Mary Cooper (1813?-1846)

by David Boon


Mary Cooper was born about 1813 in Portugal. To date no definite details of her birth or father have been located. It is thought that Mary’s mother was Jane Darling as this was the name listed on the registration of death of her sister, Sarah, which also recorded that Sarah was born at sea. Given these details it would seem likely that Mary travelled with her family back to England about 1814 as her sister, Sarah, is recorded in a study by C.L. Anderson as having been born at sea at that time. Given these dates and locations it seems a strong possibility that Mary’s father was involved in some way in Wellington’s peninsular campaign, with the family returning to England sometime after the war ended in April 1814.

On 5 July 1832 Mary Cooper appeared at the Holland Quarter Sessions in Lincoln charged with stealing money from a house. Mary, along with her sister, Sarah, and an individual named George Kelvington, stole three promissory notes for the payment of £10 each, one promissory note for £5, four sovereigns and other coins from George Green at the Elephant and Castle public house in Spalding. Her conduct record lists the other coins as being three half crowns and one sixpence. Mary was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for 7 years.

On 15 September 1832 the convicted Mary Cooper departed the Downs, England, on board the Frances Charlotte bound for Van Diemen’s Land. She was recorded as being a single house servant who could wash and was aged 19. Her conduct on board was recorded as ‘orderly’. She was a Roman Catholic and could neither read nor write. Mary was five feet three inches (160.02 cm) tall, dark complexioned, with a large round head, perpendicular forehead and an oval-shaped face. She had dark brown hair, brown eyebrows and dark hazel eyes. Mary had a medium length nose, a small mouth and a small chin.

After arriving in Hobart on 10 January 1833, Mary is first recorded in the 1833 muster as being assigned at the Orphan School. Given her lack of education and stated occupation, it is likely she was employed in washing and other manual tasks.

Mary was obviously well-behaved as no offences in the colony were listed on her conduct record. It is probably for this reason that she was selected in mid-1834 by James Simpson for assignment as a servant to Ellen Viveash, the wife of Charles Baskerville Viveash on the Baskerville property in the Campbell Town district. Simpson, the former police magistrate at Campbell Town, was at the time living in Hobart and according to a letter written by Ellen Viveash, published in The Tanner Letters, he had been requested by her to find a suitable female servant to work in her house. In a letter to her mother written in June 1834 Ellen Viveash wrote;

The female servant is come, she is respectable looking and her behavior is so likewise. I am agreeably surprised with what I have seen. She goes about her work very willingly and does things better than is usual here. She is an excellent washer and not slow. Her washing will earn her keep and cloaths (sic). She tries much to oblige, not officiously, but by doing things well and instantly doing something useful without waiting to be told. I have remarked many things which auger well… She says she can cook in a plain way…, sew in a plain way and does not dislike working on the whole. I hope to keep her some time as she can scarcely hope to get an easier place nor I a better servant.

Mary obviously continued this standard of work and behavior as she was still on the property in January 1835 when Ellen Viveash noted that one of the shepherds employed by her husband intended to marry Mary. In a letter to her brother, Ellen wrote:

As our land is stocked it will pay us even if we do not always get as good a shepherd as we have now there. The last two years we have had an excellent one there, (free by servitude), to whom we pay £40 per annum and large rations. He is going to marry our female convict when she has been with us about a year and behaves well.

True to his word, the shepherd in question, Michael Lambert, a month later applied for permission to marry Mary Cooper. Permission was granted on 24 February 1835 and on 5 May 1835 Mary Cooper was married to former convict, Michael Lambert, who had been transported on the Guildford in 1820.

Mary was still recorded as being assigned to Charles Viveash at the time of the December 1835 muster, but where Michael and Mary Lambert were living after the Viveash family returned to England in 1836 is not known. A son, Robert, was born to Michael and Mary on 11 November 1836 and registered at Campbell Town. A second son, Alfred, was born in the Campbell Town area on 23 September 1838.

Mary received her certificate of freedom on 5 July 1839 and it was presumably around this time the family made the decision to move to Port Phillip. No departure record can be found for Michael, but Mary and the two boys departed from George Town on the Charlotte on 15 February 1840.

In 1846 a third son, Henry, was born to the couple in the Brisbane Ranges area north-west of Geelong. It is likely that Michael was working as a shepherd for Simon Staughton who took up the Brisbane Ranges Run in 1842. Mary died in the Brisbane Ranges district of Victoria on 14 October 1846. She was buried at the East Geelong Cemetery on October 18, 1846. Her burial record stated her age as 29. No death for Michael Lambert could be located. 

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