Eliza Cummins (1812?-?)

by Douglas Wilkie


When Eliza Henrietta Cummins, also known as Cummings or Cumming, arrived at Hobart in 1845 she told the officials that she was aged 33, had a sister named Ann, and had been born in Jamaica but was brought up in England. Her mother’s name was Sarah. And so, with this meagre information we ask who Eliza Henrietta Cummings was.

Archival resources tell us that a woman named Eliza Henrietta Stinton married William Cumming [sic] at Saint Olave, Southwark, Surrey, on 28 January 1829. However when we search for the birth of anyone named Eliza Henrietta Stinton at Jamaica around 1812, we find nothing. On the other hand we can find a record for Eliza Henrie [sic] Davis being baptised in the Parish of St Mary, Jamaica, on 9 August 1812. But there is no corresponding record for Eliza Henrie Davis marrying a person named Cumming.

Nevertheless, a daughter, Elizabeth Ann Cumming was born on 29 March 1830, at Stepney, and baptised on 20 June 1830 in the Whitechapel, St Mary Parish of Tower Hamlets. At the time the family lived in Thomas Street, Whitechapel and William was a ‘G. Maker’ — which could have been a garment, gimlet, girdle, gauge or garancine maker. But seeing Eliza later claimed to be a tailoress and dressmaker we might assume William also made garments. A second daughter, Mary Ann, was born around 1833. A third, Ann Eliza Cumming, was born at Birmingham in 1836, but died aged fourteen months, and was buried there on 25 September 1837. This child’s parents were listed as William and Eliza Harriet [sic] Cumming, living in Sheep Street. A fourth daughter, Eliza, was born in 1839, and possibly died late in 1842.

Sometime around 1840 or 1841 Eliza Cummings, now aged 30, took her daughters, Elizabeth, 11, Mary Ann, 9, and Eliza, 2, and moved to live with 22-year-old John Callow, his wife Mary, and their one-year-old daughter, in Fisher Street, only a few paces from Sheep Street. In the 1841 Census, taken in June, Callow said he was a brass castor, and Eliza said she had independent means. What happened to Eliza’s husband, William, is unknown, but a 44- year-old person named as William Cummingworth [sic] living in Hatchett Street, had died in 1841 and was buried in the St Mary Parish on 18 May 1841. This may have been her husband.

Despite claiming she had independent means, life became difficult after the death of her husband, and at the Birmingham Sessions on 7 January 1842, Eliza was convicted of stealing two pillows and two pillow cases from 17-year-old Phoebe Adams, who lived nearby in Steelhouse Lane. She was sentenced to one month in prison. Two years later, on 7 August 1844, at the Warwick County Assizes, Eliza was found guilty of stealing twelve handkerchiefs. Her alleged accomplices were Elizabeth and James Pratt [sic] or Spratt, a brass castor of nearby Lancashire Street. Elizabeth Spratt was found guilty of receiving the handkerchiefs and sentenced to six months. James Spratt was discharged. However Eliza Cummings’s theft of the handkerchiefs brought a sentence of transportation for 12 years to Van Diemen’s Land. At one year per handkerchief, they were very expensive pieces of linen.

Eliza spent the next seven months in prison before she and 169 other female convicts, along with their twenty-four children, boarded the convict ship Tory for the voyage to Van Diemen’s Land. Nevertheless, after the Tory finally sailed on 12 March 1845, the ship’s surgeon, Doctor John Sloan, said that, despite the weather being ‘intensely cold’, the women ‘were delighted with the change from the monotony of prison discipline’. But the delight soon turned to discomfort as contrary winds kept them in the English Channel for eight days and ‘the women suffered severely from sea sickness’. They reached Tenerife after nineteen days and the kind Dr Sloan kept the ship there for four days to allow the women to recover, and for those who had some money of their own to purchase fresh fruit. The rest of the voyage was fortunately much better and on 4 July 1845, after 102 days at sea, they reached Hobart.

Sloan praised the women for their attention to the cleanliness of the ship during the voyage and encouraged them to spend as much time on deck whenever the weather permitted. Because of the limited space on the upper deck, Sloan also allowed the women to use the poop deck ‘and had no reason to regret this indulgence for it was highly appreciated’, and enabled him to prevent the women going before the main hatch where they might have indulged in ‘intercourse with the ship’s company’.

Despite his praise for the women, Sloan was surprised at their ‘almost total neglect of education, and moral discipline’, and thought, ‘Most of them were from infancy brought up to indulge in the unrestrained emotions of temper … bullitions of passion, and caprices were indulged in according to the momentary feelings of impulse.’ He also noted that ‘The Chocolate supplied for breakfast was loathed to such an extent that the greater portion was thrown overboard after having made several futile attempts to reconcile the women to its use, I was obliged to substitute tea in lieu.’

Summing up his report Sloan thought that many were ‘cheered by the prospect of better days even in the land of their captivity’, and ‘there appeared an almost universal expression of pleasure at the prospect before them.’ He thought Eliza Cummings was, ‘Well behaved and industrious’ during the voyage.

When she arrived at Hobart, Eliza Henrietta Cummings, sometimes known simply as Eliza and sometimes as Henrietta, told the authorities she was a ‘tailoress’ and dressmaker; and they noted that she could read and write; was 5 feet and ¾ inches (154.31 cm) tall; had a fair complexion, brown hair, grey eyes, long nose, and large mouth. She also revealed that her mother, Sarah, lived in Commercial Road, and, as if it mattered, that she had ‘lived with John Callow for four years’. The colonial authorities may have thought she was referring to John Callow, one of the Guardians of the Poor in the Bromsgrove Poor Union at Birmingham, but Eliza was referring to a different John Callow.

On 12 July 1845, Eliza’s daughter, 16-year-old Elizabeth Ann Cummins was admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School. She would remain there until 4 September 1845 when she went to work for Doctor George Everett, the coroner, at Port Arthur. She married police officer James McIvor at Port Arthur in 1851. Elizabeth Ann died in Sydney on 24 January 1908. Her younger sister, Mary Ann Cummins, was aged 12 when she was admitted to the Orphan School. She remained there until 17 July 1847 when she was engaged to work for William Anderson Mackay, who happened to be the purveyor at the School. In 1846 his wife had given birth to their first son, and eleven more children followed. It is not known how long Mary Ann stayed with the Mackays. However, there is a record for 17-year-old Mary Ann Cummins [sic] being married to 23-year-old Thomas Ward at Hobart on 7 May 1850. A child named Elizabeth Ann was born in 1854.

Eliza Cummings was granted Class 2 Probation on 13 January 1846, and Class 3 very soon afterwards on 26 May 1846. In July 1848, a application for permission to marry was submitted for the marriage of Eliza to Michael Boyles, who arrived at Hobart on the Lady Franklin on 26 November 1845. The application was approved and published in Colonial Times on Friday 28 July. Boyles originally arrived at Sydney on the Marquis of Huntly on 5 July 1835, but in 1840 he was sent to Norfolk Island for bushranging. He was granted ticket of leave on 23 May 1848 and had nothing more on his record until a conditional pardon was twice refused, first in September 1848 and again in March 1849.

The refusal of a pardon possibly influenced Eliza Cummings not to proceed with her marriage to Boyle. Or perhaps she had a better offer, and on 24 October 1848 William Anderson applied to marry her. Again the marriage was approved, but this time it took place at Holy Trinity Church, Hobart on 15 November 1848. Eliza was granted a ticket of leave on 20 August 1850, and was recommended for a conditional pardon in June 1851. This was granted on 16 November 1852, and she collected her certificate of freedom on 7 August 1856.

William Anderson’s origins are uncertain. He is listed as ‘free’ on the marriage application, and by 1852 appears as a baker at premises on the corner of Argyle and Brisbane Streets, remaining there until at least 1858. Scotsman, George Hill Anderson, had been a baker in Hobart since the 1830s, but a connection between the two is unknown. The Argyle Street Bakery may have been owned by Alexander Small in 1849, and while under the Andersons regularly employed other people, including William Frederick Poulston who was engaged by Eliza as a servant. She had the impression that Poulston was a free immigrant, but he had been transported for 10 years from Sydney to Norfolk Island for horse stealing in 1843. He arrived in Hobart in June 1852 and despite a long record of misdemeanors both in Sydney and on Norfolk Island, being a baker by trade, he was given a pass allowing him to work for the Andersons.

On Christmas Day 1852, a Saturday, Eliza Anderson paid Poulston his wages and he returned to work as usual on the Monday morning and began his bread deliveries. A few days earlier, William Street had returned from the Victorian goldfields and had 253 sovereigns in two bags in his pocket. On the morning of Monday 27 December, Street went to the ‘Man of War’ public house in Brisbane Street, opposite the Anderson’s bakery, showed his sovereigns to the landlord, Mr Thompson, in sight of most others, and drank enough to cause Thompson to eventually ask him to leave. Stepping outside, somebody attacked Street and knocked him down. During the confusion that followed Poulston came from the Anderson’s bakery, tore out the pocket of Street’s trousers, ran into the side lane beside the bakery, and entered the shop by a side door. The house was behind the shop and a back yard was surrounded by a high paling fence. Mrs Street ran after Poulston but was stopped by a fierce dog. The robbery was reported to the police but Poulston had disappeared.

On 24 January 1853, Poulston was apprehended in the ‘Seven Stars Inn’ and charged. He was then taken to prison to await trial but managed to escape and fled to Port Phillip. He was caught in October 1853 and sentenced to time at Port Arthur as an absconder. After serving that sentence, on 7 June 1855, he was finally tried on the outstanding charge of stealing Street’s sovereigns in 1852, and was sentenced to transportation for 15 years. Nearly three years after the original robbery, Eliza Anderson was called to give evidence.

In the meantime Eliza Anderson had been making friends, including Mary Ann Dowling and her defacto husband William James Daley, a former detective constable, who had been licensee of the ‘Glasgow Wine Vaults’ on the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool Streets since February 1849. On the evening of Thursday 26 January 1854, Eliza was visiting the Daleys and it was decided she would accompany Mary to the New Town Races the next day. By now they had known each other for four years and had been to the races together for the previous three years.

At 11 o’clock on Friday morning, Eliza and Mary took a cab to the races, where James Daley met them and treated them to a lemonade and sherry in the committee room. By five in the afternoon, Mary Daley, a regular drinker, had become so intoxicated that they took a cab home. Concerned at Mary’s drunkenness, Eliza helped her into the bedroom and went briefly to the parlor. When she returned, Mary had fallen onto the floor. Eliza helped her to partly undress and assisted her into bed, but Mary complained of a pain in the stomach and asked Eliza to get her some gin — ‘Old Tom’ she called it — which Eliza did, before going home to change her dress, intending to return later.

William Souch was a baker who lived and worked with Eliza and her husband. Every day he came to the ‘Glasgow Wine Vault’ to deliver the bread, and undoubtedly to have a drink. He was there when James Daley came home from the races and discovered his wife dying on the bedroom floor. While some went in search of a doctor, Souch sent the cook to ask Eliza to come at once. By the time she reached the Daleys’, Doctor Hall was there and Mary was dead. There was an inquest into the cause of her death, during which Doctor Hall expressed the belief that Eliza was also under the influence of drink, which she denied. William Daley eventually sold the wine bar and left for Melbourne.

In August 1855, Eliza and William Anderson employed Alexander Malcolm as a baker. Malcolm was a person whose character and behaviour aroused suspicion and regularly got him into trouble. Within a few weeks Eliza noticed large quantities of flour were going missing. Malcolm had a friend, James Beckett, well known as the ‘hot roll’ man, who visited the bakery regularly to collect his bread rolls. One day Eliza saw Beckett carrying a bag of flour from the bakery. The bag contained 19½ lbs of flour, valued at 4 pence a pound. When Eliza challenged him, Beckett claimed Malcolm had given the flour to him, but he was quite willing to pay for it. Malcolm was found guilty of stealing the flour and sentenced to three months’ hard labour. Beckett was discharged.

It would appear that William and Eliza Anderson sold their bakery in 1858 and possibly left Hobart. While there are numerous references to people by the same names in the Hobart press after the 1860s, it seems likely they are different persons. Nevertheless, an item in the Queenslander of 11 May 1889 states that William Anderson, baker, originally from Edinburgh, had been admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum on 13 April 1874, and died there aged 74 during week ending 4 May 1889. No mention was made of Eliza.

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