Adelaide de Thoreza (1806?–1877)

by Lucy Frost


Adelaide de Thoreza was born in Madrid about 1806. For some reason, perhaps connected to the unsettled state of Spain, she left her homeland (with or without her family) for England. As a young woman she was in the service of a London dressmaker when she was arrested on 28 April 1829 on a charge of stealing sheets belonging to her mistress. On 17 June 1829 she was tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. On 20 July 1829 she sailed on the Lucy Davidson bound for New South Wales.

On 3 December 1829, four days after the Lucy Davidson dropt anchor in Sydney harbour, a muster was held on board the ship. According to the ‘Muster Roll of 99 Female English Convicts’, Adelaide De’ Thereza aged 23 was a single woman born in Spain, a housemaid who could read and write. She was 5 feet 1 inch (154.95 cm) tall, the average height for a convict woman. Her hair was brown, her eyes were hazel, and she had never been convicted before. The master to whom she was assigned was entered on the form as ‘JBL D’Arietta, Cowpastures’.

Employment for convict women during the assignment period was a lottery. Some were sent to well-run households where routines were stable, and conditions were comfortable. This was not the case at ‘Morton Park’, a property guarded by ‘fierce growling devils of dogs, pegged down to the ground at such exact mathematical distances, that two can just meet to lick each other’s faces, and pinch a mouthful out of any intruder’s hip’. Adelaide’s master, Jean Baptiste Lehimas De Arrieta, had arrived in Sydney in 1821 with letters of introduction attesting to the services he rendered the British Army in Spain during the Peninsular War. His excellent contacts enabled him to acquire 2,000 acres of desirable land adjoining the estate of the prominent settler, John Macarthur. De Arrieta, however, was no farmer. Neither was he a good master. Anecdotes recounted by visitors suggest a man of violent and unpredictable temper, and most likely a sexual predator. After two years in De Arrieta’s service, Adelaide was returned to the Parramatta Female Factory, pregnant.  She gave birth to a son, and on 7 August 1831 she arranged for him to be baptised Alfred, son of John Smith—such a common name that it seems made up, a deliberate strategy to ensure that no one except Adelaide would ever know the truth.

From the Parramatta Female Factory, Adelaide was next sent to ‘Hobartville’, on the outskirts of Richmond. After ‘Morton Park’, ‘Hobartville’ must have seemed like heaven. Her new master, William Cox, junior, came from a family already well established in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. The father of her master had become famous as the man who built the first road over the rugged Blue Mountains. Fifty convict servants were employed at the nearby property of William Cox senior, an estate called ‘Clarendon’, built to resemble a village in his native Dorset. Entering the employment of this family suddenly brought stability into the life of the young Spanish convict, and she remained at ‘Hobartville’ for the rest of her sentence.

It was probably through the Coxes that arrangements were made for Adelaide’s illegitimate son to be adopted by a local family in Richmond (the elderly head of Alf’s new family had been a convict servant assigned to William Cox senior). And it was at ‘Hobartville’ that Adelaide met John Masters, a fellow convict servant whom she married in 1836, the year she became free. The couple set up housekeeping in Richmond, at that time a village of less than a thousand. They opened a small confectionary shop, perhaps little more than a room in a house which was itself little more than a shack. On 8 January 1838 Adelaide gave birth to a daughter baptised Adelaide Eliza Masters. On 23 May 1843, Thomas Mathew Masters was born.

About this time the family moved six kilometers down the road to Windsor, a busier place than Richmond, with more trade and hopefully more commissions for John Masters to paint the picture sign-boards hanging outside pubs. It should have been possible for Adelaide and John Masters to settle into a comfortable life with their daughter and son, but unfortunately John was given to drink, and when drunk became violent. About 1853, when Eliza was fifteen and Tom was ten, Adelaide sent her husband away. Adelaide herself was almost fifty by then, an unskilled worker who during her marriage had moved up the ladder from servant to shopkeeper. Now she tumbled down again, and made ends meet the best she could, working as a laundress and general servant.

It looks as if Adelaide, not long after separating from Masters, asked her first son to take his little half-brother droving. Which he did. Together they drove cattle along the tracks of New South Wales, venturing on occasion as far north as Queensland. Though it was hot dusty work, they returned home with stories to tell. Once they even shared their campfire with the notorious bushranger Ben Hall. Through Tom Masters, Alf Smith had a role to play in Adelaide’s daily life. Bringing Alf into her family may have soothed the pain of a marriage gone wrong.

Adelaide moved back again to Richmond where she would live for the final years of her life. All three of her children married, and they also made their homes in Richmond. All three named a daughter ‘Adelaide’. The first was Adelaide Smith, Alf’s poignant and public acknowledgement of his ties to a woman who had not been to him a mother when he was a child. And one day in the late 1860s, an old man made his appearance in town, bowed down with infirmities. It was John Masters. He had come back he said to die, and die he did, soon after his arrival.

Adelaide herself probably died in her daughter’s home. Her son Tom provided the information recorded on her death certificate, telling the story as he knew it: died 26December 1877 in Richmond, Adelaide Eliza Masters, aged 69, daughter of Julian Delathoresa, a Spaniard, occupation or rank not known. The body of the Spanish convict had come to rest in Australian soil, buried beneath an elaborate tombstone erected by her children in St Peter’s Anglican cemetery, Richmond.

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Further reading:

Lucy Frost, 'Una Convicta Espanola: Adelaide de Thoreza in Botany Bay', in From the Edges of Empire, eds L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart 2015, pp. 220-234.




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