Sarah Hampton (1823?–?)

by Deborah Norris


 Sarah Hampton appeared before the Worchester City Quarter Sessions on 17 October 1842 and was found guilty of stealing a cloak from a dwelling house. This was not her first offence, as three months earlier she had stood accused of stealing a handkerchief. Accordingly, on 5 February 1843 Sarah left London on board the Margaret to begin her sentence of 7 years’ transportation. For Sarah the journey to Van Diemen’s Land was long and apparently frustrating, as her character onboard was noted as ‘quarrelsome’, a trait that she continued to display as she fought the system that attempted to reform her. Sarah had been ‘six months on the town’ at some time before her sentencing, but what else could have made this young 19-year-old woman who had been born in France so defiant? In answering this question, there were at least two of events in Sarah’s earlier life that are worthy of investigation and consideration.

Unlike Sarah, most of the 152 convicts on board the Margaret were Irish. But what most of the Irish women did have in common with Sarah was illiteracy. It would not be much of a stretch of the imagination to consider the frustration of illiteracy, and in turn, dependence on crime in order to survive. Additionally, it appears that Sarah did not have much of an opportunity for any education, as she may have been exposed to a life of crime from a very young age.

Young Sarah Hampton was indicted at the Central Criminal Court, London on 15 January 1832 for stealing clothing and linen. A sailor, James Driver, who kept a house where Sarah and her father lodged, missed some clothing and a blanket a month earlier. Another visitor to this abode was a Martha Hampton who, according to Driver, often visited and though she ‘passes as her mother…did not sleep there [in his house]’. Sarah received a verdict of guilty ‘Recommended to Mercy by the Jury. – Judgment Respited’. Could this have been the Sarah Hampton transported on the Margaret?

The Sarah Hampton who arrived in Hobart Town had certainly been plagued by ill health. She was described as being 5 feet 1 inch (154.94 cm) tall and fair skinned, with marks on the right and left sides of her neck. The marks were identified as ‘King’s evil’, a skin disease known as scrofula, usually a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by tuberculosis and can be very unsightly and certainly a concern for someone so young.

So what did the future hold for Sarah? She had left behind a father Richard, a carpet weaver, a brother of the same name and three sisters Amelia, Eliza and Catherine. Interestingly there is no mention of her mother, which does fit with the testimony given by James Driver in the above London Criminal Court decision, where his opinion would lead us to believe Martha Hampton was not her real mother. There is also reason to believe that the family was close, as Sarah announced her trade to be a housemaid and carpet weaver, perhaps working along side her father.

The disposal of the female convicts arriving on the Margaret on 19 July 1843 was discussed in the Courier newspaper three months prior. Where:

the women by the Margaret, daily expected, will be sent to a house in Liverpool street (the nursery) opposite the hospital, where they will be classed, and undergo a probationary term of imprisonment prior to being allowed the privilege, for such it may be considered, of being sent to private service.

So it was that Sarah served out her probation at the nursery. But by 31 December 1843 she was placed in solitary confinement at the Cascades Female Factory for being ‘absent without leave’. This indiscretion was followed up with two months of hard labour for ‘general misconduct and insolence’. Her rebellious nature continued to put her behind the walls of the Cascades Female Factory. Perhaps she was just craving companionship, other than her fellow prisoners, because on 7 October 1844, Charles Prillove applied for and was given permission to marry Sarah, but for unknown reasons the marriage did not take place. Just when nothing seemed to be working out, by 16 October Sarah was again facing months of hard labour after a Mr. Sherwin complained of her misconduct; Sarah apparently went to the cellar and was caught ‘drawing cider without permission’. Still angry and unable to live within the boundaries set for her Sarah was reprimanded again, this time in the the Launceston Female Factory on 26 June 1845 for continually fighting, not keeping the nursery tidy, sitting and being defiant.

How much more could she cope with and what else could those in charge do to make life a little more bearable for all concerned? Sarah was now separated from fellow prisoners for assault, to which she added, ‘gross indecent language to the sub-matron’, earning more hard labour. Now it became apparent that sometime during her latest punishment Sarah had become pregnant. On 11 March 1846 she gave birth to a son, who she named after her father and brother, Richard; father unknown. The only record of this baby is the notation in Sarah’s conduct report of her birthing an illegitimate child. Further investigations do not turn up any further trace of baby Richard.

The next appearance of Sarah Hampton, now 24 year old, is two years later when on 2 February 1848 Henry Duceman applied for permission to marry. Forty-year-old Henry, listed as a fisherman, was granted permission to tie the knot with Sarah and they married just a few weeks later at the St Johns United Church of England and Ireland in Launceston. By August of the same year, Sarah added yet another crime to her long list, when she received another one month of hard labour at the Launceston Female Factory for treating a police officer to her ‘improper language’. This was followed up in February 1849 with two more months hard labour for being ‘absent without authority’.

 Sarah finally received her certificate of freedom on 21 October 1849 and her husband his ticket of leave one year later on 29 October 1850. But what happened next is yet to be discovered. Did Sarah finally find happiness with a family of her own? Did baby Richard and or the marriage survive? For now both questions have been left unanswered. There is no further record of Sarah or of the well being, or not of baby Richard (who would have been nearly three years old if he survived infancy) when Sarah gained her freedom. But Henry Driceman travelled alone to the mainland, perhaps to make his fortune with the advent of the Australia gold rush in the 1850s, when he departed Launceston on the City of Melbourne on 19 September 1851.

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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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