Haines, Margaret (1805–?)

by Deborah Norris


The resident surgeon at Millbank Prison stated that Margaret Haines was a malingerer and unaffected by any disease. Indeed, following embarkation from Woolwich, this convict woman, according to Dr Samuel Donnelly, Ship’s Surgeon, ‘soon recovered the use of [her] right knee joint by the use of stimulating liniments…’ Additionally, once in Van Diemen’s Land, Margaret Haines was anything but a malingerer, chalking up an impressive list of colonial offences over a period of four and a half years.

The convict transport ship St Vincent left English shores on 19 December 1849 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 4 April 1850. On board were 207 female convicts and 26 of their children. Margaret Haines stated that she was born in Paris. She was a 45-year-old widow with four children, but she travelled alone. Margaret began her seven-year sentence by recovering well from her ailments at Millbank, only to impress the ship’s surgeon to pen in his report on the demeanor of housemaid Margaret as ‘very bad’.

So did this middle-aged widow end up in Van Diemen’s Land for the crime of stealing out of desperation to feed her family? Whatever the answer to that question, what we certainly do know, is that on 17 September 1849 Margaret Haines was found guilty of stealing monies from Henry John Webb. Webb met with Haines on 20 August 1849. They went, at Haines’s request, to a public house together and had a few drinks. Haines told Webb she had had nothing to eat all day and he politely purchased her a meat pie. All was well until they went together to Haines’s home (later referred to as a brothel by the police sergeant), where Webb accused her of feeling in his trowsers pocket and robbing him of his money. The police were left in no doubt of her intentions to steal from Webb and the ensuing court appearance was certainly not her first, as she had previously been before a magistrate convicted of larceny. But that was last time she would stand on the dock at the Old Bailey in London.

On arrival Margaret was sent to the Brickfields Hiring Depot and it was not long before she came to the attention of the authorities. In February of 1851, just ten months following her arrival, Margaret was before the magistrate for insolence and received the first of many punishments. On this occasion fourteen days’ hard labour. On 25 August 1851, Overseer McPherson at the Cascades Female Factory noted in the Punishment Book that Margaret was reprimanded for ‘nursing at the mess table’. Records show that a Margaret Coleman (aka Haines) gave birth to a baby girl (Mary Jane Coleman) on 13 May 1851. Assumedly the father of the baby had the surname Coleman and this is the surname Margaret later also adopted, although there is no record of Margaret ever marrying. As was the fate of many babies born in the female factories, baby Mary died of convulsions on 5 November 51.

Margaret Haines spent time at more time at Brickfields Hiring Depot and was assigned to 22 separate masters over nearly a decade. Now, at 50 years of age Margaret still found it difficult to conform to the restraints of domestic service. We will never know what kept urging her to continue to test the system, take the punishments and continue to offend to the point where her time of incarceration was extended, but that is exactly what she did. She spent time in the Cascade, Launceston and Ross Female Factories, for repeated disorderly conduct, disobedience, drunkenness, indecent language, assault, disturbing the peace and obtaining money by false pretenses, all earning her various stretches of hard labour and time in the ‘black hole [cells]’. Margaret’s behavior resulted in her ticket of leave being revoked twice; finally receiving a conditional pardon on 7 August 1854.

But Margaret Haines was still restless. On 22 November 1854 she was again sent to the Cascade Female Factory, having been found guilty of having ‘a man in her bedroom for an improper purpose’ and received another nine months of hard labour for her moral indiscretion. More months of hard labour followed as her conduct record continued to be added to for stealing, disobedience, drunkenness and disorderly conduct. But by far the most serious offences committed by the non-conformist Margaret Haines (aka Coleman) were yet to be added to the record books.

On Wednesday 3 March 1858, the Hobart Town Daily Mercury reported that Margaret Coleman of Campbell Street had assaulted Mary Lott of Argyle Street. Mary received a blow to the head, sufficient to make her stagger, followed up with a second blow. Lott said the umbrella attack upon her was unprovoked and that Coleman had called her ‘many bad names’, to which Lott ‘returned the compliment’. Witness Mary Ann Davis stated ‘she had heard Mrs. Coleman bad name Mrs. Lott and saw Mrs. Coleman hit Mrs. Lott’. The bench applied the ‘mitigated penalty of 10s., in consideration of the provocation, which she [Margaret] received’. For her next charge of assault, Margaret paid a much bigger price.

On 1 December 1858 the Hobart Town Daily Mercury reported the latest Supreme Court Criminal Sittings. On 30 November 1858, Margaret Coleman was charged with wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm to Ann Wilks, the wife of a carpenter living in Campbell Street. Again Coleman’s use of bad language was the precursor to an assault. It was reported that Wilks was walking by the residence of Coleman when she was abused and received a blow to the head ‘rendering her insensible until the following day’. Witness Thomas Roberts confirmed Wilks’ story. Also, Ann’s husband John added for some time there had been ill feelings between the women. The case was remanded for a week (for the production of additional witnesses), during which time Margaret maintained her plea of not guilty. Eventually, Margaret Coleman (aka Haines) was charged with grievous bodily harm and earned herself two years’ hard labour in the Hobart Gaol.

Ann Wilks, also a housemaid, had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1834, 25 years earlier than Margaret and had well and truly served out her 7 year sentence for stealing. It seems they had a lot in common. Both were transported for stealing, were around the same age and both had committed numerous colonial offences. How they came to be together and why the altercation occurred is unknown. Certainly these women both struggled within the bounds of convict life.

As with so many female convicts, once they are no longer within the convict system, their whereabouts become difficult, if not impossible, to trace. Ann Wilks surfaced again at Port Sorell charged in 1863 for ‘obtaining money by false pretenses’ and received six months’ hard labour. Margaret Coleman’s story for now, ends here.

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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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