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Roses from the Heart :: Female convicts honoured in Ireland

At this stage Pierre was still serving his sentence so the children’s care was solely Catherine’s responsibility. She set up as a midwife and her work secured the finances to rent a hut in Macquarie Street where she and the children lived from 1850 onwards. Pierre was obviously determined to continue his marriage albeit without authorisation. His absconding from work at the Hobart Town Hall and the subsequent birth of the couple’s child, Eliza, bears testament to his persistence.

In 1852 Catherine was granted her Freedom and 3 years later Pierre received his. In 1853 their son Michael was born. Meanwhile Catherine’s eldest daughter Mary had been transferred from the Queens Orphanage to work as a governess to the children of Dr James Wilson Agnew, who later became Premier and Chief Secretary of Tasmania (March 1886 – March 1887).

In 1855 Catherine and Piers moved with their children to the Huon area where they farmed on a property at Graces Road, Glaziers Bay. Originally they leased the land from a Mr. James McLaren for the annual fee of 7 pounds. Later they purchased the entire property for 170 pounds.

Catherine’s fortitude was particularly tested when Pierre and a son in law were convicted of the theft of a calf. This being a secondary offence for Pierre he was immediately sent to Port Arthur where he spent the next 7 years. Catherine at this stage was responsible for the care of Michael born in 1853 and William born in 1855 along with their siblings. The family survived through Catherine’s sheer hard work. Potatoes were the main crop farmed on the property and selling the potatoes required great stamina.

Sailing ships moored in the Huon River were only accessible via barges because the water close to shore was too shallow. The potatoes were dragged down a bush track from Graces Road to Glaziers Bay in sacs ready to be placed on board the awaiting barges. Catherine unable to afford to travel by boat then walked the 30 kilometres to Hobart in her bare feet. At the Hobart wharf she stayed with the potatoes for however long it took for them to be sold before returning back home. It is said that once in Hobart Catherine would change from her old clothes putting on her best outfit and donning her only pair of shoes so as to impress the prospective buyers.

Along with the sale of potatoes Catherine was the community mid wife and would answer calls at any hour of the day, always walking in all kinds of weather, to visit her clients. Her daughter Bridget took on the responsibility of minding her siblings when her mother was absent working.

Eventually Pierre was freed and both he and Catherine were again reunited. At the age of 73 Catherine died of cancer at her home in Glaziers Bay, Port Cygnet. She was buried in St. James Church, Cygnet where other family members were subsequently laid to rest. Pierre died 2 years later of a stroke in hospital in Hobart Town.

Catherine left a legacy of over 58 grandchildren from whom a number of Tasmanians can trace their lineage, including quite a few professionals who have attained high profile positions in their fields. She may have been small in stature but Catherine was a dynamic woman whose mental strength cannot be denied. Her great, great, grand daughter Yvonne Fitzgerald reliably informs me that many of Catherine’s offspring, particularly the women, display similar characteristics – especially a firmness of purpose.

Yvonne has a photograph of Catherine taken in her latter years. Unfortunately the quality is too poor for reproduction nevertheless the features are distinctive enough to recognise a resolute woman. Many anecdotes about Catherine have been passed down through the generations. The image of this diminutive woman routinely enjoying the smoking of a clay pipe has endured on in her family’s memory.

Yvonne’s book With my shelalagh under my arm: a Grace family history reflects on the story of the Grace family and can be accessed through the Reference Section of the Tasmania State Library.

Convict woman | Mary Walsh | Born: Circa 1812 | Died: ?

Recently the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery had a 165-year-old letter on display written in 1843 on behalf of James Walsh to his wife Mary.

This letter was gifted during the Tasmanian Bicentenary and was unveiled 17th March 2004 at the TMAG. Niccole Warren, currently of the ABC Collectors Show, but back then in 2004, Assistant Curator in History at TMAG, was guest speaker at a Female Factory Research Group meeting where she read the text and discussed the letter’s rich content with research members.

Prior to acquisition the letter had belonged to an American postmark collector who valued the envelope more than the historic letter inside. The decision by Australia Post to sponsor the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery ‘s purchase of this particular stamped envelope and contents has provided the world wide community with a glimpse into the reality of the convict system as it affected ordinary families.

Not only are we offered a snapshot of James and Mary and their children’s lives but we are left with a conundrum. What was Mary’s fate? The tantalising truth is that the surfacing of James’ letter to his wife Mary has enriched our understanding of their circumstances but has also left us wanting far more questions answered than the letter provides.

Highly regarded Dubliner Pete St. John was so moved by the story that he composed the song ‘The Bells of Ireland’ which has received huge international acclaim. Pete continues to be energetic in sharing Mary’s story in the hope more information may come forward. Kerry man Mossie Scanlon brings his own interpretation to ‘The Bells of Ireland’ with his tribute to Mary and all those Irish lasses wrenched from their homeland. Mossie is one of Australia’s finest sean-nós singers and his tribute to Mary Walsh is to be released on CD this week.

Mary Walsh was a lass from Tipperary, Ireland. Married to husband James the couple had three children, two sons Maurice and Jonny Hays, and a daughter Mary. Mary could read but not write. She possessed a Temperance medal which implied she conscientiously did not consume alcohol. As a wife and mother Mary would have been kept busy caring for the family. Professionally her skills were described as ‘housemaid who could wash’. Her convict record states she had a ‘fresh complexion’, dark brown hair and hazel eyes and her height was recorded as 5 ft 6 in – which puts her in the ‘higher than average’ height category.

In 1841 Mary was charged with being an accessory to the theft of a piece of cashmere from a local store. Constables claimed that she distracted the shopkeeper whilst two other women, Mary Halfpenny and Catherine Baldwin Marfled stole the goods. Mary vehemently denied the charges but was found guilty and sentenced to transportation.

Mary’s husband James desperately tried to fight the conviction organising a petition which was signed by 27 trustworthy local men including, two parish priests. He also used the skills of the local tailor who wrote on his behalf to the Lord Lieutenant in Tipperary, requesting leniency and begging that Mary be allowed to serve out her sentence in an Irish goal. All her husband’s endeavours proved to be of no avail.

On the 10 April 1842 Mary left Dublin aboard the ship The Hope. Accompanying her was her baby daughter aged just one year and 10 months. The Hope docked in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land four months later on the 17th August 1842. Mary was most likely housed at the Cascades Female Factory and then perhaps later in the Hulk the Anson, moored in the Prince of Wales Bay, that from 1844 – 1850 acted as a six month probation station for female convicts. Mary’s baby daughter was placed into the Queens Orphanage.

How does one relate to Mary’s predicament? The profound distress Mary must have suffered. Here she was a thirty-year-old mother of three, being parted from her two eldest sons and then she has her young baby wrenched from her. An engulfing sense of hopelessness would not have been unexpected. Yet life was to become even tougher for Mary when only two months after admission to the Queens Orphanage her baby’s life was extinguished. The cause of death stated (baby) Mary Walsh died of ‘inflammation of the lungs’.

Mary was assigned to the Brooks household but she had left that address when her husband’s letter arrived in July 1843. Records show that earlier in April Mary had been charged with ‘insolence’ by a person named Harbottle. In February 1846 Mary was recommended for an unconditional pardon which was approved in 1847. By January 1849 Mary had received her Certificate of Freedom.

At this point the trail fades. Research continues into Mary’s story.

The unearthing of James letter offers insight into life ‘back home’ in Ireland. So often the details of the family left behind are buried but through James eye’s we see he has had to farm out his eldest son Maurice to live with his sister Mary in County Cork and it has been a year since he has visited him. He longs to come to Australia but money is scarce and as a labourer his wages would be minimal.

The letter shows that James cares about his wife and children. He corresponds with his eldest son and is about to visit him at his sisters with a gift of new clothes. Obviously Mary has found someone to pen her words to James as he refers to Mary’s ‘previous letter’. The language James uses in his letter to express his love for his wife is lyrical and immensely touching

‘My dear Mary, this is a broken-hearted letter I am sending you as I cannot bring it myself.

‘If I lived for 100 years you would be as fresh in my heart as you were the day you left me.’

Other useful links:
Cascades Female Factory Historic Site – click here
The Convict Enquiry Service at Port Arthur Historic Site – click here
Female Convicts Research Centre – click here
Founders and Survivors – click here
Founders and Survivors Storylines – click here
The Gathering Ireland 2013 – click here
LINC Tasmania – click here
LINC Tasmania Convict search – click here
Roses from the Heart blog – click here
Roses from the Heart on facebook – click here
Tasmania Archive and Heritage Office – click here
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery – click here


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