Maria Williams (1799?-?)

by Jan Richardson


In October 1828 Maria Williams, a barmaid, was accused by Henry Millman, a ‘chop-house keeper’, of stealing four tablecloths from his dining room. She pleaded her innocence, but was convicted of ‘pledging’ at the Old Bailey and transported for 7 years, arriving in Sydney in August 1829 on board the Sovereign. Maria was born and tried in London. She had a ‘Dark p[ock] pitted’ complexion, black hair and dark brown eyes. She gave her age as 30 and said she was married, but had no children. Maria could not read or write and, according to the indent, had no previous convictions. The Middlesex criminal register for October 1828, however, noted that Maria had been ‘In Newgate before.’ Also on board the Sovereign was another Maria Williams, a 19-year-old dressmaker born in Manchester who had a ruddy, freckled complexion, sandy hair and hazel eyes. She had a large scar on the left side of her neck and the letters ‘FWCMR’ tattooed on her right shoulder. The younger, fairer Maria, a pickpocket with two previous convictions, was sentenced to transportation for life.

On arrival in Sydney in 1829, the elder Maria—the black-haired, dark-complexioned barmaid from London—was assigned to Samuel Lyons of Sydney. During 1829 and 1830, Maria Williams from the Sovereign was admitted to gaol four times for drunkenness, once being noted as ‘Not the sort of person required’, but the records do not contain physical descriptions. Some records, however, have been located which definitely belong to the older, darker Maria. In November 1835, when Maria’s certificate of freedom was granted, she was described as having been born in London in 1799 and possessing a ‘Copper Color’ complexion, black hair and ‘Chestnut’ eyes. She had a dark mole on her left cheek, a scar on the back of her left wrist and, furthermore, she was ‘Half Cast’.

In January 1836, when Maria was admitted to Sydney Gaol, the description book recorded that she arrived in the colony on board the ‘R[oyal] Sovereign’ in 1829. Her hair was recorded as black, her eyes were hazel and her complexion was listed simply as ‘of Color’. Maria’s year of birth was given as 1796 and she was described as being 4 feet 8 ½ inches (143.51 cm) tall and of stout build. A month later, the Sydney Gaol entrance book recorded that Maria, born in London and now ‘free’, was sent to trial at the Quarter Sessions on 22 June 1836. Three days later, the Sydney Monitor reported that ‘Maria Williams, a Mulatto Woman, stood indicted for stealing various articles of wearing apparel, the property of Our Lord the King’ from Mary Ann Thompson, an assigned convict servant to ‘Mrs. Tighe, Publican on the Brickfield Hill’. Mary Ann gave evidence against Maria, telling the court that on the day in question, she saw Maria ‘standing at her Mistresses [sic] counter drinking a glass of rum’ and that after going upstairs and coming back down again, she discovered her ‘box and clothes’ were missing. Two days later, the Sydney Herald reported that ‘Maria Williams, a woman of colour’ was tried by a military jury. ‘The evidence being inconclusive’, however, ‘the Jury acquitted the prisoner, under the direction of the Court’.

The younger Maria from Manchester used an alias of Caroline Mason and it was under this name that she married Edward Walton in Hoxham, Newcastle in 1833. When she was admitted to gaol in Newcastle in 1832-33 and 1837, she was recorded as: ‘Caroline Williams ux [wife of] Walton’. At some point, however, she returned to Sydney, and on 12 February 1841 the Sydney Gaol entrance book recorded her name as ‘Caroline Williams’. She was still ‘bond’ and had been admitted to gaol for seven days, departing on 19 February. Caroline’s ticket of leave, issued in 1840 under the name of Maria Williams, was notated: ‘Cancelled Williams having been sentenced to 12 months hard labor in the factory on the 19th February 1841 for a misdemeanour and adultery’. The original indent of the Sovereign noted against her name, Maria Williams, that she served 12 months’ hard labour in the Female Factory at Parramatta in 1841 and another three years in the ‘Pententiary’. In 1844 when her ticket of leave was restored, her name was recorded as ‘Maria Williams ux Ed Walton’.

Given the prison record of Maria (Caroline) Williams, it seems likely that the earlier gaol admittances from 1829 and 1830 also belong to her. In contrast, the older Maria from London was only in gaol once, in 1836, and after the trial she was acquitted of the charge. Sadly she does not appear in any other records after her acquittal, although there are many gaol records and newspaper reports for women named Maria Williams. None, however, are gaol admittances for a Maria Williams who arrived on the Sovereign or newspaper reports about a woman of this name who was in any way identified as ‘Mulatto’ or a ‘woman of colour’.

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