Julia St Clair Newman (1813?- 1864)
by Margaret Lindley and Colette McAlpine
Julia St Clair Newman, the daughter of Margaret Newman and an unnamed father, was born in Trinidad in the West Indies between 1813 and 1818. Her father sent her to a French boarding school and supported both Julia and her mother until a change of circumstance in the early 1830s. She was perhaps of Creole origin: she had black hair and brown eyes, and her complexion was described as ‘swarthy’.
In the autumn of 1836, Julia and her mother spent time in debtors’ prison at Whitecross Street and in February 1837, they were charged in the Central Criminal Court with larceny. The women’s legal counsel, who was at pains to deny any biological connection, said that he acted as a friend to two women who were both respectable and unprotected. But the court found that they had carried on a ‘deliberate and systematic plan of robbery and plunder’ at several lodging houses, and declared that the public should be protected from them. Because of their ‘outward appearance and apparent respectability, they were well calculated to impose on the unwary’. Julia and Margaret were sentenced to consecutive terms of 7 years’ transportation, a sentence which meant that the women would serve a longer period before being eligible for a ticket of leave.
They were sent to Millbank Prison to await transportation. Julia’s behaviour there was so disruptive that the problem of Miss Newman was sent to a Select Committee of the House of Lords. The governor complained that she ‘set all discipline at defiance’. She was sent to Bedlam, the famous ‘madhouse’, but the matrons there insisted that she was not mad at all, merely feigning the appearance of insanity, and she was returned to Millbank. The frustrated governor pleaded for her transportation, insisting that he could do nothing with her.
At the end of April 1838, Julia sailed aboard the Nautilus for Van Diemen’s Land—without her mother, who had died in prison in 1837—and behaved herself perfectly according to the ship’s surgeon. She had ‘given no trouble’ and ‘shown great command of her temper’.
Julia’s French boarding school had prepared her for the workforce. When her particulars were recorded on arrival at Hobart Town, she said she was a governess and could teach the piano. Such skills were in demand, but she was sent to the Factory and not into service. There, she appeared unrepentant. The Colonial Times reported in 1839 that Julia had ‘entirely defeated the old penal science system’.
She was imprisoned at Cascades where she did no work, apart from a little needlework for the matron. The prisoner wore silk gowns and had her own convict servant. Her circumstances changed, however; and in 1840, she was punished with three months’ hard labour for curling her hair with pages torn from the Bible. She was later caught wearing her mistress’s stays and clothes and sent to the crime class for two months.
Two men applied to marry Julia, before she accepted John Jepson, a 35-year-old constable. Jepson had been a librarian and would later become a publican, trusted to record a part of the colony’s census. Julia wrote to the Colonial Times in defence of her husband’s character when he was accused of perjury in 1856. Her letter is intelligent and articulate. By then, she had given birth to four children and buried two. Julia died of uterine cancer in July 1864, aged 51.
Margaret Lindley and Colette McAlpine, 'Unruly women: Julia St Clair Newman and Annette Myers', in From the Edges of Empire, eds L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015, pp. 206-219.
© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.