At What Price Theft?

By Catie Gilchrist

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

WARNING: This essay discusses a violent murder, which may be distressing for some readers. Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are further advised that this essay discusses frontier violence and includes artistic impressions of people who are deceased, accompanied by words and descriptive terms that may be offensive to First Peoples. Those sources are presented as part of the record of the past; contemporary users should interpret the work within that context. Reader discretion is advised.

It was the lure of some easy money, courtesy of the ‘no questions asked’ pawnbrokers shop, that brought Mary Hawkins into trouble and strife.[1] Four shiny silver tablespoons valued at 20 shillings, a diaper tablecloth worth a shilling and a tinder box of very little value were the easy pickings she allegedly pilfered from her masters, Thomas and Ann Marshall, in the East End of London.[2] At her trial at the Old Bailey on 8 December 1790, the hapless house servant was found guilty of stealing ‘to the value of 1d.’[3] Despite a good character reference from her previous employer, Mr. David Yates, at the age of thirty-two, Mary Hawkins was sentenced to seven years transportation. It was a fate that befell thousands of British women convicted of theft and shoplifting in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. However, unlike many women who spent long months, sometimes years incarcerated waiting for their removal to the infamous penal colony at ‘Botany Bay,’ Mary Hawkins hardly had time to taste the prison gruel in Newgate before she found herself embarking upon the 298-ton Mary Ann at Gravesend.[4] Her permanent departure from the land of her birth to the other side of the earth, was imminent. And sadly, theft and its consequences would continue to follow her, even as she strove to create a new life in New South Wales.[5]

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Mary Hawkins was tried, convicted and sentenced to transportation for stealing from a house in which she was recently employed as a servant. According to Ann Marshall, Mary’s employer and a deponent at Mary’s Old Bailey trial, the house was located in the “Precinct of St. Catherine’s,” depicted above to the right of The Tower of London. “The Tower and St Catherins [sic] (1754), in the sixth edition of John Stow, A Survey of London, 1720, (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). © The Trustees of the British Museum. To view the same area in John Rocque’s more detailed historic map of 1746, see Locating London’s Past (www.locatinglondon.org, version 1.0), accessed 10 July 2020. Courtesy of MOLA/MOTCO. Click here for the present-day view on Google Maps.

Life at Warrane (Sydney Cove)

The women of the Mary Ann were landed at Warrane (Sydney Cove), Cadigal Country on 11 July 1791 and were distributed amongst the women’s tents and huts on the edge of the settlement, behind the Governor’s house.

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. The Crested Shrike-tit (Falcunculus frontatus) was probably one of the native birds Mary heard warbling and chattering in and around Warrane (Sydney Cove) when she first arrived in the colony, as the artist, John William Lewin, described this bird as “a noisy chattering Species, very active in tearing off the Bark of Trees and Shrubs in search of Insects, particularly hard-coated Beatles [sic].” The Crested Shrike-tit made its nest in the high fork of eucalypt trees and, according to the Australian Museum, was “formerly common in Sydney Harbour National Park.” John William Lewin, “Pl. 17: Crested Shrike,” in J. W. Lewin, Birds of New South Wales, with their natural history, (Sydney: Printed by G. Howe, 1813). nla.obj-189252501. Courtesy of National Library Australia via Trove.

We can only imagine how Mary Hawkins felt on arriving in this strange new land. Did her legs take long to adjust to being on firm ground again after 143 days at sea? Perhaps her eyes squinted and blinked in the brightness of the piercingly clear winter skies and the vivid rays of sunshine? What did she fathom of the strange warblings of the native birds? Did she view any naked Cadigal People around Warrane (Sydney Cove)? How did she navigate the rough-strewn, rowdy canvas town she had finally arrived at? Like so many convict women who have left us no diaries or memoirs, her thoughts and feelings can only be conjectured.

Soon after their arrival, Governor Arthur Phillip travelled to Parramatta to make arrangements for the influx of an estimated two thousand more convicts, crews, livestock and provisions that were following the Mary Ann in a flotilla of ships, subsequently labelled the Third Fleet.[6] Here, at the colony’s second settlement, two large ‘tent huts’ were quickly erected, each about thirty metres long and ‘thatched with grass.’[7] To ease the human onslaught on the still fledgling colony where provisions were being meagrely rationed, in the subsequent weeks some convicts were immediately dispatched to Norfolk Island upon arrival. By the time the final ship, the 527-ton Admiral Barrington, arrived on 16 October 1791, the Third Fleet had brought out (exclusive of the military) 1695 male convicts, 168 female convicts and nine children, with an additional eight free women and one child. Warrane (Sydney Cove) was the most crowded, bustling and noisy it had ever been, and everyone—free or bond, male or female, cow or sheep—required food and shelter. Fortunately, the plentiful supplies that had arrived with the ships meant that all were now finally permitted full rations from the government stores. Mary Hawkins at least could go to bed, motionless on dry land with a full belly. There was promise here, in this strange new land. Whatever else she was thinking and feeling, that must have surely been of some comfort to the luckless thief.[8]

‘Marriage is to be encouraged as much as possible’

Mary Hawkins was one of many Third Fleeters who were soon sent to the colony’s second mainland settlement at Parramatta in Burramattagal Country. On 11 September 1791, exactly two months to the day since she landed at Warrane (Sydney Cove), she became Mary Rowe when she married William Rowe at St. John’s, Parramatta.[9] The Reverend Richard Johnson gladly officiated, always happy to render ‘illicit’ convict unions both legally sanctioned and religiously blessed. Most convicts did not bother getting married and cohabitation and ‘concubinage’ were very common, although all the early governors were given explicit instructions to encourage marriage as a means of promoting respectability and reformation. We do not know why Mary and William decided to marry. William probably thought himself very lucky, because with the unique ratio of women to men in the early colony being extremely uneven, Mary Hawkins would have had any number of eligible men to choose from. Maybe she desired the legal sanctuary and safety that the arms of one man brought as a means of protecting herself. Marriage gave many convict women the best chance of resuming a ‘normal’ life and a certain degree of freedom, at least from the colonial authorities, and any children born within marriage would have the full rights of inheritance as well as legitimate status.[10] Or perhaps it was simply love at first sight for both of them.[11]

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Revd. Richard Johnson, B.A., chaplain to the settlement in New South Wales / G. Terry pinxt.; G. Terry sculpt. Paternoster Row. P1 / 854 / FL1834643, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

William Rowe was born in 1755 in the ancient parish village of Lanivet in Cornwall on the southwest coast of England. He had arrived in the colony with the First Fleet per Scarborough (1788) as an unwilling migrant following his conviction for the theft of a canvas bag containing money amounting to 33s. 6d. William had been rather fortunate to escape the accompanying and much more serious charge of intent to murder Benjamin Odgers who had owned the bag and its stash; a guilty verdict upon this serious allegation would have almost certainly seen him swing from the gallows into an unmarked, unhallowed grave. Sadly for his parents, William and Grace Rowe, his younger brother John was also convicted of theft (in John’s case, of two cloth coats) and on 19 March 1785, at the Launceston Assizes, Cornwall, both brothers were sentenced to transportation for ‘seven years beyond the seas.’[12] William was sent to HMS Dunkirk then moored at Plymouth to await his eventual fate. Here his hulk report noted that he was ‘tolerably decent and orderly.’[13]

We know very little about William and Mary’s married life. The fact that they embraced the very respectable institution, however, is perhaps an indication of their individual characters. For many convict couples, life was a struggle in the early years, although some were resolutely determined to make good, settle on the land of their exile, and make the most of a bad situation. It helped if they kept out of trouble with the colonial authorities, which fortunately, the Rowes both did. A child was born a couple of years into their marriage.[14] And following his emancipation in May 1795, William Rowe was granted a thirty-acre plot at Mulgrave Place, near present-day Bardo Narang (Pitt Town), Dharug Country, in the heart of the Hawkesbury region, thirty-two miles northwest of Cadi (Sydney).[15]

Mary and William now had their own land to live upon and farm, for this was the felon’s inducement for good behaviour whilst still under sentence: once free, they would be rewarded.[16] For many, land signalled the possibility of personal reformation and the reinvention of the self in the early convict colony. For the Dharug and Darkinjung Peoples to the west and north of Parramatta, however, land grants to ex-convicts and soldier settlers was outright theft that also involved the rape and pillage of their ancestral waterways and the destruction of their sacred ancient ceremonial sites.[17]

Early Settlement on the Deerubbin (Hawkesbury)

The lush and expansive Hawkesbury wilderness remained largely undisturbed by the colonists or, as the Cadigal called them, the Berewalgal (people from a distant place) for the first six years of settlement. In April 1791, Governor Phillip, Watkin Tench, David Collins and a large expedition party set out to determine whether or not the Deerubbin (the Hawkesbury) and the Yandhai (the Nepean) were the same river. They were accompanied by Colebee and ‘Boladeree’ (Ballooderry) from ‘Burramatta.’ The intrepid sojourners gave up after six days, although a further excursion the following month concluded that the two swathes of deep fertile waters were indeed just one.[18] However, the notion of settling the area was not part of Governor Arthur Phillip’s plan. By the close of 1792, he had established convict farms at ‘Rose Hill’ in Burramattagal Country, ‘the Northern Boundaries’ in Bidjigal Country, Marrong (Prospect) in Warmuli Country, the Ponds, Field of Mars, and Kissing Point in Wallumettagal Country, and Toongabbie in Toogagal Country, and had ruled out the Hawkesbury as a place to farm, being too far away from Cadi (Sydney), with a three-day voyage by boat or at least two days’ journey overland.[19] The supervision and surveillance of settlers here would have been difficult.[20] The Governor was concerned that depredations and atrocities might be perpetrated against the inland Aboriginal People with impunity. Yet, as more convict ships arrived and time-worn sentences expired, further agricultural expansion was only inevitable. In fact, many convicts and soldiers were attracted to the district precisely because of its distance from Cadi (Sydney), ‘far from the surveillance of officers…far from the courts and the floggings and the ennui and slave-like conditions of the public farms.’[21] And so, for some ‘the shining river beckoned.’[22]

“The shining river beckoned.” A View of the River Hawkesbury New South Wales, c. 1810, by John William Lewin, who in addition to being an artist was also the coroner in Mary Rowe’s murder case. John Lewin, A Veiw [i.e. View] of the River Hawkesbury N. S. Wales (c. 1810), DG V1B / 3 / FL3140673, Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales.

By 1794, twenty-two thirty-acre farms had been established in the remote vicinity, and fourteen had been granted to convicts from the First Fleet.[23] Wheat fields, potato plots and corn plantations were soon springing from the dark, fertile, alluvial earth. As Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose reported to the Home Secretary, Henry Dundas, in his despatch of April 1794:

I have settled on the banks of the Hawkesbury twenty-two settlers, who seem very pleased with their farms. They described the soil as particularly rich, and they inform me whatever they have planted has grown in the greatest luxuriance.[24]

A rough track was cut from Parramatta up to the Hawkesbury, which reduced the overland journey to eight hours, and expansion—clearing, planting and building—continued apace.[25] By August 1794, there were seventy settlers and their families occupying plots of land.[26] A month after Mary Rowe’s husband secured his grant here, in June 1795, Acting-Governor Captain William Paterson informed London that there were now upwards of four hundred settlers in the Hawkesbury district, extending nearly thirty miles along the banks on both sides of the river.[27] It was, by his account, the ‘most fertile spot which has yet been discovered in the colony.’[28]

Murder on the Deerubbin (Hawkesbury)

But ‘the Nile of New South Wales’ was a deadly spot, too, for the original inhabitants and traditional owners were determined to resist the uninvited encroachment onto, and theft of, their water and land, their pathways, food sources and their sacred spiritual places.[29] If theft was a crime punishable by transportation from Britain, for the Dharug and Darkinjung Peoples it was similarly an affront to be actively resisted and paid back.[30]

Vincent Woodthorpe, A Male and Female Native, History of New South Wales, Darug, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans, Thomas Daveney, George Barrington, St. John's Cemetery, Parramatta, Tyrant of Toongabbie
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Unidentified Aboriginal family in the Colony of New South Wales, c. 1802. The image may depict Dharug People since George Barrington, the author of the book in which the image appears, was based in Toongabbie and Parramatta. Vincent Woodthorpe, “A Male & Female Native,” in George Barrington, The History of New South Wales (London: Published by M. Jones, No. 1. Paternoster Row, 1802), PIC Drawer 4041 #S4285, National Library of Australia.

According to David Collins, the natives’ ‘annoyances’ and ‘interruptions’ commenced almost immediately.[31] Settlers’ huts were attacked, robbed, and burnt by traditional firesticks. Kitchen gardens with their thriving cabbages, turnips and pumpkins were trampled upon, the white man’s planted fields were plundered and hundreds of deadly spears were thrown. The colonists responded in kind with the abduction of native women and children, and also with their deadly gunfire. By the close of 1794 there had been at least nine or ten Aboriginal deaths and one colonist death at the Hawkesbury settlements, yet there may well have been many more. As historian Stephen Gapps has recently noted, ‘it is impossible to know in detail what occurred; the limited second-hand accounts and reliance on [David] Collins, the only significant chronicler at the time, mean events are cast in shadows.’[32] Beyond the shadows, however, what is known is that a blood for blood system of revenge or, as David Collins noted, ‘an open war’ was now well underway.[33]

During May and June 1795, five settlers were killed by the ‘wood tribe’ (Bidjigal) and several more were badly wounded.[34] Captain Paterson, who had prior military experience in India, loftily justified the subsequent reprisals to his pen-pushing, office-bound superiors back in London. He had little choice but to send in the troops to ‘secure to the settlers the peaceable possession of their estates.’[35] A detachment of two subalterns and sixty privates of the New South Wales Corps had been ordered to the district ‘to drive out the natives to a distance, as for the protection of the settlers.’[36] Paterson further reported that since the deployment of the troops, seven or eight ‘natives’ had been killed having refused to retreat from the district. One man and four women had also been taken prisoner. According to Paterson he meant to, ‘keep them until they can be made to understand that it is not their interest to do us injuries, and that we are readier to be friends than enemies; but that we cannot suffer our people to be inhumanely butchered, and their labour rendered useless by their deprivations, with impunity.’[37] Paterson wrote in the same seemingly paternalistic, humane spirit of Governor Phillip with his doctrine of peaceable friendship and equal rights before the law—but not, of course, if the ‘natives’ impeded the colony’s progress. Yet resist colonial expansion they did, with the terror of their spears, their destructive fires and their rampant pillaging. And because of this, the white man’s guns were fired: ‘amity and kindness’ were of much less concern to the invaders than the expansion of settled farms and thriving agricultural plantations. On the surface, Paterson appeared somewhat torn, but he was also ultimately on the warfare defensive. As he explained:

It gives me concern to have been forced to destroy any of these people, particularly as I have no doubt of their having been cruelly treated by some of the first settlers who went out there; however, had I not taken this step, every prospect of advantage which the colony may expect to derive from a settlement formed on the banks of so fine a river as the Hawkesbury would be at an end.[38]

For Mary Rowe, life on the Hawkesbury was already at an end.

When Mary allegedly stole from Thomas and Ann Marshall in London in 1790, she would not have been able to imagine the horrors of the colonial frontier into which she was subsequently cast. In May 1795, the very month William Rowe was granted land, the convicted thief, unwilling passenger on the Mary Ann, convict wife and Hawkesbury settler, lost her husband and young child to the violence that white settlement on the rich alluvial river plains had unleashed. Both William and child became statistics in the early violent episodes that accompanied geographical expansion, brutally killed by the spears of local warriors. And Mary, the ‘poor creature, after having seen her husband and her child slaughtered before her eyes,’ was seriously injured. [39] She hid in the thick, tall reed grasses near the banks of the Deerubbin (Hawkesbury River), bleeding profusely, and waited desperately for help to arrive. Or maybe she hoped to succumb to her own terrible injuries before it did.

Following the Rowe murders, Captain Paterson was again spurred into action and ‘in consequence of this horrid circumstance, another party of the corps was sent out.’[40] But they failed to find anyone to punish or kill in reprisal because the ‘natives’ kept at a distance.[41] The soldiers, however, were now here to stay as a permanent garrison and for the next two years they were ‘deployed in three different places along the river.’[42] Nevertheless, the first custodians of the Hawkesbury district continued their sporadic raids upon the white settlers and a ‘spiral of retribution’ between the colonists and the Dharug and Darkinjung Peoples would continue into the next century.[43]

Parramatta

After she was eventually found, Mary Rowe was taken to the whitewashed, brick-built convict hospital at Parramatta in Burramattagal Country.[44] Here, she slowly recovered from her physical wounds and it is highly probable that she spent the rest of her life in the colony’s second mainland settlement. She did not remarry, nor did she have any more children; yet mental scars, carved by the loss of her husband and child, presumably remained with her. But once again, at this distance in time and with no records, we can only imagine her enduring grief, and wonder if she made any connection between the slaughter of her family, the land theft that had preceded it, and the natives ‘payback’ of punishment, revenge and reckoning.[45]

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. “A View of Part of Parramatta Port Jackson,” c.1809, attributed to George William Evans. Series 01: Australian paintings by J.W. Lewin, G. P. Harris, G. W. Evans and others, 1796–1809 [32 watercolours], Vol. 3, PXD 388 / FL1152086, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Though Mary had escaped the violence of the Hawkesbury, her new home in Parramatta harboured its own dangers. Law and order were often wanting in colonial towns, and so, in the early years of the nineteenth century, the government reinforced their policing. In October 1811, Governor Lachlan Macquarie wrote to London informing Whitehall that crimes and misdemeanours in Cadi (Sydney) and Parramatta had been largely quelled. As he noted, ‘Previous to this Police Establishment, our Streets frequently exhibited the most disgraceful scenes of Rioting, Drunkenness and Excesses of every kind, and each Morning brought to light the History of Thefts, Burglaries, and Depredations which had been Committed the Night before. Happily,’ he continued, ‘such Occurrences are now almost totally suppressed, and when an Occasional Plunder does take place, such is the Vigilance of the Police that Justice speedily overtakes the Delinquent. At the Head of this Establishment…I have appointed Mr. D’Arcy Wentworth …’[46] If a certain sense of public decorum had at last been brought to the towns, unhappily, one of Macquarie’s ‘occasional plunders’ had occurred less than two months before in Parramatta. And on this dreadful occasion, even the indefatigable D’Arcy Wentworth had been unable to prevent it, although the delinquents were swiftly brought to justice.

‘A Most Shocking Murder’

Early on the morning of Monday 26 August 1811, the battered body of a woman aged in her fifties was discovered lifeless on the floor in a house in Parramatta, Burramattagal Country. [47] It was clear she had died sometime on the previous evening, and Assistant Surgeon Edward Luttrill, who viewed the body at nine o’clock in the morning, believed life had been extinct for between twelve and fourteen hours.[48]

The Coroner, John William Lewin, was duly summoned from Cadi (Sydney) and made haste to the township.[49] At the inquest held early the following day, the gentlemen of the jury were informed that the woman had lived for many years in the house of Charles Wright, which was situated ‘lonely, retired and obscure’ between Joseph Ward’s house and the stone quarry.[50] When she was found ‘mangled in a brutal manner’ her face ‘was much bruised and disfigured by blows’ and she appeared to have been savagely strangled with her own shawl.[51] This had been sufficient to occasion her death. However, there was also a ‘most ghastly wound’ which extended from the upper part of the thigh, down to the knee. A great amount of the flesh had been cut away and ‘the bone left bare.’[52] This wound had not caused her death, because it had in fact been needlessly and barbarously inflicted after her death had occurred.[53] The inquest concluded that the woman had been strangulated and hence murdered. As was within his legal jurisdiction, the coroner placed four local residents suspected of being caught up in the frightful affair into the custody of the police. John Welch and his father Thomas, Ann Wilson and John Donne (alias Dunne) were immediately sent to Cadi (Sydney). Here, they were to stand trial for their involvement in the wilful murder of their kind and generous next-door neighbour—Mrs. Mary Rowe.[54]

Justice for Mary Rowe

The motive all along was pure and simple theft. John Donne was an itinerant road labourer who resided with young John and his father Thomas Welch and Ann Wilson (Thomas’s amour) whenever he was in town.[55] Having returned from work early on the morning of Sunday 25 August 1811, by the afternoon, Donne was thoroughly rotten drunk in liquor. Thirsty for more grog, he decided to rob the old woman next door, informing John Welch ‘that he would kill her if she did not immediately give her money up.’[56] Mary Rowe was not to be so easily cowed and she resisted Donne’s threatening demands, but because she did, she lost her life at the overwhelming strength of his murderous drunken hands. Her wilful murder was both ‘horrid’ and ‘atrocious,’ and had been perpetrated for the sake of a copper tea kettle containing upwards of ten pounds in coins, a bag of coins worth up to nine pounds and a few other small articles of some value.[57] All in all, the value of the goods stolen was greater than forty shillings; and the price for this crime, then known as ‘grand larceny,’ like murder itself, was death by hanging.

On Friday 13 September 1811, at the Criminal Court in Cadi (Sydney), John Welch was the main witness. He told the solemn proceedings that Donne had informed him of his murderous intentions and that he had threatened to kill him too if he did not assist him with moving the stolen booty. For this admission, he escaped any punishment for being an accessory before, during or after the crime. Ann Wilson was completely exonerated having been asleep at the time the crime was committed next door. Thomas Welch was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact of the murder and was sentenced to seven years hard labour, ‘wheresoever it should be the pleasure of His Excellency the Governor in Chief to direct.’[58] John Donne was found guilty of wilful murder.[59] For this, he received ‘the awful sentence’ which ‘doomed him to suffer’ death by hanging in the Town of Parramatta on Monday 16 September ‘between the hours of eight and twelve’ and ‘as near to the spot where the murder was committed.’[60] Afterwards, his body was to be sent to the General Hospital at Parramatta for dissection and anatomisation, then buried without religious rites. This was the ignominious end for the despicable murderer.

Fernando Brambila, Parramatta, April 1793, eighteenth-century Parramatta, eighteenth-century medicine, hospital, St. John's Cemetery Project, Old Parramattans, John Irving, Surgeon
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Fernando Brambila, Sketch of Parramatta, April 1793, and what is thought to be a view of the General Hospital [left of centre] at the present-day Parramatta Justice Precinct Heritage Courtyard, Marsden Street, Parramatta. Mary was brought to the General Hospital to recover from the injuries she sustained in the Hawkesbury in 1795; it was the same hospital in which those hanged for her murder would be anatomised and dissected in 1811. Map Library, MAPS T.TOP.124 SUPP F44. © British Library Board.

On the morning of the execution, young John Welch made a shocking public declaration to the people of Parramatta. In front of the large crowd that had gathered to watch John Donne swing from the gallows, he swore that Mary Rowe had not died at Donne’s hands: instead, she had been murdered by himself and his father Thomas. The townsfolk were utterly astonished and his remarkable allegation naturally halted the morning’s planned proceedings. These ‘new’ and ‘distressing’ circumstances meant further legal enquiries had to be made to verify or refute John Welch’s claim and perhaps save the life of an innocent man.[61] Yet his confession was subsequently found to be a falsehood and merely delayed Donne’s execution, which was eventually carried out in Parramatta on Wednesday 18 September.[62] Why did John Welch make this extraordinary claim and risk his own life as well as that of his father in the process? It is impossible to know, although the attempted perjury had serious consequences.

Three weeks later, John’s father Thomas Welch again stood trial in Cadi (Sydney). This time he was charged with ‘feloniously stealing, taking and carrying away from the dwelling house of Mary Rowe…certain property of the value of 40 shillings.’[63] Thomas Welch had not played a part in her brutal murder; however, he had been in on the act of the burglary, which had occurred after her death. He had also been privy to the subsequent attempts to bury and burn the incriminating evidence. Despite his declaration of innocence, the jury found him guilty of ‘grand larceny’ and sentence of death was passed accordingly. On Monday 14 October 1811, Thomas Welch was launched into eternity at his place of execution on Sydney Common.[64] According to eyewitnesses at the ‘awful occasion,’ Welch ‘gave no signs of contrition for his offence; but appeared to be little affected at his melancholy situation.’[65] How his son John felt was not recorded. Just four days later, on Friday 18 October, Governor Macquarie wrote his buoyant despatch to London, assuring the authorities there, that here in the penal colony, ‘Justice speedily overtakes the Delinquent.’[66]

At What Price Theft?

It was probably a coincidental thread, but theft and its consequences had woven together in a tragic web that entangled  and ultimately destroyed Mary Rowe. The alleged pilfering of silver spoons, a tablecloth, and a tinder box in London in 1790 led to her punishment and permanent exile from the land of her birth. The real theft of fertile lands, ancient trees, native animals and richly abundant waterways on the Hawkesbury by 1795, saw her husband and child die in a murderous attack of Aboriginal retaliation. And her own violent death on the evening of Sunday 25 August 1811 in Parramatta was motivated by premeditated theft, fuelled by potent liquor and the all-consuming desire to wilfully take possession of something of value that ultimately belonged to somebody else—regardless of the consequences.

They buried her in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta, on Tuesday 27 August 1811.[67] For Mary Rowe, at the age of 53, the threads of theft and punishment, and violence and retribution, which had been tightly and destructively woven together throughout her adult life, had finally been broken forever.

CITE THIS

Catie Gilchrist, “Mary Rowe: At What Price Theft?” St. John’s Online, (2020), https://stjohnsonline.org/bio/mary-rowe, accessed [insert current date]

References

Primary Sources and Databases

Secondary Sources

  • John Connor, Australian Frontier Wars 1788–1838, (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2002).
  • Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the Early Colony 1788–1817, (Sydney: New South Publishing, UNSW Press, 2018).
  • Bobbie Hardy, Early Hawkesbury Settlers, (Kenthurst, N.S.W.: Kangaroo Press, 1985).
  • Grace Karskens, The Colony A History of Early Sydney, (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009).
  • Portia Robinson, The Women of Botany Bay: A Reinterpretation of the Role of Women in the Origins of Australian Society, Revised Edition, (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books, 1993).
  • Lyndall Ryan, “Untangling Aboriginal Resistance and the Settler Punitive Expedition: The Hawkesbury River Frontier in New South Wales, 1794–1810,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 15, No. 2, (2013): 219–232.

NOTES

[1] In the records Mary Hawkins is recorded as also having an alias: ‘Ann.’

[2] Only the tinder box was subsequently found at her lodgings, although money amounting to two pounds and six shillings was also discovered. Some ‘duplicates’ dated November 1790 were also found suggesting a visit to a pawn shop.

[3] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 8 December 1790, trial of MARY otherwise ANN HAWKINS (t17901208-31), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17901208-31, accessed 28 July 2019.

[4] Hawkins was transferred to the Mary Ann on 14 February 1791 together with 51 other women from Newgate. See London Lives 1690 to 1800 (https://www.londonlives.org/, version 2.0), Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court: Delivered on Board the Ship Mary Ann lying at Gravesend on the 14th day of February 1791, (LL ref: LMSMGO556100175), Image 175, https://www.londonlives.org/browse.jsp?div=LMSMGO55610GO556100175, accessed 6 December 2019. For information about the Mary Ann, see Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships, 1787–1868, Second Edition, (Glasgow: Brown Son & Ferguson, 1969), p. 131.

[5] For a vivid and lively account of women convicted of theft in London and sent to Newgate prior to transportation, see Portia Robinson, “‘The Gods Go A-Begging’: From Newgate to Botany Bay” in The Women of Botany Bay: A Reinterpretation of the Role of Women in the Origins of Australian Society, Revised Edition, (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books, 1993), pp. 81–102.

[6] The area had been originally known as Rose Hill by the first white settlers. However, in a genuine act of reconciliation, Governor Arthur Phillip had reverted to the native name of ‘Parramatta,’ a European version of the Aboriginal placename ‘Burramatta,’ just one month before on 2 June 1791. Watkin Tench and Tim Flannery (ed.), 1788: Comprising a Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 1996), p. 203.

[7] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 172.

[8] See David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), pp. 172–83. Charles Bateson’s figures are 1696 male convicts and 169 female convicts. Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships, 1787–1868, Second Edition, (Glasgow: Brown Son & Ferguson, 1969), p. 138. 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.

[9] “Marriage of WILLIAM ROWE and MARY HAWKINS, 11 September 1791,” Parish Marriage Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.

[10] For the benefits of marriage for female convicts see Kay Daniels, Convict Women, (St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1998), pp. 229–34.

[11] For marriage in the early convict colony see Portia Robinson, “The Sword of God and Gideon; Marriage and Morals at Botany Bay” in The Women of Botany Bay: A Reinterpretation of the Role of Women in the Origins of Australian Society, Revised Edition, (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books, 1993), pp. 248–69.

[12] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 316; John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1970), p. 240.

[13] Trish Symonds, “William Rowe,” Cornwall OPC, (2011), https://www.opc-cornwall.org/Resc/emigrant_pdfs/rowe_william_1787.pdf, accessed 6 December 2019.

[14] We know this, because, in David Collins’s account of the Rowes’s ordeal he mentions the Rowes’s ‘fine child’ being slaughtered in front of Mary’s eyes, although he does not indicate the child’s gender or age. See David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 417. Genealogical sources cite a daughter called Fanny Rowe; however, as those researchers have not cited the primary source for this information, I have not been able to corroborate it.

[15] The entire settled area from present day Sackville Reach in the north to Richmond in the south (approximately 35 miles stretched along the river) was known by the name of “Mulgrave Place.”

[16] Jean McNaught, Index and Registers of Land Grants, Leases and Purchases 1792–1865, (Richmond: Tweed Regional Library, 1998), p. 194.

[17] According to Watkin Tench, Colbee called the inland people the “Boorooberongal.” Watkin Tench and Tim Flannery (ed.), 1788: Comprising a Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 1996), p. 188.

[18] Watkin Tench and Tim Flannery (ed.), 1788: Comprising a Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay and A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 1996), pp. 185–99.

[19] Bobbie Hardy, Early Hawkesbury Settlers, (Kenthurst, N.S.W.: Kangaroo Press, 1985), p. 10.

[20] Grace Karskens, The Colony A History of Early Sydney, (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009), p. 118.

[21] Grace Karskens, The Colony A History of Early Sydney, (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009), p. 120.

[22] Grace Karskens, The Colony A History of Early Sydney, (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009), p. 120.

[23] Early settlement of the Hawkesbury was mainly centred at Richmond Hill (later Richmond) and a place called Green Hills, which was later renamed Windsor in 1810. Most of the settlers from 1794 onwards were ex-convicts, soldiers and sailors.

[24] Francis Grose, “Lieut.-Governor Grose to The Right Hon. Henry Dundas, 29 April 1794,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. I, 1788–1796(Sydney: The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1914), pp. 468–70.

[25] Grace Karskens, The Colony A History of Early Sydney, (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009), p. 121.

[26] Stephen Gapps, “An Open War: 1791–96,” in The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the Early Colony 1788–1817, (Sydney: New South Publishing, UNSW Press, 2018), p. 69.

[27] Paterson replaced Grose who left the colony in December 1794, and was himself replaced by Governor John Hunter in September 1795.

[28] William Paterson, “Captain Paterson, Administrator, to the Right Hon. Henry Dundas, Sydney, New South Wales, 15 June 1795,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. I, 1788–1796(Sydney: The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1914), pp. 497–500.

[29] It was David Collins who labelled the Hawkesbury River, “the Nile of New South Wales.” David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 541. For the most recent historical account of conflict on the Hawkesbury see Stephen Gapps, “An Open War: 1791–96,” in The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the Early Colony 1788–1817, (Sydney: New South Publishing, UNSW Press, 2018), pp. 61–78.

[30] Historian Lyndall Ryan has identified the Hawkesbury River to have been “Australia’s first frontier” between 1794 and 1810. See Lyndall Ryan, “Untangling Aboriginal Resistance and the Settler Punitive Expedition: The Hawkesbury River Frontier in New South Wales, 1794–1810,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 15, No. 2, (2013): 219–32.

[31] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), David Collins and James Collier (ed.), An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, (Sydney: Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd, 1910), p. 212.

[32] Stephen Gapps, “An Open War: 1791–96,” in The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the Early Colony 1788–1817, (Sydney: New South Publishing, UNSW Press, 2018), p. 69.

[33] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 415.

[34] Bediagal and Bidjigal were used interchangeably to refer to the local inhabitants of the district. David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 416.

[35] William Paterson, “Captain Paterson, Administrator, to the Right Hon. Henry Dundas, Sydney, New South Wales, 15 June 1795,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. I, 1788–1796(Sydney: The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1914), p. 499.

[36] According to Stephen Gapps, “such a large force had not before been mobilised in the colony.” Stephen Gapps, “An Open War: 1791–96,” in The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the Early Colony 1788–1817, (Sydney: New South Publishing, UNSW Press, 2018), p. 72. William Paterson, “Captain Paterson, Administrator, to the Right Hon. Henry Dundas, Sydney, New South Wales, 15 June 1795,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. I, 1788–1796(Sydney: The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1914), p. 499.

[37] William Paterson, “Captain Paterson, Administrator, to the Right Hon. Henry Dundas, Sydney, New South Wales, 15 June 1795,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. I, 1788–1796(Sydney: The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1914), p. 499.

[38] William Paterson, “Captain Paterson, Administrator, to the Right Hon. Henry Dundas, Sydney, New South Wales, 15 June 1795,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. I, 1788–1796(Sydney: The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1914), p. 500.

[39] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 417.

[40] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 417.

[41] David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. I, (London: printed for T. Cadell Jun., and W. Davies in the Strand, 1798), p. 417.

[42] Lyndall Ryan, “Untangling Aboriginal Resistance and the Settler Punitive Expedition: The Hawkesbury River Frontier in New South Wales, 1794–1810,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 15, No. 2, (2013): 226.

[43] John Connor, Australian Frontier Wars 1788–1838, (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2002), p. 48. In 1822, conflict elsewhere commenced when the Wiradjuri warriors of the Bathurst Plains, west of the Blue Mountains, began a new frontier war against the uninvited white settlers who were increasingly encroaching onto their ancestral lands. See Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars: Conflict in the Early Colony 1788–1817, (Sydney: New South Publishing, UNSW Press, 2018), pp. 252–55; Grace Karskens, The Colony A History of Early Sydney, (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2009), pp. 514–16.

[44] For the Parramatta Hospital see Michaela Ann Cameron, “Parramatta’s General Hospital,” Dictionary of Sydney, (2015), http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/parramattas_general_hospital, accessed 1 August 2019.

[45] Her husband was buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground on 29 May 1795, but there is no record of the child’s burial, which is frustrating. Presumably the child would have been buried with the father since they both perished together.

[46] Lachlan Macquarie, “Governor Macquarie to Earl of Liverpool, Sydney, New South Wales, 18 October 1811,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. VII, January, 1809–June, 1813, (Sydney: Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1916), pp. 385–86.

[47] The quotation featured in the subheading “A most shocking murder” is from “Sydney,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 31 August 1811, p. 2.

[48]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[49] Governor Macquarie appointed Lewin to be the Coroner for the Town of Sydney and the County of Cumberland in October 1810. See “Government and General Orders,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 6 October 1810, p. 2.

[50]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[51]Sydney,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 31 August 1811, p. 2; “Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[52]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[53] Assistant Surgeon Edward Luttrill who provided the medical evidence at the inquest stated that he could determine this from the fact that little blood had issued, whereas the infliction of such a wound during life would have “produced a very large emulgence.” “Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[54]Sydney,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 31 August 1811, p. 2.

[55] Both Thomas Welch and Ann Wilson had been transported to the colony. Curiously, the records note that John Donne was a ‘foreigner.’

[56]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[57]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1; “Government and General Orders,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[58]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[59]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1; “Government and General Orders,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[60]Trial for Murder,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1; “Government and General Orders,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 14 September 1811, p. 1.

[61]To the Editor of the Sydney Gazette,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 21 September 1811, p. 2.

[62]To the Editor of the Sydney Gazette,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 21 September 1811, p. 2.

[63]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 12 October 1811, p. 2.

[64] Today Sydney Common is known as Hyde Park.

[65]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 12 October 1811, p. 2; “Government and General Orders,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 12 October 1811, p. 1; “Sydney,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 19 October 1811, p. 3. See also William Charles Wentworth, A Statistical, Historical, and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales: And Its Dependent Settlements in Van Diemen’s Land, (London: G. & W. B. Whittaker, 1820), p. 534

[66] Lachlan Macquarie, “Governor Macquarie to Earl of Liverpool, Sydney, New South Wales, 18 October 1811,” in Frederick Watson (ed.), Historical Records of Australia: Series I: Governors’ Despatches to and from England, Vol. VII, January, 1809–June, 1813, (Sydney: Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1916), pp. 385–86.

[67] The exact location of her grave was not recorded in 1811 and so it is unknown. Parish Burial Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.

© Copyright 2020 Catie Gilchrist