Sarah Cassidy (1825- ?)
by Colleen Arulappu
Sarah Cassidy was born in the East Indies and brought up in Derry. At the time of her birth there were two British Regiments which had been transferred from serving in Ireland to India and as married soldiers were able to take their wives, Sarah was probably the child born there of Irish parents. Sarah was a very short girl with a freckled face and she had seven sets of initials interspersed with hearts, a cross and dots(for kisses) tattooed on her arms. When she arrived in Hobart her mother, Sarah, was alive in Belfast, her brothers Richard and Thomas and her sisters Joanna and Theresa; however Joanna, who gave her native place as Derry, had been transported the year before on the Waverley.
Sarah was only seventeen when she was convicted for stealing money from a woman in Belfast and she had already been ‘on the town’ for three or four years. She had previous charges for stealing clothes for which she was acquitted, but served several short sentences for the theft of a web of tartan, for stealing money and provisions. There were two other young women sentenced in court on the same day, one Catherine Patterson, 17, was also a prostitute. Sarah’s sister, Joanna, sixteen years old when convicted, had admitted, “for the last three years have been living by thieving”. The youth of the girls and their way of life in Ireland fitted into the section of population in which poverty was endemic.They were from a Catholic family, their father was probably dead, and they had left Derry for Belfast. They were on the wrong side of the sectarian divide in Belfast and away from their home county and with convictions against them would have found it difficult to get employment.
Sarah sailed on the convict ship East London and her journey was a terrible one with nineteen of her fellow women convicts dying and many of their young children. An enquiry was held into the number of deaths and although the surgeon superintendent was cleared it was found that failure to call in at the Cape of Good Hope for fresh food and a lack of discipline had lead to the disaster on board. Sarah was in one of the few mess groups in which there were no deaths and after arrival in Hobart, was able to be assigned, perhaps as a nurse girl, which she had listed as her occupation on her indent papers. She served her sentence with little trouble with just two charges of being absent without leave. She gained her ticket of leave on 9 November 1847 and her certificate of freedom on 30 June 1853.
In 1845 Sarah had permission to marry John Towers, who was free, but the marriage did not take place. In 1847 she married John Devaney, a convict and carpenter, who had arrived in Hobart in 1845 aboard the Lady Franklin from Norfolk Island. He was from Galway and had been sent to New South Wales on the St Vincent in 1837. After the rape of a woman at Port Stephens he had been sent to Norfolk Island and then to Hobart. Sarah and John married at St Joseph’s Church in Hobart in February 1847. They had three children, Catherine, born in October 1847, William in 1851 and James in 1852. John Devaney died from influenza in Hobart in 1852 so Sarah was left with the care of three young children. William Skinner, perhaps the carpenter of that name, may have been the person she turned to for support after her husband’s death.
The Colonial Times newspaper reported an account of a mysterious robbery in December 1854. Sarah Cassidy was the young woman with three small children who had been accused of stealing a purse with money, a gold guard, a locket and various other articles from the bedroom of a shop proprietor. By the time the report of the trial was published she was named as Sarah Skinner. During the trial a witness said that the prosecutor’s mother had also been in the house and had been known to take his belongings and that Sarah had no toes and could not run. The prosecutor himself had expressed a wish not to charge Sarah as she had three small children. The jury found Sarah not guilty. Although there was no marriage the newspaper report said that Sarah’s husband, William Skinner, was in Port Philip and was expected back at Christmas. William Skinner returned to Hobart in December, but he may not have returned to Sarah.
During her trial, Sarah’s three children, Catherine aged seven, William aged three years six months and James two years old, were admitted into the Orphan School and they stayed there even after she was acquitted. In 1856, after nearly two years, Catherine and William Devanny were discharged to Sarah, but James had died from whooping cough in 1855 while at the Orphan School. Sarah was still quite a young woman and probably found another man to care for her and her children but without the official recognition of a marriage certificate.
© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.