I was not born in Australia, neither were my parents or my grandparents or even my great grandparents. BUT my great-great grandparents and my great-great-great grandparents WERE born in Sydney, and their parents in turn came to a new country, one voluntarily and the other in chains.
So on Australia Day, I thought I would share with you the story of my convict ancestor MARY HYDE.
I have only one likeness of Mary Hyde, the dear little old lady you see in this picture (age 81 taken 3 years before her death).
These are bare facts we know about Mary - the facts that appear in the genealogy programs.
She was born in Halesowen (just outside Birmingham) on 19 February 1779. On 22nd November 1795, at the age of 16, she was arrested for theft and at the Warwick Assizes the following year she was sentenced to transportation for 7 years (more about her trial later). She did not leave England (after enduring nearly 2 years in gaol) until January 1798 aboard the Britannia III which arrived in Port Jackson on 18 July 1798.
What happened on arrival at Port Jackson is vague and I can only imagine the very worst. Mary was 18 years old and if nothing else probably had the prettiness of youth about her. Remember in 1798, the colony was only 10 years old and there were still very few women.
Robert Hughes in his book the Fatal Shore, quotes a letter from an officer aboard the Britannia, describing the arrival of the Britannia III as follows:
‘…When a ship bearing women anchored in Sydney Cove, its upper decks became a slave market, as randy colonists came swarming over the bulwarks, grinning and chumming up to the captain with a bottle of rum, while the female convicts, washed and dressed in the remnants of their English finery were mustered before them, trying as hard as they could ‘to set themselves to “advantage”. Military officers got hte first pick, then non-commissioned officers, then rivates and lastly such ex-convict settlers as seemed “respectable enough to keep a female servant…’
We have never traced a record of who took her that day. What we do know is that in September of that same year, a dashing young sea captain called John Black (whose own story is a 'boy’s own' adventure of derring do) arrived in the colony and that by May the following year, Mary had born a son. Whether the child was John’s or not, who knows, the fact remains that John Black gave the boy his name (and the second John Black went on to found the Bank of New South Wales!)
They had a second child, my great+ grandmother, Mary-Ann Black, but John and Mary never married and by 1802 John Black was dead, lost at sea bringing a cargo of gin from Calcutta (aged 25 - ‘a young man esteemed by all who knew him’). In their short life together, John had managed to obtain a pardon for Mary and had been allocated a plot of land in George Street, Sydney (the location is still marked today as the entrance to a car park bearing the street name 'DeMestre Place' (Mary Ann married Prosper deMestre bringing the land into the deMestre holdings).
Before he had left on that last voyage, John Black, entreated his friend and fellow entrepreneur, the ex-convict Simeon Lord to look after Mary. Simeon was true to his word in every sense and Mary bore him 4 children before he married her in 1814. Another 4 children followed the marriage and Mary died, much loved, at the family home in Botany (probably on the site of Sydney airport) on 12 January 1864 aged 84.
Which brings me back to Mary’s trial at the Warwick Assizes in March 1796. Amazingly we have the full transcript of her trial. The presiding judge was Spencer Percival, who went on to have the dubious distinction of being the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated and whose gravitas led to many a family joke about Mary being selected by ‘the finest judge in England’.
Mary, or as she called herself on her arrest - Sarah Blunn - was accused of stealing one black cloak, one muslin shawl, one cotton dimity petticoat, two linen shifts, two muslin gowns and two pairs of stockings, allegedly the property of Francis Deakin (her former employer) and a pair of scissors (the property of his housekeeper, Mary Mead).
Mary had gone to work as a servant for Francis Deakin and his wife. The wife had died leaving a small child, who Mary cared for. Deakin had announced that he was moving into Birmingham and had no more need of Mary. However a couple of days before the move, Mary alleged that when she was home alone with the child, a rough seaman broke into the house, knocked her down and had stolen the clothes. Following Mary’s dismissal Deakin caused a search to be made of Mary’s lodgings and there the stolen items were recovered. Mary denied taking the items, claiming all she had taken with her was her own.
Witnesses were called attesting to her good character and a subsequent petition was made to the King by many worthy gentlemen of Mary’s parish, but Percival concluded. ‘Her youth and good character would have me very desirous to find any reasonable ground for giving a lighter punishment but I thought that there was no possible doubt of her guilt that it was a very bad case of felony committed by a servant upon her master and that it was extremely aggravated by the Art she had endeavored to disguise and conceal her guilt. I see no reason to alter the opinion I then entertained.’
I have my own personal theory about Mary’s guilt and wonder if, following the death of his wife, the respectable Francis Deakin, took his young servant to his bed, paying her off with his dead wife’s clothes? But then why, as Percival noted, the elaborate ‘Art’ she used to disguise her alleged guilt? Who knows - Mary's defence was shaky and ‘prima facie’ the evidence against her was damning.
Interestingly her tombstone reads 'Mary Hyde, alias Sarah Blunn, had come out by the Transport Britannia under a 7 year sentence given at the Warwick Assizes'. She left an estate worth 11 thousand pounds.
I would have loved to have met Mary Hyde. To have survived and endured through imprisonment, transportation, possible sexual exploitation and widowhood, took an extraordinary woman, one of so many pioneering women whose stories we need to preserve.
So, you see, my ‘Australian-ness’ runs very deep, to the very founding of the colony and I hope, in my lifetime, I will see an Australian as our head of state, not a foreign monarch 12000 miles away. (As I can also trace regicides and ancestors who fought in the American War of Independence in my family tree, it seems sedition might run deep!)
PS: I am running a Rafflecopter contest to celebrate the release of EXILE'S RETURN... please click the button below to enter!