Rosa Gresley (1830?-1861)

by Deborah Norris


Rosa Gresley, also known as Rose Giesley and Rosa Grisby, was born in France, stood trial twenty years later, was convicted of larceny and then sentenced to 10 years’ transportation. She departed London onboard the Aurora and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 10 August 1851. Was she the daughter of a British sailor who spent time in France? How and when did she come to live in London? Though these are intriguing questions, they are likely to be questions with no answer. For now, Rosa’s story for begins with her apprehension by police and appearance before a magistrate in England.

Rosa was slightly built, 21 years old, with a dark complexion and brown hair. Standing just over five feet (152.40 cm) tall, she stood at the dock of the Warwick Assizes awaiting sentence. I wonder what was going through her mind on this August day in 1850, as the magistrate sentenced this nursery girl to 10 years’ transportation for stealing?

The ship’s surgeon, W. S. B. Jones, reported that 232 convict women set sail and that three died during the voyage. But for Rosa at least, it was a trouble free sailing and she was reported to be of good behaviour. Following disembarkment Rosa was sent to the New Town Farm Probation Station. She only had to wait until 9 September to be assigned to Sarah Preston. The 1843 Census record shows a Sarah Preston living at 104 Elizabeth Street, Hobart, with ten free servants. This placement appears to have had a positive affect on Rose as no colonial offences were recorded against her name. Rose also found a husband. On 11 May 1853 Alexander Seymour, a free man, applied to marry her. Rose Grisby and Alexander Seymour married the following month at St Andrews Church, Hobart. But luck was not on Rose’s side. Alexander’s death on 12 October of the same year must have been a terrible blow, because Rose was with child.

Rose next appears on the records in January of 1854, residing at the Hobart House of Correction (Cascades Female Factory). The following month, on 15 February, a licensed hawker, Thomas Herring, a free man, applied to marry a now heavily pregnant Rose. The 1843 Census return shows Thomas William Herring once lived at Southport in Tasmania with his mother, and as with Rose’s first husband, was also a free man.

On 1 April Rose welcomed her daughter, Rose Seymour, into the world, amid some confusion as to whether or not her baby was illegitimate. This dilemma was likely due to Rose’s liaison with Herring. But all ended well as Herring’s application to marry Rose was up held by the Superintendent of the Female Factory and she married for the second time on 27 April 1854, at St George’s Church, Sandy Bay on 27 April 1854. Rose had endured a turbulent year but managed to stay well away from breaching the law.

Indeed, considering she appears to have had only one offence against her before being transported, she was perhaps unlucky to have received the maximum of 10 years’ transportation. Rose received her Ticket of Leave on 12 December 1854, just over four years into her sentence of 10 years.

This, the final record of Rose, reveals she died a young woman at the age of 30 when she succumbed to Phthisis Pulmonalis (Tuberculosis) on 6 October 1861 at Meville Street in Hobart. As with Thomas Herring, no further record of daughter Rose has been uncovered. If she did survive she would have been 13 years old on her mother’s passing. Perhaps father and daughter left Van Diemen’s Land, as did many, to escape the convict colony for new beginnings.

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Further reading:

Alison Alexander, ‘French Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land’, in From the Edges of Empire, eds L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart 2015, pp. 158-171.



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