Marie Smith (1800?–1851)

by Douglas Wilkie


Mrs Caroline Bernard was well known for the advice she gave to parents—one of her best known books being The Parent’s Offering, published in 1813 and intended as a companion to Marie Edgeworth’s 1796 The Parent’s Assistant. Perhaps needless to say, Caroline Bernard’s advice was also well known among English governesses. One such governess was Mademoiselle, or Madame, Dalmas, whose first name has been variously given as Julie or Caroline, and may have been both.

Caroline Dalmas was born around 1800 into a ‘highly respectable French family'—she claimed to be from Brunswick, and that her father was a French General. She moved to England, and by 1835 had worked as a governess for several well-placed families, including Lady Cowper at the Panshanger mansion in Hertfordshire. The highly influential Lady Cowper, otherwise Emily Lamb, was sister of William Lamb, Lord Melbourne, who in turn was to serve as Prime Minister in mid-1834 and was elected to that position in 1835.

Despite her respectable connections, on 17 January 1835, Caroline Dalmas, ‘a rather good looking, and fashionably dressed woman, a native of France’, using the name Caroline Bernard, stole twenty yards of lace from Kirkpatrick and Cornell, linen drapers of Newington Causeway, Kennington. She was caught, charged with larceny, and faced the Surrey Quarter Sessions on 9 February. ‘Several respectable ladies from the West-end of town, who had known her as governess in families of distinction, gave her a high character.’ But, despite the excellent references, including one from Madame Camille Ude, wife of celebrated French chef Louis Eustache Ude (chef to Napoleon’s mother and many of the noble families of London), she was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour at the Brixton House of Correction, under the name Caroline Bernard.

Caroline was pregnant at the time, and this undoubtedly influenced Lady Cowper’s decision to immediately contact the Home Secretary—a position previously held by her brother William—and explain that the convicted woman did not understand English law; that her previous employers all regarded her as honest; and that she was ‘too ashamed’ to ask for more character witnesses to appear at her trial. Lady Cowper’s ability to influence men of importance was renowned, and without hesitation, the Secretary ordered that Caroline Bernard should be immediately pardoned and discharged. A daughter was born later in the year, although no record of the birth has been located.

On 19 November 1836 Madame Dalmas rented rooms on the second floor of Elizabeth Murton’s house at 62 Great Portland Street and remained there, ‘living in very good style’, for the next six months as a ‘teacher of languages’—she had apparently lost her position as a private governess to the privileged. During that time, now using the name Marie Smith, she embarked upon an astonishing series of swindles and thefts from jewellers throughout London. But it all came to an end in March 1837 when she was caught and taken before the Marlborough Street Police Court and charged with stealing ‘a vast quantity of property’— ’enough to fill a small cart’—including twenty yards of chintz furnishing fabrics, which ended up on her record as having stolen ‘furniture’. In fact there was so much found in her rooms that when it was displayed at the Vine Street Police Station the station took on ‘the appearance of a bazaar for some days’. The police identified at least twenty-nine separate cases of theft, and described her as ‘one of the most dexterous of the foreign thieving community, and engrossing all the best London business.’

Her previous saviour, Lady Cowper, was no longer available, or was perhaps unwilling, to rescue her again, and unlike her ‘genteel’ appearance in court two years earlier, this time, although well dressed, she appeared unwell and was provided with a seat during the proceedings, or as one newspaper put it, ‘she affected to be insane; but, as the attempt only created ridicule, she next adopted the pretence of not understanding English.’ Nevertheless, she would need the seat, as there were a large number of witnesses giving evidence regarding the amount of jewellery she had stolen from numerous shops in London.

Despite knowing her real name, the English legal system insisted on trying Madame Dalmas under her alias, Marie Smith, and when she appeared before the Central Criminal Court on 3 April 1837 she was convicted on two of the six charges against her and sentenced to transportation ‘beyond the seas for the term of her natural life.’ The press reported that, ‘She seemed very much affected on hearing her sentence.’ Indeed, she gave the impression that the whole proceedings were affecting her and submitted a written statement to the court declaring that, ‘she must be bereft of her sense or she would not have acted as she had done. She complained that she had been misrepresented—that she was weary of life, and hoped soon to be before the Judge of all Judges!’ A suggestion made to the court that she was of unsound mind was not upheld.

Marie Smith, as she was now officially known, was remanded at Newgate until she departed England on the Henry Wellesley on 20 July 1837. She arrived at Port Jackson on 22 December, and gave her details to the officials who took them down dutifully. She was born in France in 1800; she was a Governess who had been convicted and sentenced to transportation for life for ‘stealing furniture’—it was actually chintz furnishing fabric—and most of what she stole was jewellery. She was described as a widow with one daughter the daughter had been mentioned in England, but no clue as to the fate of her husband. She was 5½ feet (153.67 cm) tall; had a ruddy complexion, brown hair and brown eyes; her upper lip was hairy; and she had a scar on the back of her left forefinger—so much for the ‘rather good looking, and fashionably dressed woman’ who appeared in court in 1835.

Marie Smith was assigned to work for Mr Therry in Sydney—presumably Sydney Lawyer, Roger Therry. Although Therry writes of his experience with male convicts in his memoir, he does not mention Marie Smith, but believed female convicts were generally ‘a far worse infliction on the free portion of the community than the male convicts.’

No more is heard of Marie Smith, or Caroline Bernard, in existing official documentation until 1841 when she is listed for a ticket of leave in the Penrith district, and again in 1842 in the Parramatta district, both using the names she was transported under—Marie Smith alias Caroline Bernard. Presumably the ticket was granted. In October 1841 an unclaimed letter for ‘M. Dalmas’ was awaiting collection at the Sydney Post Office, and in June 1842 we find her opening a boarding school under her real name, Madame Dalmas, at Victoria House, in Macquarie Street, Parramatta. Renowned French dance master, Monsieur Charriere was to teach dancing classes. By 1843, Charriere had retired and Madame Dalmas advertised much more detail about her background.



MADAME DALMAS begs leave to inform her friends and the public generally,that she has now a few vacancies in her establishment, and as her number is limited, she assures those parents who feel anxious about their children’s solid improvement, that her pupils will receive something more than a Colonial Polish—without further allusion to the numerous schools conducted by unqualified persons, and yet liberally supported by the undiscriminating, Madame D. solicits the attention of all respectable persons having children to be educated, to her method of teaching (which she used with much success in Europe) by conversations, illustrations, and practical exercises, which do not in her system supersede the necessity of each pupil’s diligent private study; and, she also invites competent judges, feeling interested in education, to examine the progress her pupils of six, seven, and eight years, have already made in the most useful as well as the elegant accomplishments. Having had the advantage of twenty years’ study in every branch of Literature, and a long experience as Governess in several noble and honourable families in England, Madame D. is happy to say that she knows herself competent for the arduous duties she has undertaken, and therefore requests a fair share of public support

Madame D. gives private lessons at her residence, as professor of Languages, Music, and Drawing, to Ladies desirous of improving in those accomplishments.

No further advertisements for Madame Dalmas’s school were published after July 1843. In January 1843, ‘C. Dalmas’ of Parramatta signed a testimonial supporting the election of Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur to represent Parramatta in parliament. When a report in reference to a conditional pardon for Marie Smith was submitted to London on 7 June 1845, her alias was given as ‘Caroline Dalmas’, although other official records, including the pardon certificate itself, retained the name Caroline Bernard. The pardon was dated 7 October 1844.

At the age of fifty, ‘Caroline Dalmas, of France’ died at the Sydney Hospital, in Macquarie Street, on 13 April 1851 ‘after a long and painful illness of eight years’.

Coincidentally with these last events, the newspapers carried sensational news of the murder of a Mrs Sarah McFarlane on the Battersea Bridge in London. The murderer was a Frenchman, Augustus Dalmas, who was a leading chemist of the time. He had married Hanna Chaplin in London in 1814, and the couple subsequently had four daughters, all born in London—Charlotte, Augusta, Sophia, and Caroline, who had received ‘excellent education’ and were in respectable situations—Caroline being a ‘companion and lady’s maid in several highly respectable families’. Hannah Chaplin died in 1843 and Augustus began courting Sarah McFarlane. In 1844, when it was revealed that she was a ‘common whore’ Augustus flew into an insane rage and cut her throat. The killing became known as the Battersea Bridge Murder. Dalmas was sentenced to death but influential friends lodged an appeal claiming he was suffering temporary insanity. The Home Secretary ordered a reprieve while investigations were made. The death sentence was commuted and Augustus was eventually transported for life to Norfolk Island, but received preferential treatment and was returned to Hobart after two years. In 1849, another appeal for clemency was made from George Washington Walker to Sir William Denison. Throughout all of these proceedings the daughters supported their father, although they changed their surname to Douglas, ‘hoping to escape the obloquy’. Augusta had died of grief and consumption in 1846; Sophie fell into poverty; and Caroline became unwell. A public appeal in London raised enough for them to emigrate to Port Phillip on board the Ann Milne, under the name Douglas, in May 1849. From there Caroline and Charlotte moved to Hobart where Caroline married John Farley Adams later that year, and Charlotte married Robert Crowhurst in 1853. Sophie lapsed into intemperance; a condition which saw her frequently in trouble with the law, and which eventually killed her in 1884. Augustus Dalmas died at Charlotte’s home in Hobart on 20 October 1874. Although it has not been confirmed, it seems possible that Madame Caroline Dalmas the teacher and governess, is related in some way to August Dalmas the convicted murderer who was so much loved by his daughters. 

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