Edges of Empire Biographical Dictionary
of Convict Women from beyond the British Isles
Edited by Lucy Frost and Colette McAlpine
Who would have thought that a slave in British Hondurus would end up as a female convict in Van Diemen’s Land? Or that two cousins, the oldest aged 12, would be transported from their native Mauritius all the way to New South Wales? And why was a French-born woman with the extravagant name Emme Felicite Gabrielle Chardonez Mallohomme sentenced at London’s Old Bailey to transportation for life?
Edges of Empire is a Biographical Dictionary offering accounts of many of these convicts among nearly 200 others who were tried or born outside the British Isles. All were transported to the Australian colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land between 1788 and 1853. Their life stories have been tracked from numerous sources around the world, sometimes in detail and sometimes with the merest trace of their existence. The contributors to the Biographical Dictionary are members of the Female Convicts Research Centre, based in Hobart, Tasmania, but with a membership worldwide. For more information go to: http://www.femaleconvicts.org.au.
In addition to the Biographical Dictionary, which includes all the women for whom information has become available, the more in-depth and comprehensive study, From the Edges of Empire: Convict Women from beyond the British Isles, is available in paperback from Convict Women’s Press Inc.
Mary Robinson (1809?-?)
by Don Bradmore and Judith Carter
Mary Robinson, a married woman of 33 and a cook by trade, was indicted at the Old Bailey, London, in 1842 with stealing a number of household items, including a bottle of wine, two yards (1.8 metres) of linen fabric and some bundles of wood, to a total value of ten shillings and seven pence. At her trial on 25 June, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.
On 8 May of the following year, she pleaded guilty to stealing again on two different occasions. In both instances, she had stolen linen and clothing from the home of her employer. The combined value of the items was £3.17.0. This time she was sentenced to transportation for 7 years.
With 203 other female convicts, she was put aboard Woodbridge which sailed from London on 3 September 1843 and reached Hobart on Christmas Day. The voyage had not been a pleasant one for her; for almost three weeks she was confined to the ship’s hospital suffering from ‘debility’, a condition often described as ‘abnormal bodily weakness or feebleness, the causes of which are unknown’.
Upon arrival, she told authorities that her husband, Benjamin, lived in Duke Street, Piccadilly, London, and that she was childless. She was described as 4 feet 11¼ inches (150 cms) tall, with a dark complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes. She gave her native place as ‘Malta’.
In Van Diemen’s Land, her behaviour as a convict seems to have been exemplary; there are no new offences listed on her conduct record. On 16 July 1847, she was granted a ticket of leave and, on 13 May 1850, a certificate of freedom.
In August 1847, an application for permission to marry Mary was submitted by Robert Coombs who had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land per Susan on 21 November 1837 after being convicted of two separate offences, housebreaking and bigamy, and sentenced to transportation for 14 years. The application was approved and the couple married at Bethesda Church of England, St George’s Parish, South Hobart, on 23 August 1847. The register entry describes her as a ‘widow’.
Unfortunately, nothing more is known about Mary with certainty.
It is possible that her marriage to Coombs was not a success. On 1 January 1859, the Launceston Examiner reported that a ‘Mary Coombs’ had charged ex-convict William Whatnell (Pestogee Bomangee 1847) with assault. The court was told that the pair had been ‘living together on and off for some years’. Whether this was the former Mary Robinson or some other ‘Mary Coombs’ has not been confirmed.
No record of Mary (Robinson) Coombs marrying again, or of her death, has yet been found.
© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.