Maria Tinne (1776?-1831)
by Cheryl Griffin
Maria Tinne, a woman of mixed race, was 55 years old when she appeared before the Demerara and Essequibo Court of Criminal Justice on 15 February 1830. She was tried on the same day as Sophia Sances, a Dutch woman charged with forgery. The nature of Maria's crime is unknown, but it likely that the two women being there together that day was coincidence rather than their being partners in crime.
Maria Tinne carried the name of one of the wealthiest and most influential Dutch families in the colony. Too old to be a child of the Tinne family (she was born before their arrival), she might have been a common law wife of one of the Tinne brothers, but it is more likely she had been one of their slaves.
By the time Maria appeared in court in 1830, she had lived under a number of different colonial regimes, but the greatest cultural influence on her youth were the Dutch, who had colonised Demerara in 1745, some years before her birth and who ruled the colony for the first thirty-three years of her life before the British replaced them in 1803.
So it was that a woman whose European heritage was Dutch and who in all likelihood identified as Dutch, found herself being tried within the British system of justice and transported to another far away British colony that had only just been claimed by the British at the time of her birth in 1776.
For some years prior to her conviction, Maria owned a small plot of land in Cumminsburg, Georgetown, the capital city, where she lived with her common law husband Francis Carmichael, a small time merchant, and her children. She was clearly a woman who was not afraid to assert her rights as in 1815 she came before the court as the plaintiff in a case of trespass she brought against the slave of one of her neighbours.
Maria Tinne came before the court again fifteen years later, on 15 February 1830. Both Maria and Sophia Sances, the other woman tried that day, received 7-year sentences, were sent to England together and boarded the Earl of Liverpool in early November 1830, bound for New South Wales. By then 55 year-old Maria had already spent ten weeks on board the Narcissus convict hospital ship at Woolwich and was debilitated and emaciated. The Surgeon Superintendent, David Thompson, was told that she had not needed medical treatment while on board the Narcissus and it was believed that she stayed in bed thinking that she could avoid being sent to New South Wales. A Home Department representative told Thompson that she had been ‘exceeding troublesome’ and that ‘the Government were determined she should be sent to New South Wales’.
Despite his misgivings, Surgeon Superintendent Thompson was obliged to take her on board. From the first Maria was difficult to manage. She spoke passionately and volubly about the injustice of her sentence. Although she seemed to improve a little at first, this did not last long. She rejected the Surgeon’s western medicine, refusing to take the tonics and medicines he prescribed and insisting on trying her own remedies, such as drinking warm sea water or warm soapy water. By early January she became weaker and more emaciated, with a quick pulse and little appetite. Even so, she would not follow the doctor's medical advice and when she died on 5 March 1831, the surgeon felt compelled to remind the authorities that she had refused at all times to be guided by him.
To the very last, she behaved like a woman who was used to having her way, someone who liked to be in charge and expected to be heeded.
Cheryl Griffin, ‘Whitewashing Australia’s convict experience: from the British Caribbean to New South Wales’, in From the Edges of Empire, ed L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015, pp. 131-147.
© 2016 Convict Women's Press Inc.