A few people on my family tree have gotten into trouble with the authorities for various petty crimes, however it was an exciting moment when I discovered my first transported convict. As related in my previous post, Daniel (Donald) Elphinstone was sent to Australia for murdering his mother-in-law, Marion Stark, who was my 7th first cousin. While there is no doubt Elphinstone committed the crime, he seemed to have engendered a great deal of sympathy from the court for getting tangled with a notorious family. Since that notorious family is mine, I had to find out more and it turns out Elphinstone isn’t the only one to have been transported.
Marion Stark had a daughter called Mary Ann (Marion) Crocket who was born on 20 August 1806 and she married her first husband, Alexander Combs, on 1 February 1825. Mary Ann and Alexander had two daughters, Margaret, born on 15 March 1826, and Mary, born on 1 June 1828. Sadly, Mary died on 5 July 1830 and Alexander seems to have died around this time too as Mary Ann married her second husband, John McLaren, on 24 April 1831. Mary Ann gave birth to her son, John McLaren, in 1832 but was widowed again the following year.
It is Mary Ann’s third husband, Hugh Brash, who really captured my attention. Mary Ann and Hugh were married on 7 January 1836 but their first three sons were all stillborn or premature. The fourth child, Hugh, who was born in 1839 was tragically killed during an altercation when his mother was holding him in her arms. According to the article in The Scotsman from 14 December 1839, Mary Ann was being assaulted by James Barry, a shoemaker, when the child, aged two months, was struck on the head and fatally wounded. Barry stood trial but was later released due to a lack of evidence.
Sadly, violence was no stranger to the Brash home as Hugh was arrested several times and charged for assaulting his wife and daughter. In March 1849, Hugh was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for violently assaulting his wife on New Years Day which left her with broken ribs and other injuries. Although Hugh entered a plea of not guilty, the jury sentenced him. Hugh was listed as still being in prison on the 1851 UK Census but he doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson as he was charged with assault again in May 1851. Hugh was transported to Bermuda for 7 years where he joined the other male convicts sent to help build a Royal Navy dockyard.
Towards the end of his seven year sentence, Hugh petitioned to be sent to Australia rather than being returned to Scotland, claiming his wife was abusive to him. Needless to say, Hugh’s petition was denied and when he returned home, he continued to assault his wife and daughter. Hugh was finally sentenced to fifteen months in prison in April 1859 which spelled the end of his marriage. After his release, Hugh began living with Margaret Bruce who he ended up marrying on 11 May 1861 without bothering to secure a divorce from Mary Ann first. Hugh was subsequently charged with bigamy in July 1861 but Margaret was pregnant when they married and their daughter, Margaret Agnes, was born on 23 August 1861. After Mary Ann’s death, Hugh married Elizabeth Campbell on 24 April 1866.
As if her life hadn’t been problematic enough with her husband, Mary Ann also endured the trauma of having her eldest daughter transported to Australia. In November 1851, Mary Ann’s eldest daughter, Margaret Combs, was convicted for robbery and sentenced to 14 years in Australia since this was her ninth conviction. On 17 March 1852, Margaret was one of 220 convicts heading for Van Diemen’s Land onboard the Sir Robert Seppings. There were no female convicts in Van Diemen’s Land at that particular time and the authorities, worried about the prevalence of homosexuality, had requested women be sent there. Penal transportation to Van Diemen’s Land was abolished in 1853 and the island was officially renamed Tasmania in 1856.
Margaret had married John Duff on 5 August 1842 but I haven’t been able to establish whether he was still alive or not when Margaret was transported, either way Margaret married Thomas Bailey, a fellow convict, in Tasmania on 22 November 1852. Margaret received her pardon in 1856 and chose to remain in Tasmania where she died in 1900.
Mary Ann’s only other surviving daughter, Jane Brash, was born in 1843 and had to endure the same domestic abuse as her mother before her father was imprisoned. Jane, six months pregnant, married Robert Short on 27 December 1861 but the marriage wasn’t a happy one despite the birth of a daughter, Mary, on 12 March 1862. Jane and Robert separated soon after and she began living with James Stewart with whom she had several children. Since Jane and James were not married, the births of their children were classed as illegitimate and Jane stated on more than one certificate she had no idea as to the whereabouts of Robert. Jane and James eventually married on 26 January 1882 and their last child was the only one to be born in wedlock.
- The Scotsman [British Newspaper Archives]
- Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 [Ancestry UK]
- Scotland, Select Marriages, 1561-1910 [Ancestry UK]
- Tasmania, Australia, Convict Court and Selected Records, 1800-1899 [Ancestry UK]
- New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia, Convict Pardons and Tickets of Leave, 1834-1859 [Ancestry UK]
- Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868 [Ancestry UK]
- Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950 [Ancestry UK]
- Australia Death Index, 1787-1985 [Ancestry UK]