Roses from the Heart :: Female convicts honoured in Ireland

1 Posted by - 8 June 2013 - Feature stories

In tribute to Australia’s convict women founders, tens of thousands of bonnets — each symbolising a transported female convict — were taken to Ireland in May as part of The Gathering celebrations. This project, called Roses from the Heart, was initiated by Tasmanian artist Christina Henri in order to commemorate convict womens’ contributions to the founding of Australia. Some 25,266 bonnets were then made by people from all over the world, many by the convicts’ descendants.

One bonnet was made by Judy Bayles for Jemima Bolton, who was assigned as a housekeeper to the New South Wales Governor at Old Government House, Parramatta in 1810. Jemima went on to marry John Fisher the following year, and their son Thomas’s generous bequest in 1884 to the University of Sydney saw its Fisher Library named in his honour.

By transporting the cloth bonnets back to Ireland, Christina hopes to symbolically return ‘the girls’ to their home. Upon their return, an event hosted by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Naoise O Muiri, in the heritage Mansion House building honoured the convict women whose contribution has long been shrouded.

Follow Christina’s work and this wonderful project on facebook, and read on for three stories of the convict women themselves. Thanks again to Christina for sharing their stories.


Convict woman | Mary Dockerty/Dogerty | Born: circa 1815 | Died: August 10, 1883

I had an enjoyable walk down memory lane this week with a visit to my old school in Sandy Bay. Grade 4 students at Fahan School were taking part in Louisa’s Walk and their teacher invited me to speak to them about convict women and the Cascades Female Factory the site that housed convict women from 1828 – 1856.

The students had all made bonnets to keep as a reminder of convict life in colonial Van Diemen’s Land. They also intend to make bonnet tributes to contribute towards Roses from the Heart™. Each schoolgirl dressed in costume to visit the Cascades Female Factory and from a distance they looked the part in their bonnets, shawls and long skirts with the original sandstone walls as a backdrop in Yard One where the tour ends.

For many years this space has been an open area housing a visitor interpretation display that attracts public interest. High sandstone walls define the grassed expanse. In its present state it is hard to visualise Yard One as the hive of activity it once was. In its day there were separate yards for crime class, assignment class and first class. There was also a hospital yard and an early nursery yard for mothers and their babies. There was an original chapel followed by a second chapel as well as workshops, a wood yard and a kitchen area. It was a community unto itself.

These days sightseers will notice the changes that are taking place as a result of both State and Commonwealth Government funding which relates partly to World Heritage nomination investment and also to the Commonwealth Government’s ‘Shovel Ready’ initiative to stimulate the economy. For those wanting an experience that transports them back in time I suggest you take an excursion and see the steel and wood replica of the original building on site – the Superintendent and Gatekeeper’s quarters – built in 1828.

This structure was erected to rectify and preserve the Degraves Street original stone prison wall that was tilting. A special grout was pumped under pressure beneath the wall to help stabilize it and the steel structure has been tied to the wall to provide the necessary security. Once the work is completed the superintendent’s area on the upper level will provide the public with a viewing platform to gaze across all of the Yards – One, Three and Four.

The landscape has noticeably altered. The new complex is an imposing height from which shadows are thrown forming patterns on the ground, designs that may have been familiar to the inmates such as convict woman Mary Dockerty (Dogerty) who spent time at the Cascades Female Factory in the 1830’s.

Mary was 17 years old when she was convicted of attempting to pawn a pair of boots that she and an accomplice were accused of stealing. It may not have been her first offence, but that is hard to substantiate. She was sentenced on January 5, 1832, to seven years Transportation. On April 11, 1832 Mary left England from Plymouth aboard the Hydery arriving in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land on August 8, 1832. Of the 150 female convicts assigned to sail on the Hydery, 3 died on the way and one was removed at Plymouth before disembarking. During the voyage, off the coast of Africa, Mary developed an illness and the ship’s surgeon was concerned for her health.

Although Mary was arrested in London it is believed that she was Irish. There was no family in attendance to support her at the trial. The Conduct Record Book states that Mary’s profession was that of nurse girl.

After a brief unsuccessful assignment in Hobart Town Mary was reassigned to the Oatlands district. She married Joseph Rudd who had been transported in 1817 on the Almorah Pilot. The couple applied for permission to marry in 1834 and again in 1835 when their application was successful. They lived most of their lives in the Midlands around the Oatlands area. They had 12 children but not all of them survived. It is believed that amongst the 12 children were two sets of twins.

Mary died on August 10, 1883 in Bathurst Street, Hobart. Her descendant, Kay, suggests this address was most likely the home of one of her children. If her stated age of 17 at the time of her transportation is correct she would have been approximately 68 when she died. Interestingly her death certificate states that she was 75 years old. It is speculative as to whether there was a discrepancy about her age at transportation.

In 1868 Mary’s husband Joseph died in Victoria, near Bendigo. One of their children had relocated interstate and Joseph could have been assisting with the move. He had made a few trips to Victoria around this time, the first coinciding with the gold rush. He was said to be 75 years old.

Descendants of Mary and Joseph can be found in many Australian States as well as in New Zealand and they would number in the thousands today. Kay, whose sister has made a bonnet tribute for their ancestor Mary, tells me that in their line of the family there are many teachers, educators and medical professionals – all with a very strong desire to assist others to fulfil their potential.

Although there may be sparse documentation of Mary’s life the known facts show her to be an industrious woman. Kay attributes her strong sense of obligation to her family to Mary Dockerty, mother of twelve, and grandmother of many.

Convict woman | Catherine (Whelan) Grace | Born: 1815 | Died: 1888

A very special bonnet arrived recently, made by descendant Karen Ritchie, for her great, great, great grandmother Catherine (Whelan) Grace. Catherine was a most courageous woman and her story is an example of the resilience of so many of the women transported as convicts.

At 4 foot 9 ½ inch high Catherine was of slight wiry build but her tiny frame contained an indomitable spirit. Described as of fair complexion, grey eyes, brown hair and oval face this Irish woman from Tipperary overcame incredible adversities.

Born in 1815 Catherine married her sweetheart Pierre Grace on 26 February 1832. Both partners could read and write. Their marriage was abruptly interrupted when Pierre was sentenced to transportation for sheep stealing. He was shipped out from Dublin in April 1844, aboard the Cadet, bound for Van Diemens Land.

He left behind his pregnant wife and their four children James, Mary, Bridget and Catherine. With Pierre’s absence Catherine and her children were evicted from their home and forced to roam the countryside, along with many others, in search of work.

Amidst the backdrop of the Great Irish Potato Famine, recognised as the greatest human disaster of the 19th century within Europe, Catherine had to keep on the move. Her choices were being arrested for vagrancy if she lingered anywhere or sleeping under hedges or in ditches with her children slowly starving, desperately seeking work. Catherine’s decided survival relied on getting herself arrested so she would be transported to Australia and there be reunited with her husband. Initially her plan went awry. She stole a sheep but was acquitted. She immediately stole another sheep and this time her arrest resulted in a sentence but to her dismay she was imprisoned (along with her children) locally. On her release, desperate to be transported, she walked into a nearby home and stole a tea caddy from the kitchen.

This time she accomplished her goal. The County Carlow Court dealt with her matter on October 17 1844 and she was sentenced to 7 years transportation. She had an 11-month wait in Dublin and during this time, whilst in goal, Catherine became very ill with typhus fever. As a result of this sickness the baby she was carrying died. On the 2 October 1845 her life-changing journey commenced and she was on her way to Australia aboard the Tasmania. This was the ships second voyage to Van Diemens Land.

A few days before sailing all the convict women were fed large meals of fresh vegetables and meat. The administration of this nutritious food was regularly maintained to avoid a beak out of scurvy and to ensure the continuation of good health throughout the voyage.

Prior to the commencement of the journey all the convict women were allocated a ‘gift’ of clothing which included one Hessian apron, a black apron, a cotton mop cap and a Hessian bag in which to store their garments. Also included was an allowance of a white jacket and a checked apron to be worn in the hotter, tropical climates. However no thought was given to the plight of the accompanying infants and so Catherine’s children remained barefooted and in rags.

Her 10-year son Thomas not permitted to go on board because being a male over the age of nine he was deemed to be too old to travel on a convict ship transporting only female convicts. Catherine is documented as having 4 girls in her care and it is believed one of these was a niece. Once on board the Tasmania humaneness was shown to all the children and each of them were fitted out with clothes sewn from cut up blankets and sheets taken from the ship’s hospital.

Two months later, on the 3 December 1845, the Tasmania moored in the middle of the Derwent. After 4 or 5 days of anchorage the ship was boarded by officials who took the children from their mothers and placed them in the Queens Orphanage in New Town. For the next 6 months Catherine was detained on board the female convict hulk, the Anson, at Risdon Cove. Her occupation of domestic servant was utilised and in 1847 she was assigned to work for Thomas Gregson on his property in East Risdon.

Catherine’s husband, Pierre Grace, was also assigned as a convict labourer on this property, locally known in those days as Pine Tree Hill. Pierre must have been over joyed to see his wife again. Not surprisingly they orchestrated moments of privacy which eventually resulted in Catherine becoming pregnant.

The rules of the time saw Catherine sent off to the Cascades Female Factory where she gave birth to a son, Phillip, in 1847. It is hard to comprehend the reasoning behind Catherine then being confined to work for 9 months in the worst section of the Factory as a punishment for being ‘immoral’ when after all the father of her baby was her lawful husband. Nevertheless that was situation. Following this mistreatment Catherine was again assigned to work for Thomas Gregson. Once more she managed to rendezvous with her husband and surprise, surprise not unexpectedly she fell pregnant again. This time her son John’s birth was treated in a more sympathetic manner and Catherine was not forced to return to the Female Factory to give birth or endure extended punishment. Records show John’s christening took place at Richmond.

In 1849 Catherine was granted her Ticket of Leave. Following this she immediately sought to have her children returned to her. This task was hampered by the fact that the Orphan School was profiting from the aptitude of Catherine’s eldest daughter, Mary and they refused to release her. Catherine’s dilemma was if she became overly objective about her daughter Mary not being discharged then the Authorities had the power to revoke her Ticket of Leave on the spot. The reality was that the clause ‘making of a disturbance in the Colony’ could be used detrimentally. So Bridget and Catherine were handed back to their mother whilst Mary was retained as a teacher/monitor at the Orphanage.

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  • avatar
    wayne Hall 24 March 2014 - 3:40 pm Reply

    I see you have a reference to a descendant of catherine grace nee Whelan. Her name is karen ritchie. I am also a descendant of catherine and we are the NZ branch of the grace family. Would I be able to email karen ? or she contact me ?…….Many thanks Wayne Hall

    • avatar
      Cassie Mercer 24 March 2014 - 3:45 pm Reply

      I’ll introduce you to Christina Henri and hopefully she’ll be able to connect you up with Karen. I’m glad you found our article!

  • avatar
    Shay Kinsella 24 July 2014 - 6:18 am Reply

    Hello! What a fantastic article. I was wondering if you could put me in touch with the Yvonne Fitzgerald mentioned in the above article, the descendant of Catherine Grace. I am a historian from Carlow in Ireland and I know the house well where Catherine Grace stole the tea caddy in 1844. I have some information the family might like. It would be great if you could put us in touch. Also, I couldn’t find any reference to her book in your link. Could you provide further details of this publication please?
    Thank you,
    Shay Kinsella
    Carlow, Ireland

  • avatar
    Guest Blog 27 August 2014 - 2:24 pm Reply

    Hi Shay, that’s exciting to hear – we’re sure Yvonne’s family would love any further info. We forwarded your message onto Christina and she told us that she is already on the job of getting you in touch with Yvonne.

    As for the book, that would be due to an error in the text above – our apologies! We’ll fix it now. Here’s a link to the book in the LINC Tasmania catalogue: Hope this helps. -Sarah

  • avatar
    wayne hall 9 March 2015 - 3:12 pm Reply

    Still hoping to link up with karen ritchie.

  • avatar
    maria firth 25 March 2015 - 2:01 pm Reply

    Hello, thanks for this great article. I am also a descendant of Catherine and Pierce. I would love to hear more about the theft of the tea caddy! I am travelling to Ireland next month and would love to be able to see the scene of the crime if possible.

  • avatar
    judith Oliver 5 March 2017 - 5:24 pm Reply

    I lived making a bonnet for my ggmother Elizabeth. Who married Charles Dewhurst in Tasmania. my mothers side of the family. I am now working on My Fathers side my ggmother was Elizabeth Stone
    DIED 27 JULY 1873 HYDE PARK ASYLUM, SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES. Are you still open to collecting bonnets as I would love to make one for her. At the moment I am writing a fact and fiction book of her life and hope to have it finished by the end of the year. Please let me know if I can do this or if one was made for her by someone else. thanking you for your trouble, Judith Oliver.
    Bathurst, NSW.

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