by Cheryl Griffin
Twenty-four year old Dominican and ‘woman of colour’ Peggy, mother of one, was tried at the Dominica Grand Session of Peace on 3 February 1835. Her original sentence of death for the murder of her husband was commuted to transportation for life and she was soon on her way to England, en route to New South Wales. It is impossible to know what happened to the daughter she left behind, a child now deprived of both its mother and father.
Peggy made the journey to England with a Bermudan ‘woman of colour’ Sue, and four black Bermudan men, Joe Bean, Abraham, John and Jem. They were all received on the Hulk Leviathan at Woolwich on 7 July 1835. The men sailed for New South Wales soon after on board the Royal Sovereign (2). After transferring to the Henry Wellesley (1), Sue and Peggy set sail for Sydney where they arrived on 7 February 1836. Also on board was another black convict, Barbadian Matty Beck.
Very little evidence of Peggy’s life in New South Wales remains. On 10 July 1840, under the name Margaret Finnis, she was admitted to the Newcastle Female Factory, having been returned to the government from Maitland where she was working as a housemaid. A few days later she was returned to the Female Factory at Parramatta. In 1843, while living in the District of Parramatta, and again known as Peggy, she was granted her ticket of leave, but by the end of the year it had been cancelled, on account of ‘highly disorderly conduct’. In 1847 her ticket of leave was restored and she was allowed to stay in the Parramatta area. It was cancelled three years later on account of ‘absence from muster’, although almost immediately returned to her when an adequate explanation for her absence was given. This was in September 1850, fourteen years after her arrival and it provides the last sighting of Peggy. Even so, we can see that this ‘reprieved murderess’, as Ian Duffield refers to her, did not simply accept her sentence passively and it is only because of her moments of resistance that we know anything about her life in Australia.
Cheryl Griffin, 'Whitewashing Australia’s convict experience: from the British Caribbean to New South Wales', in From the Edges of Empire, eds L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015, pp. 131-147.
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