Maria le Noble (1811?–?)
by Alison Alexander
Maria le Noble lived in Jersey, where she and her husband Pierre ran a brothel, ‘a detestable haunt of vice’ called Mulberry Cottage. She had one previous conviction for receiving stolen goods. After a riot at the brothel in 1846, two policeman were sent there to make inquiries and take Maria and her husband to gaol to await the trial. When they announced this, Maria became excited and rushed on one with a knife, which she plunged into his abdomen. ‘I’m a dead man!’ he exclaimed, but in practical French fashion he had the presence of mind to change his will in his wife’s favour before he expired.
Maria was tried at St Hellier, Jersey, in April 1846. Despite the presence of a policeman as a witness, she pleaded not guilty, saying she could not remember what happened, having been confined a few weeks previously. This did not impress the jury, and she was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for life. Considering she had killed a policeman, she was extremely fortunate to escape the death penalty – especially considering that she had a prior conviction, for receiving stolen goods.
Swarthy and pockpitted, Maria signed her name with a cross. She was generally well behaved on the voyage on the ship Elizabeth and Henry, and at Hobart stated that she could work as a housemaid, plain cook and midwife. She committed no offences, and the year after her arrival she was allowed to marry William Norman, perhaps as a reward for this good behaviour. Showing a little vanity, when she married she gave her age as 31, when she was in fact about 37. She and William ran a shop in Hobart, and in the mid-1850s moved to Launceston. A charge against Maria for passing bad coins was dropped, the only suggestion of her breaking the law in Tasmania. In 1866 she had a hawker’s licence; perhaps William had died and she had to support herself. A Maria Norman married fifty-year-old John Matthews in Fingal in 1873, but this was not necessarily the same woman, and the date of Maria le Noble’s death is unknown.
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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