Susan McGilp (1810?-?)

by Colin Tuckerman


Susan McGilp was born in the East Indies. Her father, a British soldier, and mother were both dead by 1826 when Susan was arrested in Edinburgh for housebreaking.

McGilp was a Protestant, illiterate, under five feet tall and with freckles and pock marked. In 1825 she was in the Bridgewell Prison and the next year was living with Helen Hughes in High School Close Canongate, Edinburgh. Mrs Hughes’ house was described as a ‘house of bad fame’ and was next to the grocer shop of Andrew Melrose & Company.

On the 24 November 1826, McGilp with Hughes and a few other female friends held an impromptu drinking session at Hughes’ house. The group decided to break into the neighbouring shop through the thin wall that separated the two cellars. The group stole various copper and silver coins and half a cheese. McGilp was reportedly one of the instigators of the thief.

McGilp was sentenced to transportation for 7 years at the Edinburgh Court of Judiciary on 27 December 1826. Hughes and another woman involved in the house breaking were both given 14 years sentences. The three women were sent to Woolwich where they boarded the Princess Charlotte. On arrival, McGilp was sent directly to the ship’s hospital as she had taken ill during the journey to London and remained unwell for another month. On the 30 March 1827 the Princess Charlotte with ninety-nine convicts on board departed for the Colonies where the ship arrived in Sydney on the 6 August 1827.

On arrival, McGilp was assigned to Henry Ashton in Sydney. In 1828, while a servant living in Windsor, she was twice granted approval for marriage but appears not to have proceeded in either case.  In 1831 she was again granted approval to marry and this time did marry Dennis Donovan.  Donovan had arrived as a 14 year old from County Cork on the Castle Forbes in 1822 and was free by servitude when they married.  McGilp received her certificate of freedom on 30 December 1833.

The marriage may not have lasted.  Between 1837 and 1843, Susan Donovan was arrested at least four times and served period of six weeks to three months for drunkenness and being a common prostitute.  No further trace of Susan Donovan (nee McGilp) has been found since her arrest in 1844.

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