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Susanne Voyatas

The Convict Women

The female convicts who were transported on the Elizabeth 1828 had been confined at the Female Convict Depot, Cork. The majority of the women were from the Munster area of Ireland.

However, On Sunday morning (29 July) about eight o'clock, the female prisoners to the amount of two hundred, confined in the depot of this city under the rule of transportation had a difference with the Dublin women and made a desperate attempt to get at them for the purpose of putting them to death, but for the timely interference of the Governor and his officers, they were most fortunately separated and obliged, for the preservation of their lives,to be removed to the city prison. The Munster convicts disappointed in their plans made every effort to destroy the prison, broke every sash and the entire glass of this extensive building and bid defiance to the guards; having prepared themselves with stones and every other weapon that could be had, they would not allow their removal to the lock-up wards allotted for the night and on the Governor and his attachment entering, made a most violent attack on them, cut and wounded several of the guards and unfortunately from the darkness of the night those wretched creatures before they submitted, received some severe wounds.
(quoted from the Freeman's Journal dated 4 August 1827, p1)

The women were embarked on the ship between the dates of 15 and 27 August 1827.

On 28 August 1827 the ship sailed from Cobh Harbour with 194 female convicts and 16 of their children, under the command of Commander Walter Cock and Surgeon Superintendent Joseph Hughes. The surgeon's journal states that some of the women came on board with bayonet wounds. The journal also records many instances of conflict between the women during the voyage.

Also on board were the Rev. Vincent, his wife Eliza and their four daughters Caroline, Charlotte, Alicia and Mary, together with their servant Catherine Flynn.

Not only was there conflict between the women, but the Rev. Vincent and his wife constantly clashed with the officers of the ship and complained bitterly about the behaviour of the women.

When the ship arrived at Sydney Cove on 12 January 1828, 192 had survived with two babies being been born and dying. The women were gradually landed over the next few days. Some were assigned immediately from the ship, with the others taken to the Female Factory at Parramatta .

The lives women of the Elizabeth 1828 were to go in many different directions. Most lived long enough to see their grandchildren while others succumbed to unfortunate circumstances and bad habits. A number of the women committed further crimes and received colonial sentences serving their time at distant penal settlements, such as Moreton Bay. A few did become successful and wealthy.

It is hoped to collect as much data about each of the women as possible. It is easy to stereotype and label the female convicts the worst and most turbulent but their stories show totally different scenarios. As with all new social experiments there was a mixing of religions, cultures, bigotry and misunderstandings but from this came a willingness to help each other, form new ties and work together for survival and prosperity.

Christina Henri from the Female Factory of Hobart has commenced a project to remember all the female convicts that came to Australia. She is seeking a bonnet for each of the women convicts. I have given an undertaking to ensure that everyone one from the Elizabeth1828 will have a bonnet. So if one is not made by descendants or others, I will provide a bonnet. Christina's project can be found at www.femalefactory.net.au

* a quote taken State Records NSW: Colonial Secretary, Miscellaneous: Reverend John Vincent's Papers re; voyage of the Elizabeth SRNSW 4/6981.

Contact: jvoytas@bigpond.net.au