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 researchers of the Female Convicts Research Centre, based in Hobart, Tasmania. 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.
Catherine Fitton (1811?-?)
by Steve Rhodes
Catherine Fitton was born about 1811 in Gibraltar, but by age twenty came to be living in Scotland, where on 29 March 1831 she, along with Jess Holmes (or Mathieson) and George Holmes (or Holme ) was convicted at the Edinburgh Court of Justiciary of stealing and receiving money, the property of Robert Ballantyne. It wasn’t the first time Catherine had appeared before the authorities, having been imprisoned four times at Bridewell for drinking.
Cattle dealer, Robert Ballantyne, had sold four cattle at market and received £47 for them which he placed in his pocket book in his inside waist coat pocket. That evening he was approached by Catherine who asked if he would buy her a gill of spirits. She took him to a house kept by publican Peter Mathieson, and they went to a room on their own and twice had a gill of whisky. There was no bed but a sofa in the room and Robert had ‘connexions’ with her. Catherine then claimed her master was at the door, but ran off after answering. Soon after, noticing his money missing, he went to the police to lay a complaint. In the meantime Catherine passed some of the bank notes to Jess Holmes who further passed them to her uncle George Holmes. Before long, however, all three were in custody and for her part in the crime Catherine was sentenced to 10 years’ transportation.
The convict ship Mary departed London on 12 June 1831 with Catherine and 150 other female convicts on board. Catherine appears to have been noncompliant during the voyage, described in the surgeon’s journal as being ‘turbulent, dissolute, and troublesome’. She was also recorded on the sick list suffering with a fever for two days. There were two deaths during the 130 day voyage.
Upon arrival in Hobart Town on 19 October 1831 Catherine was described as being 4 feet 10¾ inches (149.23 cm) tall, had grey eyes, brown hair, a ruddy complexion, large round head, perpendicular forehead, a short flat nose, small chin, and a wide mouth with a thick lower lip. She was single, a Protestant, skilled as a house servant, and could read.
Catherine’s feisty nature and propensity for a tipple resulted in her conduct record containing numerous punishments for being absent, drunk, neglect of duty, out after hours, disorderly conduct, gross insolence, and refusing to work. Punishments included being confined to her cell, assigned to the wash tub, assigned to the crime class, sent to the solitary working cells, and three months to the House of Correction.
On 10 September 1835, Catherine Fitton and James Chetter, also a convict per the convict ship Caledonia, applied for permission to marry, but were refused. After receiving her freedom Catherine appears to have kept herself from trouble, and on 6 May 1839 she married Matthew Cooper, a 36-year-old labourer. There have been no births found for the couple nor any confirmed sightings of Catherine after this time, although Matthew is believed to have died in Hobart in 1880.
© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.