Catherine Armstrong (1792-1871)

by Maureen Mann


Catherine Armstrong was born Catherine Goldsmith, in St Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada. It is believed that her birth date was 10 April 1792 and her parents were Henry Goldsmith (1755-1811) and Mary Mason (1759-1832) who had been married in Rhode Island in 1779. Henry was Assistant Commissary General, first in Nova Scotia and then in New Brunswick. It is also uncertain how many children were in the family, with numbers ranging between ten and fifteen. According to her death notice, Catherine was the third daughter.

In 1835 Catherine was convicted at Northumberland Quarter Sessions, Newcastle upon Tyne, for the theft of a blanket and was transported for 7 years on the Hector which arrived in Hobart 20 October 1835. The journey lasted  129 days, and  none of the 134 convicts on board died. According to the ship’s surgeon, Morgan Price, Catherine had been well conducted. He made one entry for her during the journey: a case of dyspepsia which lasted from 25 July 1835 until 4 August when she was discharged, cured.

What had happened in the years between her birth and her conviction? Henry Goldsmith spent the last twenty or so years of his life in New Brunswick and all the children after Catherine were born in St Andrews. There is nothing known about Catherine’s childhood or about how she met her husband. It is possible they met when his ship called into the port of St Andrews, or in some other way through her father’s position. What is known is that she married William Askew Armstrong at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Quebec, Canada on 17 February 1814. He was about 24 and she was 22.  They had four children: Oliver Goldsmith (b 1816), William Askew (b 1818), Henry Goldsmith (b 1820) and Mary (b 1822), but where they were born has not been confirmed. William Askew Armstrong the elder was a ship’s captain who died at sea on a whaling voyage in 1825, but no other details of his death are available. It can be assumed that the family returned to England because Oliver was baptised at Gravesend in 1826, but it is unclear whether this return was before or after William Askew senior’s death or whether it was before or after the children’s births. No baptismal records for any of the other children have been found.

Several generations of the Armstrong family were sea captains. Some of the branches of the family were baptised in Kent, and others in Newcastle upon Tyne. At the time of her husband’s death in 1825, Catherine was far from her Canadian family and it is likely that she went north from Gravesend to Newcastle upon Tyne where she could expect some support from her husband’s family. She must have needed an income and in January 1835, Catherine was employed as matron of the Newcastle Gaol, ‘at the salary of the last matron’. According to The Newcastle Courant, April 11, 1835 Catherine Armstrong was charged with having on the 2nd of March last, stolen a bed-tick, then in her possession as matron of the gaol, the property of the inhabitants of Newcastle.  Another count of the indictment laid the property as belonging to Mr Grey, the Governor of the prison. It was proved that she had the ticking in her possession; that it was kept in a store-room of which she held the key; that several pawn-brokers’ tickets including a duplicate for a bed-tick, were found in a drawer in her room; and that her daughter (who was originally included in the indictment but against whom the grand jury did not find a true bill) pawned a bed-tick, which was recognized, on being produced in court, as one of those placed in the matron’s possession. Verdict--guilty. The prisoner was then charged, on another indictment, with stealing, when in the same capacity, a double blanket, on the 5th of March; but no evidence was offered on this charge, and a verdict of not guilty was returned.

On the same day, her son was charged with theft of a thumb clamp, two saws and several pieces of veneer from his uncle and employer, Amor Spoor who had married Ann Armstrong, daughter of Archibald Armstrong, sea captain of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1808. Ann was the sister of William Askew Armstrong Snr. This case was also reported in the same edition of The Newcastle Courant. William Jnr. was found to be not guilty as ‘the Recorder in the case thought there would be some difficulty in coming to a conclusion in this case’.

One has to wonder if the family were set up for these crimes to all occur at the same time and be heard at the same sitting of court. Or was it a matter of them manipulating the system so that they were sent to Tasmania to join their older son and brother?

O.G. (Oliver Goldsmith) Armstrong arrived in Hobart on the barque Charles Eaton on 22 June 1834. The Colonial Times records H.G. Armstrong arriving 24 June. Oliver Goldsmith Armstrong was employed by the colonial government in Tasmania and married Agnes Frances Carpenter 11 November 1843 in Hobart at St David’s Cathedral. He was aged 26 and was described as a gentleman. They had six children registered in Tasmania by 1854: five sons and a daughter. Another two sons were born after they moved to Victoria.

When she arrived in  Hobart, Catherine was described as a laundress and needlewoman, who was 5 feet and ¾ inches (154.31 cm) tall, with a sallow complexion and light brown hair and eyebrows.  Her eyes were dark hazel. Her head was oval-shaped, her face long and her forehead wrinkled. Her nose and chin were medium large and her mouth wide. None of these features makes her unusual, but to our modern eyes it is less common for a woman aged 44 to have several upper front teeth missing as did Catherine.

Once in Tasmania, Catherine spent a brief time at the Hobart House of Correction, according to the 1835 muster. On 10 July 1837 permission  was granted to marry Thomas Hayes (per Atlas 1833) and the marriage took place on 28 August 1837 in Hobart. Thomas was reconvicted twice. The first time was in December 1845 for stealing a watch. He was sentenced to 7 years, later commuted to 1 year on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. It is possible this was on the intercession of Oliver Armstrong on behalf of his mother. On 15 April 1850 Thomas Hayes was sentenced to 2 years’ hard labour for stealing boots. There are no reports which link Catherine Armstrong with Thomas Hayes after their marriage.

In August 1841 Catherine was registered at the New Norfolk office. By the 1841 muster she had her ticket of leave and she received her certificate of freedom, number 265 on 11 April 1842.

Catherine’s son William Askew Armstrong arrived in the colony, date unknown. By 22 January 1848 he was well-enough established as an overseer in the Probation Department to marry Mary Sheehy in New Norfolk. By 1855 he was the landlord of the Steam Packet Hotel, Flight’s Bay (in the Huon area of Tasmania) and was charged with being drunk and disorderly in his own house. There were three children registered in Hobart: one son and two daughters. At the time of the first birth, in 1851, he was said to be a superintendent, but at the time of the later two births he was described as a carpenter or joiner, the trade he was undertaking at the time of his acquittal in 1835.  No firm death date has been found for him.

Catherine’s daughter Mary Goldsmith Armstrong also came to Tasmania, date unknown, though it was possibly per the Sir George Arthur, arriving in Hobart 10 May 1840 from London. She married Charles Allen Galt 5 January 1843. He was said at the time to be Assistant Superintendent Probation Department and Mary’s status was not given. They do not appear to have had any children. Charles Allen Galt, a gentleman, died 8 May 1879 in Hobart. No firm death date has been found for Mary. If Catherine’s third son also came to Tasmania there are no records of marriage, or of death. Oliver Goldsmith Armstrong died in Kyneton, Victoria 29 August 1890.

There have been no records found which refer to Catherine’s life between her freedom and her death.  She appears to have led an uneventful life in colonial Hobart. 

The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) Thursday 29 June 1871 p 1 carried the following announcement

ARMSTRONG.—On June 27th, at 89, Campbell-street, the residence of her son-in-law, Mr C.A. Galt, Catherine, relict of Captain W.A. Armstrong, third daughter of Henry Goldsmith Esq., Deputy Commissary General, New Brunswick, and grand niece of Goldsmith the Poet, in the 79th year of her age. English and British North American papers please copy. The funeral will take place at 9.30 a.m. on Friday. Friends are invited to attend.
Mercury 29 June 1871

By this time Catherine appears to have lost any relationship with Thomas Hayes, and had reverted to her original married name.  It links her clearly with her Canadian heritage as well as with her English links to Oliver Goldsmith. One of her brothers, also named Oliver, was a minor poet in Canada. 

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