The year 1844 began like a fairy tale for the trio of convict maids. Their lives were woven together by the Fates, as they passed through Liverpool Street and slaved behind the cold stone walls at Cascades. Now they were free and ready to express themselves on a new canvas prepared for hope and promise. The future was surely about to call them in different directions. Though they might never meet again, the women who walked away from Cascades were to be steadfast mates for the rest of their lives.
Ludlow Tedder Chambers, the oldest and still vibrant at fifty-one, contentedly adapted to life around a rustic farm cottage outside Launceston and introduced Arabella to the country roots she’d known as a young lass in Southminster, England. Now freed from her sentence at the Female Factory, Janet Houston escaped her recent painful past in the company of a tall, handsome emancipist. And the spirited Agnes McMillan, the youngest of the three, had fallen madly in love with a mysteriously scarred renegade who caught her attention charging through Oatlands on a runaway horse.
Agnes, twenty-three at the time of her release, had certainly scoffed at rules before. She had no trouble dismissing what the Colonial Times considered the “Rules and Regulations for Young Ladies” contemplating matrimony:
At twenty.—Consider yourself in some danger of remaining single, and suit your conduct to your circumstances.
At twenty-one.—Be less particular than heretofore, for time begins to wane.
At twenty-two.—Think seriously of paying a visit to some friend at Madras or Calcutta.
At twenty-three.—Marry any body that is not downright intolerable.1
At the end of 1839, when Superintendent Hutchinson banished the grey-eyed rebel to the most remote outpost accepting convicts, he inadvertently arranged her introduction to William Watson Roberts. William was a scrappy lad from Manchester, with dark brown eyes and a bit of larceny in his soul. As a young man, he tried his hand at pickpocketing, but had little skill. In 1827, he was arrested for stealing one shilling and sixpence, and three halfpence. Because this was the twenty-two-year-old’s second offense, the judge imposed a sentence of fourteen years’ transportation to parts beyond the seas. While awaiting exile, William spent eight months aboard the Dolphin, a decommissioned warship turned floating prison hulk.
Stripped bare and scrubbed with a stiff brush, the male prisoners were outfitted in coarse grey shirts and breeches and shackled by heavy rings secured by a steel rivet around both ankles. The rings were joined together by heavy chains, making it virtually impossible for a man to run, flee, or swim. Four hundred men ploddingly marched ashore under the watch of guards armed with whips. Now called by their number at five A.M. muster, the convicts, dragging iron balls at their feet, cleaned sewers, dug ditches, and dredged the River Thames. Returned to the ship at dusk, they were fed gruel and meat, then ordered by their task-masters to clean the old decaying battleship that was their home. The ship slept four men to a bunk in a space seven feet square, and epidemics ravaged the hulks constantly and caused many a man’s bones to be dumped in the swampy marshland following a death during the night.
William Roberts managed to survive his stay on the Dolphin, but he wouldn’t escape unscathed. One of many rampant outbreaks of tuberculosis left a permanent mark. Bearing a bluish-purple mass under his chin, he suffered from scrofula, or “king’s evil,” a name tied to the medieval belief that a royal’s touch offered the cure. His clear complexion was further transformed by another plague common to life on the hulks. Hundreds of angry men in chains, packed together like animals, bred gang warfare, especially terrorizing the youngest boys, some barely twelve. Five feet, five inches tall and never one to back down from a fight, William was quickly rewarded with several deep scars across his forehead “protecting himself from the murderous intentions of low-life troublemakers on board.”2
The rough-and-ready son of a Manchester coach maker was transferred on March 11, 1828, from the hulk to the transport ship William Miles. En route to Van Diemen’s Land, seven prisoners died among the 492 on board. Finally, on July 29, 1828, the ship dropped anchor in Sullivans Cove and deposited the brown-eyed Roberts and the rest of the rowdy rabble on the colony’s distant shore.
Less than a month after his arrival, William walked off a convict labor crew. He was punished with two days on the tread wheel, a device dubbed “the everlasting staircase” and the “cock-chafer” because “the stiff prison clothes scraped one’s groin raw after a few hours on it.”3 Steadying himself against the handrail, he lifted his leg and placed his feet on the rotating steps of the large wheel used to grind wheat. Left, right, left, right, the weight of his footfall caused the creaking mill to slowly revolve while his ankle irons clinked the cadence of his steady, rhythmic pace. Step by heavy step, he worked off his punishment, ten minutes on and five minutes off for up to ten hours each day.
Six weeks later, the strong-willed transport from a gritty industrial town skipped mandatory church muster and was punished with two more days on the giant circular tread wheel in the Hobart Town penitentiary. Colonial society relied heavily on fear to pave the path toward redemption. These devils were to be reformed by the word of God or the kiss of the lash. Extremes of all dimensions ruled an expanding populace caught between medieval practices involving subjugation and torture and rising emancipist sentiments favoring suffrage and freedom.
Great Britain sent prisoners to Botany Bay, Australia, beginning with the First Fleet in 1788. When William arrived forty years later, the ten thousand convicts in Van Diemen’s Land were expected to cower and submit to the rule of the master, just as those before them had done. This mission supported the goal of a docile labor class serving at the whim of the wealthy. The cheeky Manchester transport was twice punished with a whipping by leather cat-o’-nine-tails. The first time he’d returned to the barracks one hour late, twelve lashes shredded his bare back that night.
A year later, while working in a road gang, William was taken aside and punished with twenty-five strokes for insolence toward Mr. James Calder, the Surveyor General for Bruny Island. Nine knotted leather strips with lead weights fastened to the end were deliberately designed to rip and tear into the skin, thus prolonging his suffering. Salt, rubbed into the wounds to prevent infection, heightened the pain and the punishment.
His back still bloody from deep lacerations, William was immediately returned to felling huge trees and cutting tracks through dense scrub, as the land was cleared for new roads and settlements. Despite a run-in with Surveyor General Calder, the now experienced ax-man was chosen for a ten-day exploratory trip up the Huon River and its heavily forested, undeveloped, and yet untamed shores.
For the next two years, William’s transgressions were minor until he disobeyed direct orders and was sentenced to spend twelve months on a road gang outside the tiny settlement of Oatlands, breaking rocks and hauling them from the quarry. Marked for the Crime Class, he was made to wear the convict arrow of shame. The “pheon,” or broad arrow, found its roots in seventeenth-century markings on British property labeled to prevent theft. Petty thieves like William were considered property of the Crown and forced to wear coarse black-and-mustard-yellow “magpie” uniforms. Reinforcing public humiliation with no semblance of subtlety, one trouser leg was yellow and the other black, each emblazoned with three large arrows. His captors had cut back his shoes low on the sides, right at the point where irons would bruise and scrape his shins.
William’s sentence dragged on under the threat of the lash and the press of the pulpit. In unwavering attempts to reform convicts through religion, Oatlands’ chief magistrate required even Ticket of Leave holders’ attendance at church, posting this notice:
Chief Police Magistrate.
POLICE OFFICE, OATLANDS.
District of Oatlands Tickets-of-Leave.
ALL male prisoners holding the above indulgence,
and residing within two miles
from the Court-house, are ordered to attend
church muster in future every Sunday.
Also those residing upwards of two miles,
and not exceeding five miles, are ordered to
attend church muster, the first Sunday in every month.4
Benefiting from its location midway between the island’s chief ports because of its growing wool trade, Oatlands in 1835 had a free population of 598, plus 695 convicts. It had expanded from twenty dwellings to more than two hundred over the past eight years.5
Still, Oatlands remained an outpost marked by contradictory components. The construction of convict-crafted Georgian homes and tree-lined avenues conveyed the superficial appearance of a civilized society. Yet the fringes of town defined its true outlaw flavor. Wide-open country offered fertile ground for marauding bandits who rustled cattle, robbed travelers on the lonely roads between Hobart Town and Launceston, and battled one another in the brutal fashion from which many legends were born.
Notorious bushranger Richard Lemon defined the settlement’s early history before its link to other towns, encouraged after a visit by the governor of New South Wales in 1811. Exploring the northern jungles of Van Diemen’s Land on horseback, Governor Macquarie proposed a road linking Hobart Town to the settlement he named Oatlands because it looked similar to an area that grew oat crops in his native Scotland.6
Until then, Richard Lemon, the leader of the first well-known bushranger gang, had terrorized the area. Between 1806 and 1808, Lemon ran wild and was the namesake for Oatlands’ Lemon Springs and Lemon Hill. Living his mocking creed “a short life and a merry one,” the ferocious murderer hid in a bark hut along the shores of Lake Tiberias until another ex-convict delivered his head in a sack and collected a bounty from the island’s Governor Collins.7
Following Lemon’s marauding lead, escaped convicts held hostage large tracts of the island’s interior, still largely untamed and teeming with indigenous wildlife. Local herdsmen battled with carnivorous marsupials stealing from their flock, including the nocturnal Tasmanian devil and the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), nicknamed for its stripes.8
A different form of wildlife congregated on the fringes of the settlement, outside the order and control of the wardens and the church. Sly-grog shops, “notorious haunts of vice and immorality,” opened in secluded shacks and barns in the bush.9 Inside these treasured haunts, convict women and men re-created the working-class entertainment of their homeland, as they swapped tall tales, smoked tobacco, drank rum, played cards, gambled, and danced with reckless abandon. A lifeline to personal identity and good old-fashioned fun defined the after-dusk subculture from which convict solidarity prospered and dissidence brewed. In remote, predominantly male outposts like Oatlands, bare-knuckle boxing matches and cockfighting also filled the dark recesses of popular underground entertainment, which may have also filled the dark holes in many a lonely heart.10
The petite renegade named Agnes McMillan had no trouble adapting to this rustic lifestyle, though she never forgave Superintendent Hutchinson for assigning her to the middle of nowhere. Despite the occasional gunshots and bushranger sightings, it was a rather boring town, with more sheep than settlers. The former street urchin, accustomed to big-city bustle and excitement, found little amusement in this dreary outpost until a certain William Roberts crossed her path.
Twelve years into his sentence, at age thirty-six, after a long day laboring in the summer heat, #510 celebrated his probationary Ticket of Leave in a secret Oatlands grog shop. As he waved the parchment marked January 22, 1840, in front of his mates, beer after beer was passed through his gleeful hands. Perhaps on a dare or merely a celebratory whim, William jumped atop a horse, hooting and hollering his way through the midlands town for all to see. The sleepy citizens who lived securely inside the village’s neat orange-brick homes were not in the least amused.
An Oatlands constable pulled the completely inebriated Englishman from his horse and dragged him down Barrack Street through the arched entrance to the old stone gaol. Staggering up the stairs, William stared down at the porous stone steps stained deeply red from blood running down the legs of men who’d been whipped earlier that day.11 Now that he’d been released from convict status, his sentence was lighter this time, a mere fourteen days in a solitary cell and a fine of five shillings. And the news was about to get better.
On this very night, a spirited Scottish lass must have had a good laugh as she peeked through her master’s curtained window and took notice of a dark prince riding wildly through the streets in the bright moonlight. His behavior was comical when compared to the antics of the bushrangers and fugitives who lived in the surrounding woods, where outlaw justice ruled. In this midlands community, a rather clumsy and unexpected courtship ignited between the spirited Agnes and a Ticket of Leave holder with a roguish smile and a wink cast her way.
Fifteen years her senior, William was not the handsome prince of fairy tales. His face featured high, square temples and prominent lips. His unruly black eyebrows nearly met in the center, and he bore the heavy blue mark of the “king’s evil” (tuberculosis) on his neck.12 He had endured the gauntlet of imprisonment, and it was time to settle down and start a family. Nearing the end of his sentence, the lucky expatriate found work as a timber cutter and builder.
William’s brassy humor and working-class roots made him a fine match for the bonnie beauty with the Scottish brogue. He taught Agnes to read, to shoot a gun, and to use his well-worn ax. He was skilled, ambitious, and full of adventure and vitality. Like Agnes, he cast off limitations, living with abandon and buoyant good hope. She’d found her wild colonial boy and knew he’d be her mate for life.
Descendants of this well-timed union describe their meeting as fated. William had grown up with a mother and father and lived with them as a young adult, an apprentice at his father’s side. For Agnes, his compassion “was her first experience of any love and care in her whole twenty years.”13
Transported beyond the seas for the temptation of a few coins, the strong and rugged woodsman had survived some of the worst hellholes in the empire. As he worked free in the forest, shirt tied around his waist, Agnes found her eyes drawn to the heavy scar tissue crisscrossing William’s back, the signature of the cat-o’-nine-tails. “Old residents speak today of having seen these convicts, in the days of their youth, peel off their shirts to wash, and their backs were cut and marked so that there was not a piece of skin unscarred and scarcely a ridge of the flesh left free of marks of the scourge.”14
Speaking not a word, the typically gregarious Scot conveyed what she felt for William with a simple touch. She understood his journey and shared his resiliency, yet tears still welled up in her eyes when she placed a gentle palm against the thirty-seven lash scars crossing his back.
With her best intentions now focused on romance and passion, a love-struck Agnes soon found herself climbing the cold stone steps into the Oatlands gaol. She’d been insolent to her master and was to be confined to two weeks in solitary confinement, but her only regret was time away from dear William. Probably aware of the reason for her distraction, Magistrate John Whitefoord put Agnes on the first police cart headed back to Hobart Town. Though a Scotsman himself, he could not be charmed by a familiar brogue.
Over the next three years, the incorrigible Scot stayed in contact with William, twice absconding for the comfort of his arms. Surrendering any opportunity for early release with a Ticket of Leave, Agnes served her entire sentence. Seven years to the day of being found guilty by Ayr’s Court of Judiciary, she held Certificate of Freedom #388, dated May 3, 1843. True-blue mate Janet Houston was freed the same day, which was the last time they would see each other.
Head held high, Agnes left Cascades behind her and headed north. Hitching a ride on an Oatlands-bound cart and humming her favorite tunes once again, she felt as though she were looking at the world for the first time. Traveling as a free woman, Agnes breathed in the island’s mysterious beauty. Gum trees, their bark stripped stark-white bare in the annual molt, danced over the hills like human skeletons. Decaying eucalyptus appeared like gnarled and twisted fingers trying to scratch their way out of a grave. The wildness of the landscape only excited the wildness of her heart. As she traveled through the interior and approached the outpost, Agnes passed huge groves of bushy honeysuckle shrub, their gigantic yellow cones in full autumn bloom and a welcoming sight that marked the entrance to Oatlands.
William had diverted himself with hard work while he waited for the woman he intended to marry. Convict #253 had finally reclaimed her name and now willingly added William’s to hers, though no records indicate an official union. For the next several months, the Robertses saved every penny and plotted their future together. Anxious to make a fresh start and put the past behind them, the determined couple headed south to the Hobart Town docks in the spring of 1843. William’s work on Mr. Calder’s chain gang ten years earlier had introduced him to the prosperous possibilities for settlement along the Huon River.
These same prospects had not gone unnoticed by the ambitious and entrepreneurial Lady Jane Franklin. Seeing potential in attracting free immigrants with an interest in farming, the governor’s wife made an investment she thought wise for the colony’s future and her own. In 1838, she purchased 640 acres of fertile land in the Huon Valley, twenty-eight miles southwest of Hobart Town.15 She subdivided the large tract and sold parcels to God-fearing immigrants who denounced liquor and sin, passed her interview, and met with her approval. Eager tenants, many of the Methodist faith, agreed to her lease-to-buy arrangement, requiring full payment within seven years. In 1843, Her Ladyship left Van Diemen’s Land with a tidy profit for land sold at fair value and returned to England following her husband’s removal as the colony’s governor.
The governor’s wife had conducted her business more honestly than certain wealthy landowners who employed a lease-to-buy scheme as a way to avoid the backbreaking work of clearing swamps and felling giant trees. Setting rents that few could afford, these greedy land barons held back eviction notices until after the land was cleared.16 Instead of paying to have the forests leveled, they collected rent money from hopeful settlers until it ran out. When the owners reclaimed the land, it was more valuable and often resold or used as pasture for sheep or cattle.
During his sixteen years on the island, William Roberts had grown wise to corruption and graft. Carrying coveted skills as a pit-sawyer and carpenter, he’d find honest work crafting durable, seaworm-proof Huon pine into fine sailing vessels for the colony’s trade. The water-resistant wood was used on the decks of the empire’s finest sailing vessels and was in huge demand. Bringing only what was essential, William and Agnes left Oatlands and headed for the Huon Valley. They may have walked to Hobart Town, then boarded a cart. The former city lad wrapped his ax and sharpening file in canvas sail that would double as a tent. He had a rifle to hunt for food, ammunition, and everything he needed to make a good living. Seated by his side, his smiling common-law bride wore a wool hat and scarf, and a blanket layered over her shawl. Two small possum rugs rested over her lap. They used the fur sides for cool seasons and the reverse for summer.17
A cloudless sky looked clearer than ever on this windy September morning. They’d need the lengthening daylight to set up camp and build a permanent shelter before summer’s end. Agnes held tight to a tin cup and a cooking pot with some spoons jingling inside. William confidently fingered the coins he’d stashed away for rent and passage up the river. Waterways offered easier travel than overland routes where no roads existed. To reach the Huon River settlement, the freed couple probably took a lighter, a barge headed upriver for a load of timber. Or they might have boarded the forty-ton vessel Lady Franklin had commissioned to service the community now named in her honor.18 The growing town of Franklin lay twenty-eight miles southwest of Hobart Town, and traveling overland was reserved for only the heartiest of explorers willing to navigate on foot the slippery mountain slopes and confusingly dangerous tangle of forests.
Only the sorrowful ghosts of Aborigines knew the secret paths through sacred ground now on the edge of modern civilization. Once part of Australia’s continent, Van Diemen’s Land separated from the mainland when sea levels rose during the last major ice age and formed the Bass Strait. Starting in 1803, British rule set in motion a systematic eradication of those deemed to be “savages,” the earliest settlers who had inhabited the island for some forty thousand years. Fifty indigenous tribes with a total population estimated between five thousand and ten thousand were scattered across Van Diemen’s Land when the English first landed. By the time Agnes arrived, that number had been reduced to less than two hundred, who lived in exile on Flinders Island off the northeast coast. Isolated from the rest of the world for about ten thousand years—the longest known isolation in human history—the Aboriginal people of Van Diemen’s Land were completely exterminated in less than seventy-five years.
The dense forests of the Huon Valley, first inhabited by the indigenous Nuenonne tribe, was where Agnes and William began to erase their shared history in Van Diemen’s Land. Immigrants who arrived of their own free will voiced an ominously rising prejudice against an expanding population they needed and despised at the same time. Comparing the island’s beauty to the hideousness of those transported to its shores against their will, a male settler wrote that “the inhabitants are like a set of vultures . . . defacing one of the finest countries in the world.”19 And a female settler similarly observed that the convict, “like an ugly nose, spoils the face of the country.”20
As he began to write On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin visited Van Diemen’s Land and termed the colony “a festival amongst the lowest barbarians,” writing: “. . . I was disappointed in the state of society. . . . There are many serious drawbacks to the comforts of a family, the chief of which perhaps is being surrounded by convict servants. How thoroughly odious to every feeling, to be waited on by a man who the day before, perhaps, was flogged, from your representation. The female servants are, of course, much worse: hence children learn the vilest expressions, and it is fortunate, if not equally vile ideas.”21 Offering less understanding still for Aborigines, he echoed a sentiment shared by many: that “Van Diemen’s Land enjoys the great advantage of being free from a native population.”22
An attempt to gloss over the penal colony’s past was yet another cause adopted by Lady Jane Franklin. About the time she purchased the Huon Valley land, she spearheaded a campaign to change the island’s name to Tasmania, a name first printed in an 1808 atlas and then bandied about in newspapers beginning in 1823.23
Following the coast down the River Derwent and passing Bruny Island, William and Agnes sought a fresh start. Though they were legally free under the terms of the Transportation Act, the heavy chains of their convict past still rattled ominously against the promise of their future. Much of the far southeast remained untamed in 1844, though the island’s total population had grown to about fifty-eight thousand. It was a region greener and wetter than Oatlands and Hobart Town, fertile for living off the land and water, and for blending into a quiet wilderness, where the couple could together shed their convict stain and start afresh.
Agnes found herself in high spirits as they sailed through the magical valley. Enchanted forests carpeted in velvety moss and giant leafy ferns revealed layers upon layers of deep green density. In the runoff of spring, streams rushed toward the river, and waterfalls cascaded over jagged cliffs. Ancient trees of gigantic proportions, some measuring ninety feet in circumference, pushed their lofty crowns toward a perfectly pristine blue sky.24
The river rippled with silver ribbons of light as the bloodred sun slipped below an endlessly green horizon. Looking north, Agnes spied a gently muted mountain range aptly named Sleeping Beauty. Remains of a harsh winter lingered in the snow, atop graceful slopes mirroring the silhouette of a princess who reclines peacefully on her bed, hair flowing along her side.
Crossing the Tasman Sea, heading upriver, and fighting the current required at least a day and a half from Hobart Town, depending on the winds and the tides. Buoyant with excitement as they hoisted their worldly possessions onto their shoulders, the couple was rowed ashore to a timber camp on the outskirts of Franklin. Traveling with only what they could carry and the clothes on their backs, William steadied his wife’s arm as they waded through the marshy mudflats and up the steep hillside banks. The sturdy thirty-nine-year-old knew hundreds of other free men on the island: acquaintances from the hulk in England, the sea voyage, the prison tread wheels, and his sentence to the chain gangs. Even in this remote place, William found familiar faces happy to offer the couple a place at the fire, along with a little rum and cooked eel to welcome their old mate.
Women were still rare in the male-dominated backcountry, so news of the grey-eyed Agnes accompanying her rugged husband ensured plenty of help stringing a canvas awning between trees and settling in that first night. Within the week, William purchased a good saw and paddled upstream to a small riverside plot they’d clear for their future. He gathered kindling wood for a fire and set traps for fish while Agnes prepared supper from the provisions they’d packed from Oatlands. For the time being, they’d sleep in a tent. Using a whetstone, William honed his ax’s blade and set to work removing dense tea tree scrub and felling Huon pine.
A simple hut at the river’s edge, built from “split timber and clay reinforced with wattle twigs,”25 seemed a fine spot to raise their brood. The small bulge in Agnes’s belly carried a child conceived soon after their reunion in Oatlands. Fresh fish from the river and potatoes from nearby farms offered thetwenty-three-year-old and her developing child many a bountiful feast. Crayfish and eels were roasted on an open fire and seasoned with spicy berries from wild pepper plants. Rushing streams provided an abundant supply of crystal-clear water. The water’s edge was eerily quiet save for croaking frogs, buzzing mosquitoes, an occasional owl’s call, and the sound of the river lapping against the shore. Their new home shielded the couple from the harshness they’d always known and offered a safe place to drift off to a deeply sound sleep. A fine mist embraced this ethereal landscape, as vibrant rain-forest spirits prepared to spring into life.
Sunrise burned off dawn’s heavy fog as noisy black currawongs sporting bright yellow eyes swooped clumsily along the river’s edge and looked for insects. Fairy wrens and white-bellied sea eagles joined in the chorus. Dragonflies danced on ferns, among the oldest known on earth, many unique to the island. Butterflies displayed brightly colored wings, painted with golden eyes and violet pupils. Large moths, most colored in camouflaging browns and greys and some with surprising additions of soft rosy pink, populated the forests and streams.
While William sawed timber downstream, Agnes explored the woods at their rear boundary. A nearly impenetrable treetop canopy cast a brooding stillness over the spongy rain-forest floor, touched by nary a hint of sunlight. Surrounded by the Huon pine, her closest neighbors were the majestic myrtles and September-flowering sassafras covered in lichen. Smells from the hearth and the smokehouse attracted the occasional curious wallaby or echidna, but Agnes rejoiced in a life simple and free.
Heavy with child and blessedly content, thinking back to Glasgow’s stinking streets, the mother-to-be delighted in the fragrance of black peppermint trees. Adding a touch of comfort to the cabin, the couple put up shelves, and William fashioned a table and stools. A rope bed and small crib, crafted with basic tools, added a homey touch to their isolated shack. On a chilly autumn morning in April 1844, Agnes gave birth to a daughter they named Lavinia Louisa; she was joined in 1846 by a brother named after his father. The two were baptized together by a missionary chaplain, who held services inside a modest wooden church built by Lady Jane Franklin. Over the next eight years, Agnes delivered George Henry, Agnes Lavinia, and John Edward. Lavinia and William enrolled in a school that opened in 1848 and helped teach their younger siblings how to read and write.
As the family expanded, the island’s economy sank into a depression. Three-quarters of the men in Van Diemen’s Land were convicts or ex-convicts, and many could not find work on any part of the island.26 By 1851, a rising tide of hatred directed toward transports and their offspring swept over the colony, further dividing a society already rife with prejudice. Looking toward the Southern Cross so clear above the Huon Valley, Agnes and William whispered excitedly about news they’d heard about golden opportunities in the nearby colonies of Victoria and New South Wales on Australia’s mainland.
Blessings of Abundance
By the time Agnes and William moved from the Huon Forest and set sail for Melbourne, Agnes’s old friend Janet Houston had married a highly successful horse breeder and given birth to nine of her eventual twelve children, including two sets of twins. The couple settled in the lovely township of Richmond, first called Sweet Water Hills and located just fifteen miles from Hobart Town.
At first, Janet’s union with Robert Bailey was fraught with drama following on the heels of tragedy. Robert, a former convict, was probably the father of the ill-fated baby, William. Despite that relationship, he was not free to wed Janet for more than a decade. When he first set eyes on the redheaded Scot, he was married to another convict maid, a volatile gypsy horse thief who deserted him as soon as she was granted a Ticket of Leave. Divorce not being an option, he did the next best thing, posting a desertion notice in the Colonial Times in an attempt to absolve himself of responsibility for his wife’s unpredictable 'text-align:center;text-indent:12.0pt; line-height:normal'>CAUTION
MARY BOSWELL, Ticket-of-Leave, wife of Robert Bailey, of Richmond, having left her home without cause, he hereby Cautions the Public from giving her credit in his name, as he will not be answerable for any debt she may contract from this date. ROBERT BAILEY, April 19, 183927
When Janet secured her Certificate of Freedom in 1843, she ran straight into the arms of the tall Englishman with dark grey eyes and thick chestnut hair. At five feet, eight inches tall, he towered above the petite woman, whom he’d met three years earlier. Thirty-six, a full twelve years her senior, Mr. Bailey certainly had his hands full. In a land where there was only one woman for every nine men, Robert found himself with one too many.
Transported in 1820 aboard the Guildford after being sentenced to seven years for petty theft, Robert arrived in Van Diemen’s Land at the tender age of thirteen. He received his Certificate of Freedom on July 23, 1827, and celebrated by getting roaring drunk and incurring a stiff fine. During his twenties, Robert managed to stay out of trouble except for being accused of stealing a sheep—that is, until he met the fiery Mary Boswell. She arrived aboard the Harmony on January 14, 1829. The nineteen-year-old from Birmingham was connected to a gang of gypsy thieves and faced a life sentence for “horse stealing.”28
As Mary strutted through Hobart Town, the dark-complexioned, dimpled gypsy with deep brown eyes would certainly have turned heads, especially at five feet, four inches, which was tall for that time.29 She’d endured four miserable months at sea and eight days more anchored in Sullivans Cove, because of the time it took to process the first women who were to be incarcerated at Cascades. In appointing staff for the new prison in 1828, Superintendent of Convicts John Lakeland recommended a staunch Methodist couple, stating:
The immoral habits and general bad conduct of the female convicts will require all the energy and nerve that any individual may possess to keep them in a proper state of subordination and discipline.30
The newly issued rules and regulations for the Female Factory reinforced a strict regime under Esh and Ann Lovell, both former Sunday school teachers. Within a month of Mary Boswell’s arrival, the first of many riots erupted at Cascades. It started after a group of sympathetic soldiers tossed cheese, bread, and butter over the stone wall into Yard One. When a prisoner tried to share the bread in the mess hall, an overseer took it away. The women went wild, stomping and clapping until locked down in their cells, where one lit cloth and pine, setting the yard ablaze. Superintendent Lovell shortly erected a fence around the perimeters of Cascades.31
Mary, the independent firebrand, had no intention of spending a lifetime under the Crown’s stifling rules and regulations. She opted out of her sentence via the fastest escape route from the Female Factory. She got married. Arriving in a wild frontier, the exotic vixen had little trouble finding a spouse, wedding an infatuated Robert Bailey six months after she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land. Released to Robert’s care to serve out her life sentence, Mary found the loophole to early emancipation less than ideal, bristling at the intent to foster “respectable” women.
After eight years of marriage, Mary earned her Ticket of Leave in 1837, shortening her sentence and reducing government expenses. A year later, her union with Robert turned rocky, and on February 21, 1838, she was recorded “Absent from her husband’s premises. Severely reprimanded.”32By 1840, Mary’s Ticket of Leave was revoked, following her arrest for larceny. She faced twelve months’ hard labor back at Cascades.
Abandoned by his wife for the past three years, Robert fell in love with Janet Houston. They met on the streets of Hobart Town, and she somehow managed to live on his farm in Richmond for nearly a year. Returned to the Female Factory and carrying a child, she was separated from the dashing Mr. Bailey until the warm autumn day she held Certificate of Freedom #339. Unfortunately, her grand reunion did not go quite as planned.
In 1842, Mary Boswell had absconded from her assignment in a tiny village called Green Ponds (later Kempton), more than twenty miles from Hobart Town. She was returned to her husband, but by March 1843 she left him once again. Two months later, Janet arrived at Robert Bailey’s home and by the following year was pregnant with twins. John and James Bailey were born in their parents’ cozy stone cottage on May 20, 1845.
Robert prospered breeding horses and developed an upstanding reputation. The Colonial Times recommended his farm as one where “good grass and well watered paddocks are provided for mares sent to him.”33 He also invested in land to support their expanding brood. William Houston Bailey was born in May 1847 and named after the little boy Janet had lost five years earlier. Twin girls Rebecca and Betsy arrived in 1848, followed by siblings Robert, Arthur, Mary, Kate, Randolph, Wallace, and Samuel, born last in 1860. Janet finally married Robert on March 3, 1852, at Richmond’s United Church of England and Ireland, surrounded by their children and carrying a simple bouquet of wildflowers tied in a ribbon.
A year later, in August 1853, Janet and her family witnessed the official abolition of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Since 1803, sixty-seven thousand convicts had been shipped to this isolated outpost. Now they made up half its population. The older Bailey children attended the Richmond Primary School, built by prisoners in 1834.34 Convict labor had built most of the municipal buildings in Hobart Town, and chain gangs had cleared the land for roads that now bustled with settlers and commerce.
Each school-age child was issued a medallion, coined by the Royal Mint in London, commemorating fifty years of European settlement and the close of a penal colony.35 In both Hobart Town and Launceston, jubilee festivals were orchestrated to erase the lingering stigma associated with freed convicts like Janet Houston and William Bailey. The couple probably avoided the celebration, because the Bailey family, and other emancipists, wanted no more than to blend into the fabric of their small farming community, raise their children, make a living, and attend church on Sundays.
For weeks the newspapers touted the jubilee event as God’s answer to their prayers. Finally, on August 10, 1853, the highly anticipated day arrived. At six in the morning, as church bells pealed across the valley, the sleepy town awoke to the rising sun. A thick morning fog quickly retreated from the cliffs hovering over Mt. Wellington—“And then what a lovely prospect was presented! The sun shone in his full strength—the very clouds had taken a holiday, for not one was visible.”36
When Lieutenant Governor Denison refused to sponsor the jubilee celebration in steadfast allegiance to the economic benefits of transportation, Isaac Wright offered his wool storehouse on the wharf. A brass band serenaded the throng of thousands who pressed into the flag-decorated hall. Schoolchildren marched to the waterfront in groups of five hundred at a time, carrying silk banners at the front of the procession. By half past ten, a giant “Demonstration Cake” weighing 350 pounds, “about fourteen feet in circumference, iced over and most elegantly embellished,” was carried into the room by eight bakers and placed on a raised platform.37 “Loud huzzas” reverberated across the hall as the festivities began.38
Celebrants feasted on ham, roast beef, sandwiches, tarts, cake, lemonade, and ginger beer. Special attention was lavished on the children for their role in the colony’s future. Girls and boys were outfitted in white clothing, a symbol of untarnished virtue, and the native-born touted their status with light blue ribbons on their left breasts. Henry Hopkins, a Sunday school teacher, addressed the youngsters and implored them to “become true Christians and good and useful citizens.”39 Giant cakes were also delivered to the Queen’s Orphan School, though its residents were not awarded the commemorative medallions given to the other schoolchildren.
At noon, ships in the harbor, festooned in bright colors, fired guns into the air. The jubilee’s entertainment concluded with bonfires and fire-works, proclaiming “to all the country around that convictism was dead, and that the loyal and respectable portion of the colonists were rejoicing that their beloved Queen had spoken the word of liberation. . . .”40
Prayer, in fact, had underpinned the Anti-Transportation League’s call for Providence to stop the convict ships from entering the River Derwent. In describing the “Great Demonstration,” the Colonial Times announced: “In August, 1803, Van Diemen’s Land was first occupied ‘as a place of exile for the most felonious of felons’ from Botany Bay. . . . But the Supreme Governor of the universe had decreed that ‘the wickedness of the wicked should come to an end.’”41
Yet transportation didn’t end for humanitarian reasons. Instead, the British government phased it out after slave labor had served its purpose and free laborers began to fear competition for their jobs. Bitter prejudice about the deep imprint of the convict stain on proper society fueled a rising sentiment to erase the true history of Van Diemen’s Land. The clergy, in particular, incited hysteria about homosexuality among male convicts and heightened the urgency to stop the influx of those they considered breeders of vice.
Both the press and the pulpit called for prayer as a means to rescue the colony “from ruin and degradation.”42 In its 1849 Christmas edition, the Colonial Times appealed to divine intervention to accomplish what a petition to Queen Victoria, signed by six thousand Hobartians, could not:
We must petition the throne of Almighty God and pray that the curse be removed; and should all fail, then we must shake off the dust of our feet against our oppressors and depart to place our families where they can form honest associations and earn honest bread.43
The Anti-Transportation League of Van Diemen’s Land, established by Reverend John West in 1849, led to the formation of the Australasian Anti-Transportation League on the mainland. The gold rush in the Colony of Victoria offered further reason to end forced migration, based on concern that people in Great Britain would commit crimes as a way to reach a continent paved in riches.
Pressure from free settlers in Van Diemen’s Land escalated when they threatened to abandon a colony blighted by the “scum and dregs of the offscourings of mankind,” as described by William Ullathorne, a Catholic priest who had served in Australia and a leading critic of transportation.44Rejecting the possibility of reform and redemption for young mothers like Janet Houston and Agnes McMillan, newspapers on both sides of the world declared: “It is impossible to import the criminal without importing crime.”45 The Edinburgh Review, called “the recognized manifesto of the British government” by the Colonial Times, asked:
On what grounds . . . does England assume the singular privilege of establishing colonies to be deluged and drowned with the flood of her own wickedness? What right has any country to turn even a wilderness into a school of sin, to create, even at the antipodes, huge nurseries of depravity, to pollute a young nation from its very birth, and to saturate with its own corruption the sources whence countless generations are to spring?46
The Irish Exile and Freedom’s Advocate, an 1850 emancipist newspaper published in Hobart Town, disputed such claims by purporting that families who lived alongside convicts for twenty years had suffered no “moral contamination.”47 Hoping to encourage acceptance with the help of Christian compassion, emancipists formed the “Society of the Propagation of the Charities, etc., of the Gospels.” As it celebrated the strength in their numbers, a Society publication denounced the seeds of bigotry that polluted the pristine island they now called home:
“ They” came to make their fortunes and now “They” rail at you who “They” forced to come. “You” outnumber “Them” by many thousands. . . . Have you not made the colony what it is? Has not your sweat, in so few years, made this land . . . ? Have not your labors given these wandering adventurers at least the position of settled abodes . . . ?48
As tension escalated between the free settlers and the freed convicts, antitransportation advocates displayed their vitriol and solidarity by pinning blue rosettes on their well-pressed lapels, flooding the newspapers with lengthy editorials, and hosting public forums about how to oust the convict population. Their quest for social power rested precariously on the perceived horrors of a classless society in Van Diemen’s Land. John Morgan, the head of the Hobart Town Trades Union, penned an editorial outlining his concerns about emancipist “tyranny”:
Presently, we shall have here, not a war of races and colours, but of castes and classes. . . . The convict authorities . . . would have us adopt the red republican, socialist, levelling principles of revolutionary France by which all distinctions are abolished.49
Now neighbors of those who’d been their masters, emancipated convicts countered settlers’ fears and prejudices by lobbying for their rights as citizens. While freed convicts strove toward a democratic society, most free settlers were fiercely committed to stifling the voices of men and women who held Certificates of Freedom. Emancipists responded with organized solidarity in a town where two of every three men had arrived on a convict ship. Their influence did not go unrecognized. By the 1850s, candidates supporting their interests, some former prisoners, were well represented as aldermen for Hobart Town.
The deep schism between the two factions festered, refusing to mend even as they sat side by side at municipal council meetings. Free settlers remained frustrated by their failure to rid Van Diemen’s Land of “the curse, stain, and peril of convictism.”50 Colonists found it impossible to bury the legacy left by a penal colony. Women and men who’d been transported with mental disabilities, who defaulted into alcoholic despair, or who couldn’t endure unjust cruelty lived and died on the fringes of society. Estimates suggest that about one-third of the female transports never married or had children. “They lived out their lives in lonely exile far from their families and childhood friends. Amongst these were the ones who lived out their final days in the pauper institutions and mental asylums of the colonies, who lived isolated lives in small huts on the edges of towns and villages, or who wandered the colony, homeless and friendless.”51
Before transportation ceased in Van Diemen’s Land, a fresh influx of cheap labor, many Irish refugees from the potato famine, reached its shores. The last convicts to arrive in Van Diemen’s Land were not welcomed as cheap labor the way Agnes and Janet were when the Westmoreland ’s human cargo was paraded through Hobart Town. As anti-transportation sentiment rose, each arrival of new convicts met with increased resentment. The last convicts to arrive in Van Diemen’s Land were expected to serve their sentences, thus extending the penal practices of the previous fifty years. In April 1853, the final female convict ship, the Duchess of Northumberland, anchored off Hobart Town and delivered 216 women. Three women and seven children were lost during the rough voyage. One month later, the St. Vincent, the last convict ship destined for Van Diemen’s Land, arrived on May 26, 1853, with 207 men on board, having lost seven at sea.
Nearly one-quarter of all transports were Irish: thirty thousand men and nine thousand women. Nearly half were arrested during the famine years, most for larceny. The deep-seated conflict between Ireland and Great Britain escalated with every Irish arrest, particularly when political activists were sentenced to transport.
In 1868, the Hougoumont, Britain’s last convict ship to Western Australia, transported 279 male prisoners, including a band of 63 Irish political prisoners known as the Fenians. By this time, the Irish constituted about 20 percent of Australia’s population. Among their ranks were Irish rebels who had emigrated as free citizens, many of whom played a role in shaping workers’ rights and democratic government in the Australian colonies where Agnes McMillan and Ludlow Tedder would settle with their families.
An Gorta Mór: Let Them Eat Grass
While Janet, Agnes, and Ludlow lived out the life of the freed, a new crop of women was targeted for transport half a world away. One was named Bridget Mulligan, from County Cavan. Her passage aboard the Blackfriar had everything to do with being born Irish. A writer traveling to Australia in 1847 made this observation about the transported: “A man is banished from Scotland for a great crime, from England for a small one, and from Ireland, morally speaking, for no crime at all.”52
Bridget’s journey to Cascades began in the blackened potato fields of Ireland in 1849. Her brothers—John, Charles, William, and Patrick—had left their homeland for the promise of work in America. The youngest of the clan, Bridget, remained behind with her mother, Catherine, and sister Bessy.
Thousands began to flee the island. The blight escalated tensions between Ireland and England, and nothing could stop the export of grain. Upper society carried on with usual fare. As starving peasants with sunken eyes stepped over decaying corpses, local lords prepared a sumptuous feast for the visiting Queen Victoria and her assemblage of portly aristocrats. While the servants cleared the silver for the next setting of the banquet’s twenty-three courses, the lords happily discussed profit from grain exports. Victoria, soon labeled the “Famine Queen” among the Irish, made a personal donation to alleviate suffering but quietly turned down higher contributions from other countries to protect both her pride and the Crown’s image.
An Gorta Mór, “The Great Hunger,” arose from the blight on potato crops and worsened in the wake of society’s decay. Greedy landlords and a greedier government were the harbingers of famine, together carrying the cruel countenance of inhumanity. Mass evictions in a single year accounted for two hundred fifty thousand Irish left with nowhere to sleep and no way to make a living. Taking advantage of skyrocketing agricultural prices during the Napoleonic War, landlords supplemented their income by leasing small plots, where families built their croft huts and farmed the land. When prices plummeted after the war, landlords aggressively evicted tenants, destroyed their huts, and converted the land into more lucrative livestock grazing. As a final burden, Ireland, normally known for mild winters, experienced abrupt blasts of weather, bringing freezing sleet and snow.
As a black mold crept across the fields, the British government responded with lethal disregard for children, women, and men who lay dying in the dirt with nobody to bury them. Mr. O’Shaughnessy, an assistant barrister who worked in Ireland, pleaded for help before the House of Commons:
It was quite afflicting to see the state of the children. They were nearly naked, with a few rags upon them; their hair standing on an end from poverty; their eyes sunken; their lips pallid, and nothing but the protruding bones of their little joints visible. I could not help exclaiming as I passed them, “AM I LIVING IN A CIVILIZED COUNTRY AND PART OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE?”53
One million perished and at least another million were forced to leave the Emerald Isle for Europe, the United States, and Australia. As one tragedy bled into another, an additional eleven thousand were arrested and readied for transport, as crime escalated among people desperate for survival. A total of 3,687 Irish girls and women were shipped to Van Diemen’s Land, most sent after 1840, when transport to New South Wales ceased.54 The majority of Irish transports were convicted of larceny, many for rustling livestock. Among those convicted for petty theft, more than half had stolen clothing.55
For the empire, the Transportation Act was especially helpful in disposing of the Irish, a group supremely disdained throughout England. Illustrations in British newspapers of the day portrayed them as subhuman and simian in nature. Even the open-minded Elizabeth Fry had difficulty, at first, understanding and accepting the Irish she visited in prison. Describing women awaiting transport, she wrote: “The greatest number appeared to me Irish, a very few Scottish; the former are always ignorant, and preserve the peculiarities of their national character, even in this abode of sorrow and captivity. . . .”56
So fragile was life on the edge of disaster that entire Irish families chose transport over the likelihood of starvation. For some, exile to Van Diemen’s Land was their only chance for remaining a family. Arson was the safest bet. It was an offense guaranteeing immediate transport. Light an oily rag or set a bale of hay on fire. Burn a barn to the ground. Everyone knew there was no way back, yet 242 women from Ireland committed arson, many to escape the famine.57
Propelled by love of family, Bridget Butler and daughter Anne Corry, age sixteen, hatched a plan to be reunited with the rest of their kin. Bridget’s husband had died, and her children were the only family left in Killard, County Clare. As they looked out the grimy window of a boardinghouse room, rain bore down on what were once green hillsides, now plucked bare by the starving for their evening meal.
On January 11, 1849, armed with red-hot coal in a skillet, Bridget and Anne set fire to Mary Hickey’s house, down the lane from the dingy lodging they called home. Mother and daughter prayed they’d be caught, and their prayers were soon answered. Each received a sentence of seven years to Van Diemen’s Land.
A year earlier, Anne’s sister, Margaret, and her brothers, John and Patrick, had been arrested for stealing a sheep. Margaret was shipped out right away. While her brothers awaited sentencing, Patrick was found dead in Dublin’s Smithfield gaol. Not knowing they’d lost Patrick, Bridget and Anne boarded the ship Australasia to repeat the journey Margaret had made a year earlier. On March 27, 1849, they escaped the ravages of the potato famine. Every week spent on the Australasia brought mother and daughter closer to the chance for survival as a family. Just one day before their ship anchored, Bridget died from dysentery at age sixty, following several days of suffering from griping and purging.58 Happily, Anne found her sister, Margaret Quealy, who attended Anne’s wedding and the baptism of her children.59
Many stories were less outwardly dramatic than Bridget Butler’s and Anne Corry’s, though no less tragic. Bridget Mulligan was another country girl named after Ireland’s St. Bridget, a patron saint. Like many, she relied on otherworldly strengths to survive the hard times in County Cavan. Still suffering the famine’s aftershocks, Bridget was on her own at twenty-three and shared a small room with her “cara,” or best friend, Mary Rennicks.
Just four feet, seven inches tall, with a ruddy complexion covered in freckles,60 the diminutive lass with a squinting right eye didn’t look like a criminal, nor had she intended to become one. But in 1850, she made a big mistake. She and Mary Rennicks stole a one-gallon milk tin, a gown, and a white petticoat from Susan Brady. Each was summoned before the Court of County Cavan in the province of Ulster. Despite no prior record, both Bridget and Mary were sentenced to ten years in “parts beyond the seas.”
After Bridget was sent to an island smaller than Ireland, her Roman Catholic religion placed her in a tiny minority. Women from Ireland’s western counties also faced a language barrier. Many spoke only Gaelic and did not understand the commands given by their captors.61 Shipped in the final years of transportation, Bridget benefited from some improvements in shipboard captivity. “Perhaps the most important of these gave each convict a separate sleeping-berth place which could be converted in the daytime into seats and tables.”62
Although Elizabeth Fry passed away in 1845 at age sixty-five, the work in her final years also eased Bridget’s journey on the Blackfriar. By 1842, Mrs. Fry had lobbied successfully for the addition of matrons to the all-male ship crew. The Blackfriar sailed from Dublin with a cargo of 260 female convicts, 59 children, and 7 free settlers who booked passage on the barque. Though the prisoners were better supervised than those of earlier transports, barbaric medical practices had hardly changed at all. Surgeon Superintendent John Moody treated the insane on board with a straitjacket or a cold bucket of water, later reporting the results of his methods:
Under the head Hysterical Mania . . . a case is given by no means uncommon in female convict ships and in the Penitentiary in the Colony, caused no doubt in nervous temperaments by the heat of climate, indolent life. . . . Nothing appeared to have a better effect than a shower bath or a few buckets of water thrown over them when first attacked.63
Bridget Mulligan’s companion, Mary Rennicks, bore the impact of primitive shipboard treatment, arriving in Hobart Town bearing the X mark from blood purging on her right arm. She’d also lost a front tooth.64 Bridget stayed healthy during the 125 days at sea, and Surgeon Superintendent John Moody recorded her behavior as “very good.”65
Under a new penal system, convicts did not proceed directly to Cascades but were housed in the Brickfields Hiring Depot, opened as an annex to the Female Factory in 1842. Designed to keep new arrivals isolated from the entrenched Crime Class, especially the Flash Mob, a probation system introduced in 1839 was meant to hasten reform. On paper, it recommended skill training and the opportunity for well-behaved prisoners to earn a small wage, but in bureaucratic reality, progress was held in place.
Arriving two years before transportation ceased in 1853, Bridget faced the full force of prejudice against convict arrivals, more toxic still because she was Irish and because she was Catholic. Lieutenant Governor Denison pleaded for fewer Irish prisoners, declaring: “Their general want of industry, their insubordinate habits, their subservience to their religious instructors, render them particularly unfitted for settlers in a country like this.”66 Denison also lamented the lack of energy for hard labor among those weakened by the potato famine.67 Rural Irish women, in particular, were ostracized for being “unfitted to engage in domestic service.”68
Stigmatized by her heritage, her religion, and her country roots, the resourceful Bridget Mulligan took full advantage of the one opportunity for early release from the Female Factory. She managed to shave eight years off her sentence the day she married John Wild, a freed convict from Cheshire, England. At twenty-seven, he’d received a sentence in 1841 of fifteen years for getting into a bar fight and stabbing a “spoon forger.” Only five feet, two inches tall, he’d lost some front teeth, his visage was rather sallow,69 but he was an excellent businessman. Once freed, Mr. Wild opened a store selling tobacco and candles in New Norfolk, located on the banks of the River Derwent twenty-two miles northwest of Hobart Town. He also ran a catering service and sponsored lunches for the New Norfolk regatta and Odd Fellows meetings held in Kensington Park.
Bridget had been sentenced to a New Norfolk family in March 1853, so she was put on a cart and sent north just as the trees were turning colors. Golden poplars had been planted all along the river and displayed themselves in bright autumn yellows. Her romance began with a purchase for her master in Mr. Wild’s well-trafficked Charles Street store. The two married in a Catholic Church on July 24, 1853, in the midst of a frosty winter, one month before the official end of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Bridget gave birth to a daughter named Hannah on November 20, 1855.
Entrepreneurial in spirit, the lass from County Cavan set up a Dutch oven at the back of her husband’s store and charged townsfolk a penny to bake their dinners. Hannah grew up inside the family store, learning the business and developing one of her own. When Bridget retired, she took over her mother’s oven and, according to descendants, “was remembered for always wearing a snowy white apron.”70 When people came to collect their cooked dinners, she offered a plate of freshly baked scones and expanded her baking empire. With her husband, Henry Laskey, she bought every house on Charles Street, where the two raised nine children in a home named “Tara,” after Ireland’s mythical seat of power. Hannah became a wealthy woman.
Bridget Mulligan’s dear “cara,” Mary Rennicks, didn’t live long enough to be freed. Shortly after being processed at Brickfields, she struck a fellow prisoner and was sentenced to hard labor. The next year, five months pregnant, she was committed to trial for the “willful murder of a newborn child” under her care at Cascades. Four months later, she delivered her stillborn baby boy inside the Female Factory. This only deepened her anger, and she was soon cited for an incident of insubordination. In February 1856, a highly unusual notation appeared in her conduct record, recognizing “meritorious conduct on the occasion of fire at Brickfields.”71 Two weeks later, the twenty-six-year-old accused murderer, troublemaker, and proclaimed hero died alone inside the stone walls at Cascades, suffering from burns from her selfless actions to save others from the fire.
The year Mary died was the same year Van Diemen’s Land was renamed Tasmania, after first explorer Abel Tasman. As many citizens hoped to erase the “convict stain,” the women and men who’d suffered forced migration forever changed the complexion of the growing population in Tasmania and New South Wales, becoming the heart and soul of a unique cultural identity.
Bridget received her Certificate of Freedom shortly before the Christmas holidays in December 1862. Like Janet Houston, she lived in Tasmania for the rest of her life. However, when Bridget first arrived on the Blackfriar in 1851, people were leaving the island in droves. Nearly eight thousand people, most of them former convicts, had left Van Diemen’s Land over the previous three years.72 Something quite spectacular had been discovered across the Bass Strait.