Eliza Clarke (1819?-1850)
by Dianne Snowden
Eliza Clarke or Sanfern thief, prostitute and convict housemaid, was born in Victoria, Cordoba, Spain. Nothing is known of her early life until she was tried in the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) in July 1838: she was found guilty of stealing a brooch (which she pawned) as well as a small amount of money, two sheets and two blankets. Her sister was living in the house where the theft occurred. Eliza was sentenced to two months in prison. Nearly three years later, in March 1841, Eliza again appeared in the Central Criminal Court, charged with stealing a sheet, valued at 3/-. In court, a witness testified:
I keep a house in the Almonry at Westminster. The prisoner and a soldier came to the house about eleven o’clock in the evening, on the 20th of February, and staid about a quarter of an hour—they were shown into a bed-room—in five or six minutes after they were gone, I missed the sheet—I went in pursuit of the prisoner, and found her that night—this is the sheet.
Eliza had pawned the sheet. The consequence this time was much more serious: Eliza was sentenced to transportation for 7 years. She was 22.
Before being transported, Eliza had been three years ‘on the town’ and had spent a month in prison. There was some confusion about her marital status: her convict records state that she was married (when she embarked) and single (when she arrived). Perhaps it was a clerical error; perhaps it was opportunism on Eliza’s part. Whatever the reason, the details are not known.
Eliza left England on the Rajah on 5 April 1841 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 19 July after a voyage lasting just over four months. She could read. She was 4 feet 11¾ inches tall (151.77 cm) and slightly pockpitted with a fair complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes, a round chin, a rather long nose and a cast in her right eye. She was tattooed with the following marks: PMCJH and 5 dots on her right arm, CBT and 43 on her left arm. On arrival, her trade was listed as housemaid.
In the colony, Eliza appeared frequently in the police court for a variety of offences and consequently was sent to the Cascades Female Factory at least ten times between September 1841 and October 1846.
Hired out to a private employer in Hobart, Eliza had been in the colony two months when she was charged with misconduct, having been found with a soldier in ‘an improper situation’ in a paddock in the evening; she was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour in the separate working cells at Cascades Female Factory. Before the end of the year, she was charged with disobedience of orders and was returned to the Factory to serve a four-month sentence at the wash tub. She had barely finished this sentence when in May 1842, she was charged by her mistress with neglect of duty and was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour at the wash tub at the Factory. In November 1842, she was charged with misconduct in being absent without leave and sent back to the Factory for another month at the wash tub. Having served this sentence, Eliza was in the Brickfields Hiring Depot waiting to be hired when, with another woman Ann Goode, she was charged with misconduct in depriving her fellow prisoner of a ration of bread. Eliza was found not guilty but Anne Goode was sentenced to six months’ hard labour at the Factory. Details of the charge appeared in the Lower Court record. The victim, Mary Pollard, testified:
I am one of the women belonging to the Brickfield Barracks, and the prisoner is one also. Last night I lost a portion of a ration of bread, I had taken a small piece of it, the piece I lost was similar to the piece now produced but it had not the mouse hole in it. I put the bread in my pocket last night, this morning it was gone. I accused Good of having taken it. She denied having done so. I complained to Mr Brooks, I believe the bread now produced is the same I lost.
At the same time, Eliza was charged at the Depot charged for ‘having her hands in her fellow prisoner’s pocket for an improper purpose’. She was sentenced to 48 hours in solitary confinement at the Factory.
A brief respite from offending followed. Eliza was next charged in October 1843, this time with misconduct for being absent all night from her service in Lansdowne Crescent, Hobart. For this she was sentenced to two months’ hard labour at the wash tub at the Factory. In November 1844, she was charged with being absent without leave, earning ten days in solitary confinement at the Factory.
Eliza was granted her ticket of leave on 18 April 1845 but within three months she was back in the Factory for another month, guilty of misconduct in being out after hours. In March 1846, Eliza was charged with larceny under £5 and sent back to the Factory for three months’ imprisonment with hard labour. In October 1846, she was returned to the Factory for the last time, sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour for non-specified misconduct.
In July 1847, Eliza and fellow convict Samuel Holmes per Layton successfully applied for permission to marry. Eliza was 28 and Samuel, a blacksmith, a year older, when they married on 19 July 1847, six years to the day from Eliza’s arrival in the colony. The marriage took place at Bethesda Church of England, St George’s district (Battery Point), Hobart, before Rev. H.P. Fry. Witnesses were William Tasker and Mary Tasker.
There is no record of Eliza offending after her marriage. Having served her sentence, she received her certificate of freedom on 1 March 1848. Her husband was issued with his in July 1849.
Eliza, a blacksmith’s wife aged 31, died of diseased lungs at Murray Street, Hobart, on 22 October 1850. She was buried in the Holy Trinity Church of England cemetery two days later, a long way from her native Spain.
T. Cowley and D. Snowden, Patchwork Prisoners: The Rajah Quilt and the Women who made it (Hobart, Tasmania Research Tasmania, 2013)
© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.