Ann McKay (1819?-?)

by Alison Ellett


Ann McKay was born in Jamaica in about 1819, but why her family was there is unknown.

She was convicted on 8 May 1840 at the Glasgow Court of Justiciary and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation to Van Diemen’s Land for breaking into a building and stealing a waist coat and a pair of trousers. She was described, according to her conduct report, as a ‘steam loom weaver’, 5 feet (152.40 cm) tall. Ann could read and she was unmarried. She had been living in High Street Glasgow. She was about 18 years old and had been convicted twice before, ‘once for stealing a gilt picture’ for which she received thirty days. Ann McKay was tried with three others, John McKay, Isabella Minch and Janet Kerr, for the crime of ‘theft, habit and repute, and previous conviction’. John McKay was transported to Van Diemen’s Land on the Navarino in 1841.

At the time of Ann McKay’s trial, many people had migrated from rural areas seeking work in the new factories of industrial Glasgow. As a consequence, Glasgow’s population had quadrupled in the years 1800 to 1850 creating overcrowded, disease-ridden slums. Rates of pay remained very low, and the desperation caused by these factors led to an increased crime rate.

Ann McKay embarked for Van Diemen’s Land on the Navarino for the 107-day voyage on 9 Dec 1840. On board were 181 other convicted women and some free settlers. During the voyage there was an outbreak of scabies, but Ann seems to have avoided this, as she does not appear on the surgeon’s daily sick lists. There were just two deaths, as there had been a steady reduction in the number of on-board fatalities since the introduction of ship’s surgeons.

After arriving in Hobart on 17 Jan 1841, Ann was assigned to Thomas Dutton where her conduct report states that she received one month’s hard labor in Crime Class at the Cascades Female Factory where she laboured at the washtubs for ‘disobedience and insolence’. On 24 Sept 1841, she was fined ‘5 shillings for being drunk’.

Three years later on 25 Sep 1844, Rebecca Hughes, daughter of John Hughes and Ann McKay, was born in Hobart. They were married on 15 May 1845 at the Penitentiary Hobart, both signing with their mark. John Hughes was described as a 24-year-old steward and she was a 22-year-old spinster.

 On 8 May 1847, Ann received her certificate of freedom. Ann and John had four children: Rebecca born in 1844, John born in 1847, Joseph in 1849 and Francis in 1852. On the children’s birth registration, John is described as a ‘seaman’, ‘mariner’ and ‘sailor’, while Ann has again signed with her mark as the birth informant. Ann and John were then living in Patrick Street, West Hobart, but later moved to New Market Place in Hobart. In 1853 their children, John, Rebecca and Joseph were admitted to the Queen’s Orphanage, Hobart on the grounds that their father had deserted them and their mother was ‘cruel’. A year later, Francis was also admitted.

Later two of the children were released to their mother and two to their father. Francis spent a month in the Orphanage and Joseph three years before being released to Ann, who was then in the Cascades Female Factory. From there Ann disappears.

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