Elizabeth Bridget Walsh (1810?-?)

by Douglas Wilkie


At a quarter past nine on the morning of Tuesday 22 October 1839 Lord Wharncliffe took his seat on the Bench of the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions at Sheffield. There were numerous charges to be heard, and he hoped things would get off to a good start. On the previous day the court was delayed for several hours when a juror decided to attend to important banking business rather than come to court. Lord Wharncliffe was most annoyed. Nevertheless, the first case was easy. Eliza Bromley, a woman ‘of loose character’, was accused of stealing some money from one of her clients while he was ‘associating with her’. But ‘loose’ Eliza pointed out that that Thomas Hurst had been very drunk at the time and probably lost his money somewhere else. Besides, the offence had allegedly occurred in July 1838, some fifteen months earlier. The jury quickly found her not guilty.

The next case was that of Elizabeth Bridget Walsh who was charged with stealing a bundle of clothes from William Cuff, a navvy. On 1 July 1839, Cuff and some friends were about to catch the train from Rotherham to go to Lancashire. He had offered to carry the basket of a woman who was also going to the station and put his bundle into her basket. At the station he left the basket and bundle with the woman for a few minutes, but when he returned the basket, bundle and Bridget were gone. As the train was about to leave he went to Sheffield where he reported the disappearance to Constable Bland.

At two o’clock the next morning Bridget Walsh was found in the streets of Sheffield carrying a bundle of clothes. She told the night watchman they were her husband’s and that she had been to Doncaster to redeem them from the pawn broker. The night watchman took her into custody, but as the owner of the clothes could not be found she was released. Nevertheless, the clothes were kept at the police station. About four weeks later, William Cuff returned to Sheffield and enquired about his clothes. He identified the bundle as his, and Bridget Walsh was found and arrested.

Lord Wharncliffe was somewhat amazed at this story, and thought there was ‘something exceedingly wrong between the police and the constables’ when one policeman did not tell the other what was happening and that William Cuff could have had his clothes returned to him the next day, instead of having to purchase new clothes. The jury duly took into account Lord Wharncliffe’s concerns and found Bridget Walsh guilty and sentenced her to three months’ imprisonment.

Bridget had been in prison before—twice. On the evening of Thursday 18 January, 1838, Elizabeth Welsh, as the court called her, or Bridget Walsh as she preferred, went to the grocery shop of Thomas Gee in West Bar Street, Sheffield, to purchase some oranges. After she left, Gee discovered a piece of beef missing from the counter. The woman later came back for more oranges and this time was caught trying to carry off a piece of bacon. The bacon was retrieved and the beef was later found at the ‘Sportsman’s Inn’ where Bridget had sold it. The next day, Friday 19 January, she was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. In 1837 she had also spent a month in prison on a charge of being a rogue and vagrant. But this time it was for six months in prison, and it would certainly not be the last time.

Joseph Andrew kept a beerhouse in West Norwich Street, Rotherham. In his front room he had a fireplace with a fender in front of it. In the evening of 21 April 1840, Bridget Walsh came into the beerhouse and went to the front room. Undoubtedly it was a cool evening and she wanted to be warmed by the fire. After Bridget left, Joseph Andrew discovered she had taken the fender. Indeed, a witness saw her carrying it under her arm down the street to the house of Bridget Doherty, who promptly gave it to Constable Marshall. On Monday 6 July 1840, Elizabeth Bridget Welsh [sic] appeared before the afternoon court of the Rotherham Sessions. She was found guilty, and once again she spent six months in prison.

At the time of the 1841 Census of Sheffield, 31-year-old Bridget Walsh lived at Scargill Croft, Sheffield West. She had a son, John, who was listed as being aged 10, although he was probably a year or two older; and a daughter, Catherine, listed as 6 years old, although she was actually born on 3 January 1833 and baptised on 12 January 1834 at Norfolk Row Catholic Church, Sheffield. There were two other daughters—Margaret was born on 2 April 1836 and baptised on 10 April; and Mary Ann, born around 1830, both of whom were not listed in the census. At the time of the children’s baptisms their parents were listed as James Welsh and Bridget Clarke. In August 1842, 13-year-old John Walsh and his friend, Henry Bradley, were caught stealing a coat. They were sentenced to twelve months’ hard labor and a week in solitary confinement.

By mid-November 1842, Bridget Walsh was aged 35; ‘an abandoned woman’; living by prostitution; and had another child 3 weeks old. This was young Peter Walsh. Desperate, she obtained some clothing from a Mrs Palmer in Sheffield, but then used Mrs Palmer’s name to obtain more relief. She was charged with obtaining relief by fraud, but the court decided that, because of the child, she would be sent to the hospital rather than the prison. The court made no mention was made of her husband or the girls, although young John was still in prison.

On 17 May 1843, the name of Bridgett Walsh was entered in the Prisoners Receiving Book for the West Riding House of Correction at Sheffield. She was Prisoner Number 1631, and her life history was taken down in minute detail.

Bridgett Walsh, also known to the courts as Mary Walsh and Elizabeth Bridget Walsh, was known as an ‘itinerant dealer in oranges’ and was married and had four children. Her maiden name was Clark and she was born at Barbadoes [sic]. Tracing her origins in Barbados has proved elusive, but in May 1843 Bridget Walsh lived in Walsh’s yard on Holy Croft, Sheffield. She was aged 33; 5 feet 3 inches (160.02) tall; was unable to read or write; and was a Roman Catholic. She had two small scars on the left side of her forehead, a scar over her right eye, and her face was pockmarked.

The reason she was sent to the House of Correction was that on Thursday 1 June 1843, she was due to appear at the Sheffield Court on a charge of stealing two silver tablespoons from the house of John Brown. She already had an impressive record: 1 April 1837, vagrancy, 1 month; 20 January 1838, rogue and vagrancy, 1 month; 14 August 1839, stealing wearing apparel, 3 months; 25 April 1840, stealing a fender, 6 months; 28 January 1843, rogue and vagrancy, 1 month. As it turned out, John Brown was unable to provide any evidence of the alleged theft and Bridget was acquitted of this charge. She was also acquitted of being an accomplice of Maria Allen who was suspected of stealing silverware from the house of the Rev Thomas Smith after they offered the servant some oranges.

Selling oranges was Bridget’s preferred mode of getting into people’s houses, as John Pilling discovered on the afternoon of Monday 12 February 1844. Pilling, a mathematical instrument maker, was working in the yard of James Allen, a bookkeeper of Queen Street, Sheffield. Charlotte, Allen’s wife, was working inside the house and at about three o’clock she went upstairs for a few minutes, leaving a bag of flour on the table. Just at this moment, Bridget Walsh came into the yard. Pilling thought she was hawking oranges. She stood at the door for a moment then went inside. Almost immediately she came out again with something under her cloak. She looked around the yard and quickly walked into the street. His suspicions aroused, Pilling followed her and caught up with her not far away in Paradise Square. He lifted her cloak and discovered the bag of flour. Elizabeth claimed the woman had given it to her. And so, once again, Bridget Walsh was back before the Sheffield Court on Thursday 29 February 1844 on a charge of stealing a linen bag and 15lbs of flour from James Allen. This time, despite now being a widow with four children, she was sentenced to 10 years’ transportation.

The convict ship Tasmania left England on 3 September 1844 and arrived at Hobart on 20 December. The ship’s Surgeon summed up Elizabeth Bridget Walsh’s character succinctly— ‘Bad mother, worse woman’.

‘Bad mother’ Bridget brought three of her children to Hobart with her— Catherine, Mary Ann, and Peter—and they were promptly enrolled at the Orphan School. Bridget herself was enrolled at the Female House of Correction. Her record in Hobart is sparse compared to her activity back in Sheffield. She could neither read nor write and it is uncertain what work she was given. Nevertheless, after six months’ labor, her conduct was sufficiently good that she was promoted to the 2nd class of probation on 1 July 1845 and to the 3rd class on 13 January 1846.

The 1846 Muster of convicts indicates she was working for merchant, Richard Cleburne, of Hobart, but during 1847 was transferred to work for a Mr. Fletcher, where she misbehaved and in November was sentenced to six months’ hard labour. The misconduct may have been related to an application made a few weeks earlier for her to marry William Pratley, a convict who arrived on the Stratheden in December 1845. The marriage apparently did not take place; however, on 2 March 1848 Bridget gave birth to an ‘illegitimate’ child, named William Henry Walsh. The child was given a Catholic baptism the next day with the father being listed as William Pratley, and Caroline White as godmother. Caroline, originally from Dublin, had been transported on board the Tasmanian with Bridget in 1844, but subsequently engaged in a long series of misdemeanors. Bridget’s child died at the Female House of Correction in 1850.

The older children were discharged from the Orphan School as they were able to work. Mary Ann was 15 when she went to work for Henry Downham on 1 November 1845. She died at Brighton on 25 March 1854 aged 26. Catherine was 14 when she left the Orphan School to work for J. G. Bailey on 21 July 1847—possibly John Gustavus Bailey at Oatlands; and Peter, the youngest, was 14 when he eventually left on 16 June 1858 to work for William Race Allison, farmer and member of the Legislative Council.

Free immigrant, James, or William Felmingham applied for permission to marry Elizabeth Bridget Walsh on 10 July 1849. The application was approved and they married at St George’s Church, Hobart on 30 July 1849. Although the connection is not confirmed, there exists a death registration for a child named Elizabeth Felmingham, father William, who was born and died at Hobart in 1849.

Further references to Elizabeth Bridget Walsh, either under her transported name or married name, have not been located.

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