Sarah Gallacher (1816?-?)

by Colette McAlpine


Although she was born in France about 1816, Sarah Gallacher was raised with her four brothers and three sisters in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland the home of the poet Robbie Burns.

John Steel, an Irish shoemaker who lived in High Street, Kilmarnock, married Sarah, who lived in the same street, after proclamation in the autumn of 1835. By then the couple already had a daughter, Jean, born in 1831 when Sarah was just a teenager. Their second daughter, Margaret, was born in 1836.

By the time of the 1841 Census, the family was living in College Wynd, Kilmarnock. John’s trade remained as a shoemaker and Sarah’s birth in ‘foreign parts’ was recorded, an acknowledgment of her difference. The girls were 5 and 10 and Sarah said she was 25. Within a year, Sarah began accumulating a criminal record.

Sarah was imprisoned for three days in March 1842 for the theft of a basket from the premises of another shoemaker. She spent four days in gaol in June 1842 for stealing a cotton shift and then another three days for stealing a metal pot from a cellar in November 1842. Sarah seemed to be stealing things she could pawn. She spent five months away from her daughters in the April of 1843 incarcerated in the Ayr prison for theft. William Blane, the Superintendent of Police in Kilmarnock, came to know Sarah well, as over a period of five or six years she developed a reputation as a common thief, a fact to which Blane attested at her next trial.

In May 1844, Sarah was at the bleaching green at the rear of houses near Fore Street in Kilmarnock. She stole a pair of blue and white stockings, belonging to a woman whom she knew, and which she pawned immediately for 3 pence using the name of Mrs Thompson. A few days later, from the same green, she helped herself to a shift, which she tried to sell. Sarah admitted her guilt at the Circuit-court of Justicary in the September of 1844, but was ‘punished with the pains of law, to deter others from committing the like crimes all the time coming’. She was sentenced to 7 years’ transportation.

Sarah sailed on the Tory, leaving Woolwich in March 1845. When her details were recorded on arrival in Hobart Town three months later, she was literate, (although unable to write at the time of her 1844 trial) a Catholic, a house maid and needlewoman, and a woman of stout build aged 28. Sarah served six month’s probation before working for a series of masters until she gained her freedom in 1851. She stayed less than a few months in each of her placements and even though her skills as a needlewoman would have made her quite employable.  Something about Sarah meant that she did not settle with one employer. She committed 12 offences ranging from insolence to having a pipe in her possession and served her time at the Cascades Factory including four months in the separate apartments.

An application to marry Sarah, submitted by a free man named James Cricker, did not lead to a marriage. It is possible that Sarah did marry again, as in November 1853 a free woman named Sarah Gallagher married William Brough at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Hobart Town. If this is Sarah, then the marriage did not last and nothing more is recorded of her. At a trial in 1861, William Brough stated, ‘I am a married man. My wife does not live with me. But another woman does’. 

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