The story of Five Women from County Carlow

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

County Carlow

"These Unfortunate Females"

Dianne Snowden


In the last issue of Carlow Past and Present Vol. 1 No. 4 1993 we published, "The Law Must Take its Course," compiled by Oonagh Warke MA. H. Dip, Archives. In the past year Dianne Showden visited Carlow and presented a paper on, "These Unfortunate Females," to Carlow County Heritage Society. It transpired that this paper was a continuation of the story we had published. Entirely by coincidence Dianne researched the same incident covered by Oonagh Warke. With the assistance of Australasian archives Dianne was able to research what become of the women after they left Ireland. Oonagh Warke in her article had wondered if our "desperate characters," were fortunate to be transported when they were, before they, who would have been in the front line of victims, had to suffer the further afflictions of the Famine." Unfortunately, it appears. their lives were no better in the new world. If possible the following should be read in conjunction with "The Law Must Take its Course."

Michael Purcell

These Unfortunate Females1

The story of Five Women from County Carlow, Ireland, by Dianne Snowden

 Presented by Dianne Snowden, South Hobart. Tasmania to the Sixth Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry. Launceston. Tasmania. Dianne is a member of the Genealogical Society of Tasmania Inc. Launceston.

 William Peter Butler. my great-great-grandfather, died at the age of 73 on 14 July 1909 in Cooma, NSW. His death certificate stated that he born in County Clare, Ireland, the son of William and Margaret Butler. This certificate also revealed that he had lived 62 years in NSW, years in Tasmania. My search to discover why he spent two years in Tasmania2 led me to the story that follows. This paper does not pretend to cover all the sources that are available, indeed, the research is still only in preliminary stages, but it does give some idea of the type of information that can he gleaned from a range of sources.

 On 2 September 1845. the convict ship Tasmania (2) sailed from Dublin with 140 female convicts and 37 children3 . Included among them was a group of five women with 11 of their children, from County Car1ow in Ireland. Four of the women were tried together; the fifth was tried for the same offence in the same place on the same day, in what was possibly a separate incident. This paper outlines the fate of these women, and their children, once sentenced.

 The four women who were tried together were Esther Burgess, Mary Burgess, daughter of Esther; Margaret Butler and Mary Griffin. The fifth woman, tried in the same county on the same day was Mary Byrne.

Margaret Butler, Esther and Mary Burgess, and Mary Griffin were all tried on 2 April 1845 at Tullow, Easter Quarter Sessions in County Carlow for stealing potatoes4. Mary Byrne was also tried in Carlow on 2 April 1845 for stealing potatoes5.

Before examining the lives of these five women individually, it is interesting to look briefly at the overall picture of the convict women on the Tasmania (2). The average age of the convicts on the Tasmania (2) was 29 years, the oldest was 66 and the youngest was 16. Most of the women received sentences of seven years, although there were two sentenced to life, two to 15 years, and twenty to 10 years. A majority were convicted of stealing - mostly clothes, watches, and other property, but occasionally sheep or potatoes. Some were convicted of receiving stolen goods, others of vagrancy. Of the two that were transported for life, one was convicted of poisoning her husband of three weeks; the other of strangling her fortnight old child.

Most of the women had previous convictions, and several had been “on the town’, for varying periods. A few had family members who had been transported, some were tried with their family members or had family members on board. A majority of the women were from Dublin and were housemaids. Over two-thirds were single but there were more widows than married women.

Several of those who were married had been left by their husbands for some time. Seventy-two could neither read nor write, 50 could read and 16 could read and write, although some of these only a little6.

Esther Burgess, No. 769, was one of the oldest of the group of five. She was a 45-year-old farm servant or washerwoman. She was five foot four inches tall, with a fresh complexion, brown hair and eyebrows, grey eyes, oval head and visage, low forehead, long nose, wide mouth, and round chin. Her daughter, Mary Burgess, No. 771, was an 18-year-old farm or country servant, nearly five foot four tall, with a fair complexion, brown hair and eyebrows, grey eyes, oval head and visage, high forehead, straight nose, wide mouth, and a dimpled chin.

Margaret Butler, No. 770 - called Margaret Butler the second in the convict records to distinguish her from another Margaret Butler on board7 - was a 40-year-old farm or country servant, just over five foot three, with a fresh complexion, brown hair and eyebrows, grey eyes, round head and visage, high forehead, small nose, wide large mouth, and round chin. She had a “hair mole’, on the left side of her chin, two moles on the right side of her chin and one on her right eye. Mary Griffin, No. 386, was either 30 years old, according to her indent and description list, or 31, according to her convict record book. Unlike the others, she was a house servant.

Four feet nine inches tall, she had a sallow complexion, brown hair and eyebrows, grey eyes, oval head and visage, high fore-head, straight nose, wide mouth, low chin, and a scar over her left eye-brow. Mary Byrne, No. 768, was a 30-year-old farm or country servant. She was nearly five foot two inches tall, with a sallow complexion, brown hair and eyebrows, grey eyes, oval head and visage, high head, pointed nose, wide mouth, and broad chin. All were Catholic, except for Mary Griffin, whose religion was recorded as Church of England. Esther and Mary Burgess, and Mary Byrne neither read nor write, Mary Griffin and Margaret Butler could read. The two Burgess women, Margaret Butler and Mary Byrne were all from Carlow; Mary Griffin’s native place was recorded as Wicklow, an adjacent county.8

Much of the information about the women comes from their, convict records. The convict record books are particularly interesting for their inclusion of convict’s own statement of his or her offence, taken before disembarkation. It is thus possible to compare the official statement of the convict’s crime with a personal statement in the own words, of the five Carlow women, officially, all five women were transported for larceny. Esther Burgess stated that her offence was stealing six stone of potatoes, which were the property of Dick Tarle. Esther Burgess’ daughter, Mary, simply stated that she was tried with her mother and Mary Griffin, “for potatoes”. Margaret Butler stated that her offence was stealing 12 potatoes. Mary Griffin’s statement of her offence was similar, “stealing potatoes”10. Mary Byrne stated that her offence was stealing two stone of potatoes.

(The trail record obtained from the National Archives in Dublin gives a much more complete account of the women's crime.
See "The Law Must Take its Course" article by Oonagh Warke, page 120, vol. 1, Number 4, Carlow Past and Present, or as reproduced by Michael Brennan on this website recently.
At this point I have edited out two pages of Dianne's research as the Carlow, Ireland background is already adequately covered in Oonagh's article. The original complete research findings of Dianne Snowden are lodged in Carlow County Library, Michael Purcell - Jan 2007).

 The trial record, obtained from the State Paper Office in Dublin gives a much fuller account of the woman’s crime. See, “The Law take its Course”. p. 120. vol. 1, no. 4, Carlow Past and Present. At this point I edit out two pages of Dianne’s article as we covered Carlow background in previous issue. Original in Carlow County Library.

 The ship Tasmania embarked on 8 August 1845 at Kingstown, sailed from Dublin on 2 September 1845 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 3 December 1845. According to the ship’s surgeon, Jason Lardner, the health of the convicts and children generally improved during the voyage; some of the women, weighed at the beginning and end of the voyage, were found to have gained weight. Fresh potatoes were issued daily to the convicts in lieu of flour and ‘undoubtedly were of service in allowing their diet to be gradually changed”. 20The ship’s surgeon commented in his report that:

The behaviour of the Convicts was on the whole very good. They were very ignorant and made but slight improvement in their education during the voyage, none were found capable of teaching and but few inclined to learn - their principal offences were against discipline. A strict attention was enforced to the established routine, which not only induced regularity but, was also conducive to their health. In conclusion I can not help but give testimony to the very liberal manner in which everything was furnished for the use of these unfortunate females. Jason Lardner Surgeon Superior.21

For the majority of the five Carlow women, their medical complaints during the voyage were minor; Esther Burgess, Margaret Butler and Mary Byrne all suffered from diarrhoea; and one of Mary Griffin’s children was on the sick list for a week with “lynanche”?. There were several cases of diarrhoea, and the surgeon attributed this to the damp and sudden changes. He claimed the cases were readily cured by common remedies and their prevention was attempted by the occasional use of lighted stoves below, and the issuing of additional clothing.22

Within days of sailing, Mary Griffin gave the surgeon cause for concern. He diagnosed her case as one of dyspepsia and moral insanity. On 10 September 1845, at sea, he reported that she had been in the hospital of the Carlow County gaol for two months with fever. The youngest of her three children was weaned the week before embarkation. According to the surgeon, Mary E. Griffin suffered much from sea sickness, and had been confined to bed from the time the ship sailed, she was unable to keep anything in her stomach, her bowels had not opened since being on board, her tongue was foul and she had severe headaches. He prescribed medicine and recommended that she be well washed and that her bedding be sent on deck to be aired.

The following day, on 11 September, the surgeon admitted her to the ship’s hospital, as she was weak, he recommended gruel or arrowroot. After an enema. Mary Griffin’s bowels opened on 13 September, and according to the surgeon, she felt much relieved. He continued to treat her in the ship’s hospital, but the constipation and headaches continued. On 20 September, he recorded that she was very sick, she had not passed a motion since 13 September, and she was suffering severe pain in the region of her stomach. The enema was repeated, on the 21 her bowels opened, the menses appeared, and she regained her appetite.

Two days later, she lost her appetite but her stomach was less irritable. He ordered her to get up for two hours daily. On 30 September, he noted that, although she had continued to take medicine, and her health had improved, her conduct had become difficult; “she is morose, vindictive, and had secreted in her bed an iron bar, threatening everybody”.23  On 3 October, he noted that she was ‘quite well in health, but occasionally gets into a paroxysm of rage without cause”.24  He discharged her from the sick list.

On 27 November 1845, the surgeon again entered Mary Griffin on the sick list. She was complaining of severe griping pain in her bowels, she had not slept in her proper health for a week, being suspicious of her messmates. He had no doubt that the present illness was caused by exposure. He placed her in bed, prescribed medicine and allowed her gruel. He noted that, since his last report on Mary Griffin, she had occasionally been in a very excited state, quarrelling and fighting. It had been found necessary to separate her from the others by confining her in the solitary box.. By 30 November, Mary Griffin’s bowels were better, but she was complaining of pain in her stomach, was refusing her food and was speaking little. She claimed to have not passed urine for a week, the surgeon observed a particular fullness over the bladder. Her pulse was weak and she had more headaches. He allowed her some preserved meat.

On 3 December 1845, when the ship arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, the surgeon commented that Mary Griffin, “still persists she is in great pain being unable to pass her urine”.26  A catheter was fitted but only about a pint of urine was found in her bladder. She also complained of pain in her bowels. By 6 December, her bowels had opened but she was nauseated, was having excitations, her temper was irritable, and she was very suspicious and vindictive. Consequently, she was again separated from the others “as well as circumstances will admit”.27  By 9 December when the ship disembarked, the surgeon noted that, although Mary Griffin appeared better in health, he thought it best to send her to the Colonial Hospital, and she was admitted on that date. He saw her a month later after this and later wrote that before he left the Colony, she appeared to have quite recovered and was sorry for her former behaviour.28

By July 1849, Mary Griffin was a patient in the Lunatic Asylum, her convict record shows that she escaped from the asylum on 3 July 1849 but was caught on 23 July 1849, and was returned being insane” On 1 October 1852 she received her “free certificate”.30

I have not been able to find a death recorded for Mary Griffin in Tasmania. Nor does there appear to be a record of remarriage.

As previously mentioned, Mary Griffin’s convict records shows a discrepancy in the number of children who accompanied her. Although Mary Griffin’s convict record book says that there were four children on board the Tasmania two with her, her indent says that she had four children but only three were on board. The surgeons report mentions only three children. I have been able to identify three children from the records of the Queen’s Orphan School. The children that I have identified are 11-year-old Eliza Griffin, 6-year-old Mary Ann Griffin, 3-year-old Edward Griffin.

Eliza, Mary and Edward were all admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School on 9 December 1845, the same date as their mother was admitted to the Colonial Hospital. Eliza Griffin remained at the Queen’s Orphan School until 6th August 1847 when she was ‘appd. By Agreement”, to R. Shadforth, Port Philip, Her Sister. Mary Ann. stayed at the Queen’s Orphan School until 19 February 1852, when she was “appd. to John French ? Esq. of Longford Hall”. Edward Griffin was discharged to his Mother “now free” on 13 December 1853.31

I have not yet been able to trace these children after they left the Queen’s Orphan School. It is possible that Mary Ann and Edward joined Eliza in Port Phillip. Certainly, none of the three appear to be in the Tasmanian Registrar - General’s Division, Birth, Death and Marriage records to 1900. The children of the other women have also proved difficult to trace.


 Apart from a reprimand for drunkenness on 13 July 1847, there is little information about Esther Burgess’s life after her arrival in Hobart She was granted her ticket of leave on 10 July 1849, and her free certificate on 2 April 1852.32 Esther Burgess, described as a 46-year-old prostitute died on 31 May 1855, from the rupture of a blood vessel in the left lung.33

 Elizabeth Burgess 14 years old, 10-year-old Alicia Burgess. 8- year-old Jane Burgess, and 5-year-old William Burgess were all admitted to the Orphan School on 9 December 1845. Elizabeth Burgess remained there until 14 July 1846, when she was appd. to Charles Pulfery, Hobarton”. Alicia Burgess remained there until 8 January 1849 when she was discharged to her sister Elizabeth Burgess. Esther Burgess’ youngest daughter, Jane remained in the orphan school until 25th Sept 1849, when she was discharged to her mother T. L. William Burgess remained there until 25 March 1853 when he was discharged to his mother,” now free”. The youngest of Esther Burgess children. 2- year-old Robert, was not admitted to the Orphan School until 13 May 1846, he died in hospital, of inflammation of the lungs, on 15 November 1846.34


 After arrival, Mary Burgess, like the others, had a six month period of gang probation, stationed on the Anson, becoming a Class 3 convict on 16 June 1846. On 3 July 1847, she received three months hard labour for disobedience of orders. She received her ticket of leave on 5 June 1849, and her free certificate on 20th April 1852.35

On 24 September 1849, Mary Burgess and Thomas Jones applied for permission to marry36 This was approved, and on 15th October 1849, they were married in St. Joseph’s Church, Hobart, by the Very Reverend William Hall. On the marriage record, Mary Burgess was described as a 19-year-old spinster and servant, Thomas Jones was a 32- year-old bachelor and cabinet-maker. Witnesses were William and Bridget Briggs. Thomas Jones signed his name, Mary Burgess her mark. William Briggs signed his name, Bridget Briggs her mark. 37 A couple named William Peter Briggs and Bridget Gallagher were married in Hobart on 4th September 1848, from the AOT Convict Permission to marry Index, Bridget Gallagher arrived on the Tasmania.38

Thomas Jones, a 32 or 42-year-old Protestant joiner and cabinet-maker, from Bristol, arrived on the London on 10 July 1844. He had been tried at the Lancaster Assizes at Liverpool on 16 December I 843 and sentenced to transportation for seven years for uttering a counterfeit shilling. He had previously received 12 months for a similar offence. He was five foot two, with a fresh complexion, black hair, eyebrows, whiskers and eyes, an oval head and visage, high-broad forehead, long nose. small mouth and broad chin.

On his right arm, he had the hull of a ship tattooed, He had a small scar on his left wrist and another under his right ear, as well as a scar on his right eyebrow. After arrival, his offences included being in a public house on Sunday during divine service (on 13 February 1847). He received his ticket of leave on 18 July 1848 and his free certificate on 16 December l850.39

Thomas and Mary Jones had at least 10 children. The eldest, a daughter, Amy, was born on 14 September 1850, in Hobart.40  The remaining nine children, all born in Launceston, were:

Thomas Jones born 26 June 1852, Ann Jones born 15 July 1854, Henry Jones born 29 November 1856, Alice Jones born 9 May 1859, Male born 20 July 1861, Eliza Jones born 18 January 1864, Female born 24 April 1866, Male born 13 August 1868, Female born 17 June 1871 41

To date, I base not traced these children, although I have noted possible marriages, two of which seem plausible. On 26 December 1872. Amy Jones. 22-years-old and living with her parents, married Richard Ferrall. a 23-year-old cabinet-maker in the Church of the Apostles. Launceston.42  On 9 March 1875, Thomas Jones, a cabinet-maker at’ full age’, married Emma Johnson, a tradesman’s daughter, also of full age. The ceremony, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Free Church of Scotland, took place in Chalmers Manse, Launceston.43

There are at least two possible deaths in Launceston for Mary Jones, the first is Mary Jones, a 60-year-old Irish born widow, who died of bronchitis and pneumonia on 31 December 1888 at Margaret St., Launceston.44  The second is Mary Jones. a 68-year-old Irish-born widow, who died of pneumonia on 31 March 1898 at Invermay.45

Although there are several deaths recorded in Launceston for people called Thomas Jones, there appears to be only one who was a cabinet-maker. Thomas Winton Jones, a 75-year-old cabinet-maker, died on 3 July 1886 at St. John Street, Launceston, of inflammation of the bladder.46  It is not possible to say, at this stage, whether this is the one who married Mary Burgess.


 Margaret Butler received her ticket of leave on 3rd July 1849, and her free certificate on 25 May 1852. She had no offences or sentences recorded on her convict record47

There were two Margaret Butlers on the Tasmania (2), both from Carlow. Margaret Butler the first was a 22-year-old country servant, single with no children, the other was Margaret, the mother of two.48 The .AOT Convict Permission to Marry Index has two entries for Margaret Butler per Tasmania (2), one, in 1847, to George White, the other, in 1850., to John Shakleton.49

It is not possible to tell from the marriage records which is Margaret Butler the first and which is Margaret Butler the second. (On 16 August 1847, George White, a labourer of full age, married Margaret Butler, spinster of full age, in Holy Trinity Church of England, Hobart.51’ On 24th May 1850, Margaret Butler, a 35-year-old servant, married John Shakelton, a 42-year-old labourer in St. Joseph’s Church Hobart.51 However, records of the Queen’s Orphan School show that Margaret Butler. who married John Shakelton, is Margaret Butler the second. Margaret Butler Axor Shakelton died on 4 November 1855. Her age is given as 31 years - possibly a mistake for 51 years.52 Mary Ann Butler was readmitted to the Orphan School in 1855 upon the death of her mother.

John Shakleton arrived on the Marquis of Hastings (2) on 8 November 1842. He was a 42-year-old drover and Waggoner, whose Native Place was Todmington in Yorkshire. He was a Protestant who could read. Just over five foot nine tall, he had a fresh complexion, light hazel eyes, brown hair and eyebrows, reddish whiskers, oval face, long visage, high broad forehead, a long nose, medium mouth, and a long chin. Part of his little finger on his left hand was missing, and he had a scar on the third finger of his left hand and he was “stout made”. He was tried in Lancaster Salford Quarter Sessions on 11 April 1842 and sentenced to 10 years for larceny. He stated his offence to be stealing some cotton cloth, about four hundred yards, the property of Mr. Howe’s? of Todmington. He had been convicted before, for seven years, for stealing potatoes, and had served three years at the penitentiary. His conduct according the surgeon’s report, was “good”.

After his arrival, his period of primary labour was to be two and a half years, to which another two months was added on 27 April 1842, when he was found absent without leave during the dinner hour. He emerged from the gang, stationed at Southport, on 5 August 1845. On 23 September 1846, he was found guilty of larceny under £5, for which he received two months imprisonment and hard labour at Broadmarsh. On 23 May 1848, he was granted his ticket of leave and almost a year later, on 26 June 1849 John Shackleton was recommended for a Conditional Pardon, this was approved on 15 October 1850.

On 4 June 1852, he was awarded his free certificate.54 On 24 May 1850, John Shakelton and Margaret Butler were married in St. Joseph’s Church, Hobart.55 After a little more than five years of marriage, on Sunday 4 November 1855 Margaret Butler died in the Colonial Hospital of a fracture and contusions.56 Five days later, the Hobarton Mercury reported that a coroner’s inquest, to enquire into the death of Margaret Shackleton, was held at Mr. Parson’s, Waterman’s Arms, Liverpool Street, before Mr. A. B. Jones and a respectable jury.57

The jury with the coroner and witnesses, viewed the body at Margaret Shackleton, which, according to the newspaper presented a shocking spectacle, the face, head, and upper part of the body exhibiting a mass of bruises and the upper part of the left arm being fractured, theme were bruises also on other parts of the body”.58

Dr. Downing gave evidence that the deceased was admitted to the Colonial Hospital on the evening of 2 November, as a result of injuries which she had received five days before. He found “extensive bruises on various parts of her body and especially on the head and face, the scalp was also much bruised and was covered with bloody tumours, the left upper arm was fractured and the whole of her arm bruised, the pulse was low and feeble and the surface of the body was cold, she was sensible at times but required rousing, she slept during the night but was occasionally delirious, the next morning she was worse and at 7 o’clock on Sunday evening she died”.59

A post-mortem examination revealed that the surface of her body was much bruised, with scars on several parts and scratches on her hands. It also indicated that the injuries to her head were sufficient to cause death by concussion and compression of the brain. The examination also found that the fracture of the arm had not in any way caused death but had tended to aggravate the head injuries, by increasing the deceased’s debility. The deceased was of a debilitated constitution from habits at hard drinking, and the injuries had taken a greater effect than if she had been a healthy woman, she would not have inflicted the wounds to herself unless she had been insane when she might have knocked her head against a wall, or beaten herself with her fists. The report continued that the deceased did not exhibit the slightest indications of insanity.60

Dr. Brock gave similar evidence, with the exception that he attributed the cause of death to a shock of the nervous system and not to concussion of the brain.61

Another witness. Dr. Crowther, stated that he first saw the deceased on the previous Friday when he was requested by a man in Bathurist Street to see his wife, who had been drinking and fighting with her neighbours.

Dr. Crowther found the woman in bed, and in great pain from the injuries she had received. He considered her in great danger, as she exhibited symptoms analogous to delerium tremens and was sinking from nervous exhaustion. He communicated the circumstances to the police and the deceased was removed to the Colonial Hospital. Dr. Crowther believed that death was caused by shock to the nervous system, the injuries appeared to have been caused by a severe beating.

The doctor was suspicious of Shakleton’s communicative manner in reference to his wife’s fighting with the neighbours, he enquired how the injuries occurred and a woman named Ward said that the husband of the deceased had beaten her, and turned her naked out of doors. Wad described him as a tall, sharp featured man. with a red face and light hair. From the nature of the injuries, Dr. Crowther concluded that they might have been inflicted while the deceased was lying on the ground.62

Dr. Stokell stated that he had seen the deceased, much bruised, on Friday at Lansdowne Crescent. Muttering severely, the deceased had said that “John” had beaten her. Considering that she was in danger, he advised her to go to the hospital but she refused. Dr. Stokell gave his opinion that death was caused by shock to the nervous system. and not by concussion or compression of the brain.63

From the evidence of various witnesses, the story was pieced together. On Monday, 29 October, cries of murder were heard in Shackleton’s house. On going there, some of the neighbours found the deceased on the ground in her chemise with her husband standing over her and beating her. He had torn the chemise from her body and kicked her on the arm. She was then taken from the house and a blanket putt over her. It was shown that the deceased had told several people that her husband had killed her by beating and kicking her.

On being asked why he had done this, Shackleton had said that he had given his wife one pound on Sunday to get some dinner, but she had not done so. He also said that if his wife recovered, he would never beat her again but would go clean out of the country. A witness named Mary Ann Ward stated that both Shackleton and his wife were in the habit of getting drunk on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and that then they always quarrelled. It was shown also that the deceased had been beaten on several occasions since Monday 29 October and one witness named Angelina Stewart stated that Shackleton more than once had told her that he would kill his wife.64

The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against John Shackleton and the coroner issued a warrant for his arrest on that charge.65 A month later, the newspaper reported that John Shackleton had been apprehended by Constable Gordon and lodged in her Majesty’s goal.

 According to the newspaper, ‘The evidence adduced at the inquest was of a fearful description, the prisoner was brought before the Chief Police Magistrate on Monday, and remanded to gaol to await his trial.66

On 4 December 1855 John Shackleton, described as a 59-year-old labourer, was tried for the murder of Margaret Shackleton, and was sentenced to “life in penal servitude”, at Port Arthur. It is interesting to compare John Shackleton’s 1855 convict description with his earlier one, in 1842, his hair had changed from brown to grey, and he no longer had whiskers, his complexion had changed from fresh to muddy, his head from oval to large, his visage from long to oval, his high broad forehead was of medium size, his long nose and chin were also of medium size, and, curiously, his eyes had changed from light hazel to blue. His record notes to “freedom 8 April 1872”. He was granted a free pardon on 24 March 1873, when he was about 71 years old.67 On 7 April 879, John Shackelton died, of old age, at Brickfields Pauper Establishment. His death record states that he was born in England, and was an 83-year-old labourer.68

Tracing Margaret Butler’s children, like tracing the children of the other women, has not been easy. Her son, William Butler, was admitted to the Queens Orphan School on 9 December 1845, at the age of 10, he remained there until 17 January 1847, when he was “Apprenticed to the Rev. Richard Walsh of Geelong”69 It is possible that he is William Peter Butler, who died, at the age of 73, on 14 July 1909 in Cooma, NSW. William Peter Butler’s death certificate stated that he was born in County Clare. Ireland, the son of William and Margaret Butler. This certificate also revealed that he had lived 62 years in NSW, and two years in Tasmania.70

Margaret Butler’s daughter, Mary Ann, was admitted to the Orphan School on 13 May 1846, when she was two years old, she remained there until 10 May 1851 when she was discharged to her mother. “T.L.”. She was re-admitted at the age of 11½, on 7 December 1855, upon the death of her mother. She remained there until 17 January 1859, when she was apprenticed to Mrs. Mary O’Boyle? of Hobart Town.71 I have not been able to trace her after that date.


 On 5 January 1849, Mary Byrne was found guilty of being absent without leave and of ‘having been delivered of an illegitimate child”,72  For this, she was sentenced to six months hard labour. I can find no record of this child’s birth. However, Martin Byrne, a female convict’s child, died of dysentery on 21 May, 1850 aged 18 months.73  I have not set been able to trace his birth registration, and as the father of Ann Byrne was Martin Murphy, with whom Mary Byrne had lived for two years, this may possibly be Mary Byrne’s child. A few months later, Mary Byrne’s daughter Ann, who had accompanied her from Ireland, also died. Ann Byrne had been admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School on 9 December 1845 at the age of 2¼74 At the age of 5 years 8 months, Ann Byrne, orphan school girl, died of inflammation of the brain.”

Mary Byrne received her ticket of leave on 11 June 1850 or 1851. On 2 July 1850 or 1851 Mary Byrne was found guilty of using abusive language. She was admonished and discharged but ordered to change her residence. On 7 June 185276  Mary Byrne was issued with her free certificate. On 3 June 1851, Mary Byrne and Thomas Cann applied for permission to marry.77 However, I can find no record of their marriage.

A widower with two children, Thomas Cann arrived aboard the Maria Somes on 9 August 1850. He had been tried at Taunton assizes on I April 1848 and sentenced to seven years for maliciously cutting and stabbing a constable. He was 34, a literate protestant engineer who could also fit. Just over five foot four, he had a sallow complexion; brown hair, whiskers and eyebrows, medium size head and forehead, oval visage, and some small sears on his left arm. He received his ticket of leave on 9 September 1850 - on month after he arrived. In March 1853, his convict record book noted that he would be recommended for a conditional pardon if he was prepared to pay £15, £7.10s 0d before and £7. 0s 0d after the pardon was approved. On 3 April 1855 his free certificate was issued. 78

Thomas and Mary Cann had at least two children. The first, Henry Cann, was born on February 1852 in Hobart. From information on the birth registration, Thomas Cann was an engineer. The informant was Mary Cann, mother, Balhurst Street.79’ The second child was Ann Cann, born on 7 December 1854 in Hobart. Her parents are recorded as Thomas Cann, an engineer, and Mary Cann formerly (blank). The space for the informant is also blank.80

The next child born to Thomas Cann was a female born on September 1859, to Thomas Cann, engineer, and Mary formally Allen. The informant was Mary Cann, mother, Victoria Street on 7 November 1859.81 I thought her mother’s former name Allen. May have been a mistake or perhaps an alias, particularly after the blank section on the birth registration of the previous Cann child. To make sure, I checked the marriages for Thomas Cann, cross-referencing to Allen. the index lists a marriage for Thomas Cann and Jane (not Mary) Allen in 186082 I then looked for a death for Mary Cann formerly Byrne, successfully. On 19 October 1858, Mary Cann (born Ireland, died Harrington Street), 38-year-old engineer’s wife, died of consumption. The informant Thomas Cann, husband, Harrington Street.83

I have not yet traced Henry Cann. Ann Cann, aged 3 year and 8 months, died of worm fever and convulsions, on 10 August 1858. Just a few months before her mother’s death.84

Family history research often raises more questions than it provides answers. Whether William Peter Butler who died in Cooma. NSW in 1909 was, in fact, the child who arrived in Hobart on Tasmania (2) in 1845 may never be known. But the story of the child William, his mother Margaret, and the other women and children from County Carlow itself an interesting story, and even in the preliminary stages of research, it provides an example of the types of information that can be used to put “flesh on the bones” of our ancestors, Whether the five women from County Carlow were desperate characters”, or “unfortunate women may remain an unanswered question. But, whatever motivated the women to steal potatoes in April 1845, their life can not have been easy, famine in Ireland, families to support, trial, imprisonment, and transportation, an uncomfortable sea voyage, and life in an unfamiliar country all suggest that they were indeed “unfortunate women”.

Two of the women died within 10 years of arrival, one a prostitute and the other beaten to death by her husband, another died or consumption 13 years after arrival, after losing two and possibly three children as infants, one spent a period in the lunatic asylum; and one married and had at least 10 children. Of the 11 children that accompanied them, it is difficult to make any firm conclusions, after preliminary investigation, they prove elusive. Tracing descendants, rather than ancestors, is often difficult, particularly if the descendants have made a “fresh start”. Two of the children, Robert Burgess and Ann Byrne, died in the Queens Orphan School. At least another two, Eliza Griffin and William Butler, left the state as children, perhaps their brothers and sisters followed.

Whether the story of the five women from County Carlow proves to be yet another example of genealogical side-tracking or is productive family history research, its importance perhaps lies in helping to see Esther and Mary Burgess, Margaret Butler, Mary Byrne and Mary Griffin as not just a group of convict women, as names and numbers on a piece of paper, but as individuals as real people, with their own life stories.

Reference Notes:

1. Admin 101/71 Reel 321I: Surgeon’s Report Tasmania (2). 2. NSW’ Death Certificate 1909 William Butler. 3. Bateston Charles. The Convict Ships 1787- 1868. first published Glasgow 1959 this edition Sydney. 1984. pp 368-9. 4. CON 41/8 Record Book. CON 15/3 Indent: State Paper Office Dublin: Trial Record: Margaret Butler 1845 CFR 1845 Bl4. 5. CON 41/8: CON 15/3. 6. CON 15/3. 7. CON 15/3 pp. 220-221. Margaret Butler the first was a 22-year-old servant. from Carlow. tried in Carlow on 17 October 1844 for stealing five yards of cashmere. 8. CON 41/8. CON 19/5. 9. CON 41/8: CON 15/3. 20. Admin 101/71 Reel 3211. 21. ibid. one female convict. Ellen Sullivan. died during the voyage. 22. ibid. 23. ibid. 24. ibid. 25. ibid. 26. ibid. 27. ibid. 28. ibid. 29 CON 41/8. 30. ibid. 31. SWD 28/I Register of children admitted and discharges from the male and female orphan school 19 March 1828-July 1863 pp. 20. 26. 32. CON 41/8. 33. RGD 35/5 hobart 1855 No. 255 34 SWD 28/1. pp. 20:26:27: RGD 35/2 Hobart 1846 No. 1236. 35. CON 41/8. 36. CON 52/3 p.237. 37. CON RGD 37/8 1849 No. 404. 38. RGD 37/7 1848 No. 1904: CON 52/3 p. 15. 39. CON 33/56 14/28. The record book gives his age as 32: the indent as 42. 40. RGD 33/3 1850 No. 2735a. 41. RGD 33/30 Launceston 1852 No3618. RGD 33/32 Launceston 1854 No. 652. RGD 33/35 Launceston 1857 No. 792. RGD 33/37 Launceston 1859 No. 1074, RGD 33/39 Launceston 1861 No. 305. RGD 33/42 Launceston 1864 No, 988. RGD 33/44 Launceston 1866 No. 960. RGD 33/46 Launceston 1868 No 1972. RGD 33/49 Launceston 1871 No. 533. 42. RGD 37/31 1875 No. 400. 43. RGD 35/34 1875 No 400. 44. RGD 35/37 Launceston 1898 No. 7. 45. RGD 35/67 Launceston 1898 No. 158. 46. RGD 35/55 Launceston 1886 No. 238. 47. CON 41/8. 48. CON 41/8: CON 15/3. 49. CON 52/2 p. 398; CON 52/2 p. 411. 50. RGD 37/6 1847 No. 916. 51. RGD 37/9 1850 No 499. 52. RGD 35/5 Hobart 1855 No. 439. 53. SWD 28/1 p. 44. 54. CON 33/29; CON 14/16: CON 18/33. 55. RGD 37/9 1850 No. 499. 56. 35/5 Hobart 1855 No. 439. 57. Hobarton Mercury. 9 November 1855 p. 1. col.5. 58. ibid 59. ibid. 60. ibid. 61. ibid. 62. ibid. 63. ibid. 64. ibid. 65. ibid. 66. Hobarton Mercury. 6 December 1855 p 3 col.5. 67. CON 37/8 p. 2799; CON 33/29. 68. ROD 35/9 Hobart 1879 No. 1820. 69. SWD 28/I p. 20 70. NSW Death Certificate 1909 William Peter Butler. 71. SWD 28/1 pp 27.44. 72. CON 41/8. 73. RGD 35/3 Hobart 1850 No. 181. 74. SWD 28/1 p. 26. 75. RGD 35/2 Hobart 1849 No. 2419 SWD 28/1 p. 26 gives date of death as 10 May and the cause as marasmus. 76. CON 41/8. 77. CON 52/3 p. 82; CON 52/4. 78. CON 33/96; CON 14/41. 79. RGD 33/4 Hobart 1852 No.1189. 80. RGD 33/6 Hobart 1855 No, 1658. 81. RGD 33/7 Hobart 1859 No. 2886. 82. RGD 37/19 1860 No. 311. 83 RGD 35/5 Hobart 1858 No. 1166. 84. RGD 35/5 Hobart 1858 No. 1033.

Source: Carlow Past & Present Vol. 1 No. 5. 1996 p.162


The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the  purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
© 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM