Catherine Crowley: A Convict Sea Wife

By Catie Gilchrist

Supported by a Create NSW Arts and Cultural Grant – Old Parramattans & Rogues

History has left few traces of Catherine Crowley’s private life in England or indeed in Australia. We first meet her in the criminal records of Staffordshire, England when she was sixteen years of age. We farewell her by her graveside at St. John’s Cemetery in Parramatta, New South Wales. Much of what is known about her life between these two moments is mediated through the men she so loved.

On 30 July 1788, at the Staffordshire Assizes, Catherine was sentenced to seven years transportation for ‘feloniously stealing wearing apparell’ [sic] from a house at Newcastle under Lyme.[1] Pilfering clothes, linen and garments was the most common crime committed by women sentenced to transportation to New South Wales and, later, to the sister colony of ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ Lutruwita (Tasmania) between 1788 and 1853, and seven years was the usual penalty.[2] Few women, however, would ever return home and most knew that the punishment was in fact a sentence for life. Yet before she was exiled across the seas, Catherine spent almost fifteen months incarcerated in the dank, dark, crumbling gaol at Stafford. According to prison reformer John Howard who visited the gaol in 1788, the dungeons here were appallingly overcrowded, the prisoners were chained and there was no infirmary or bathing facilities. The food, too, was woefully inadequate.[3] Maybe Catherine spent her time here wondering if the seven years might pass? Perhaps she thought she might die of the dreaded ‘gaol fever’ (typhus) which broke out from time to time? Or would she, in fact, have to endure the terrors of transportation to the fledgling penal colony on the remote shores at ‘Botany Bay’?[4]

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. A Prospect of the Town and his Majesty’s Dock Yard at Woolwich, by unknown artist, (c. late 18th century), (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), © The Trustees of the British Museum.

But Catherine’s fate was set. In the late eighteenth century, the powers that be were desirous to rid the overcrowded prisons, gaols and floating hulks of the country’s criminal felons.[5] And besides, the new colony on the far-flung reaches on the other side of the world desperately needed more women to balance the already deeply uneven gender ratio. So, on 25 October 1789, with four other convicted women, Catherine was taken on the uncomfortable 123-mile (198 km) journey south by a horse-drawn coach to Woolwich on the Thames.[6]

Crossing the bleak Staffordshire and Derbyshire moors, through the smoky, polluted industrialising city of Birmingham, and down through the remote southern counties, towards the English south coast, one can only imagine how Catherine felt about her future. By the time she boarded the convict transport the Neptune, then about to set sail as part of the Second Fleet, she was still only seventeen years of age. Possibly terrified and perhaps deeply anguished, the young thief would have also been utterly unaware of the profound significance her enforced exile would later have upon the Colony of New South Wales.[7]

Among the Neptune’s [women] was Rachel Watkins the last woman in England to be transported whose sentence had originally been transportation to America…Mary Bond who was convicted of stealing clothing from her own mother and on her mother’s evidence, Elizabeth Smith who was a brewer for twenty years in Parramatta and Sydney, and Mary Morgan whose name is fixed geographically in Mount Molly Morgan and the Molly Morgan Ridge, near Greta, New South Wales.[8]

Before the Neptune departed England in the bitter winter of January 1790, Catherine Crowley was chosen by a young surgeon to be his ‘sea wife’ (mistress) for the duration of the voyage. Her own agency in this can only be conjecture. However, during the early years of transportation, it was common for gentlemen sojourners and military officers to take a female convict to be his ‘constant companion’ and the relationship was not necessarily a coercive or exploitative one.[9]

IMAGE: Photograph of silhouette, thought to be of Catherine’s surgeon and “sea husband,” artist and photographer unknown, in Box 38: Portrait file, Wentworth to Wilson, ca. 1808 to 1953, PXA 2100/Box 38 / FL11068876, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Feminist historians have long suggested that it was in fact a strategic if not enabling opportunity for many women. In return for ‘services rendered’ the woman would be protected from any unwanted sexual attention from other members of the crew or the molestations of the male convicts. They would have a certain degree of comfort in a private cabin and access to better food, alcohol and medical care. Among the crowds of other women, too often messed together in poorly ventilated, filthy and flooded berths where rations and medicine were few and disease, rats and misery rife, becoming a ‘sea wife’ was quite possibly viewed as a lucky escape.

No Place for a Lady

There was a rather different sort of woman travelling to the convict colony aboard the Neptune.[10] Like Catherine Crowley, Elizabeth Macarthur was a young woman. But she was also well educated, genteel, recently married and impeccably respectable. Her husband John was a Lieutenant in the 102nd regiment, the recently assembled New South Wales Corps; a rather motley crew deployed to relieve the marines who had accompanied the First Fleet. With her sickly baby Edward in her arms, Elizabeth Macarthur wrote a candid and remarkably frank shipboard diary during the slow voyage. It is one of the only witness accounts of the Second Fleet to have survived.[11]

Not surprisingly for an educated woman of refined taste and delicacy, Elizabeth Macarthur did not think much of the female convicts. All of them were ‘abandoned creatures’ and ‘wretches whose dreadful imprecations and shocking discourses ever rang in my distracted ears.’[12]

Elizabeth Macarthur, The Macarthurs, Second Fleet, Neptune (1790), Catherine Crowley, D'Arcy Wentworth, The Wentworths, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. “Elizabeth Macarthur” [portrait by an unknown artist], undated. Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales, DG 221 / FL652954.

But regardless of the disparities of class and wealth between Elizabeth Macarthur and the female harpies who haunted her imaginings, they were all, at the end of the day, quite simply ‘in the same boat.’ For despite occupying a small private cabin and having the help of a nurse maid, Elizabeth’s diary depicts the reality of the voyage as a profoundly traumatic and deeply frightening one. Utter boredom oscillated with alarmed terror, dreadful sickness with only moderate health, and even the privileged Elizabeth Macarthur’s journey was blighted by insubstantial food and meagre water rations. Both John and Edward were distressingly unwell for much of the time.[13] The terrifying waves and storms of the Southern Ocean were starkly juxtaposed against the suffocating, stifling calm heat of the equator. There was a persistently wretched stench emanating from the convict decks and fears of dying at sea constantly permeated her thoughts. As she noted in her shipboard journal, ‘Our passage to the South…[could] be truly called a tempestuous one.’[14] The tempest was equally figurative and literal, emotional and physical, because one night, during a rolling, thundering storm, Elizabeth Macarthur gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. It was to be a mostly private episode of silent heartbreak and deep sorrow, endured also by a certain degree of religious stoicism and quiet resignation.

Perhaps unbeknownst to Elizabeth—her diary fails to make mention of convict casualties—death on the voyage was actually happening all around her. But unlike her mournful maternal anguish, there were few who would lament the dead and dying convicts suffering in the stinking, reeking decks deep below the officers’ quarters. Often, they were irreverently brought up, carted out on deck and simply ‘gone over the side in a sack.’[15] Many were not even shrouded when flung. By journey’s end, three of the fleet’s convict ships had quite simply run out of material.

Arrival: June 1790

‘Oh! If you had but seen the shocking sight of the poor creatures that came out of the three ships it would make your heart bleed. They were almost dead, very few could stand, and they were obliged to fling them as you would goods, and hoist them out of the ships, they were so feeble…’[16]

The Neptune arrived at Warrane (Sydney Cove) on 28 June 1790.[17] 147 men and 11 women—a staggering 31 per cent of her 502 complement—had died on the perilous six-month journey.[18] Sister ships the Scarborough and the Surprize had each lost 28 per cent and 14 per cent of their respective convict passengers.[19] Disease, dysentery and the ravages of scurvy had taken many of them and consigned them to an anonymous watery grave. Yet most of the fatalities might have been avoided had not the contractors Camden, Calvert and King been utterly wanting in exercising responsible care and attention to the dreadful living conditions and meagre rations provided for their hapless cargo. The firm usually traded in slaves. Most of the male convicts had been shackled and chained together for much of the journey with no exercise, daylight, or sufficient nutrition or water. There had been no financial incentives for the contractors to land their convict charges alive. Any rations left over were permitted to be sold for profit once the ships landed in Cadi (Sydney). Thus, the sooner prisoners died on the journey, the bigger the contractors’ eventual profit. The Second Fleet was just another moneymaking enterprise for these unscrupulous merchants of human misery.

Sydney Cove, 1790, Second Fleet, Sydney, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. “West view of Sydney-Cove taken from the Rocks, at the rear of the General Hospital,” [1789]. Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, DG V1 / 14 / FL3277110.

Even in the 1780s, managed with great skill, care and attention, fatalities on board the convict transports could be prevented. In stark contrast to these three death ships, the Lady Juliana only lost five convicts, and none of their deaths was due to wilful neglect.[20] This ship was also part of the Second Fleet but it had departed England earlier on 29 July 1789 with 226 female convicts on board.[21] The difference was that the Juliana was not part of the slave traders’ contract. Rather, it was successfully tendered by the private contractor William Richards who, despite his occupation, was in fact known to be a man of great integrity and humanity. On board too, Captain George Aitkin, naval agent Lieutenant Thomas Edgar and surgeon Richard Alley ensured that the women were properly victualled, exercised on deck daily and even provided with tea, sugar and soap. And no chains or shackles were permitted. When the Juliana reached Port Jackson on 3 June 1790 and anchored in Warrane (Sydney Cove) on 6 June she was the first ship to arrive from England since the First Fleet had landed over two years before.[22] Just two months previously, on 9 April, the Reverend Richard Johnson had written to his friend Henry Fricker and lamented that the colony had been,

anxiously looking out for a fleet for a long time, but hitherto none has appeared, and ‘tis now generally conjectured that the fleet expected is either lost or taken by some enemy. Our hopes now are almost vanished, and everyone begins to think our situation not a little alarming…[23]

So in June, the relief amongst the struggling and famished settlement was palpable. There had been no dreadful shipwreck or act of dastardly piracy at sea! The British Government had not abandoned the colony after all! On hearing of the Juliana’s arrival at the Heads, Marine Officer Watkin Tench noted in his journal,

At length the clouds of misfortune began to separate and on the evening of the 3rd June the joyful cry of ‘the flag’s up’ resounded in every direction.[24]

The Lady Juliana brought much needed supplies, together with news and letters from home which,

burst upon us like a meridian splendour on a blind man…We now heard for the first time of our sovereign’s illness and his happy restoration to health. The French Revolution of 1789, with all the attendant circumstances of that wonderful and unexpected event, succeeded to amaze us…[25]

Three weeks later, though, Warrane (Sydney Cove) witnessed a very different spectacle. Harrowing scenes of dying convicts disembarking from the Neptune, Surprize and Scarborough were recorded by a number of contemporary observers. Hundreds arrived filthy, malnourished, desperately sick and in need of hospitalisation. Many died in the days and weeks that followed. According to historian Thomas Keneally,

So many burials took place that people would afterwards remember the dingoes howling and fighting over the bodies in a sandy pit over the hills above the Tank Stream.[26]

Later, the appalling mortality rate of the second convict voyage to Cadi (Sydney) would be memorialised in the ghoulish moniker ‘The Death Fleet.’ Watkin Tench rued that ‘such flagitious conduct’ must never be permitted by the British Government again as he watched the unused surpluses from the three death ships being sold off in Cadi (Sydney) for enormous profits.[27] Unlike the sick and the dying, John, Elizabeth and Edward Macarthur disembarked relieved and in relatively good health. Catherine Crowley was also lucky and survived the long and treacherous voyage thanks to her role as the surgeon’s sea wife. By the time she stepped ashore she was also, rather inevitably, six or maybe seven months pregnant.

Norfolk Island, 1790–1796

Catherine did not remain in Cadi (Sydney) for long. On 1 August 1790, the young woman had to find her sea legs once again as she sailed out of Port Jackson on board the Surprize. The 400-ton vessel was heading for China, via the tiny settlement on Norfolk Island 905 nautical miles east-nor-east in the Pacific Ocean. Here, her shipboard lover was to serve as the acting assistant surgeon to the fledgling island colony.[28]

William Bradley, Phillip and Nepean Islands, Justinian, Surprize, Second Fleet, Norfolk Island, Sydney Bay, 1790, Catherine Crowley, D'Arcy Wentworth, William Charles Wentworth, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. William Bradley, “Phillip & Nepean Islands. Justinian & Surprise [sic] standing into Sydney Bay, [Norfolk Island], 23 August 1790,” in William Bradley, A Voyage to New South Wales, c. 1802. Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Safe 1 / 14 / FL1113941.

On Friday 13 August 1790, her firstborn son William was born (a few weeks prematurely) on the Surprize as it lay anchored off Cascade Bay, on the northside of Norfolk Island. The man who claimed to have sired him was present at his birth. They disembarked soon afterwards. In April 1791, the family of three moved into a newly constructed convict-built cottage at the inland settlement of Charlotte Field.[29] Here, Catherine tended to her baby whilst his father ministered to the island’s sick and oversaw the appalling physical aftermath of convict floggings. Often, he humanely intervened before the requisite ordered lashes had been administered. He was further appointed acting-superintendent of convicts and also a police constable. Later, the surgeon began to cultivate the fertile, lush earth of the island and also established a thriving piggery. While her lover set about making his mark on the new settlement and earning money for his young family, Catherine did what dutiful women did: sexual comfort and breeding. Dorset Crowley was born on 23 June 1793. Matthew arrived two years later on 13 June 1795. A daughter Martha sadly did not survive her infancy. At the age of five, their son William started school where he was instructed by ‘a woman of good character.’[30]

By the middle of the 1790s, Norfolk Island was a busy farming community of convicts, emancipists and free settlers. There were two schools, two windmills, a watermill, a granary, a convict-built wharf at Cascade Bay and a vibrant local market which grew all sorts of produce. From wheat and maize, to guavas and lemons, apples and coffee—the small colony was beginning to bear plentiful supplies. Merchant ships arrived from time to time and exchanged goods with the locals. With a balmy, temperate climate and set amidst its stunning Pacific location, Norfolk Island—and Catherine Crowley’s life on it—was a whole world away from dreary landlocked Staffordshire. There, vast rugged moorlands and coal and iron mining characterised the bleak, remote, often grey landscape. By the late eighteenth century, the area (also known as the Black Country) in the West Midlands of England was also famed for its clay pottery and acclaimed for the fine china and porcelain designs of its local talent, Josiah Wedgwood.

Did Catherine miss her home?

One can only wonder.

But however idyllic life appeared to be on Norfolk Island compared to dreary middle England, late in February 1796 the family of five left Norfolk Island and sailed in the Reliance for Cadi (Sydney). They dropped anchor in Warrane (Sydney Cove) on 5 March and five-and-a-half-year-old William caught his first glimpse of the mainland. Later in life, he would pen a long love poem to the land of his birth in which he immortalised Sydney’s ‘spacious harbour with its hundred coves.’[31] That first sighting had, it seems, left a lasting impression on the clever, albeit often sickly child. Cadi (Sydney) had changed during the couple’s absence of almost six years, as indeed had the young convicted clothes thief. Catherine was now a free woman in her mid-twenties. She was also the mother of three young sons. And her surgeon paramour was absolutely determined that their return to the mainland would be the making of them all.

New South Wales, 1796–1800

Soon after their arrival, Catherine’s de facto husband was appointed assistant surgeon in Cadi (Sydney). He also resumed the commercial trading activities he had commenced on Norfolk Island and by 1798 he was well on his way to becoming a very wealthy man. Catherine Crowley would never have to work, toil or steal for her existence again. In May 1799, the family left Cadi (Sydney) for the small yet thriving town fifteen miles to the west: Parramatta.[32] The mainland’s second settlement was reached from Cadi (Sydney) via a wide rough road (just over an hour’s ride away with a good horse trot) or by the river boats that frequently traversed the two towns. ‘Burramatta,’ meaning ‘place of the eels’ or ‘where the eels lie down,’ was the traditional land of the Burramattagal People. They had carefully managed the land, its waterways, wildlife and native plant foods here for generations. To the eyes of the English, the delightful landscape appeared very much like a carefully planned park, a noble English domain or a gentrified country estate. In April 1790, just south of Parramatta, John Hunter ‘walked through a very pleasant tract of country, which, from the distance the trees grew from each other, and the gentle hills and dales, and rising slopes covered with grass, appeared like a vast park.’[33] But really, the bounteous scene was simply the natural result of clever ancient ways and traditional methods of cultivation by its original custodians.[34]

The town of Parramatta was laid out in 1790. By 1799, a nearly complete Government House peered down upon 150 huts and houses in the main thoroughfare, High Street.[35] There was also a granary, stores, a military barracks and a clay brick hospital on Marsden Street overlooking the Parramatta River. Catherine’s man had been appointed assistant surgeon for the hospital here.[36] In October 1799, the doctor leased six acres of land just south of the township. The following month, Governor Hunter granted him 140 acres, four miles east of Parramatta, near the Toongabbie Road.[37] On his six-acre lease, which was less than a fifteen-minute walk to the hospital, the surgeon began to build a stately two storey home for his family. By the time it was finished in 1803, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse’ was one of the finest houses in the colony.[38] Extensive gardens and orchards completed the opulent estate as did that other ostentatious symbol of wealth—a carriage and horses. And not too far down the road, at Elizabeth Farm, lived Elizabeth and John Macarthur from the Neptune with their expanding young family and their own fortunes rising.[39]

George William Evans, High Street, Parramatta, George Street, Government House, Old Government House, nineteenth century, 1800s, St. John's Cemetery Project, Catherine Crowley, D'Arcy Wentworth, Woodhouse, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. It is possible that the Wentworth estate, “Woodhouse,” is depicted in the distance on the elevated ground to the far right of this image. George William Evans, “High Street [now George Street] Parramatta, from the gates of Government House, around 1804–1805.” Courtesy of Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

They did not know it yet, but both households were emerging dynasties that would shape colonial New South Wales throughout the nineteenth century and indeed beyond it: the Macarthurs and the Wentworths. However, whilst the two patriarchs crossed paths in their business affairs and political dealings, Elizabeth Macarthur and Catherine Crowley, despite being close neighbours, certainly did not move in the same circles. Catherine was now a free woman, but as an ex-convict, unmarried mother and common-law wife, she was never to be acknowledged by the colony’s small coterie of polite and genteel ladies. Elizabeth Macarthur was welcomed; Catherine was permanently shunned. A ‘damned convict whore’ forever.[40]

In many respects, because of the moral mores of the day, Catherine Crowley retained the ‘kept woman’ status that she had first embraced on board the Neptune. But perhaps Catherine did not actually ‘give a fig’ for such matters. The gulf between convict and elite ideas of ‘morality’ was a deep and wide one.[41] She had the love of the surgeon, her three sons and a comfortable home life. And though, unlike Elizabeth Macarthur, she has left to history no diary, letters, or memoirs, it is possible to speculate that maybe this was enough for her. Catherine Crowley might have been quite content with her quiet evenings at home avoiding all the silly intrigues and stuffy niceties of women she would have had little in common with. Polite society in ‘Sydney’ was renowned for its petty cliques and snobbish etiquette; even Elizabeth Macarthur herself quickly found this out and confessed all in letters home to her dearest female relatives and friends. Maybe Catherine Crowley’s ‘enforced’ exclusion, then, suited her very well indeed. In an ironic way, and with the benefit of historical hindsight, it almost mirrored her enforced exclusion from her home in England where it is highly unlikely that she would have ever attained the private comforts of hearth and home afforded to her in colonial Parramatta. It was, to be sure, a heavy price to pay. Yet maybe to Catherine, it had been one worth paying after all?

January 1800

As the long eighteenth century ticked over at the stroke of midnight to become the nineteenth, Catherine Crowley’s future was looking positive and bright. Her life in New South Wales was a whole world away from her days as a desperate young woman in England, in both a spatial and material sense. Did she secretly long for some female companionship? Did she miss her parents and were they even alive? Had there been any siblings, or old friends and acquaintances she thought fondly of? We will never know. William was now nine, Dorset six-and-a-half and Matthew four-and-a-half. Maybe she was simply content in the knowledge that her three sons, because of her love and care and the exertions of their enterprising father, now faced very bright prospects. An education befitting young colonial gentlemen awaited them all back in England.

But all of this was in the future and Catherine did not get to see her sons grow into the young gentlemen she had probably hoped and wished for. Nor was she afforded the opportunity to marvel at the very accomplished life of her firstborn son in particular. Catherine Crowley died on 6 January 1800. She was just twenty-seven years of age. Her neighbour, Elizabeth Macarthur, would live for another fifty years.[42] The local magistrate and Anglican Reverend Samuel Marsden conducted Catherine’s funeral service and she was buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta.

D'Arcy Wentworth, Parramatta estate, Woodhouse, Wentworth Woodhouse, Wentworth St Parramatta, St. John's Cemetery, Parramatta, Parramatta Burial Ground, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans, Catherine Crowley
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Catherine’s final resting place, the Parramatta Burial Ground (St. John’s Cemetery) [left of image], lies in a direct line around 800 metres from the site of the former Wentworth estate, Woodhouse, (present-day Wentworth St, Parramatta) [right of image]. Extract of “Plan of the Town of Parramatta and the adjacent properties,” as surveyed by W. Meadows Brownrigg (1844). Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales, M M4 811.1301/1844/1 / FL3690457.

Her paramour, the surgeon, remained largely silent about her death, as he had been mostly silent about her life. Their enforced privacy, perhaps both a bane and a social necessity. They had never legally married, but that was not all. According to historian John Ritchie, after Catherine died six-year-old Dorset became D’Arcy and four-year-old Matthew became John. William Charles her firstborn, retained his Christian names.[43] Erasing any dishonourable association with their convict mother, their father D’Arcy Wentworth was now able to insist on the traditional male names long associated with his family. His first three sons were to be brought up as gentlemen as befitted his ancient lineage.

In truth, D’Arcy Wentworth had a few ignominious skeletons in his own private closet from a former dubious, if not notorious, life in Georgian London. And however much he tried and even whilst his own good fortunes soared, like Catherine Crowley, he could never entirely escape his past. As their eldest son William Charles would later discover, the elites of New South Wales had long-lasting memories. Polite society in colonial Sydney was mercilessly unwilling to forgive and forget the sins of the mothers—or, indeed, those of the fathers. The ‘convict stain’ was to be a long and enduring one.[44]

Twenty-seven years after Catherine Crowley’s death, D’Arcy Wentworth died at his Home Bush estate on 7 July 1827 at the age of sixty-five. Two days later, he was buried at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. William Charles Wentworth was now the head of the family and one of his first actions was to ensure that Catherine’s remains were disinterred from her grave and placed in the same vault as his father’s. For William, this was done out of the deepest respect that he felt was due to his beloved mother. Her inclusion in the Wentworth vault would ensure that even if her life was barely known and little remembered, it would always be memorialised at her final resting place at St. John’s.[45]

CITE THIS

Catie Gilchrist, “Catherine Crowley: A Convict Sea Wife,” St. John’s Online, (2021), https://stjohnsonline.org/bio/catherine-crowley, accessed [insert current date]

Acknowledgements

Further Reading

Catie Gilchrist, “D’Arcy Wentworth: A Gentleman Rogue,” St. John’s Online, (2021).

References

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Kay Daniels, Convict Women, (St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1998).
  • Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St John’s, (Parramatta: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991).
  • Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1993).
  • Catie Gilchrist, “The ‘Crime’ of Precocious Sexuality: Young Male Convicts and the Politics of Separation,” Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 8, (2006): 43–66.
  • Carol Liston, “The Damned Whore and the Public Man: Sarah and William Wentworth,” in Penny Russell (ed.), For Richer, For Poorer: Early Colonial Marriages, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994).
  • Carol Liston, Sarah Wentworth, Mistress of Vaucluse, (Glebe: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 1988).
  • Anne Needham with Laurel Riddler, Merle Hadley, and Phyllis Scott, The Women of the 1790 Neptune, (Dural, NSW: self-published, 1992).
  • Sian Rees, The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary Story of the Lady Juliana and its Cargo of Female Convicts Bound for Botany Bay, (Sydney: Hodder, 2001).
  • John Ritchie, The Wentworths: Father and Son, (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997).
  • Michael Sturma, “Eye of the Beholder: The Stereotype of Women Convicts, 1788–1852,” Labour History, Vol. 34, (May, 1978): 3–10.

NOTES

[1] In 1559 an Act laid down that Stafford should be the location of the Staffordshire Quarter Sessions, and from 1579 the Assizes were also fixed there.

[2] 90 per cent of the women transported on the Second Fleet had been convicted of theft or burglary and one in every four was a shoplifter. John Ritchie, The Wentworths: Father and Son, (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997), p. 31. Almost 25,000 women were transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land between 1788 and 1853 when the last ship to carry women, the Duchess of Northumberland, arrived in Hobart with over 200 exiles. See Kay Daniels, Convict Women, (St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1998), p. 51.

[3] See Anne Needham with Laurel Riddler, Merle Hadley, and Phyllis Scott, The Women of the 1790 Neptune, (Dural, NSW: self-published, 1992), pp. 64–65. There had been a gaol in Stafford since the twelfth century. It mostly served as a ‘staging post’ for people convicted in courts in the north of England. From here, they would be sent to one of the main prisons elsewhere in England. In 1793, a new Stafford gaol opened near to the one Catherine Crowley had been incarcerated in. The imposing gloomy structure still serves as a prison for sex offenders today.

[4] Arthur Phillip had deemed Botany Bay an unsuitable place to establish a penal settlement soon after the First Fleet arrived in January 1788. However, as a phrase, “Botany Bay” remained a terrifying Leviathan in the British imagination for a number of years after this date.

[5] Hulks were moored in the main on the Thames but also at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Cork to house the increasingly overcrowded prison population brought about by the cessation of transportation to America following the War of Independence 1775–1783. These floating hell holes were supposed to be a temporary measure; however they were used for eighty years between 1776 and 1857. There was one hulk on which women were held as well as men—the Dunkirk at Portsmouth. It only operated between 1784 and 1791 after which date women were sent to a house of correction prior to transportation. See Samuel Hadfield and Robert Shoemaker, “Convict Hulks,” Digital Panopticon, (2016), www.digitalpanopticon.org/Convict_Hulks, accessed 26 April 2019.

[6] According to Anne Needham et al., the other four were Ann Calcut, Mary Cooksey, Hannah Hawkins and Frances Handley. All were sentenced to seven years transportation and all had been convicted at the Staffordshire Assizes of stealing, burglary or shoplifting. Frances Handley died on the Neptune on the way to New South Wales. Upon arrival, Calcut and Cooksey were sent to Parramatta where they both soon married. Hawkins sailed on to Norfolk Island with Catherine Crowley on the Surprize in August 1790. Anne Needham with Laurel Riddler, Merle Hadley, and Phyllis Scott, The Women of the 1790 Neptune, (Dural, NSW: self-published, 1992), pp. 60–65 and pp. 132–48.

[7] The best examination of the Second Fleet is provided by Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1993).

[8] Anne Needham with Laurel Riddler, Merle Hadley, and Phyllis Scott, The Women of the 1790 Neptune, (Dural, NSW: self-published, 1992), p. xii.

[9] Although, at the same time, in 2019 it might also be conjectured that for some women it was in fact Hobson’s Choice? By the 1820s a much stricter regime was in place on the transport ships which demanded the separation of the bond and the free, and women and men. Often ships themselves carried only female or male convicts and much greater systems of surveillance were put in place to prevent any sort of immoral behaviour. Hand in hand with this went the strict enforcement of a structured daily routine, religious instruction and monotonous work to occupy the convicts during the voyage. On occasion, however, the surgeon-superintendents appointed to oversee the physical and moral well-being of their charges were less than exacting in their official duties and the history of penal transportation is replete with ship-board scandals. Many women continued to arrive pregnant or with babes in arms. Juvenile male youths had their own physical horrors to bear, transported as they so often were with older, hardened male offenders. And even the sending out of male juvenile only ships did not always alleviate the problem. See Catie Gilchrist, “The ‘Crime’ of Precocious Sexuality: Young Male Convicts and the Politics of Separation,” Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 8, (2006): 43–66.

[10] Elizabeth Macarthur later transferred to the sister transport the Scarborough at Cape Town in February 1790 following a number of trifling quarrels between her husband John and Captains Nepean and Trail over conditions and accommodation on board the Neptune.

[11] Elizabeth Macarthur’s journal and correspondence can be viewed here: Elizabeth Macarthur, Volume 10: Elizabeth Macarthur Journal and Correspondence, 1789–1840, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, A 2906 (Safe 1/398), https://digital.sl.nsw.gov.au/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?embedded=true&toolbar=false&dps_pid=FL4636753; see also the transcript http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html, accessed online 6 May 2019.

[12] Elizabeth Macarthur, Volume 10: Elizabeth Macarthur Journal and Correspondence, 1789–1840, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, A 2906 (Safe 1/398) / FL4636761 and FL4636763; see also the transcript http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html, accessed online 6 May 2019.

[13] “On the 25th of Jan.y…About this time my poor little Boy was taken very ill & continued in a most pitiable weak state during our passage to the Cape. Added to this my servant was attacked with a Fever that raged among the women convicts., and I had hourly every reason to expect that the infection would be communicated to us, as our apartments were so immediately connected with those of the women.” Elizabeth Macarthur, Volume 10: Elizabeth Macarthur Journal and Correspondence, 1789–1840, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, A 2906 (Safe 1/398) / FL4636759 and FL4636769, the final page of her journal in which Elizabeth also referenced John’s illness. Although torn and therefore fragmentary, it gives a sense of his trials: “and it was not till this time that Mr. Macarthur…recovered to walking without assistance. It…feel the heavy hand of sickness…”; see also the transcript http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html, accessed online 6 May 2019.

[14] Elizabeth Macarthur, Volume 10: Elizabeth Macarthur Journal and Correspondence, 1789–1840, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, A 2906 (Safe 1/398) / FL4636769; see also the transcript http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html, accessed online 6 May 2019.

[15] Sian Rees, The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary Story of the Lady Juliana and its Cargo of Female Convicts Bound for Botany Bay, (Sydney: Hodder, 2001), p. 213.

[16]Voyage of the Lady Juliana: Extract from a letter by one of the female convicts transported in the Lady Juliana, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, 24th July, 1790,” F. M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. II—GROSE AND PATERSON, 1793–1795, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1893), p. 767. This anonymous account by a female convict was originally printed in the Morning Chronicle on 4 August 1791. See Thomas Keneally, Australians: Origins to Eureka, Vol. I, (Crows Nest, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2009), p. 179; Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, (Sydney: The Library of Australian History, 1993), p. 49.

[17] For a list of Aboriginal endonyms and their related European exonyms used in this project see Harold Koch and Luise Hercus (eds.), Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and Re-naming the Australian Landscape(Canberra: ANU E Press, 2009), p. 42, https://books.google.com.au/books?id=HyHh-OrnRGoC&lpg=PR1&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed 26 August 2019. For a general discussion about giving prime position to indigenous endonyms and subordinating European imposed exonyms in both the colonial Australian and colonial American contexts as a mark of respect and to “sound” language, see “Name-Calling: Notes on Terminology,” in Michaela Ann Cameron (Ph.D. Diss.), “Stealing the Turtle’s Voice: A Dual History of Western and Algonquian-Iroquoian Soundways from Creation to Re-creation,” (Sydney: Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, 2018), pp. 25–35, http://bit.ly/stealingturtle, accessed 6 December 2019.

[18] John Ritchie, The Wentworths: Father and Son, (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997), p. 40.

[19] According to John Ritchie there were 73 convict deaths on the Scarborough and 36 perished on the Surprize. That amounted to 267 deaths out of 1006 convicts transported on the three ships. One soldier also died. John Ritchie, The Wentworths: Father and Son, (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997), p. 40. However, these figures are actually quite speculative and historians quote varying contemporary sources for their numbers. The Lieutenant Marine Watkin Tench recorded that 163 died on the Neptune, 42 on the Surprize and 68 on the Scarborough—a total of 273. According to Tench, another 486 were sick on arrival and of those landed sick, 124 died in the hospital at Sydney. Compared to the 24 who died on the First Fleet, Tench was utterly incredulous that this appalling human tragedy had occurred so needlessly. Tim Flannery (ed.), Watkin Tench’s 1788: Comprising A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2009, first published 1789 & 1793), p. 131.

[20] In fact, many of the women arrived in Sydney healthier than they had been before leaving England. Grinding poverty, irregular meals and prison fare meant many were malnourished prior to transportation. See Sian Rees, The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary Story of the Lady Juliana and its Cargo of Female Convicts Bound for Botany Bay, (Sydney: Hodder, 2001), p. 203. The Reverend Richard Johnson stated that out of 226 female convicts embarked, only 5 had died on the Lady Juliana. See Richard Johnson, “The Rev. R. Johnson to Mr. Thornton, [Extract],” [c. July 1790], in Frank M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. I, Part 2—PHILLIP, 1783–1792, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1892), p. 387. See also George Mackaness (ed.), Some Letters of Rev. Richard Johnson, BA, First Chaplain of New South Wales, Part One, (Sydney: D. S. Ford Printers, 1954), p. 30.

[21] Exact numbers cannot be confirmed; however this was the number recorded by both Reverend Richard Johnson and Surgeon Richard Alley. See Appendix 2 in Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, (Sydney: The Library of Australian History, 1993), p. 727. Watkin Tench recorded the number of women arriving on the Lady Juliana to be a very comparable 225. Tim Flannery (ed.), Watkin Tench’s 1788: Comprising A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2009, first published 1789 & 1793), p. 127.

[22] Despite her much earlier departure, the Lady Juliana’s journey was delayed following lengthy stays at Rio de Janiero (41 days) and the Cape of Good Hope (19 days). See Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, (Sydney: The Library of Australian History, 1993), pp. 18–19.

[23] George Mackaness (ed.), Some Letters of Rev. Richard Johnson, BA, First Chaplain of New South Wales, Part One, (Sydney: D. S. Ford Printers, 1954), p. 27.

[24] Tim Flannery (ed.), Watkin Tench’s 1788: Comprising A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2009, first published 1789 & 1793), p. 126.

[25] Tim Flannery (ed.), Watkin Tench’s 1788: Comprising A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2009, first published 1789 & 1793), pp. 127–28.

[26] Thomas Keneally, Australians: Origins to Eureka, Vol. I, (Crows Nest, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2009), p. 150.

[27] Tim Flannery (ed.), Watkin Tench’s 1788: Comprising A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2009, first published 1789 & 1793), p. 132.

[28] 905 nautical miles is 1042 miles and 1677 kilometres. This is the distance between Sydney and Kingston, Norfolk Island according to http://www.timeanddate.com.

[29] It was renamed Queenborough that same month. John Ritchie, The Wentworths: Father and Son, (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997), p. 59.

[30] John Ritchie, The Wentworths: Father and Son, (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997), p. 68.

[31] William Charles Wentworth, “Australasia,” (1822). The original publication appeared in 1823 as Australasia — A Poem written for The Chancellor’s Medal at the Cambridge Commencement, July 1823. By W. C. Wentworth, An Australasian; Fellow-commoner of Saint Peter’s College, (London: G and W. B. Whittaker, 1823), pp. xii, 28. A copy is held at the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

[32] Parramatta was originally named Rose Hill in honour of George Rose, Secretary to the British Treasury. On 2 June 1791, the name was changed, by order of Governor Arthur Phillip. It was to be the first place to be given a name by Europeans that was based on its Aboriginal name.

[33] Quoted in Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth; How Aborigines Made Australia, (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2011), p. 15. See also pp. 14–17 for further colonial references to the ‘park like’ nature of the early settlement.

[34] For a brief account of relations between the traditional owners and the newcomers in the Parramatta area during the 1790s, see Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2018), pp. 95–99.

[35] Government House was under construction at Parramatta from about April 1799 onwards. Due to a number of setbacks, though, when the new Governor (Philip Gidley King) arrived in April 1800 Government House was still not completely finished. At this stage, Government House was only the main central block of what we now know as Old Government House; the wings were Governor Macquarie’s later additions. See Michaela Ann Cameron, “The Crescent,” Dictionary of Sydney, (2015), https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/the_crescent, accessed 6 May 2019. Macquarie would also rename High Street in May 1811 when he regularised the streets and alignments. The new name was “George Street” in honour of the King. See New South Wales Government, “Parramatta Archaeological Management Unit 3179,” State Heritage Register, (2000), https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=2243179, accessed 6 May 2019.

[36] The Parramatta General Hospital was woefully inadequate until a new Colonial Hospital was built on the site in 1818. See Michaela Ann Cameron, “Parramatta’s General Hospital,” Dictionary of Sydney, (2015), http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/parramattas_general_hospital, accessed 15 April 2019.

[37] Frank M. Bladen (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. IV—Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1896), pp. 46–47, https://archive.org/details/historicalrecor01walegoog/page/n97, accessed 6 May 2019. In 1810, the 140-acre grant was technically cancelled after the land was incorporated into a much larger 1800-acre land grant from Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

[38] Because of the opulent dwelling and the improvements made to the site, Philip Gidley King renewed and extended the lease for fourteen years in January 1806. Later, in 1810, Macquarie made it into an official land grant. By 1819 the Wentworth Woodhouse estate had increased to 31 acres which W. C. Wentworth inherited on the death of his father in 1827.

[39] Wentworth Woodhouse was rather grandly named after the largest private stately home in England of the same name. This palatial structure in the village of Wentworth, Rotherham, South Yorkshire had more than 300 rooms and was part of the ancient Fitzwilliam family estate.

[40] “Damned whores” was the term used by Ralph Clark to describe the female convicts. The Second Lieutenant of Marines on the First Fleet noted it in his journal entry of 16 May 1787, shortly before his ship the Friendship departed England. His subsequent diary entries continued to denigrate the female convicts, although his general view of them did not extend to Mary Branham, his convict lover. Mary gave birth to their daughter at Norfolk Island on 23 July 1791. The child was later christened Alicia at St. Phillips, Sydney on 16 December 1791. His “dear beloved wife and most sinceer [sic] friend on earth” Betsy Alicia née Trevan had been left behind with his son Ralph Stuart in England. Not surprisingly, neither Mary nor Alicia merit a single mention in his journal. On the day of his daughter’s birth he simply wrote, “Rainy dirty weather – Majr. [sic] Ross no better.” Paul Fidlon and R. J. Ryan (eds.), The Journal and Letters of Lt. Ralph Clark, 1787–1792, (Sydney: The Library of Australian History, 1981), pp. 12–13, p. 206.

[41] See Michael Sturma, “Eye of the Beholder: The Stereotype of Women Convicts, 1788–1852,” Labour History, Vol. 34, (May, 1978): 3–10.

[42] Elizabeth Macarthur died at Watsons Bay, Sydney on 9 February 1850. She had been in the colony for just short of sixty years.

[43] John Ritchie, The Wentworths: Father and Son, (Carlton, Victoria: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997), p. 83.

[44] See Carol Liston, “The Damned Whore and the Public Man: Sarah and William Wentworth,” in Penny Russell (ed.), For Richer, For Poorer: Early Colonial Marriages, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994), pp. 114–34; Carol Liston, Sarah Wentworth, Mistress of Vaucluse, (Glebe: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 1988).

[45] Parish Burial Registers, Textual records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia; Vernon W. E. Goodin, St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta: Monumental Inscriptions and Key to Graves, (Sydney: The Society of Australian Genealogists, Sydney, 1964), pp. 62–63. The Wentworth vault is located at Section 2, Row J, No. 3, St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St. John’s, (Parramatta: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991), p. 117. According to the website Australian Royalty, “In Jul 1969, V. de V. Voss informed the Mitchell library that the headstone of Catherine Crowley (probably the 1800 original) formed part of a well in the grounds of a cottage in Campbell Street Parramatta, noting that the number of the cottage had been altered from 44 to 54.” Campbell Street runs parallel to St. John’s Cemetery’s southern wall, “Catherine Crowley, 1772–1800,” Australian Royalty, https://australianroyalty.net.au/individual.php?pid=I63996&ged=purnellmccord.ged, accessed 6 May 2019.

© Copyright 2019 Catie Gilchrist and Michaela Ann Cameron for St. John’s Online