Margaret Shaw (1794?-?)

by Dianne Snowden


Margaret Shaw convict nurse, midwife and laundress, was born in the East Indies. Nothing is known of her circumstances in the East Indies, how she came to be born there or when she left. By 1840, she was living in London: on 14 September 1840, in the Central Criminal Court (popularly known as the Old Bailey), she pleaded guilty to a charge of larceny (stealing a coat valued at 10/-). Margaret proclaimed, ‘I was never convicted before’. A widow aged 46 with eight or nine children, she was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for 7 years. Her children did not accompany her and nothing is known of their lives once their mother had been transported.

Margaret was 5 feet 5 inches (165 cm) tall, ‘stout made’ with large hands, and she had a florid complexion, greying brown hair, dark brown eyes, a wide mouth and a round chin. She was proficient in reading and writing.

Margaret left England on the Rajah on 5 April 1841. During the voyage, she worked in the ship’s hospital as a nurse; the Surgeon noted that she was ‘very good’ in this role, which included plain cases of midwifery. When she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, in July 1841, Margaret was sent to the hospital at the Cascades Female Factory as a nurse. She was still there in July 1843 when she appeared as a witness at the inquest of her shipmate, Mary Brown, who died at the Factory.

While she was serving her sentence, Margaret was well-behaved and obedient. She had no colonial offences and it seems that the only offence she committed was the one for which she was transported. She was granted a ticket of leave in October 1843.

In August 1844, Margaret was recommended by the Comptroller-General of Convicts to fulfil the vacancy of Infant Nurse in the Female School, Queen’s Orphan Schools, at New Town. This came with a salary of £18 per annum plus a personal ration. She had excellent references from John Hutchinson, Superintendent of the Cascades Female Factory, and Dr William Dermer, Assistant Colonial Surgeon. Hutchinson wrote:

Margaret Shaw the bearer of this Certificate was three years Nurse and Midwife in this Establishment and during that time was exceedingly well conducted, she discharged her duties very much to our Satisfaction and is in my opinion a most suitable person for the care of Children, especially in time of Sickness.

Dr Dermer concurred:

[Margaret Shaw] was nurse in the Hospital, Female House of Correction, for a period of three years, and gave me every satisfaction in the discharge of her duties, and I should consider her well fitted to look after children, or act as a Nurse in a Public Establishment.

Margaret remained in the position of Infant Nurse until November 1844, when she was appointed in charge of the laundry at the Orphan Schools. It was a responsible position and one which it appears Margaret performed capably. Her salary, with the addition of a personal ration, remained the same. This seems to have been the standard salary and allowance for convict workers at the Orphan Schools at that time.

On 14 September 1847, Margaret became free by servitude and was eligible for a certificate of freedom. The last conclusive record located for her was that which appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette on 7 September 1847, noting that her certificate of freedom was available for collection.

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Further Reading:

T. Cowley and D. Snowden, Patchwork Prisoners: The Rajah Quilt and the Women who made it (Hobart, Tasmania Research Tasmania, 2013)



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