Eliza de Roocke (1798?-1850)

by Kay Buttfield


Eliza de Roocke was born near Portsmouth, Hampshire. Sometime before 1813, she arrived in the Cape Colony, South Africa, with her husband Peter. By 1830, Eliza a ‘wash woman & needlewoman’, was a widow with two young sons and a teenage daughter. In October 1830 Eliza, along with her daughter, was charged with receiving stolen property, and with stealing many articles from the homes of her clients who were well connected members of Cape society. The two had no previous convictions, and the crimes were out of character according to references and letters of support held by the court.

The Cape Colony that Eliza de Roocke lived in was a place that had seen much change. The Dutch influence was melded with Anglo sensibilities, and in 1815 the Dutch formally passed sovereignty to the English. The Cape in 1830 was a bustling port town framed between Table Bay and looming Table Mountain. The area had grown, and although the main streets and neat buildings spoke of a comfortable middle class society, there was an ever growing underclass suffering in poverty in the laneways and shanties which sprang up on the edges of populated areas. Although the authorities maintained the charitable institutions and benevolent societies set up by the former Dutch government, a woman left with young children to feed would find it very hard to survive.

Eliza and Peter had three sons, Richard (Dirk) 1819, Willem Albertus (1821), and Peter Albertus (1823), as well as a daughter, Wilhelmina. At the time of the crime, widowed Eliza still supported Richard and Peter, Willem having died as an infant. When Peter senior died he was a tutor, most likely working from the family home. At the time of the conviction the battling family still lived in the same Boom Street house— it was an address that had seen better days. Wilhelmina had a live-in position which would have removed the burden from Eliza of providing for another mouth. Although Eliza seemingly had a steady group of well-respected people from the Cape elite who hired her to do their washing, her life would not be easy. That she, the widow of an educated man, should audaciously take advantage and steal from these well-known people would be unthinkable. Although Eliza pleaded innocence, the goods were found at her home.

On the 15 November 1830 Eliza was charged with stealing, ‘one Table Cloth, one pair of Drawers, and two Handkerchiefs,’ and also, ‘twelve Damask Napkins, one Damask Table Cloth and one pillowcase’ and with receiving other stolen goods. The property belonged to clients including Catherina Oliphant, and Miss Jane Wylde (daughter of the Chief Justice of the Cape). Interestingly, Jane and her father Sir John Wylde, would soon be inveigled in a family scandal that would transfix Cape society.

The case against the de Roockes prompts some consideration—the goods were well marked and thus easy to identify. Furthermore, the victims were known to the women as clients. The substantial amount of goods were all located at Eliza’s home and, for the size and weight of some of the rolls of material, it would be a heavy load and very visible when transported to the Boom Street address. The crimes, seemingly, were very poorly executed and the formerly trusted pair would have become the topic of conversation in the drawing rooms and elite dining rooms of Cape society. Moreover, as noted, both women declared that they were not guilty.

The case was heard by Attorney General Oliphant—whose wife’s property had been amongst the stolen items. After deliberation, Eliza was found guilty of receiving and stealing. She was sentenced to transportation for 7 years to New South Wales which was later changed to Van Diemen’s Land so that she and her daughter would not be separated. It is not clear where Eliza awaited for the transport ship. Most likely she was held in the prison on Robben Island.

The William Glen Anderson was traveling to Van Diemen’s land with a cargo of male convicts when, in September 1831, it pulled into Table Bay. It may have been a tumultuous voyage, as the ship’s captain had died while they were on the high seas, and the vessel was now under the charge of Ship Master James Fawthrop. As well as replenishing their supplies, the ship took onboard eleven male and two female convicts, together with correspondence from Governor Lowry Cole for the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, advising him of the convicts now being added to the ship’s cargo. The last sentence of the Governor’s dispatch asked that the two women, ‘... being mother and daughter, may not be separated’. This letter was eventually filed in the Colonial Secretary’s office in Van Diemen’s Land where it was annotated with instructions to reply to the Governor Lowry Cole, advising him, ‘... his wish with regard to the mother and daughter has been attended to’.

The ship arrived in Hobart Town on 1 November 1831, the voyage lasting 152 days. Upon arrival Eliza was processed for assignment. On her convict indent her description states she was 5 feet 2½ inches (158.75 cm) tall with a swarthy complexion, an oval face with dark brown hair, dark hazel eyes with thin brown eyebrows. She had a wide mouth and was missing a tooth from her upper jaw. She is described as a 42-year-old widow with, ‘... 3 children with 1 Boy on board’, and, ‘my daughter on board’. The boy on board was 7 years old Peter Albertus born in 1823. Richard (Dirk) Eliza’s older son, remained at the Cape, as he was 12 years old he would be considered old enough to look after himself, or he may have been placed in care of another family. The Colonial authorities honoured the request of Lowry Cole and kept mother and daughter together; both were assigned to the same Master, a Joseph Hone. Upon arrival, young Peter was placed in the children’s orphanage. Eliza was a model convict with no offences recorded during her sentence in Van Diemen’s Land.

In April 1834 she married William Hinds Wolding. William, a farrier from Lincoln, had been transported for 7 years for bigamy, arriving in the colony on the Marmion in 1828. Two months after his mother remarried, young Peter was released from the orphanage into her care. Eliza became free by servitude, and eventually she and William lived at 125 New Town Road. William worked as a vet and, at one point, was an innkeeper. Eliza died the year before her husband in 1850. She was about 54 years old.

Peter Albertus, the young boy sent half way across the world with his mother and sister, grew up to be a well known Hobart identity. He married twice, first to Hanna Hopkins in 1850, and then to Mary Ann Cheslet in 1857. He was a publican, and at the height of his career in 1858 he built the ‘Telegraph Hotel’ in Morrison street, near the Hobart Wharf. When it was built it was touted as the most salubrious hotel in the Colony (the ’Telegraph’ is still operating as a hotel). Sadly in December 1853, Peter lost his two children within six days of each other through scarlet fever. Then serious financial difficulties and business concerns affected his health, and he died in 1859. He was 35 years old. The de Roocke name has not carried on in Australia but there are descendants. 

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Further reading:

Kay Buttfield, 'Convicts from the Cape Colony', From the Edges of Empire, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart 2015, pp. 90-111.



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