Where is Isabella in the census?

August is National Family History Month and Tuesday I head to the local library for an hour and a half session on resources in the Tasmanian library setup and perhaps more in just the Sorell library.

But Tuesday is an important night in Australia. It only comes once every five years. We the citizens have the chance to fill in our census form and become part of the statistics of people in Australia. We mention names and addresses, numbers in family, religion, wages and many other bits of info that will help the government plan better for education, health, transport etc in Australia.

Alex Daw has set up a challenge for Aussie family history bloggers during the month of August. Our first post is due this week and relates to a census.

As most of my English ancestors arrived in Australia pre 1851 census, I am trying to find more info about their families by using the 1841 census.

My one problem person so far is Isabella Watkins. If you have been reading my blog recently, you will know I am doing the University of Tasmania Diploma of Family History course and one unit was on a convict ancestor. I chose Isabella.

According to convict records, Isabella was tried on 29 March 1841 at Surrey Assizes and sentenced to seven years transportation. She arrived in Hobart Town on 10 October 1841. My problem was when did she actually leave England?

According to one website the ship left England on 14 June 1841. Another website says 23 June 1841.

My first task was to find out when the actual census night was in England that year. Found that – 6 June 1841. So she should still be in England according to the dates when the ship supposedly sailed. So why can’t I find Isabella in the 1841 census? Why were there two different sailing dates?

If she was convicted in March and the ship sailed in June, where was she held in between those dates?

Next step was newspaper records trying to find where and when the ship docked in London. I have not been able to find her on any prison records for that time so maybe the ship was at anchor from March to June until all the female convicts were finally on board. She might have gone directly to the ship after being sentenced. The county of Surrey borders on the river Thames and the Custom’s House, where the ships would need to come in to pay customs and duties, was about a kilometre from the main Surrey Assizes.

  • First record is entering outward for loading at the Customs House in London on April 12. [1]
  • Second record is of a Dorothy Woodhead being delivered to the ship at Woolwich from her prison in Derby. This meant the ship was in Woolwich on the 2nd June or earlier. [2]
  • Third record was vessel cleared outwards with cargo (presumably the convict women) from the Customs House on June 4. [3]
  • Fourth record was the ship sailing from Gravesend on June 18. [4]
  • Fifth record was arriving from the river (Thames) at Deal on June 23. [5]

From these reports the ship was docked in Woolwich by 2nd June with female convicts arriving at any time after April 12. So on the night of the census, Isabella was sailing down the Thames on her way to Gravesend.

More questions to find answers for:

  1. Would she now be considered not an English person as she had left its shores on her way to Van Diemen’s Land and Australia?
  2. Would they have filled in the census on the boat and delivered it at their first port of call eg Gravesend?

Newspaper sources

[1]  The Standard (London, England), Tuesday, April 13, 1841; Issue 5247. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.

[2] The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Wednesday, June 2, 1841; Issue 5682. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900.

[3] The Morning Chronicle (London, England), Saturday, June 5, 1841; Issue 22317. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900.

[4] The Morning Chronicle (London, England), Saturday, June 19, 1841; Issue 22329. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900.

[5] The Standard (London, England), Thursday, June 24, 1841; Issue 5309. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.

Houses of Correction

In London, prisoners were put in a detentional prison after they had been committed by a magistrate. Some of these were: Middlesex House of Detention at Clerkenwell, Newgate and Horsemonger Lane Jail

Once you had been convicted you were sent to a different prison depending upon the length of your sentence. If you had a short term of punishment, you went to City House of Correction, Middlesex Houses of Correction or Surrey House of Correction.

But if you were convicted to some form of penal servitude or transportation you could be sent to Pentonville or Millbank prisons, Female Convict Prison at Brixton or the Hulks at Woolwich.[1]

The Brixton or Surrey House of Correction is probably where Isabella was sent after conviction. According to Henry Mayhew, writing in 1862,

“… that, despite its standing in the healthiest situation, the old Surrey House of Correction was one of the unhealthiest of all the London prisons”.[2]

Like many prisons it was overcrowded, often 3 to a cell which was not well ventilated, thus causing lots of sickness and fever. It was at the Brixton where the treadmill was first setup as a form of punishment.[3]

The exercise yard though was not gravel; instead prisoners were surrounded by grass and flower beds.[4]

Brixton Wash house - unknown source

Brixton Wash house – unknown source

Let us now compare this to Isabella’s incarceration at the Launceston House of Correction.

The factory opened in 1834 and was built as an octagonal plan. Between 80 and 100 women were able to live and work there comfortably but by 1842 when Isabella was there, over 250 women and their children were living in crowded conditions.[5]

With such crowding, behaviour of the women could change as happened on 22nd October 1842, a few months after Isabella had left.[6]

Extract from Launceston Examiner , 22 October 1842, p. 4

Extract from Launceston Examiner , 22 October 1842, p. 4

In a report written by La Trobe at the end of 1846 he mentions the female factory has two mess rooms and three wards each able to accommodate 30 women. Separate apartments were being built but they could not be made into solitary ones. There was also a hospital which had room for 7 women. There were three sheds used for washing and spinning which I assume would be used as punishment for those women sent in by local magistrates.[7]

At the time of his visit to the Launceston Female Factory the personnel running it were a medical officer, a schoolmistress, a superintendent, two matrons, one clerk and one gatekeeper. They were looking after 75 needlewomen, 17 women nursing children, 10 servants, 4 sick, 8 washing and 9 using wool.[8]

Maybe after spending time in the various female houses of correction both in London and Launceston, Isabella decided that marriage and a chance to have her own family would be a better way of leading her life.


[1] Mayhew, Henry, and John Binny. The Criminal Prisons of London, and Scenes of Prison Life. London, England: Griffen, Bohn and Company, 1862, p 82 viewed 12 June 2016. https://archive.org/details/cu31924024894481.

[2] ibid, p 174 viewed 12 June 2016

[3] ibid, p 174 viewed 12 June 2016

[4] ibid, p 185 viewed 12 June 2016

[5] http://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/convict-institutions/female-factories/launceston-ff

[6] Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 22 October 1842, p. 4. (EVENING), viewed 12 Jun 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page4058541

[7] Brand, Ian, Charles Joseph Latrobe, Michael Sprod, and James Boyd. The Convict Probation System, Van Diemen’s Land 1839-1854: A Study of the Probation System of Convict Discipline, Together with C.J. La Trobe’s 1847 Report on Its Operation and the 1845 Report of James Boyd on the Probation Station at Darlington, Maria Island. Hobart: Blubber Head Press, 1990. p 200

[8] ibid, p 134

Readers: Did you have any female convicts stay in a house of correction either in London or Australia? Why were they there?

Men who influenced Isabella

There were four men who I believe had an influence on the life of Isabella Watkins.

The first is her father of whom I know nothing other than his daughter Isabella decided she needed to steal clothing to survive in Victorian London. This thieving led to the next man of influence.

Mr. Baron Parke (Photo by Liszt Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Mr. Baron Parke (Photo by Liszt Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

This is the judge at her trial, Baron Parke, who decided transportation for seven years was a suitable punishment for a persistent shoplifter or thief.

James Parke was a well respected judge especially working in the Court of Exchequer and was mentioned in a Harvard Law Review in 1897:

“one of the greatest of English judges; had he comprehended the principles of equity as fully as he did the principles of the common law, he might fairly be called the greatest. His mental power, his ability to grasp difficult points, to disentangle complicated facts, and to state the law clearly, have seldom been surpassed. No judgments delivered during this period are of greater service to the student of law than his”.[1]

He was so influential in the legal world, a rule of law was named after him.[2]

Would the sentence and punishment he gave Isabella be a positive influence in her life and cause a change in her behaviour?

Now the third man of influence, her master Mr Legge from Cullenswood near Fingal in Van Diemen’s Land, enters her life. Robert Vincent Legge arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1827 with his brother and five sisters.[3] He was granted 1200 acres near St Mary’s. He called the property Cullenswood after a property in Ireland. He returns to Ireland and marries in 1839. Bringing his wife back to Van Diemen’s Land, he now needs servants to help run the property and look after his house and his growing family.

Isabella is still behaving badly. But she only committed one offence while under sentence. The local magistrate decided to send her to the Launceston Female House of Correction or factory. She was sentenced to one month’s hard labour which probably meant time at the washtub. Maybe it was this final punishment that helped Isabella mend her ways.

The third man with influence would be her husband. Francis Colegrave arrived in Van Dieman’s Land on theCircassian 16 February 1833, having been tried at Huntingdon Lent Assizes 7 March 1832 on two indictments: one of stealing chests of tea valued 3 pound and  the other of stealing wearing apparel.  He was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years transportation. He received a Ticket of Leave in March 1839 and a conditional pardon 28 October 1841.[4] This meant he was a free man at the time his wife-to-be applied for permission to marry him. Francis had only two offences while under sentence and was either reprimanded or admonished.

I feel Francis was the steadying influence in Isabella’s life but if it were not for her father, Baron Parke and Robert Legge and their reactions to her behaviour, she would not have arrived in Van Diemen’s Land to eventually become my great great great grandmother.


[1] Wikipedia contributors, “James Parke, 1st Baron Wensleydale,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=James_Parke,_1st_Baron_Wensleydale&oldid=718145459 viewed 11 June 2016

[2] http://definitions.uslegal.com/b/baron-parkes-rule/

[3] http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~becher/legge_family_of_rodeen.htm

[4] TAHO, CON 31/1/7 p178, Conduct record Francis Colegrave

Readers: Who do you think was the most influential person in changing the behaviour of your convict?

Following Isabella’s paper trail

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, http://maps.nls.uk/view/103313045
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, http://maps.nls.uk/view/103313045

It was at St Mary Newington in Surrey on Monday 7 December in 4th year of Queen Victoria (1840) when Isabella Watkins was convicted of a felony using the name Mary Johnson. This record was found while I was visiting the National Archives at Kew in 1990. The reference was HO 27/65.   But using England and Wales Criminal register 1791-1892, I could find no reference to her name being Isabella Watkins. Instead it was Mary Johnson (16) who was given three months imprisonment for larceny on this date.[1]

A little over three months later, Isabella Watkins of the parish of St Mary Lambeth was charged on 15 March 1841 of stealing two shawls valued one pound from Isaac Atkinson and Thomas Coates who owned a shop on Westminster Bridge Road.[2] This road in Surrey has Newington on one side and Lambeth on the other.

Two weeks later, she was tried at the Surrey Assizes and sentenced to seven years transportation.  According to her conduct record, she had been convicted before, serving three months for stealing a dress, 21 days for stealing stockings and two months for stealing dress material called Mousseline de Laine.  Isabella stated ‘I lived the last two years by thieving.’ [3]  No more references to Isabella can be found in the criminal register for stealing stockings and dress material.

Extract from The Morning Post (London, England), Sunday, 31 March 1841 p 7
Extract from The Morning Post (London, England), Sunday, 31 March 1841 p 7

The newspaper report of her trial mentions she was a respectable looking young woman; maybe this was why she stole clothing, especially fancy dress material. But she was also a vocal individual.  Baron Parke, the judge at her trial, was known to be a very straight speaking man and I noticed in other trials he presided over that repeat offenders were usually transported. He was looking after the tradespeople who had to be protected from others like Isabella.[4]

Extract from The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser, for Lancashire, Westmorland, &c. (Lancaster, England), Saturday, 24 March 1832; p1 issue 1606
Extract from The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser, for Lancashire, Westmorland, &c. (Lancaster, England), Saturday, 24 March 1832; p1 issue 1606

Apparently Isabella and her soon to be husband Francis Colgrave were like minded in the way they treated the judge when he pronounced sentence upon them at court.[5]

The convict transport Garland Grove had docked at the London Customs House at Woolwich in early April.[6] Where had Isabella been held between her trial date and 12 April? The gaol report on her conduct record mentions she was bad but having searched records for many gaols in the area of London and Surrey, nothing has been found telling us where she was incarcerated. Isabella is also missing on the census taken on 6 June 1841; I now realise she would have been travelling down the Thames on the evening it was taken.

It was on 5 June 1841 when Isabella departed London, heading first to Gravesend then to the town of Deal near the area of the North Sea known as The Downs.[7] This is where many ships would anchor until fair weather allowed them to sail out into the English Channel.

The barque Garland Grove, which was built in 1820, arrived in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land on 10 October 1841. The master for this trip was William Forward and the surgeon superintendent was Robert Dobie. The trip took 109 days.[8]  Isabella must have had an uneventful voyage as she was not mentioned in the surgeon superintendent’s medical journal as having been in sick bay at all. But the surgeon’s report on her conduct record mentions she was bad. This must relate to her behaviour on board rather than her health. Despatches and newspapers dated up to 24 June were sent onboard from England; many related to the Corn Laws being discussed in Parliament at that time.[9]

Upon arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, Isabella was probably one of the 80 convicts from the Garland Grove who were sent to Launceston as less than 4 months later she had committed her one and only offence noted on her conduct record below.


TAHO, CON 40/1/10, p228, Conduct record Isabella Watkins
TAHO, CON 40/1/10, p228, Conduct record Isabella Watkins

It was on 10 February 1842 when she was given one month hard labour at the Launceston House of Correction or Female Factory.  This was for disobedience of orders and insolence while working for Mr Legge (most probably Robert Vincent Legge at Cullenswood near Fingal in north eastern Tasmania.)  A decision was made by the Lieutenant Governor on 18 February 1842.  The magistrate was probably William Franks who was based at Fingal and it was requested that Isabella be returned to Government service after she had finished her time in the factory.[10]

The next piece of paper we find on her trail is that of her permission to marry.[11] Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land had to apply to the Convict Department for permission to marry if they had not finished their sentence.

Permission to marry for Isabella Watkins, CON 52/1/2, p027 TAHO

Permission to marry for Isabella Watkins, CON 52/1/2, p027 TAHO

Like many female convicts at that time, they were encouraged to marry about a year after arriving in VDL and so it was on 14 November 1842 that Isabella married Francis Coldgrave (Colgrave) from Evandale.  They were married at the newly built St Thomas Anglican Church at Avoca.[12]

Marriage certificate for Isabella Watkins, RGD 37/1/3 No 85/1842, District of Avoca, TAHO

Marriage certificate for Isabella Watkins, RGD 37/1/3 No 85/1842, District of Avoca, TAHO


St Thomas Anglican Church, Avoca taken by Sue Wyatt in May 2016

St Thomas Anglican Church, Avoca taken by Sue Wyatt in May 2016

Over the next few years, the only times Isabella was mentioned in the newspapers was when gaining her ticket of leave in 1845, being recommended for her conditional pardon in 1846 and receiving that pardon in 1847.[13]

In her 48 years of marriage to Francis, they raised a family of nine children (two daughters and seven sons). They remained in the district of Evandale where at one stage they ran a boarding house and mention was made in the local paper of a murder on the night of 17 February 1861.[14]

They must have had a very loving and close relationship as Francis died on 24 October 1890 aged 85 and just over a week later Isabella died on 3 November aged 67.[15]

But the questions still are:

Is she Isabella Watkins or Mary Johnson?  Is she from Yorkshire or Surrey?

Maybe we will never know the answers but Isabella Watkins, either convict or free woman, raised a fine family, with hundreds of descendants still living in Tasmania today especially around Evandale.


[1] England and Wales Criminal register 1791-1892: Class: HO 27; Piece: 62; Page: 243 , 1840 Mary Johnson viewed 17 May 2016

[2] The National Archives, ASSI 94/2329, Isabella Watkins, viewed June 1990

[3] TAHO, CON 40/1/10, p228, Conduct record Isabella Watkins

[4] British Newspapers 1600-1900, The Morning Post (London, England), Sunday, 31 March 1841, p 7 issue 21905, viewed 18 May 2016

[5] British Newspapers 1600-1900, The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser, for Lancashire, Westmorland, &c. (Lancaster, England), Saturday, 24 March 1832, p 1 issue 1606, viewed 18 May 2016

[6] British Newspapers 1600-1900, The Morning Post, Tuesday 13 April 1841, Issue 21916, viewed 18 May 2016

[7] British Newspapers 1600-1900, The Morning Chronicle, Saturday 5 June 1841, Issue 22317; The Morning Chronicle, Saturday 19 June 1841, Issue 22329; The Standard, Thursday 24 June 1841, Issue 5309,  all viewed 18 May 2016

[8] http://www.hawkesbury.net.au/claimaconvict/shipDetails.php?shipId=764

[9] ‘THE COURIER.’, The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859), 15 October 1841, p 2., viewed 18 May 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2955433

[10] TAHO, CON 40/1/10, p228, Conduct record Isabella Watkins

[11] TAHO, CON 52/1/2, p027, Permission to marry Isabella Watkins, Francis Colegrave

[12] TAHO, RGD 37/1/3 No 85, District of Avoca 1842, Marriage certificate Isabella Watkins, Francis Coldgrave

[13]  ‘THE GAZETTE.’, Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857), 28 September 1847, p. 4. , viewed 01 Jun 2016, http:/nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8761424;

[14]  ‘SUPREME COURT.’, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), 4 May 1861, p. 3. (MORNING.), viewed 04 Jun 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article38759339

[15] TAHO, RGD35/1/59 no 681 District of Evandale 1890, Death certificate Francis Colgrave; TAHO, RGD35/1/59 no 683 District of Evandale 1890, Death certificate Isabel Colgrave

Readers: What was a great website you used that had interesting information relating to your convict ancestor?

PS I still need to insert the images correctly with captions but this is how they copy and pasted across direct from Our Family Past.

Intro to Isabella Watkins

Was my great, great, great grandmother truly Isabella Watkins or was she Mary Johnson from Surrey, England?

Was she from Hull as mentioned on her convict description list or maybe it was a mispronunciation and her native place was Hale in Surrey, the county from which she was tried and then transported?[1]

 Description list for Isabella Watkins, CON19/1/3, p 45 TAHO

Description list for Isabella Watkins, CON19/1/3, p 45 TAHO


Let us follow her journey by looking at her paper trail from England as a convict, overseas on the transport ship, her freedom from convict life and finally to her resting place nearly 50 years later in Evandale, Tasmania.



[1] TAHO, CON19/1/3, p 45 Description list Isabella Watkins

Readers: How did you decide to write your story? I created a timeline then thought why not follow like a paper trail.

PS I still need to insert the images correctly with captions but this is how they copy and pasted across direct from Our Family Past.