Margaret Paterson (1815?-1860)

by Susan Ballyn

 

On her arrival in Hobart, Margaret Paterson told the authorities that she was born in Spain but brought up in Glasgow where she was tried for larceny on 7 January 1845, found guilty and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. She declared that her parents John and Margaret, together with her siblings John, William, Mary, and Louisana, were living in Glasgow. She belonged to the Church of Scotland, could read and write and was married to John Kerr who remained in Argyleshire. At her trial, Margaret declared that ‘she is 29 years of age, wife of John Kerr, weaver and resides in the Red Row of Calton near Glasgow’. The trial records reveal that Margaret and John resided in the house of James Gibson, also a weaver from whom Margaret stole two blankets.

Margaret was an old hand at larceny as she had four previous convictions: 12 August 1837, 9 June 1840, 29 June 1841 and 21 May 1842. As a result of these convictions, Margaret Paterson, also known as Bailie, spent about a year and three months in Bridewell Prison on hard labor. It was these previous convictions that finally led to her being transported as the Glasgow Herald reported: ‘Margaret Paterson or Kerr was charged with the theft of a pair of blankets from a house in Red Row, Calton, aggravated by previous convictions of theft. She pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.’

Paterson arrived in Hobart on the Tory on 4 July 1845. Now thirty, she admitted her previous offences and described herself as a nursemaid. Her convict conduct record shows no misconduct or offence for her first year in the colony. And then, for some reason, she began appearing regularly before the magistrates. On 6 July 1846, she was charged with being drunk and was admonished. On 9 October 1846 she was in court again for being absent without leave, and was sentenced to ten days’ solitary confinement at the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart. On 2 November that same year, she was reprimanded for misconduct.

With three charges in four months, it seems surprising that the convict authorities approved a late November application to marry Paterson, but they did. On 14 December 1846, less than a year and a half after she arrived in the colony, Margaret Paterson married James Batt in the Bethesda Chapel, South Hobart. Batt, who had held a ticket of leave for barely two months, arrived in 1839 on the Lord William Bentinck, sentenced to transportation for life at the Southampton Assizes after a conviction for stealing sheep. According to his conduct record he was married with eight children—which might explain why he stole sheep! At some stage in the years before he met Paterson, Batt had applied to bring his family out to join him, obviously without success. On the marriage register he was identified as a carter aged 35 and Paterson as a widow aged 29 (she had lowered her age for the occasion).

Margaret Paterson did not settle easily into her new domestic situation. On 23 December 1846, less than a fortnight after the wedding, she was back inside the Cascades Female Factory serving a month’s sentence to hard labor for some unspecified misconduct. Four months later, on 10 April 1847, she was reprimanded for being in a brothel and representing herself to be free. That was the last charge against her.

In January 1852 she became free by servitude. On 7 June that year her husband sailed from Launceston, travelling steerage on the Helena to Melbourne, headed no doubt for the gold fields of Victoria. Whether Margaret followed him or simply waited for his return, he did come back to Van Diemen’s Land. Apparently Batt made no fortune in Victoria because when Margaret died from cancer on 12 September 1860 she was identified as a shepherd’s wife. They were living in the Hamilton district, and James Batt stayed in the area for the next seventeen years until he died on 29 January 1877 of fatty degeneration of the heart and dropsy, aged 74.

While James Batt and Margaret Paterson apparently had no children, he maintained contact with his wife and eight children in England, and never disclosed that he had remarried. In a letter written to his daughter in February 1860 he describes somebody as being very ill, presumably Margaret, and the bill for treatment as being four shillings a day, saying, ‘thank God I have it to pay, but if I had been in barton starvey [Barton Stacey] I should not have had £15 to pay two doctors bills’. After the death of his Australian wife, James Batt wrote again to his English daughter saying that he would be sending her a solid gold ring—most likely the wedding ring worn by Margaret.

 

Sue Ballyn acknowledges the help received from the “Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad” for the Project Postcolonial Crime Fiction : A global window into social realities for all her publications on the FCRC web site and in print since 2014.

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