Catherine Brown (1805–?)

by Leonie Mickleborough

 

Catherine Brown was born about 1805 in Gibraltar, Spain, one of the areas where British military were stationed, and where some of the personnel were permitted to take their wives. In 1826 Catherine was living in Scotland, where, on 18 March, at the Trial Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, Catherine, Margaret Bower and Grace McKenzie (or MacKenzie), were found guilty of the theft of £90 from Robert Campbell.

According to the Caledonian Mercury, on the first day of the Hollow-fair, Robert Campbell’s employer sold ten of his cattle for £90, and he sent Campbell to collect the money, which was paid in nine £10 notes. Campbell, being a stranger in Edinburgh, asked Catherine Brown directions for the shortest route to the Cowgate.

Catherine took him down Borthwick’s Close, and on reaching the home of George Rodgers, she pushed him inside and into a dark room which was occupied by Grace McKenzie. Campbell asked the girls for some whisky and gave them six pence to purchase it, but instead, he was robbed of his money. Catherine and Grace, and also Margaret Bower and Janet Veitch, who had both been in the kitchen, left the house and went to the Cowgate where they divided the ‘booty’. Catherine Brown received £40, Margaret Bower £20, Grace McKenzie £20 and Janet Veitch £10. Margaret and Janet then changed one of the notes at the house of a chimney sweep, and they all went to South Bridge and bought new dresses. They also bought new hats and handkerchiefs for the chimney sweeps ‘for their trouble’, but the police apprehended all four later that night.

The jury was unanimous that Catherine Brown has ‘planned the theft’ and should be transported for 14 years. She had prior convictions for ‘walking the street’ and being ‘on the Town’, and for each offence, had been imprisoned for thirty days. Grace and Margaret, who were both born in Scotland, were sentenced to transportation for 7 years.

A servant who could wash and iron, milk cows and reap corn, Catherine at 4 feet 11 inches (149.86 cm) tall with dark brown hair, brown eyes and scars on the back of her hands, and who was unable to write, said she had never married. However, according to her gaol report before departure, she was married, and her behaviour in gaol was ‘Bad’.

All three left London on 16 September 1826 aboard the Sir Charles Forbes. During the voyage, despite being ‘troublesome’, Catherine was ‘active and useful’. In all, 69 female convicts and 24 free women and children, the families of convicts, landed at the River Derwent in Van Diemen’s Land on 3 January 1827.

Soon after arrival Catherine was assigned to James Edward Cox, most likely at ‘Rendlesham’, his grant at Macquarie Plains. In less than three months she absconded from her service with Cox, and after being absent for one day and two nights, she was apprehended and sentenced to seven days on bread and water in the Crime Class at the Female House of Correction. She was then assigned in the country. This was the first in a long list of offences, mainly for absconding from her service or being drunk, and was the first of eighteen times she was sentenced to a Female House of Correction at either Launceston or George Town.

Most of Catherine’s places of assignment were in the Macquarie Plains area with masters including Mr Cawthorn at ‘Arundel’, Major Welman, Mr Hundon, Mr Cooper, Mr Brumby, J.S. Heath and Dr Paton—previously a private in the NSW Corps and district constable at Norfolk Plains. As well as being drunk and using disgraceful language many times, Catherine was also punished for having a prisoner in her house after hours, was apprehended in a disorderly house, and also charged with refusing to do any kind of work. On one occasion when Catherine absconded she was found in a public house in bed with a soldier. As well as sentences to a Female Factory and time in solitary confinement on bread and water, Catherine’s punishments included having her hair cut off.

About June 1832, possibly while ‘on loan’ to Captain Welman, who was posted to Launceston as Bt Major of the 57th Regiment, she gave birth to a son, William Brown. No details have been located for William other than his admission to the Orphan School at New Town on 28 September 1839 at the age of seven years and three months, and also his discharge to his mother on 23 March 1841, who was, by then, free by servitude.

On 9 July 1834 Catherine received her ticket of leave, but on 27 June 1836, after being found guilty of having a prisoner in her house, her ticket was suspended for three months, during which time she was sentenced to the Launceston Female House of Correction, and where, on 10 July she gave birth to another son, John Collins. John was baptised as St John’s Church of England Launceston, his father named as John Collins.

On 28 July 1838, Benjamin Nichols, a shoemaker from Higham Street, Norwich applied to marry Catherine. Benjamin, sentenced in July 1826 at Norwich to transportation for life for burglary, had arrived on the Governor Ready on 2 August 1827 after leaving London four months earlier. The marriage was approved, and followed on 12 September 1838 in Launceston.

Assigned to her husband after their marriage, Catherine’s behaviour did not improve, and from then until she was free by servitude, she was charged eight times with four different crimes. She was repeatedly drunk, she absented herself from her husband’s home, she was apprehended in a ‘disorderly house’ with Christopher Jackson, and also broke the window of her husband’s home. As a result of these exploits she was sentenced to a total of thirty days in a cell on bread and water and also three months in the Female House of Correction at Launceston.

The last entry on Catherine’s convict record is the granting of her free certificate on 18 March 1840, while for Benjamin Nichols it is his conditional pardon on 24 May 1841. What became of Catherine’s sons William Brown and John Collins is not known, and whether Catherine and Benjamin, free again, with or without any children of their own, deliberately covered their tracks to commence a new life is also unknown. Whatever Catherine’s situation, she is typical of many convicts transported to Van Diemen's Land, whose life once free of the convict system is unable to be traced.

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