Mary Bone (1827?-1896)

by Deborah Norris


Mary Bone was born in France, about 1827. At the time of her birth the city of Paris was being rebuilt from a medieval town to a grand city. How, why and when Mary, her brother Robert and sisters Catherine and Jemma left this newly developing city and travelled to the British Isles has proved difficult to ascertain, as personal names were not included on census returns in France until 1836. At some point the family split, brother Richard living in London, whilst Mary and her sisters resided in Edinburgh. On 12 March 1849, before the Edinburgh High Court, Mary received a sentence of 10 years’ transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.

      Mary Bone was no stranger to the court system. By the mid 1840s she was well known to the Edinburgh constabulary and listed as ‘habite and repute’. Standing trial on 26 December 1848 with her co-accused for assault, robbery and resisting arrest, Mary declared she was 21 years of age, not married, Protestant and unable to write. Mary and her accomplices put up quite a show in an attempt to be found not guilty, fabricating evidence and backing each other up. But, with many witnesses on the side of the prosecution, their efforts to deny the carefully planned robbery and assault upon shopman Duncan Shaw were of no avail. Shaw found himself at the mercy of a well-organised group when, after refusing to hand over his money, he was seized by the throat as Bone grabbed his watch and chain. Shaw declared ‘a great noise was made in the struggle, and it would be heard in the whole flat’. Following lengthy witness statements, Mary Bone, Henry Grant and Elizabeth Henderson were indicted in the High Court on the charge of robbery.

Leaving Britain on the Baretto Junior on 13 April 1850, Mary appears to have maintained a healthy constitution during the voyage, only requiring the attention the ship’s superintendent surgeon from 27 June to 1 July 1850, suffering from enteritis. Her discomfort was probably due to ingestion of some sort of bacteria, not uncommon onboard transportation ships. Mary informed surgeon R. Whitmore Clarke that she was 26 years of age, where her date of birth would suggest she was closer to 21 or 22. Additionally, when a fresh-faced Mary Bone arrived in Hobart Town on 25 July 1850, she announced her age to be 29. Mary also informed that she had been for three years a widow with two children. Where those children were during her incarceration before transportation is also a mystery, but Mary’s trial record does reveal her ability to change her story to suit the occasion. Mary also announced she was literate, at odds with her declaration in court. The 5 feet 5 inches (165.10 cm) tall, apparently 29-year-old, Mary Bone was now under the superintenditure of the convict system. With no record of any colonial offences, Mary next appears on the records when she married Matthew Richards at St George’s Church, Battery Point on 2 June 1851. In the same year Mary delivered a baby girl, with Matthew listed as the father. The baby’s death was also recorded in 1851.

Like Mary, Matthew was also serving a 10-year-transportation sentence for stealing, was Protestant, literate, the same height as Mary and seven years her senior. Mary received a pardon after only six years on 1 August 1855, on the condition that she did not return to Britain or Ireland before the expiration of her 10-year transportation sentence, and her ticket of leave on 28 March 1854. Matthew Richards gained his certificate of freedom on 11 May 1854.

The couple then appears to have settled down in Hobart Town, where Matthew became a coachman. Now, apart from Matthew suffering some injuries whilst driving in town, as reported in the Mercury newspaper on 26 July 1880, when he sustained fractured ribs, they seemingly lived a quiet life together, not coming to the attention of the authorities for any criminal behavior. Then, after close to 40 years of marriage, Matthew succumbed to chronic cystitis and exhaustion and passed away in his residence in Collins Street, aged 67, on 9 November 1890. Mary continued to live in the Collins Street residence until her death from a varicose ulcer and senile decay on 16 December 1896. Mary, like so many transported women died alone, never to be reunited with families in England. But for Mary at least, she must have had someone who cared close by because (as with Matthew), her death notice was placed in the local newspaper.

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Further reading:
Alison Alexander, ‘French Female Convicts in Van Diemen's Land’, in Fromthe Edges of Empire,ed L. Frost and C. McAlpine,  Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015, pp. 158-171 



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