Eliza Montague (1794? -1858)

by Jan Richardson


Eliza Montague was indicted at the Old Bailey for stealing a handkerchief in April 1830. She denied the charge but was found guilty and transported for life. The indent of the Kains, which arrived in Sydney in March 1831, recorded Eliza’s surname as ‘Montague or Watkins’ but she did not use the surname of Watkins after she disembarked. Eliza was 36 years old and married, but had no children. She had red hair, brown eyes, a ‘sallow freckled’ complexion and was born in Martinique in about 1794. Martinique, in the French West Indies, was the scene of several battles between the French and British, as a result of which the British occupied the island in 1762-63, 1794-1801 and 1809-16. Eliza appears to have been born in Martinique just before or during the second period of British control of this Caribbean island so highly prized for its sugar plantations.

Almost immediately after arriving, Eliza was admitted to the Sydney Gaol before being ‘disposed of’ to the Female Factory at Parramatta. The gaol entrance book incorrectly recorded her place of birth as ‘India’ and stated she was, ‘Useless in service she having shewn strong simptoms [sic] of insanity’. The Kains: female convict vessel, which contains the journals of crew member Charles Picknell and the ship’s surgeon, Thrasycles Clarke, notes that:

One of the convict women was declared insane by Clarke when the Kains reached Sydney, and a number of entries in his medical journal suggest the bedlamite nature of the voyage.

In November 1831, the Sydney Monitor reported that ‘Mr Iredale of George Street’ had been supplied with an assigned female servant ‘who, however, had turned out to be a lunatic, and had been but a short time before confined in the mad-house at Castle Hill’.

Castle Hill Asylum operated from 1811-25 but, after being declared unfit for habitation, patients were moved to Liverpool Court House from 1825-38 and then to the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum in 1838.  In December 1838 Eliza was assigned to work as a ‘nurse’ at the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. The next trace of Eliza occurs in December 1842 when she was granted a ticket of leave for Liverpool, later cancelled, and then in 1844 she obtained another ticket for Liverpool, ‘Per the Gov. [Government] Minute on a List from the F. F. [Female Factory] Parramatta’. At the end of 1847 the Female Factory closed and in 1848, with a small number of insane and invalid female convicts remaining as residents, re-opened its doors as the Convict, Lunatic and Invalid Establishment, later known as the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum.

In February 1848 the Colonial Surgeon, Patrick Hill, certified that Eliza was one of four insane women, ‘now inmates of the Female Factory’, who ‘should be removed to the Establishment in the Female Factory set apart for Female Lunatics’.The following month, when Eliza was officially admitted to the new lunatic asylum, the medical case book described her as ‘subject to occasional attacks of Mania when she becomes sullen and comatose for days and even weeks’. In August 1853 the case book recorded Eliza’s medical treatment for a stomach cramp, after which the final undated entry simply stated that Eliza was ‘Dead’. Eliza’s death certificate reveals that she died at the ‘Lunatic Asylum Parramatta’ in July 1858, having suffered from ‘Mania’ for ten years. Despite being Protestant, Eliza was buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Parramatta after nearly thirty years of struggling with mental illness, most of which was spent as an inmate in the Female Factory and at the lunatic asylums of New South Wales.

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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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