Jane Harris (1806?-?)

by Susan Ballyn


Whether Jane Harris was born in Spain or not remains a mystery though it is stated clearly on her description list. Her forays into the world of petty crime began at the age of 16 when in January 1822 she was aquitted of larceny at the Dorset Assizes. In April 1824, aged 18, she was again tried for larceny at the same court; this time she was convicted and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment. Undeterred from her life as a thief, she appeared again at the Assizes in October 1826, now aged 20, but was acquitted. Pushing her luck seven years later, she committed larceny again, was tried for a fourth time at the Dorset Assizes on 18 July 1833, was found guilty and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. It is difficult to believe that between 1826 and 1833 she had not continued to thieve given a criminal record which had begun at a very early age.

Jane was shipped out to Van Diemen’s Land on the Edward and arrived in Hobart on 4 September 1834. On arrival she stated that she was single, had stolen cheese and stockings from her mistress and had worked as a maid. Her colonial offences, as recorded on her conduct record are few. Twice she was charged with insolence, combined on 4 April 1835 with ‘neglect of duty’, and on 24 August that same year with ‘slothfulness’. The second charge sent her back to the crime class at the Cascades Female Factory for three months. After that she stayed out of trouble until she was granted a ticket of leave in 1838. A few months later something happened and Jane Harris, who did not have a record of violence, was accused on 4 February 1839 of ‘assaulting and beating John Vicars’. In spite of the apparent violence, Jane was simply sent to the cells for four days (perhaps there were mitigating circumstances?). A year later, in July 1840, she was free by servitude.

Before Jane Harris even had a ticket of leave, she had been granted permission to marry Thomas Strood at Ross in April 1837. Strood was born in 1811 at Elmstone, Kent, and baptised on 8 September that year in the same parish. Thomas stands out among other convicts as he was one of a large group of Swing Rioters who were transported to Port Jackson and Van Diemen’s Land. The Swing Rioters, or machine breakers, became known for taking part in the greatest ever machine-breaking protest in England. Transported with Thomas Strood on the Eliza were 223 other Swing Rioters from Kent who arrived in Hobart on 29 May 1831. Thomas was thus a political prisoner rather than a felon, although prior to his conviction for machine breaking he had two previous indictments for larceny. In 1826 he was acquitted, but in 1827 was sentenced to 7 years’ transportation—though he was not actually transported. He must have been released early because his trial for machine breaking was held on 25 November 1830. This time he really was transported. Thomas Strood’s conduct record shows no colonial offences at all. On 3 February 1836 he was one of the Swing Rioters who were granted free pardons. The following year, he married Jane Harris.

Jane was five years older than Thomas Strood when they married: she was 31, and he 26. They appear to have had no children. Sadly, Jane Harris’s story ends with Thomas Strood’s death from British cholera on 31 January 1849 at Launceston at the age of 35. When, where or of what Jane Harris died remains unknown.

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 Sue Ballyn acknowledges the help received from the “Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad” for the Project Postcolonial Crime Fiction : A global window into social realities for all her publications on the FCRC web site and in print since 2014.

© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.