Convicts, Thieves, Domestics, and Wives in Colonial Australia: The Rebellious Lives of Ellen Murphy and Jane New
46 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2012
Date Written: June 9, 2012
This Article examines the lives of two female convicts who rebelled against the law and the Australian penal system in the early nineteenth century. It follows Ellen Murphy and Jane New from their first arrests through their experiences with and exits from the penal system. As thieves, convicts, domestics, and wives, Ellen and Jane interacted repeatedly with the law. Both the notorious Jane (who was the subject of a habeas corpus action in In re Jane New), and the more representative Ellen, began thieving as young teenagers in the teeming cities of England. The law arrested, tried, and convicted them. Next it transported them to Van Diemen’s Land (now, Tasmania). It then unsuccessfully attempted to manage their lives.
The law influenced convict women’s choices in more overt ways than it did free women although, as this Article discusses, many similarities existed between the legal disabilities imposed on both groups and, on occasion, as with Jane New, the law doubly disabled convict women because they were assigned to their husbands. Nevertheless, Ellen and Jane’s interactions with the law illustrate how convict women were able to make meaningful choices even in the heavily regulated penal systems of Governors Arthur of Van Diemen’s Land and Darling of New South Wales.
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