Matty Beck (1811?-1847)

by Cheryl Griffin


Matty Beck, domestic slave and later convict, was born in Barbados in about 1811. The Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834, list 28 Matty Becks in Barbados, but only one was born in the right time period. This Matty Beck first appeared in the Registers in 1817, described as a six-year-old domestic slave owned by a William Swan. She was one of only eight slaves owned by Swan and remained in his household until 1823 when he gifted his slaves to Harriet Husbands Swan. Matty was still in this household in 1834, so the Swans had controlled her world for the first 24 years of her life.

A year later all that changed. On 9 June 1835 Matty was tried at the Barbados Gaol Delivery, found guilty of receiving stolen goods and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation to New South Wales. It was the year after 700,000 West Indian slaves were legally freed and Matty Beck had swapped one form of slavery for another.

Described in the convict records as a ‘woman of colour’ and nursemaid, cook and laundress, Matty was sent from Barbados to England on board the Corsair on 25 July 1835. There were fifteen convicts on board. She was the only woman.

She boarded the Henry Wellseley at Woolwich on 27 August 1835. A month later the ship set sail, arriving in Sydney on 7 February 1836 after 123 days at sea.

Little can be told of Matty’s life after her arrival in New South Wales. She remained in the District of Sydney for some years and was in the service of George Augustus Buckland, a clerk in the Principal Superintendent of Convicts Office, when she received her ticket of leave on 16 July 1841. The last sighting of her was on 9 June 1842 when her certificate of freedom was issued.

It is possible that she is the Martha (or Matty) Beck who died suddenly in Sydney on 23 November 1847. A coroner’s inquest found that she died ‘by a visitation of God’.

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Further reading:

Cheryl Griffin, ‘Whitewashing Australia’s convict experience: from the British Caribbean to New South Wales’, in  Fromthe Edges of Empire,ed L. Frost and C. McAlpine,Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015, pp. 131-147.



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