Rose McCart (1806?-?)

by Jan Richardson


In 1837 two sisters were transported to New South Wales on board the Sir Charles Forbes, departing Dublin in August and arriving in Sydney the following January. Rose McCart was 31 years old and said she was born in the West Indies. Her younger sister, Mary McCart, age 30, said she was born in Fermanagh, Ireland. Rose had brown hair, grey eyes and her complexion was ’Brown, freckled, and a little pockpitted’. Mary had brown hair and blue eyes, her complexion was ‘Dark pale’, she had lost three teeth and had a ‘thick’ nose. If the convict indents are correct and Rose was born in the West Indies in about 1806 and Mary was born in Ireland in about 1807, then presumably their mother must have travelled from the West Indies to Ireland during 1806 or 1807.

The sisters were both Protestant married women with children; Rose had two sons, Mary had one son. They were convicted of petty theft offences at Monaghan, in the county next to Fermanagh where Mary was born. Mary, convicted of pickpocketing, was sentenced to transportation on 6 April 1836 and Rose, who stole a basket, was sentenced on 26 October 1836.

 Two days after arriving in Sydney, the female convicts on board the Sir Charles Forbes set foot on dry land and were met by Bishop Polding and a ‘Committee of Ladies’. They were ‘exhorted to behave in their new places in a becoming manner’ and assigned to ‘various applicants’. It is not known where Rose was assigned for the first few years but a bundle of documents contained in the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence dated 1842 shows that her sister Mary had been employed as a nurse on the ‘No. 4 Female ward’ at the Liverpool Hospital for about five years. In fact, a document headed the ‘Prevalence of immorality in Liverpool Hospital’ states that Mary was charged with ‘riotous and disorderly conduct’. Dr Eckford, the surgeon in charge of Liverpool Hospital, stated on oath that:

 on about the 17th May last a quarrel took place between her [Mary] and a patient, and on which occasion the prisoner [Mary] beat the patient named “Roache” who is afflicted  with spitting of Blood.

Mary countered the allegations by accusing some of the female prisoners of immoral conduct with men.

Four years later, a report into the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum by a Select Committee of the Legislative Council Chamber, chaired by Charles Cowper, discussed conditions at the Castle Hill Asylum, Liverpool Hospital and Tarban Creek, noting that the Tarban Creek Asylum was ‘a very great improvement upon both the former’, but that the ‘conduct of the keepers and nurses has been occasionally harsh and unfeeling’. Furthermore:

your Committee would point to the custom, the existence of which they strongly deprecate, viz, :—that of employing convicts as keepers and nurses; … Of the keepers and     attendants complained of, it appears that some are no longer employed, having been replaced by persons of a better class.

Mary was granted a ticket of leave for Campbelltown in December 1842, but it was altered to Berrima in January 1843. Rose obtained a ticket of leave for Berrima just two months later in March 1843, so presumably the sisters were trying to stay together.  In November 1844, Rose was granted a certificate of freedom; a note in the left margin reads ‘Berrima 6 Dec[embe]r’. Although not mentioned on the original convict indent in 1837, Rose’s certificate of freedom stated that the little fingers of her left hand were contracted. Mary obtained her certificate of freedom in January 1845.

There are no other matches for Rose McCart or Mary McCart in any convict or civil records, with one exception. The New South Wales Register of Coroners’ Inquests records that a Mary McCart died of ‘Intemperance’ at ‘Carcor [sic]’ in April 1857 but, as there is no corresponding death certificate or newspaper report, there is no way to verify whether this is Rose’s sister. Although McCart is not a common surname, there were several male convicts with the surname McCart, as well as other free arrivals, who may have married a woman named Mary. 

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Further reading:
Jan Richardson, 'Caribbean stories: born in the West Indies, tried in the British Isles, transported to New South Wales',  in From the Edges of Empire, eds L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015, pp. 114-130. 



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