Mary Mears (1808?-?)

by David Boon


Mary Mears was born about 1808 on the Isle of France which is now known as Mauritius. No details of her parents or precise date of birth have been located. While her gaol report lists that she was single her conduct record lists that she was married with one child and that her husband, William, was at Christchurch which was then part of the county of Hampshire but became part of Dorset in 1974. It is not therefore known whether Mears was her maiden or married name.

On Friday 6 April 1832, Mary Mears appeared in the old court of the Old Bailey in London before Mr Sergeant Arabin and the Second Middlesex Jury charged with stealing on 9 March 1832 one sheet valued at 3/- the goods of Thomas Ford. Witness, Mary Ford, stated:

I am the wife of Thomas Ford – we live in Cardogan-terrace. On the 8th of March the prisoner took a furnished room of ours by the week; she left the next morning, about half-past eight o’clock, and did not return – I missed a sheet and silver spoon from the room; my husband met her on the street on the following Monday, and took her – the duplicate was found on her.

Witness, John Gammon, stated: ‘I am shopman to Mr. Sherman, a pawnbroker, of Sloane St, Chelsea. On the 9th of March the prisoner pawned this sheet.’ Randal McDonald, a policeman, stated: ‘I received the prisoner in charge; she said she had left the spoon at Mrs Conden’s, George St, Richmond, but I could find no such person; the duplicate was found on her before I came.’ In her defence, Mary Mears commented: ‘I never saw the spoon – I pawned the sheet for victuals.’ The verdict declared that Mary Mears was guilty and sentenced to transportation for 7 years.

Mary Mears was described as being a dress and stay maker aged 24. Her conduct was recorded as very orderly. She was a Protestant who could both read and write. Mary was 5 feet 1 inch (155 cm) tall, fair complexioned, with a small head and small oval face. She had brown hair, dark brown eyebrows and dark grey eyes. Mary had a medium length nose, medium width mouth and a small dimpled chin. She was rather deaf.

Mary Mears departed the Downs on 15 September 1832 on board the Frances Charlotte. The ship’s surgeon, John Osborne, recorded that Mary’s conduct was orderly. Mary survived the voyage with no recorded illness despite eleven convicts, four children and three crew members contracting cholera prior to departure. The illness claimed the lives of four convicts, two children and two crew members. Numerous cases of pyrexia (fever) and dysentery were recorded on the voyage, claiming a further two lives, before the Frances Charlotte arrived in Hobart on 10 January 1833.

It seems that Mary’s occupation as a dressmaker initially paid off for her as she was assigned to Mary Anne Shacklock who was a milliner and dressmaker who had arrived in Hobart following her convict husband. Later, he was assigned to her. Mrs Shacklock had announced to the public of Hobart in the Hobart Town Courier of 12 February 1831 that she had commenced business as a milliner and dressmaker in Davey Street opposite the burial ground. Unfortunately, Mary failed to make the most of her assignment and was charged with insolence to her mistress on 6 April 1833. She was sent to the cells for six days.

By the time of the 1833 muster Mary Mears was assigned to a former convict named William Lear, a baker in Elizabeth Street. On 5 July 1834, Mary Mears was charged by her master, William Lear, with stealing half penny coins to the value of 5/- which belonged to him. She was committed for trial but found not guilty on 7 July 1834.

By 1 December 1835, Mary Mears was assigned to Mr Roadknight in Hamilton when reprimanded for impertinence. It was likely to have been during this time that she met convict, George Tookey, who was assigned to Thomas Roadknight at Hamilton as detailed on the musters of 1832, 1833 and 1835. Although Mears was transferred by the time of the December 1835 muster, to William Watchorn who owned a store in Elizabeth Street, Hobart, George Tookey applied for permission to marry her on 21 April 1836. Although permission was granted, no record of marriage has been located and it seems likely from later evidence that none took place. On 9 July 1836, Mary was back in Hamilton assigned to George Francis Huston when charged with cruelly ill-treating her master’s infant. Mears was sentenced to three months in the Crime Class and was not to be assigned again in the district. Less than two months later George Tookey received his certificate of freedom and set up as a baker in Bothwell.

Mears was next assigned to an individual named Hayes when, on 23 October 1837, she was reprimanded for disorderly conduct, and then she was assigned to someone by the name of Gould on 27 November 1837 when she was reprimanded for having a runaway female in her bed. Mary’s ticket of leave was advertised in the Hobart Town Courier on 2 March 1838. Two months later George Tookey left for Port Phillip with a notice on 1 May 1838 recording his departure and another on 4 May cautioning people not to accept a bill drawn by James Young and accepted by Tookey, which had been stolen. A meeting of his creditors was advertised on 12 October 1838.

Mary Mears received her certificate of freedom in 1840. The Colonial Times of 4 February 1840 reported that a Mary Ann Mears, ‘a regular drunkard, pleaded guilty to being drunk at Kangaroo Point last night, and was fined 5/-‘, but the evidence as to this being the same Mary Mears is inconclusive. In the 1842 census of Hobart Mary Mears is recorded as being the occupier of 25 Goulburn Street. Because she is listed as being as ‘free – other’ it is clear she had been a convict, and as there was only one Mary Mears recorded as having been transported to Van Diemen’s Land it seems that this is the Mary Mears transported on the Frances Charlotte. She was aged between 21 and 45 and was living with a Catholic male in the same age range. This is the last reference to Mary Mears in Hobart. No record of death, marriage or departure could be located so her fate remains unknown.

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