Catherine Morrison (1819?–46)

by Leonie Mickleborough


Catherine Morrison was born in Gibraltar, Spain, in about 1819. She might have been the daughter of John Morrison who served in the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), the 26th Foot and 90th Light Infantry, which served in Gibraltar between 21 August 1817 and 26 September 1821.

At the age of 19 Catherine was a house servant and needle woman, and lived at ‘Laurie’s Lodgings’, Westport, Scotland. At 4 feet 11 inches (149.86 cm) tall with a pale freckled complexion, her hair and eyebrows were brown, and her eyes were grey. By 1838 Catherine had been in prison twice, once for ten days and once for twenty days, she was not married, was unable to write, and had been ‘on the Town’ for two years.

During the evening of 10 January 1838 Catherine, Mary Ann McLaren (McLaine), Mary Ann Clerk (whose ‘real name’ was Mary Ann Miller), Mary Sutherland and Mary Ann Speirs (Marianne Spears), were apprehended and taken to the tollhouse at Edinburgh on suspicion they had attacked and assaulted Robert McGill in Andrew Lees’ house in North Fowlis, near High Street. On 12 January they were all taken from custody, to appear at the Edinburgh Court of Judiciary in front of Her Majesty’s Advocate, John Archibald Murray Esquire.

 Catherine denied the allegation that she had been involved in the attack on Robert McGill, and said she was on High Street about 3.00 pm and saw McLaren and Speirs. She also saw Sutherland and another girl at the top of Banks Street. Catherine claimed she did not speak to any of them and did not see where they went. She also maintained she was not in Andrew Lees’ house between 3.00 pm and 5.00 pm on 10 January.

Detained in custody, Catherine was ‘very bad in every respect’. At her own request, on 24 January, she appeared before Magistrate Peter Crooks, and her declaration from 10 January was read to her. In reviewing her evidence, she stated that on 10 January, a little before 4.00 pm she was standing at the head of North Fowlis’s Close when she saw Speirs, Clerk and McLaren—who was holding Robert McGill—come down High Street. They passed her and went into Andrew Lees’ house, where McLaren and Sutherland both lived (while Mary Ann Clerk lived at Laurie’s Lodgings, Westport).  A few minutes later Catherine went into the house ‘for the purpose of getting her hands warmed’, where she found Clerk and Speirs sitting in the kitchen. Catherine understood that McLaren was in a room with Robert McGill, while Sutherland was in another room with another man. Speirs and Clerk then went from the kitchen into McLaren’s room, leaving Catherine alone in the kitchen.

After a few minutes there was a disturbance in McLaren’s room and she walked into the kitchen. Speirs, who had also been in McLaren’s room followed, holding McGill by the breast. McGill cried out ‘murder’, and said Speirs was robbing him. Sutherland then left the room where she was, and on entering the kitchen, she seized McGill, and she and Speirs ‘wrestled him to the bottom of the stairs where he was thrown down’.

Sutherland put her hands upon McGill’s mouth and eyes and seized his pocket or his fob. She tore it away and took it into the kitchen, and according to Catherine, it seemed to be ‘full of coin or something’. McGill called out he was ‘robbed’ and left without his cloak and hat.

According to Catherine, the others followed him outside. After about five minutes she left too, and met McLaren, Speirs and Clerk on the High Street. At McLaren’s request, Catherine went with them to the Green Market, where they were apprehended and taken into custody.

Subsequently, on 16 March, all five appeared at the Edinburgh Court of Justiciary before Magistrate Peter Crooks. They were charged with ‘wickedly and feloniously’ attacking and assaulting Robert McGill, a cotton-spinner, on 10 January 1838 in a house in North Fowlis’s Close and by ‘force and violence’ having taken a ‘bank or banker’s note’ for £1, and also 15/- or ‘thereby in silver money’ from him or from his pocket. They were all found guilty and ordered to 7 years’ transportation.

They left from Woolwich on 29 April 1838, and the Nautilus, with 132 female convicts and government stores arrived at the River Derwent on 27 August, Catherine having been ‘well behaved neat & clean’ on the voyage.

On 26 November 1838 when assigned to Mr Cartwright, most likely the solicitor George Walker Cartwright, on his property ‘Grange’ near Taroona, Catherine was charged with absconding. She was sentenced to one month’s hard labour in the Cascades Female House of Correction.

While assigned to Mr Stewart in March 1839, and also in July when assigned to Mr Nathan, she was sentenced to one month at the wash tub for absenting herself without leave all night. In February 1839, she was sentenced to seven days on bread and water for the same offence.

On 13 November 1839 Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Mary Ann Morrison, who was baptised at St Joseph’s Catholic Church on 24 November 1839, her father named as William Roberts.

By December 1841 Catherine was assigned to Mr L. Pearson in Hobart Town, and for ‘Immoral conduct in being pregnant’, on 22 June 1842 she was sentenced to the Cascades Female House of Correction. Here, another daughter, Elizabeth Morrison, was born on 26 August 1842. No father’s name was recorded, and baby Eliza [sic] died of diarrhoea at the Dynnyrne Nursery on 6 August 1843.

On 1 March 1844 Catherine was granted her ticket of leave, but five months later, on 22 August, for falsely stating she was free, she was sentenced to two months at the Cascades Female Factory again, and her ticket was suspended.

Catherine was free by servitude on 16 March 1845, and on 27 July 1846 she married Thomas Thomson, a cabinet maker, at his home in Bathurst Street Hobart Town—but later that day she died of consumption, aged 26. Of Catherine’s co-accused and guilty partners, no evidence has been located to indicate if they maintained contact in the colony. Mary Sutherland, Mary Ann McLaren and Mary Ann Speirs all married in Van Diemen’s Land, but no record of a marriage has been located for Mary Ann Clerk (Miller). 

Back to List



© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.