Sarah Cooper (1814?-1864)

by David Boon

 

Sarah Cooper is recorded in a study of Lincolnshire convicts by C. L. Anderson as having been born at sea, most likely as her parents and older sister, Mary, were returning from Portugal, which is where Mary was later recorded as having been born. Given these details it is likely that Sarah’s father was involved in the peninsular campaign which ended in April 1814, but no details of his identity have been located. Her mother was listed on Sarah’s death registration as being Jane Darling.

On 5 July 1832 Sarah Cooper, along with her sister Mary and an individual named George Kelvington, appeared at the Holland Quarter Sessions in Lincoln charged with stealing money from a house. The trio stole three promissory notes for the payment of £10 each, one promissory note for £5, four sovereigns and other coins from George Green at the Elephant and Castle public house in Spalding. Sarah’s conduct record lists the other coins as being three half crowns and one sixpence. She was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for 7 years.

Sarah and her sister were transported to Van Diemen’s Land on the Frances Charlotte, departing the Downs on 15 September 1832. The eighteen-year-old Roman Catholic, Sarah Cooper, was recorded as being a single house servant who could wash. She was five feet six inches (167.64 cm) tall, dark complexioned, with a medium sized head, medium height forehead and an oval shaped face. She had dark brown hair, small brown eyebrows and dark hazel eyes. Sarah had a medium sized nose, a small mouth, a medium width chin and was deeply pockpitted. Her conduct on board the France Charlotte was listed as ‘orderly’.

After her arrival in Hobart on 10 January 1833, the next record relating to Sarah Cooper’s life was that she was with her sister, both being assigned to the Orphan School at the time of the 1833 muster. Unlike Mary, Sarah’s behavior deteriorated after this point, as on 25 February 1834 she was charged with being absent without leave and sentenced to one month in a solitary working cell and then was to be assigned in the interior.

After her time at the Factory, Sarah was next listed at the Engineer’s Office on 7 July 1834, which is where she is likely to have met her future husband, Robert Ashford. Ashford, born about 1801 in Burn near Cambridge, was transported on the Phoenix, arriving in May 1822. He had been in the 3rd Coldstream Guards and was sentenced to life for stealing from a house in Cambridge. By trade he was a carpenter and sawyer. On 6 March 1824, he and three others were charged with stealing goods valued at between £150 and £200 from the house of Walter McQueen at New Norfolk. He was again found guilty and sentenced to an additional 14 years. By the time of the 1833 muster, he was still under sentence and working for the Engineer’s Office. He was still listed there in December 1834 and 1835 so would have been there when Sarah was assigned to the Engineer’s Office in July 1834.

On 19 September Sarah was assigned to an individual named Morris when sentenced to the wash tub for 14 days after once again charged for being absent without leave. Not surprisingly, a request for permission to marry Robert Ashford made on 6 October 1834, just days after the completion of this period of punishment, was refused. A second request for permission was refused on 18 December 1834.

Over a year passed until the next record of Sarah Cooper’s life when she was assigned to Mr Nettlefold at the time of the 1835 muster. This was likely to have been Thomas Nettlefold who later ran the ‘Dallas Arms Hotel’ in New Town in 1837 and 1838. On 9 February 1836, while still assigned to Nettlefold, Sarah was charged with being drunk and was sentenced to a cell on bread and water for six days.

Finally, on 30 April 1836, a request for Robert Ashford to marry Sarah Cooper was granted. By 17 June the letters CT on Sarah’s conduct record show that she was in the Campbell Town district and had very likely been reunited with her sister, Mary, as Mary’s husband, Michael Lambert, was a witness when Sarah Cooper was married to Robert Ashford in the school house at Campbell Town on 25 June 1836.

On 1 February 1837, Sarah received her ticket of leave and in August that year Robert Ashford purchased one acre and one rood of land in Ross. Sarah was charged with being drunk on 11 June 1838 and fined 5/-, but this was the last blemish before she received her certificate of freedom on 5 July 1839, just weeks after Robert Ashford received his conditional pardon. The couple was next recorded in the census records for both 1842 and 1843, living in a stone house in Campbell Town owned by Robert C Forster. Robert appears to have been working in his trade as a carpenter as his occupation was listed as being in the category of mechanics and artificers.

The Cornwall Chronicle of 13 June 1846 announced that Robert Ashford’s conditional pardon had been extended to residence in other Australian colonies and New Zealand. Less than a month later the Hobart Town Courier recoded that Robert Asford and wife had departed George Town for Portland on the Minerva.

No children have been located to the couple, and Sarah Ashford died at Vaughan, a small village south of Castlemaine, Victoria on 30 May 1864. Her husband, Robert Ashford, died in Victoria in 1885 at the recorded age of 81.

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