Edges of Empire Biographical Dictionary
of Convict Women from beyond the British Isles
Edited by Lucy Frost and Colette McAlpine
Who would have thought that a slave in British Hondurus would end up as a female convict in Van Diemen’s Land? Or that two cousins, the oldest aged 12, would be transported from their native Mauritius all the way to New South Wales? And why was a French-born woman with the extravagant name Emme Felicite Gabrielle Chardonez Mallohomme sentenced at London’s Old Bailey to transportation for life?
Edges of Empire is a Biographical Dictionary offering accounts of many of these convicts among nearly 200 others who were tried or born outside the British Isles. All were transported to the Australian colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land between 1788 and 1853. Their life stories have been tracked from numerous sources around the world, sometimes in detail and sometimes with the merest trace of their existence. The contributors to the Biographical Dictionary are researchers of the Female Convicts Research Centre, based in Hobart, Tasmania. For more information go to: http://www.femaleconvicts.org.au.
In addition to the Biographical Dictionary, which includes all the women for whom information has become available, the more in-depth and comprehensive study, From the Edges of Empire: Convict Women from beyond the British Isles, is available in paperback from Convict Women’s Press Inc.
Mary Cooper (1813?-?)
by Douglas Wilkie
On Saturday 16 April 1836, the York Herald reported that, ‘Richard Bulmer (29), John Harrison (16), Mary Cooper (22), Catherine Gale (22) and Ann Sergeantson [sic] (22) were charged with having feloniously stolen a quantity of woollen cloth, webs and pieces of silk handkerchiefs, ribbons, cotton handkerchiefs, cotton sheets, silk shawls, and a variety of other goods from the dwelling house of James Longmuire, linen and woollen draper, of Middleton, in Teesdale, in the county of Durham.’
The case had been heard at the York North Riding Quarter Sessions at Northallerton on Monday 4 April 1836, when James Longmuir told the jury that he was a linen and woollen draper in Middleton-in-Teesdale, although his shop was about 200 yards within the boundary of Yorkshire. On Wednesday 23 March he had closed up his shop between 10 and 11 o’clock at night but was awoken at about six on the following morning by two boys. He got up, and went downstairs where he found one of the shutters removed and one of the window panes taken out. He searched the shop and found a quantity of cloth, black and coloured ribbons, a silk handkerchief and four fur tippets had been stolen. The value of the items was about £60.
At around the same time on Thursday morning, about five miles away, Robert Milner, the constable at Rokeby and Eggleston Abbey, went to his cow-house, and was surprised to find four men in the barn. One, later identified as Richard Bulmer, was smoking and another, John Harrison, was asleep. Bulmer asked Milner if he would like a smoke. Milner declined and went away to get assistance from William Little, a gatekeeper near Barnard Castle. When he returned two of the men had left, but Harrison and another were still asleep. Milner asked them what they were doing. ‘We’re dozing,’ they answered, and said they were carpet-weavers out of work, and had stopped by for a little shelter. Their suspicions aroused, Milner and Little searched the cow-house and found a bundle hidden under some straw. Harrison and the other man in the meantime had ‘slunk off’, but Milner and his assistant followed them about a quarter of a mile, and succeeded in taking Harrison into custody. The other man escaped into a wood.
Milner and Little later made another search of the cow-house and found three more bundles containing woollen cloth, silk and cotton handkerchiefs, and three fur tippets. They found another bundle containing similar items hidden in the dunghill.
At about eight o’clock in the morning after the robbery Mary Cooper and Catherine Gale called at the house of Jane Easton near Greta Bridge, about thirteen miles from Middleton-in-Teasdale, and asked if she would like to purchase some ribbons for around 4d. per yard. They said the price would normally be 7d. or 8d. per yard. Easton declined, so Catherine Gale suggested she might like to purchase a silk handkerchief. Again Easton refused, but she noticed the ‘much starved’ appearance of the girls and asked if they had been up late the previous night, to which Mary Cooper replied, ‘It was late last night or rather this morning before we got to our lodgings.’ Indeed it would have been, as Greta Bridge was over four hours’ walk from Middleton-in-Teesdale. At that, they left and headed towards Dalton, a short distance away, where Mary Cooper and Ann Serjeantson approached Isabella Dixon and successfully sold a yard of narrow black ribbon. A short time later some men and women called at Mary Marwood’s house at Gales, about a mile from Dalton, and unsuccessfully tried to sell a quantity of black ribbon, and a green silk handkerchief.
Sometime later, Constable Milner saw Richard Bulmer and Mary Cooper looking over the hedge about 200 yards from his cow-house. Milner approached and asked Mary what they were doing there. She said they were sheltering because it was snowing, but ‘where they were going was nothing to him.’ Nevertheless, Constable Milner apprehended Bulmer for having been in the cow-shed earlier.
Enquiries were made and Constable Robert Milner from Rokeby, Constable William Brown from Richmond, and William Layton, an estate agent from Rokeby, went to a lodging-house kept by Mrs. Dixon at Greta Bridge, where they found Mary Cooper and Ann Serjeantson, and at John Ward’s house they found Catherine Gale. As Constable Brown put it, ‘he broke open the door and found her laid on the bed.’ At first Catherine Gale claimed to have been at Richmond on the night of the 23rd but when William Layton said he could prove she was at Greta Bridge she agreed ‘she had better speak the truth.’
At their trial on 4 April all the accused denied any knowledge of the robbery, but the Chairman of the court observed that
the jury very properly found them guilty of having committed the robbery, which no one who heard the trial could doubt; it was a very serious offence, robbing a country tradesman of nearly the whole of his property; the law was imperative in such cases, even if they had any discretion they were not inclined to exercise it in this case, but to inflict the severest punishment constituted by law. The sentence was, that each of them be transported beyond the seas for life.
Mary Cooper, Catherine Gale and Ann Serjeantson were transported together on board the Westmoreland to Van Diemen’s Land. Richard Bulmer, who was married to Ann Serjeantson, was transported to New South Wales on the John, and John Harrison was sent there on the Prince George.
The Westmoreland departed Woolwich 12 August 1836, and upon arriving at Hobart on 3 December, the officials noted that the gaol reports for all three women said they were ‘connected with bad characters’. Mary Cooper’s description noted that she was single, aged 23, and had been born in Bengal, East Indies, but was brought up at Newcastle-under-Lyme, in Staffordshire. Her family in Staffordshire has not been identified. Mary was said to be 5 feet 6 inches (167.64 cm) tall, with a fair fresh complexion, dark brown hair and blue eyes. She had a long nose and medium wide mouth set on an oval face. Importantly, she was a house maid, and could wash.
By February 1837, Mary was working for Mr. Bailey in Hobart, but she had been absent without leave and was confined to her cell on bread and water for six days. Back at Bailey’s on 14 March she was accused of absconding and had her probationary classification reduced and this time spent two months at the Female Factory. She was then assigned to Mr. Harper but by 8 June 1837 had absconded again and spent another month in solitary confinement.
On 21 June 1838, while working for Captain Read she was found drunk in Hobart and without a pass, and spent six days in her cell. A month later she was with Mrs Simpson and was twice absent all night without leave. This led to fourteen days solitary confinement. By mid-August she again left Mrs Simpson’s for an all night adventure and, when questioned, made out that she was a free woman. For this she was given a month’s hard labour at the wash tub in the Female Factory. Her friend Ann Serjeantson was also punished for pretending to be a free woman around the same time. By comparison, Catherine Gale had settled down very quickly and after February 1837 did not abscond from her assigned work to spend evenings on the town —she did not need to as she had married James Cook at New Norfolk.
By 26 September 1838 Mary Cooper was with Mr. Stephenson and again went absent without leave. This time the wash tub enjoyed her company for four months. By March 1839 she was assigned to Mr Dyer but was again found out after hours, drunk and using obscene language. Seven days in the cell on bread and water. Ann Serjeantson was accruing a similar record.
Back at Mr Dyer’s Mary was then found guilty of ‘misconduct in a public house’—another seven days. It was decided to remove her from Hobart and by February 1840 she was with Francis Cotton at Swansea where she again went absent without leave. This time she was admonished and returned to government service. Ann Serjeantson was also sent out of town after being ‘found with a man on her master’s premises for improper purposes’.
The only solution seemed to be marriage and on 10 October 1840 Mary married John Grattan, or Gratton, a shoe maker, at the Schoolhouse at Swansea. Grattan was aged 40 and Mary was 26. In May 1824 Grattan and his brother, Edward, had thrown John Milburne into the Huddersfield Canal, in Chester. Edward Grattan quickly disappeared, but John was subsequently found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, ‘with his body to be given to the surgeons for dissection’. The sentence was commuted to transportation for life, and after arriving at Hobart on the Andromeda in 1826 he accrued a full record of being drunk and disorderly.
In July 1841 Mary was living with Grattan, but was again found drunk and admonished. He was granted a conditional pardon in August 1843 and she obtained a ticket of leave in May 1844. They remained at Swansea and were still there when her conditional pardon was granted on 23 November 1846. After that no more is heard of them. Her friend Catherine Gale had married James Cook in 1837, and Ann Serjeantson later married William Ware and produced a large family.
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