Margaret Reardon (1820?-1890)

by Liz Rushen


Tried in Auckland on 1 September 1848 for perjury, Margaret Reardon was the only woman to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land from New Zealand following the introduction of transportation from that country in 1841.

As Margaret Lackey, Margaret arrived in New South Wales as a free emigrant woman on the Duchess of Northumberland in October 1836. Originally from County Longford, Ireland, the daughter of John Lackey and Dorothea Montgomery, Margaret, aged 16, travelled with her two sisters, Elizabeth aged 20 and Sophia, 18. The three women were recipients of the government bounty for single women. They were accompanied on the Duchess of Northumberland by their brother, John, a 30 year-old agriculturalist, his 28 year-old unnamed wife, and an 8 year-old nephew, also named John. The family was migrating to join another brother, William, a former policeman who had been sentenced to life for manslaughter and arrived in Sydney per Sir Godfrey Webster in 1826. In 1829 William married Mary O’Dowd and their only son, John, became a member of the New South Wales ministry of Sir Henry Parkes and President of the Legislative Council of NSW; he was knighted in 1894.

On arrival at Sydney, none of the three Lackey sisters sought employment, but remained within the family group. In August 1841, Margaret, stated to be aged 23, married 66-year-old Daniel Reardon (Riordan) at St Mary’s Catholic Church, the ceremony witnessed by her sister, Sophia. All three gave their residence as York Street, Sydney and neither Margaret nor Sophia was able to sign her name. Originally from Cork City, Reardon arrived in Sydney per Prince Regent in 1820 with a seven year sentence. Three months after her marriage, Margaret witnessed Sophia’s marriage to John Richardson at Scots Presbyterian Church in Pitt Street, Sydney.

Margaret moved to New Zealand, possibly in 1843 when her sister Sophia married her second husband, William Aldwell in Auckland. Separated from her husband, Margaret lived with Joseph Burns, born of Irish parents in Liverpool about 1805. He joined the Royal Navy as ships carpenter when he was about 20, and arrived at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, on the Buffalo in 1840.

A heavy drinker who suffered severe headaches caused by head injuries, Margaret lived with Joseph in a shack at Mechanics Bay on the Auckland Harbour and later in a rough dwelling at Shoal Bay. Joseph was employed first by a boatbuilder, then worked as a market gardener and farm labourer, but was dismissed from his various positions for assault and theft from this employer. Margaret supplemented their meagre income, exacerbated by Joseph’s inability to keep a steady job, by growing vegetables. Margaret and Joseph had two children, William born about 1844 and James born about 1846.

On 22 October 1847, when robbing the house of naval officer, Robert Snow, Burns murdered Snow, his wife Hannah and their infant daughter, Mary, mutilating their bodies to resemble a Maori attack and burning the Snow’s house. The murders raised fears of an imminent Maori attack on Auckland. Margaret left Joseph as a result of the murders, taking their sons to her sister Sophia Aldwell.

Two weeks after the murders, Burns sailed to Sydney on the Inflexible. Hearing that Margaret’s husband, Daniel Reardon, had died of smallpox on 6 July 1847, he returned to Auckland on 11 December. On 28 December he visited Margaret to persuade her to marry him so that she could not be compelled to give evidence against him; she refused. In a drunken fury he attempted to cut her throat and then attempted suicide. He was arrested and at the Supreme Court criminal sessions on 1 March 1848, was convicted of ‘cutting and maiming’ Margaret and sentenced the following day to transportation for life. Imprisoned for this offence, he confessed to the triple murders and implicated two of his former shipmates from the Buffalo. These men were later exonerated after Burns retracted, but under duress from Burns, Margaret partly substantiated the story and was subsequently tried for perjury.

Joseph Burns, described as an ‘atrocious malefactor’ in the New Zealander, was found guilty of the triple murder. On 17 June 1848, having made a full confession, which unfairly implicated Margaret, he was taken under escort from the gaol to the site of his crime and hanged before a large crowd. He is believed to be the first European hanged in New Zealand.

On 1 September 1848, Margaret was convicted of perjury and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. She sailed on the Sisters on 20 October 1848, leaving her two sons in the care of her sister, Sophia. On 31 December 1850, together with her husband William Aldwell and four children, Sophia departed New Zealand for America on the Eagle. It is believed that this group included Margaret’s two sons, as only two of Sophia’s five children were born at this stage. Their sister, Elizabeth (Bess) remained in New South Wales where she married twice, bearing her fifteenth and last child, Catherine Rose, in 1869.

On arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, Margaret was described as a Protestant dressmaker, now able to read and write a little. She stated her offence to be accusing Thomas Duder with being connected with the murder of Robert Snow and family and indicated that her brother was a Sheriff in Sydney. While serving her seven-year sentence in Van Diemen’s Land, she was charged twice: once with disobedience of orders and insolence and once for being drunk. For the first, she was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour in the Cascades Female Factory; for the second, she received two months’ imprisonment with hard labour, again in the Cascades Female Factory. Four years into her sentence, in February 1852, Margaret was granted a ticket of leave. This was revoked in September 1852, but no reason for this was recorded. No further information was recorded on her conduct record after this date.

On 9 July 1850, Margaret successfully applied to marry Englishman William Redman, a recently-widowed convict, in Hobart. On 16 February 1851 she gave birth to twin sons, William and John in Hobart. Both sons died in infancy, William on 21 February 1851 and John on 31 March that year. Margaret and William subsequently had two daughters, both surviving to old age: the first, Elizabeth, was born in Hobart just ten months after her twin brothers, and the second, Sarah, was born in 1854 at Fryers Creek, Victoria, where Margaret and William had re-located.

William departed Launceston for Melbourne on 23 May 1852 on one of the regular voyages the City of Melbourne in the year gold was discovered in central Victoria. It is unknown when Margaret departed Tasmania, but as her ticket of leave was revoked four months after William’s departure, it is possible that she also sailed on the City of Melbourne, using a false name. She was certainly in Victoria two years later. William Redman died in Vaughan, Victoria, on 29 November 1860 aged 50. Daughter Elizabeth married Samuel Buttle at Fryers Creek in 1868, had ten children and died in 1925. Sarah married Robert Baker at Castlemaine, Victoria in 1876, had six children and died in 1912.

On 9 April 1890, in Castlemaine hospital, Margaret, stated to be aged 80, died of old age and exhaustion. She was buried in Castlemaine General Cemetery. Her death certificate records her surname as Redmond and her children as James Montgomery, William Montgomery, Elizabeth and Sarah.

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