Margaret Emery (1818?-?)

by Lucy Frost


Margaret Emery was born in Gibraltar about 1818. Nothing recorded on the description list suggests a Spanish parent—her complexion was fair, her hair light brown and her eyes light grey. Her height, 5 feet 2¼ inches (158.11 cm), was just slightly above the average for convict women. Whoever her parents were, they did not afford Margaret a stable home life or provide her with an education or trade. By the time she was 15 she was living in the English port of Liverpool, and working as a prostitute. ‘Four years on the town’, she said in January 1838 when she reached the colonial port of Hobart. ‘Bad’, said the gaol report she brought from Liverpool, ‘in prison very often’.

Three times she had been imprisoned for drunkenness, though never for more than two months. At least twice she escaped punishment because the prosecution did not proceed. ‘No Bill’ was the outcome on 12 January 1835, perhaps because the victim of 16-year-old Margaret was a sailor unlikely to remain in port for her trial. A year later she was not so lucky.

Late in November 1835 Margaret and another ‘woman of the town’ assaulted and robbed ‘a seafaring man, steward of one of the packets’. At 4 o’clock on a Tuesday morning they persuaded him to go with them into a cellar in Lace Street. ‘No sooner had they got him into their den than they fell upon him, beat him severely, and completely stripped him of every article of wearing apparel, with which they made off.’ They took his clothes, watch, and money. In the Winter Sessions of January 1836, Margaret Emery aged 17 was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment.

Less than a year after her release from Liverpool gaol, she stood before the Midsummer Sessions of the same court on a similar charge of stealing from the person, and on 3 July 1837 was sentenced to 14 years’ transportation. ‘Stealing money and Shawls’, she said when asked to state her offence, ‘prosecutor a Scotchman’. Two months later she was on board the Atwick bound for Van Diemen’s Land, arriving in January 1838.

Unsurprisingly, 19-year-old Margaret did not make an easy transition from her years as a prostitute on the Liverpool docks to the life of an assigned servant in a domestic setting. What did she know of domesticity? According to the records generated for the purpose of placing convicts like Margaret in the homes of local citizens, she was a house and kitchen maid who could wash. Sent to a middle-class household in New Town, she was quickly returned to the Cascades Female Factory. On 24 April a master named Lewis charged her with drunkenness. Margaret was reprimanded and sent back to her service. Less than a week later she was accused of ‘Misconduct in encouraging men to come to her masters house’ and was ‘Returned to the Factory for country assignment’.

Margaret, who had lived in ports for most of her life, travelled inland to become the servant of George Dudfield, publican and gaoler in Oatlands. In January 1839 Dudfield charged her with disobedience of orders, but the case was dismissed by the magistrate. While in Oatlands, she met Henry Jones, who was within a few months of becoming free by servitude when he applied to marry Margaret on 24 May. In spite of the fact that she had been in the colony for only sixteen months, the application was approved, and it seems likely that they were married, although no record of the marriage has been found. A note on her conduct record indicates that by 7 June her designated place of residence had changed from the Oatlands district to Hamilton, and the couple may have been married there.

A year later, Margaret—identified as the wife of Jones—was charged in Hobart with ‘being in town without a pass’ and sent to the Cascades Female Factory for six weeks of hard labour at the wash tub. Whether Margaret and Henry were still in the country the following year or had permission to live in town, Margaret was charged on 13 September 1841 with ‘Misconduct in being in a Public house’; she was ‘reprimanded and returned to her service husband’. When a muster of all convicts was undertaken in December 1841, Margaret’s location was given as the Female House of Correction, though her conduct record does not explain why she should have been there. Two months later, on 1 February 1842, she was sentenced to three months’ hard labour for being out after hours.

There is no sign that Margaret and her husband had entered the regular economy, even though Henry claimed the very marketable occupations of ‘carter and butcher’ when he arrived on the Atlas in 1833 to serve a 7 years’ sentence imposed at the Old Bailey for stealing shoes and a coat. On 23 July 1842, little more than three months after her most recent release from the Female Factory, Margaret and Henry together with two other women appeared before the Hobart Town Police Court and were remanded to stand trial for felony. For some reason, instead of a trial Margaret was discharged from the gaol by order of the Attorney General and ‘directed by the Lieutenant Governor to be detained in the Factory on probation for 6 months’. Only a few months after serving that sentence, Margaret was back inside to serve 12 months’ probation, on the basis of written information from a man since dead who accused her of stealing his ring.

She must have been released before completing that sentence because in January 1844 she was charged with ‘misconduct in sheltering a Female prisoner’ in her ‘house’ of two rooms in Brisbane Street near the ‘Man of War Hotel’. According to a servant of the Joneses’ landlady, the couple went out on a Thursday night, and when they came back they brought an absconded convict, Mary Hodgson, with them. ‘They then got something to eat and drink and got in a Fiddler into the Kitchen.’ They started dancing, testified the servant, and ‘my master’s lodger came in bringing with him a woman who had bolted from my mistress’. When the servant went into the kitchen she saw Mary Hodgson and another man ‘sitting at table. Whether they went to Bed or not I do not know.’ On Saturday morning, Hodgson the absconder was still about the house, ‘she went away at dinner time, I did not see her again until Saturday night about 10 o’clock when I came home. Mrs Jones & Hodgson were then sitting in my Mistress’s kitchen drinking, they remained there until the middle of the night.’

About 3 o’clock on Sunday morning a neighbour, fed up with the noise, fetched the police, and everyone who had been partying with the Joneses was taken off to the Watch House. The District Constable who arrested the culprits told the court that Margaret Emery ‘has always kept a disorderly House, and from the state of the House that morning I think she must still keep one’. It looks as if Margaret had returned to her Liverpool ways, and because she was still a convict under sentence, she went to the Cascades Female Factory for three months’ hard labour, a sentence repeated the following year when she was charged with ‘being out after hours and using obscene and indecent language’.

A year later she became eligible for a ticket of leave, and whether her behaviour changed, or she became more cunning, she was never charged again. In 1846 she was recommended for a conditional pardon, ‘having completed above two thirds of a fourteen years sentence, and her behaviour having been satisfactory during the last two years and a quarter’. The pardon was granted on 4 July 1848, and after that Margaret Emery merges into the indistinguishable records of the colony’s Joneses.

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