency the Governor has been pleased to appoint Samuel Jones to be Watchman and Constable, at the Heaving-down Place, in Sydney Cove, in the room of Robert Dew, deceased.

One of Governor Macquarie’s first tasks on taking up his position was to review the existing law and order provisions which resulted in the formation from January 1811 of a restructured police force. Key elements were the creation of police districts, the establishment of a system or ranks, and recruitment targeted at free men rather than, as previously, convicts. In November 1818 Governor Macquarie announced that

… having taken into serious Consideration the various important Duties which the Constables have to perform in the Town of Sydney, and which are daily increasing by the Increase of Population, and considering that their present Allowances are inadequate to those Services; is pleased to order and direct that from and after the present Date, until further Orders, each Constable doing Duty in the Town of Sydney shall receive a double Ration of Provisions weekly from the King’s Stores; and if married, and has Children, his Wife and two of his Children are to be victualled as heretofore. The Constables will each continue to receive two Suits of Slop Clothing, and four Pair of Shoes, one Suit of Bedding, and one Watch Coat annually. As a further Encouragement to the Constables of Sydney, their Salaries are to be increased from Fifteen to Twenty Pounds per Annum from the present Date. His Excellency trusts that the foregoing Increase of Rations, Slops, and Salary will excite the Constables of Sydney to the most strict, active, and vigilant Discharge of the Duties and Trusts reposed in them, to the full and effectual Preservation and Security of good Order, Peace and Tranquillity in their respective Districts.

I wonder if it was such working conditions that sufficiently ‘excited’ Samuel to seek the position of Constable. His predecessor, John Dew, had been appointed in November 1818 to replace one William Blue who had been dismissed for improper conduct. John Dew’s brief included specific mention of ‘that Part of the Government Domain immediately adjoining to Bennelong’s Point’ for which Samuel, as his successor, would also have been responsible. The significance of this particular responsibility is readily appreciated on reading a somewhat long-winded notice published in August 1817.

His Excellency the Governor having lately caused a small Landing Place to be constructed near Bennelong’s Point, within the Government Domain, for his own personal Accommodation and that of his Family, and it appearing that Boats have already landed Persons of various Descriptions there, contrary to the Purpose and Intention for which the said Landing Place was made, Notice is hereby given, that from and after Monday next, the 18th Instant, all Boats, whether belonging to Ships or Vessels, or to private Persons, or plying for Hire within the Harbour of Port Jackson, will be seized and forfeited for the Benefit of the Person or Persons seizing them, which shall be found landing or taking on board any Person or Persons from the said Landing Place, excepting only those Persons constituting His Excellency’s Family. The Constable in Charge at the Heaving Down Place, and appointed to guard the Domain, is particularly charged to carry this Notice and Order into the fullest Effect, without Regard to Persons, as they will be made answerable for any Neglect therein after Publication of this Notice.

No doubt Sarah was pleased to share in any kudos that attached to the job that her husband had taken on. But even more important would have been the guarantee of a steady income, and the ‘perks’ to which a Constable and his family were entitled.

In addition to their law and order function, Constables also assisted with the collection of muster data, and it is through the General Musters and the 1828 Census, together with the Colonial Secretary’s papers that we can follow the fortunes of Sarah and her family.

For the 1822 General Muster, conducted between 2-13 September, Sarah appears separately from her family, listed as ‘Sarah North, C, Friendship, 7’ but recorded as the wife of Samuel Jones. Samuel is recorded as a constable, resident of Sydney, together with 2 year old son Thomas. Sarah was also by now heavily pregnant with the couple’s second son, Samuel James, who was born on 4 January 1823. In 1825 there was an addition to the family, as shown in the September 1825 Muster. Samuel, was listed as a constable and a labourer of Sydney. Sarah Jones, incorrectly classified as CF (came free), was recorded as the wife of Samuel Jones, Constable of Sydney. Bracketed with them were Thomas and Samuel, aged 5 and 3, and 2½ month old Sarah [Jane] Jones. Also separately listed was, Sarah North, wife of Samuel Jones, classified FS (Free by Servitude). Having served her time, Sarah had in fact received her Certificate of Freedom on 22 January 1824, the record for which provides details of her past ‘career’ and, more interestingly, reveals something of her appearance – 5 feet 4¾ tall, with a sallow and pock-marked complexion, black hair and dark eyes.

We know from the Colonial Secretary’s papers that Samuel retained his position as Constable until he resigned in 1825. In October 1825 Samuel, then residing in Macquarie Street, petitioned the Governor for a grant of land.

Humbly Herewith
The Petitioner came to the Colony in the Ship Friendship in 1817, (now a period of nine [sic] years) and married in the Colony, his wife also free and has three children, and will be found of good repute. That Petitioner was in charge of the Cottage and domain as Constable for 4 years and as Petitioner means to spend his days in the Colony he is anxious of becoming a settler. Petitioner humbly hopes your Excellency will encourage his industrious exertions by granting him such portion of Land as to your Excellency may seem meet and Petitioner will ever pray.
Saml Jones.

How disappointed Sarah and Samuel must have been when they were told that the petition was denied on the grounds of Samuel not having provided any supporting recommendations or character references to back up his application. Unemployed, and with no prospects of a land grant, Samuel went back to sea, leaving Sarah to fend as best as she could with three young children.

John McQueen, merchant and shipowner of Sydney, and proprietor of the Macquarie Island sea-elephant oil extraction establishment, took Samuel on as a member of a sealing gang. The sealing gangs spent many months at a time on Macquarie Island, a remote and rugged island, located halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica. Constantly wet and cold, the sealers lived and worked in atrocious conditions. And they were paid, on results, in arrears – on the basis of a ‘lay’ – generally one-hundredth of the ‘take’.

But if life was hard for Samuel, his wife too was finding things very difficult at home having to cope on her own to support herself and a young family. By late 1827 her predicament led her to seek to have her two sons admitted to the Male Orphan School.

November 27th 1827
To the Trustees of the Clergy and School Lands in the Colony of New South Wales.
The humble petition of Sarah Jones Philip Street Sydney wife of Saml Jones in [sic] behalf of Tho Jones aged about 8 years and a half and Samuel Jas Jones aged 5 years.
Showeth that the said Thomas Jones and Saml James Jones are the children of Samuel Jones my husband. That my said husband Samuel Jones left the Colony for England nearly eleven months ago, leaving your petitioner with two other infant children depending on her for support, whose names are Sarah Jones aged 2 years and a half and Elizabeth Jones 3 months old.
Your Petitioner therefore humbly prays that the said Thos Jones and S J Jones may be admitted to the Orphan School.

Here we have the first, if somewhat perplexing, reference to a fourth child. There is no record of an Elizabeth born to Samuel and Sarah Jones around August 1827. However, there is a record of a fourth child – Catherine – born to Samuel (sailor) and Sarah Jones on 3 October 1827 – which might suggest a possible paternity issue if Samuel had indeed been absent for eleven months.

Did Sarah really believe that her husband had gone to England – perhaps never to return? If so, she was mistaken, and perhaps surprised, to find that he was in fact at Macquarie Island, as confirmed by a statement by John McQueen dated 29 November.

This is to Certify that Mrs Sarah Jones, whose husband is on Macquarie Island in my employ, does not receive any allowance of money from me on account of her husband – because her husband has not in any manner authorised me to so do.

However, a postscript to this declaration states that John McQueen had paid Sarah 33/- ‘at the time of her laying-in’.

A further letter from Sarah forms part of the application documentation. Annotated ‘Recd 8 Dec 1827’, it is not clear to whom it was addressed but, as Sarah was illiterate, it may have been her son Thomas who penned the letter.

Saturday Morning
I beg leave most respectfully to state that I made application to the Corporation to get two of four children into the Orphan School. I am in great poverty and nearly in want. My husband went to the Islands in a Sealing Gang in Mr McQueen’s employment but altho’ I made my distress known to him [John McQueen?] he would not advance me any money as he said he was not sure of [sic] my husband was on the island. As you and ther [sic] father are distinguished for humanity to the poor and distressed may I humbly hope you will forward my application – I am really unable to support my children and pay home rent. If so fortunate as to get them admitted I will ever feel grateful. I am Sir, your obd humble Servant, Sarah Jones.
The bearer – my eldest son – will take the liberty of waiting an answer.

Having to admit that she was unable to look after her boys must have been difficult and humiliating, but perhaps Sarah consoled herself with the hope that the Orphan School might offer her boys better prospects. And knowing now that her husband was probably on Macquarie Island, and would perhaps return home, maybe she thought the separation from her sons would only be temporary. The potential consequences of her decision – that it could be some time before the two boys would be released from the control of the institution – may have only dawned on her when, with an ‘X’, she signified her agreement to the following condition.

Petitioner hereby agrees that the said Thos Jones and Saml Jas Jones shall remain in the Orphan School so long as the said Trustees shall think fit, and that when of a proper Age shall be disposed of at their discretion as an Apprentice or Servant.

Reverend William Cowper certified that all paperwork was in order and, on his recommendation that the Jones boys were ‘objects worthy of the benevolent attention of the Trustees of the Clergy and School Lands’, Sarah was relieved of the care of her two sons. There was a note on the file that John McQueen was to let the clerk know when the boys’ father returned.

From an item in the local press we know that Samuel Jones was back in Sydney by May 1828. It is not clear which of the two Jones’ boys was the subject of the following report, but clearly the parents were not happy about his treatment at the school.

The parents of a boy named Jones, belonging to the orphan school at Liverpool, some days ago found reason to make a complaint against the schoolmaster for carrying his powers of castigation over the stripling beyond all rule of mercy or of right. A committee of persons connected with the affair of the school made enquiry accordingly into the complaint, when it appeared, as is alleged, that the boy had been made to smart for some slight peccadillo or the other, under the insatiable rod of the schoolmaster, far more severely than necessity or the extent of his sway could be considered to warrant him in exercising. In such opinion the Reverend Mr. Cartwright, who has a principal share in the management of the school, is represented as having coincided, and affirmed that the chastisement complained of had been inflicted without his knowledge or desire. The affair, we are led to understand, has ended in the stripping the pedagogue, who is not yet a free man, of his scourge, and complying with the desire of the boy’s parents who reside in Sydney, in Philip-street, for his quitting the school and returning home.

Given the circumstances of this case, and no doubt taking into account that the breadwinner had returned home, both boys were released to the care of their parents.

Up to 1828 the authorities had relied on Musters to account for the colony’s population. However, as free men could not be compelled to participate, it was decided to adopt the census mechanism to obtain more accurate statistics. The first census was conducted in November 1828.

Sarah appears in the 1828 census under her maiden name, Sarah North – ’30, FS, Friendship, 1818, 7′ – living in Phillip Street and working as a washerwoman. The children are listed under the surname Jones – Thomas 10, James 5½, Sarah 3, and Cathe [sic] 1, all bracketed together as living ‘with Sarah North, Washerwoman, Philip St’. Father, Samuel Jones, was notably absent from the census returns and indeed seemingly now permanently absent from Sarah’s life.

Employment prospects for women like Sarah – illiterate, unskilled, and with young children in tow – were extremely limited. She had resorted to the drudgery of the laundry trough, but at least she could combine earning a living with looking after her family. She would also have had the assistance and companionship of assigned convict Catherine Lyons, who had arrived in the colony in 1827 with her own little girl, Margaret.

In September 1829 Sarah again had her elder son Thomas re-admitted to the Male Orphanage. The application, to which she again applied her mark, was dated 22 September 1829, and again witnessed by Reverend Charles Cowper.

That the said Samuel Jones has been absent from the Colony, in a sealing gang, about 9 or ten months, and that your Memorialist having three other children, which she is unable to support, submits her case for the consideration of the Trustees.

Thomas had, however, made an impression on people concerned about his welfare. Just prior to, and possibly in anticipation of the application by Sarah Jones, the Reverend Richard Hill, then a trustee of the Male and Female Orphan Institutions, received a letter from William Shaw, clerk in the Principal Superintendent’s Office.

Sydney 11th Sept 1829
Reverend Sir
Conformably to your wish I have the honor to inform you that I have made enquiry relative to the boy Thomas Jones, apprentice to Thomas Purdy, (who is now in the Hospital), and have learned his age to be about 12 years. He is in a very unprotected state at present, depending chiefly on what may be in the power of my Government Assigned servant to extend to him. He appears to be a smart lad and as I was informed by Purdy, promised well to be a good tradesman. He is however doing nothing at present but idling and I beg to submit it would be very desirable that something may be done in the way of providing for him another Master, for supposing itself that Purdy would recover so far as to be able to resume his work, he is so liable to relapse that the Boy in a short time would be left in the same predicament, and that such disappointment might have bad effects, such as causing him to become reckless and careless of any thing.
His Mother is expected, I understand, from the Factory in the course of the next week, but with her he would witness nothing but infamy.
I have the honor to be Sir, your most obedient Humble Servant
William Shaw

Clearly Sarah Jones was in dire circumstances – not only again ‘losing’ Thomas, but also incapable of supporting her other three children. The Shaw letter suggests that she was now living in the Factory which if so, raises the question as to how she ended up there. Whatever the circumstances, Mr. Shaw held her in very low esteem.

Two Biographical Database of Australia items note that no further documentation for Samuel Jones has been found after May 1828, and nothing further for Sarah post-September 1829.

However, it is possible that a further record has been located for Sarah if she was the ‘free’ person who was taken into custody on 19 June 1829 charged with receiving government property, tried, and sentenced to three months imprisonment to be served at Parramatta Gaol. Assuming she behaved herself, Sarah would walk free again around mid-September.

Sarah’s early married life as wife and mother were unremarkable, but hopefully happy and stable. Things apparently started to unravel from around 1825 with Samuel’s resignation from the police force and the refusal of a grant of land. How long Sarah Jones lived, whether or not she remarried, and where and when she died are still a mystery.

The fate of Samuel James Jones and his two sisters, is unknown. In September 1829 they would have been respectively aged 6, 4 and nearly 2. Thomas Jones married Dinah Noakes at Cobbitty, New South Wales, in 1844. His death in 1860, at the relatively young age of 40, was registered at Parramatta. At least one of the Jones’ children ‘survived’ their earlier ordeals and found some happiness. He left a widow and seven children to mourn the loss of a faithful friend, a father dear and a loving husband.


Genealogy Websites
1828 New South Wales, Australia Census
Australian Convict Index
Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868
New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849
New South Wales Australia, Applications and Admissions to Orphan Schools, 1817-1833
New South Wales Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842
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, Departing Crew and Passenger Lists, 1816-1825, 1898-1911
New South Wales, Australia, Goal Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930
New South Wales, Australia, Settler and Convict Lists, 1787-1834

Other Websites
Biographical Database of Australia,
Convict Records,
NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages,
NSWSR, Indexes Online, Child Care and Protection,
The Companion to Tasmanian History, Shipbuilding, Dreamstress,

Online Newspapers
The British Newspaper Archive
Bristol Mirror

The Australian
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser

Beryl M. Bubacz, The Female and Male Orphan Schools in New South Wales, 1801-1850, University of Sydney, Doctoral Thesis, 2007
Judith Dunn, The Parramatta cemeteries : All Saints and Wesleyan. [Parramatta], Parramatta and District Historical Society, 2007
Kay Daniels, Convict Women, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, St Leonards, 1998
Thomas Davies Mutch, Card index to births, deaths and marriages, 1787-1957 (The Mutch Index)

© Leonie Fretwell, 2017

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