Offenders, paupers and pioneers
Convict women and their families in pre-Separation Queensland

Finally we come to the potentially largest group of convict and ex-convict women at Moreton Bay during the free settlement era — those who were not recorded in Moreton Bay’s early court, gaol or benevolent asylum registers and have therefore been the hardest to trace. In many cases they would be regarded as ‘success stories’ who were married and raised families, sometimes also working or running businesses. Some of their stories have been traced by local historians and academic researchers, while others have only come to light through genealogical research by descendants and convict researchers, such as those associated with the Female Convicts Research Centre in Hobart. Working backwards from marriage and death certificates, newspaper articles, family trees, and entries in family Bibles, today’s descendants have utilised the explosion in digital and online records to discover convict ancestors. In some cases, this has led to the unexpected discovery that a female ancestor who ‘emigrated’ to Australia or arrived in Queensland as a ‘free settler’ or ‘pioneer’ was, in fact, first transported to New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land.

Jane Burnside, transported to New South Wales on the Margaret 3 (1840), and Joseph Ray per Bussorah Merchant (1828) were married at St John’s Church, Camden, New South Wales in 1843. Research by a descendant, Jan Bimrose, has established that by 1852 the couple and their young children were living in North Brisbane. The family moved to Kangaroo Point in 1854, then west of Brisbane to Drayton, back to Ipswich and later to Rockhampton where Joseph died in 1866. Jane Ray outlived her husband by 44 years, dying in Toowoomba in 1910 just two days short of her 97th birthday and having had eleven children, of whom three died young. Unfortunately, further information about Jane Burnside’s parents — Thomas Burnside, a tailor, and Jane Morrow — has been elusive and it seems likely that although Jane was born in Liverpool, her family was Irish and either returned to Ireland or moved elsewhere in England. However, descendant Jan Bimrose has had great success in uncovering the story of Jane’s husband, Joseph Ray, who was a highway robber and a member of the Birmingham Five. Joseph was sentenced to death for his crimes in 1827 but, while he was in Stafford Gaol awaiting his execution, the Marquis of Lansdown presented a petition to King George IV to extend the Royal Mercy to a group of 78 prisoners. Fortunately for Joseph, the petition was granted on condition that they all be transported to New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land.[1]

The story of another Queensland female emancipist has been uncovered by academic researcher, Louise Westall Taylor, whose 2015 thesis featured the biography of Edward Collins, an ex-convict who settled on Queensland’s Darling Downs.[2] Collins, who was transported to Sydney on the Nithsdale (1830), was re-transported to Moreton Bay in 1835 for two years under a colonial sentence for assault. After his return to Sydney in 1837, Collins married the convict Margaret Lane who had arrived in Sydney on the ship Margaret (1837). The couple lived at Newcastle and Scone before Collins purchased land at Warwick in 1852 and commenced a cartage business. Ten years later, in 1863, Margaret Collins died in an horrific accident on a narrow and steep section of road about halfway between Ipswich and Warwick. The Toowoomba Chronicle reported that:

Mrs. Margaret Collins, an old resident of this town, met an untimely end whilst proceeding to Ipswich on a bullock dray, in company with a person named Lambert. On going down the range, on the other side of Burdoff’s, the wheel of the dray struck against a stone, and the unfortunate woman was precipitated on her head. She was taken up insensible, and never spoke afterwards.[3]

Margaret’s grave lies in the Main Range National Park at Spicers Gap where a sign records that she is one of up to thirteen ‘pioneers’ buried at the site. Another sign explains that the narrow section, or ‘pinch’, of road where Margaret died is known as ‘Mother Collins’ Pinch’. However, there is no mention of her convict past, nor that of her husband who served two years at the Moreton Bay penal settlement and returned 15 years later to live in the district.

Margaret Collins (née Lane), buried near the memorial cairn to 13 ‘unknown pioneers’ at the Main Range National Park, Spicers Gap. Photographed by Julia Murphy, 2020.


[1] Jan Bimrose (descendant of Joseph Ray and Jane Burnside), ‘Joseph and Jane Ray’, unpublished manuscript, Feb 2011, last updated 13 May 2011; Jan Bimrose to Jan Richardson, personal correspondence (email), 25 Nov 2019.

[2] Louise Westall Taylor, ‘Recovering lives: 15 convicts in New South Wales’, published Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 2015,, accessed 28 Sep 2018, pp. 160-164.

[3] ‘Fatal accident’, Toowoomba Chronicle and Queensland Advertiser, 29 Oct 1863, p. 2.