Catherine Kearney (1819?-?)

by Douglas Wilkie


On Saturday 5 November 1842 the Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser of Dublin carried the following report:

Deplorable Distress – Two young women, named Catherine Kearney and Jane Dunn, were charged by Constable 18 A with having broken some lamps on the South Circular-road on the previous night. The constable stated that on taking the prisoners into custody they stated that what they had done was with the object of getting themselves into prison, where they would be supplied with food, as they were in a state of utter starvation, not having tasted food for a considerable period before, and they determined on having recourse to breaking the lamps.

In reply to Mr. Porter, the wretched prisoners stated that at one time they had been respectably connected, and so far as character was concerned, they had maintained theirs unstained; and wishing still to preserve them, they deemed it better to become guilty of the offence for which they had taken up than to do worse. They were actually starving, although they will earn their bread, but they could not obtain any employment.

Mr. Porter said that the case was a most melancholy one, and, under the circumstances, he would send them to Bridewell for one month.

Poverty and starvation in Ireland during the 1840s was epidemic and people would do anything to escape from their dire situation. Catherine Kearney and her friend were only doing what many others must have considered. But they were guaranteed food and lodging at Bridewell Prison for only one month. There must be a way to secure these things more permanently.

Indeed, there was, and some resorted to committing crimes that would ensure they were transported to New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land, where, after serving six months in prison, meaningful work could be obtained. And if one was well behaved, freedom could be achieved long before the term of sentence had expired. That, at least, was the theory.

There is no evidence that Catherine Kearney considered such a solution to the problems she faced in Ireland during the 1840s; however on 12 August 1843 she again appeared before the court on a charge of ‘stealing a quantity of clothes from Reginald Chickets, of Sandymount, and William Leary and Mary Anne James, were charged with receiving same.’ Catherine Kearney was found guilty, and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation—the other two prisoners were acquitted and discharged.

Catherine was sent to the Grangegorman Female Prison at Dublin to await transportation. She was not a bad person and, even though she had to wait in Grangegorman for six months, the report from the prison was that her behaviour was ‘very good’. On 27 and 28 February 1844, 120 female convicts and 28 of their children went on board the hired convict transport Greenlaw at Kingston, Dublin, in readiness for their passage to Van Diemen’s Land. The ship’s surgeon, James Clarke, noticed there were a large number of elderly women among the group, but all seemed quite healthy. The voyage began on 5 March, and by 15 March supplies of fresh meat and vegetables had been used. By 9 May the first case of scurvy appeared, and soon many more cases occurred. Catherine was diagnosed with scurvy on 12 May and kept in the hospital until 16 May.

Discussing their previous diets with the women the surgeon discovered that the variety of food given to the women in the Irish prisons was insufficient to prepare them for the long voyage. By the end of the voyage no fewer than 58 cases of scurvy had been detected, and fourteen women were sent to hospital in Hobart. Nevertheless, apart from the extreme incidence of scurvy the surgeon noted that there were, no peculiar features but what are to be met with in this class of patient, viz. the extreme mental depression which took place on being put in the sick list, which is very generally the case amongst the lower and ignorant Irish class — with this I close my Remarks.

The Greenlaw arrived at Hobart on 2 July 1844 and Surgeon Clarke reported that Catherine had been ‘very good indeed’ during the voyage.

The officials at Hobart took down all her necessary identifying characteristics: Catherine was 5 feet 2½ inches (158.75 cm) tall, had a freckled, dark complexion, black hair and dark hazel eyes. She had a ‘small cocked’ nose and wide mouth set in an oval face and large head. Catherine told them that she had been born in Calcutta, was aged 25 and single. She could read and write, and worked as a house and nurse maid.

Instead of going to the Female Factory as many previous convicts had done, Catherine spent six months on the newly arrived convict hulk Anson. She was promoted to the 2nd class of probation on 11 February 1845, and was then assigned to Mr Watchorn but on 18 June 1845 was reported absent without leave and spent two months doing hard labor at the Cascades Female Factory. An 1846 return of convicts suggests she was with Frederick Lipscombe at Sandy Bay, although this is not listed on her record. No more incidents of any kind are listed on Catherine’s record until July 1847 when it was noted that she ‘Delivered of an Illegt Child 20th July 1847 facty Launceston’.

This entry about a child in July 1847 raises a number of questions as there is also a record for Catherine Kearney making an application on 8 May 1847 to marry Stephen Larkins, a tailor who arrived at Hobart on the Lady Franklin in 1844. This application was approved and the marriage took place at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Hobart on 24 May 1847, two months before the birth of the child.

Confusingly another application for marriage, dated 9 June 1848, is listed under Catherine Kearney’s name, and she is recorded as marrying Bartholomew Tiernan on 3 July 1848. Tiernan, a former soldier, had been transported to Norfolk Island in 1841 and arrived at Hobart in March 1844 on the Duke of Richmond.

The solution to this problem is be found in the fact that 18-year-old Catherine Keenan arrived from Dublin with Catherine Kearney on the Greenlaw in 1844 and their names were always listed consecutively. Someone presumably made an entry next to the wrong name. Nevertheless, an undated muster from either 1848 or 1849 lists Catherine Keenan being ‘with her husband B. Tiernan’ after she gained a ticket of leave. Similarly, the child born in July 1847 was Catherine Keenan’s, rather than Catherine Kearney’s—their records are on consecutive pages in the book. The child was named Bartholomew and in the Tasmanian Pioneer Index is listed as Catherine Keenan’s. The child died on 8 November 1847 and a subsequent inquest listed the child’s name as Bartholomew Tearney, thus adding to the confusion.

After marrying Stephen Larkins, Catherine Kearney was granted a ticket of leave and a daughter was born in May 1848. Her certificate of freedom was issued on 12 August 1850, which she collected a week later, and a son, Joseph, was also born in 1850. The boy died of convulsions in the same year, and it would appear that no more children were born to Catherine and Stephen Larkins. The peaceful married life that Catherine may have been hoping for clearly did not eventuate. Indeed, not only did her husband have an extensive past record, but would continue to add to that record for many years to come. He had originally been transported for life to New South Wales from Ireland in 1830, having been found guilty of burglary in Galway. Then, in 1841, he was found guilty of armed bushranging in New South Wales and transported to Norfolk Island, again for life. After arriving in Van Diemen’s Land he accrued a record that filled one full page and continued onto a second. He was constantly serving short periods of time in prison, but in 1859 he received eight years for burglary. He was eventually granted a conditional pardon in 1866, but in 1872 he was found guilty of abducting a 16-year-old girl and sent back to prison for another four years.

Stephen Larkins, a tailor, died from senile decay at New Town Charitable Institute on 21 September 1892. There is no mention of Catherine Kearney on his record, and it would not be surprising if she left him.

On 7 March 1854 a woman named Catherine Larkin, claiming to be a spinster, married Daniel Cloyden, or Clayden, at Fingal. He was aged 28, she said she was a house servant aged 24. Catherine Kearney, now Larkins, was also a house servant, but would have been closer to 34 in 1854.

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