Eliza Deans (1819?–1879)

by Trudy Mae Cowley


Eliza Deans was described by the convict authorities as a ‘Woman of color’ with thick lips, a black complexion, black hair and brown eyes. She stated both at her trial and upon arrival in Van Diemen’s Land that she was born at Long Island in America. Yet, when she married in 1855, Eliza stated she was born in the West Indies and that her father, Mr Dean, was a West Indian planter and that she could not remember her mother’s name. It is likely that Eliza’s mother was a West Indian slave and that she was born circa 1819.

By 1836, aged about 16, Eliza was living in Edinburgh, Scotland. She could read and write when she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, so she may have been educated during her childhood. Her trade was stated on the embarkation records as straw-hat maker, though she seems to have lived by thieving.

On 26 January 1836, she was tried at Edinburgh for theft, having stolen a psalm book from Janet Tweedie, a bible from Margaret Hall, another bible from William Thomson, and a cotton umbrella from Margaret Bulle. Eliza pleaded guilty and was imprisoned for sixty days in the Bridewell at Edinburgh.

On 23 August 1836, five months after her release from prison, Eliza was again charged with theft within the last three weeks from the House of Refuge at Canongate, Edinburgh, her residence at the time. She stole three women’s caps, one pair of scissors, and two pairs of women’s stockings. Again she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to sixty days’ imprisonment at the Bridewell in Edinburgh, this time with the added measure of solitary confinement.

It was not until 27 March 1839 that Eliza was charged again with theft, in stealing a red-and-green striped cotton shawl from Thomas Heriot, a draper. She pleaded not guilty but was sentenced to another 60 days’ imprisonment at the Edinburgh Bridewell.

Her next sentence for theft was four months’ imprisonment, again at the Bridewell. She was charged on 5 October 1839 with stealing a red cashmere shawl, a gold finger ring and a black silk shawl.

Having been sentenced for theft four times previously, when Eliza was again charged with theft on 15 June 1840, the authorities sentenced her to 7 years’ transportation. She had stolen from William Cownie, a clothier, 4½ yards of cloth and from John Thomson, a shoemaker, a pair of boots. She pleaded guilty and stated that she had last lived at the Pleasance in Edinburgh with Miss Fraser, a dressmaker, was 20 years of age, born on Long Island, and could not write, which is in contrast to the information provided on her convict records.

Eliza was transported to Van Diemen’s Land on the Rajah which departed Woolwich, England on 5 April 1841 and arrived at Hobart on 19 July 1841. Upon arrival, Eliza was assigned as a servant to Reverend Mr Lillie at Hobart. Her thieving ways continued. On 2 November 1841, she was charged by her master Mr Sharland with larceny under the value of £5. Her sentence of transportation was extended by 12 months and she spent six months on probation at the Cascades Female Factory.

After her release, she was assigned to Mr Louis Nathan in Hobart. On 31 August 1842, he charged her with stealing from him two gold coins—a doubloon worth £3 and another worth 15/-. Again her sentence of transportation was extended for another 12 months and this time she was detained on probation at the Cascades Female Factory.

After her release from the Factory, Eliza was sent to Launceston and hired out as a probation pass-holder to Mr Grant. Eliza’s trade on the description list had changed from the ‘straw-hat maker’ of her Edinburgh embarkation to ‘nurse and needlewoman’, desirable skills in the colonies.

On 30 May 1844 Eliza was charged by Grant with being absent without leave from his service and was sentenced to two months’ hard labour at Launceston Female Factory. After her release, she was hired as a probation pass-holder to John Sprout at Hadspen for one month, then to Henry Jennings at Launceston for three months. At the beginning of July 1845 she was hired to William Griffiths at West Tamar for one month, and at the end of the month to George Collins at Evandale for three months. Eliza was next hired on 22 September 1845 to Henry Glover of ‘Patterdale’ near Evandale for one month. However, on 29 January 1846, her contract for hiring as a probation pass-holder to Henry Glover was ordered to be cancelled by the Lieutenant Governor—the reason why is not known. Eliza was next in service to Mr Walker at ‘Rhodes’ in the Longford district.

Eliza was issued her ticket of leave at Longford on 13 April 1847. Two years later, Thomas Cox—a probation pass-holder transported on the London in 1844—applied three times to marry Eliza before permission was granted. They married on 18 June 1849 at Christ Church, Longford. Eliza was aged 28 and Thomas was aged 26. One month later, Thomas was hired as a probation pass-holder to Edward Walker at ‘Crickton’ and Eliza would have gone with him.

On 4 October 1849, Eliza was charged with a breach of the Hired Servants Act and sentenced to seven days’ hard labour, with all her wages forfeited. In April 1850, Thomas was granted a ticket of leave and two months later Eliza was free by servitude and was issued her certificate of freedom on 23 July 1850. After gaining her freedom, Eliza lodged letters of claim to the Comptroller General of convicts for unpaid wages of £1.2.6 from James Grant Esquire of Fingal and 10/- from Mr J. Sprent of Hadspen.

Eliza’s husband, Thomas Cox, was granted a conditional pardon on 3 February 1852 and two months later departed Launceston as a steerage passenger on the schooner Sea Witch. Eliza soon followed him to Victoria. Thomas died on 27 December 1854 and Eliza was later employed as a housekeeper by John Follard at his residence in Wellington Street, Windsor, Prahran, probably after the death of his wife. John’s wife Maria Feans, also transported on the Rajah, died of bronchitis on 8 June 1855, leaving four young children.

Eliza married John Follard at his house in Prahran on 11 September 1855. Eliza was aged 35, a widow with no children; John was aged 42, a widower with four living and four dead children, a house agent and collector.

On 12 March 1860, John Follard brought an action in the Old Court House, Melbourne, against Mr Wilkie for assaulting his wife, Eliza Follard, described as a woman of colour. He claimed that Mr Wilkie MLA forced his way into his house to carry away a piano. ‘Mrs. Follard was “jammed” behind the door, and had her arm hurt, while resisting the removal.’ Mr Wilkie was fined 1/- in damages.

Three of Eliza’s stepchildren died before her, two stepdaughters from phthisis and her stepson aged 20, possibly also from consumption. On 10 March 1879, just one month after the second stepdaughter, Charlotte, died, Eliza was admitted to Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum in Melbourne by her husband, John Follard. She died there six days later of disease of the brain and pulmonary consumption. She was aged 60. She was buried two days later at Melbourne General Cemetery. Her husband John Follard, aged 67, died one year later of uranic poisoning. His only surviving child was Martha, aged 33.

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© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.