Mary Kelly (1792-1848)

by Deborah Norris


On 17 August 1842 the Hope arrived from Dublin after four months of sailing. Amongst those onboard were 139 convict women, all set to begin a new life in Van Diemen’s Land. Accompanied by her 12-year-old son, William Thomson, Mary Kelly (alias Campbell or McCampbell), stated she was 44 years old. It had been six months, almost to the day since Mary stood before a magistrate at Antrim, Ireland, convicted of larceny for stealing geese and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. Mary’s partner in crime, 40-year-old Jane McIihair, was also onboard the Hope. Whilst there is some discrepancy about Mary’s age, as records show her age as 50 years old on arrival, it seems surprising that on this voyage at least, there were seven other middle-aged women of 50 years or over.

Mary was born in France at a time of conflict, where her birthplace Brousel (French for Brussels) only remained a part of France until 1815 when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, so her father may well have been a British sailor visiting a French port. This is only a possibility, as is when and how Mary came to live in Ireland. Mary had been widowed for fifteen years following the death of her husband, and left behind two brothers, Josh and Nicholas and two sisters Mary Ann and Margaret. Mary was reported to have been well-conducted and very quiet on board ship. Perhaps she was reminiscing about leaving her family. But, the decision to travel with William turned out to be a fortunate one, considering that three years later in 1845 potato blight and famine began to consume Ireland.

On arrival none of the women from the Hope went straight into service and there is no record of where Mary resided until three months after arrival, in November 1842, when she was assigned and subsequently punished for being absent without leave and misconduct. Her son, William, was admitted to the Queen’s Orphan School. Mary’s record remained clean for the next two years, until she was admonished for absconding on 20 April 1844. Mary was granted her ticket of leave on 17 December 1844. What now could Mary do to rebuild her life? It appears the prayers of this Roman Catholic, middle aged widow, of petite stature, only being 4 feet 10 ¾ inches (149.23 cm) tall, were answered, when on 6 April 1845 John Neighbour, a bricklayer, applied for permission to marry her. On 14 April, after what must have been three very long years for Mary, she collected her now 15-year-old son from the Orphan School. On 6 May 1845 John and Mary were married at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Hobart.

What a journey for Mary, now able to settle down and enjoy not only freedom from incarceration, but also the love of family. She had travelled a long way and lived through good times and bad. It is unknown where the family lived for the next three years or whether or not William stayed with his mother, but it appears they stayed in or near Hobart. Did Mary stay in contact with Jane McIihair? Yet more questions without answers, but this is the final chapter in Mary’s story, as she succumbed to the symptoms of dropsy and left this world on 14 December 1848.

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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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