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

At least 13 female ex-convicts are known to have moved to Queensland after completing their convict sentences in Van Diemen’s Land. Of these, one of the best known is Sophia (or Keziah) Grantham, a bonnet maker, transported to Van Diemen’s Land on the Rajah in 1841. As revealed by Trudy Cowley and Dianna Snowden in their book, Patchwork Prisoners: The Rajah Quilt and the Women Who Made It, Sophia married John Tregilgus, a mariner, in Hobart in October 1845.[1] By 1855 they had moved to Queensland, settling at Taroom on the Dawson River, about 200 kilometres south of Rockhampton. The marriage was not a happy one and, unusually for the era, Sophia sought a magistrate’s order to enforce the separation, which was granted in September 1865.[2] As she had done for many years previously, Sophia continued to support herself by working in occupations considered suitable for women: as a midwife, boarding house manager, and hotelkeeper. In 1873 Sophia’s only surviving child, Ruth Eyles (née Tregilgus), died aged 27 from septicaemia following childbirth, leaving behind a husband and six children, including a newborn baby. Tragically, Sophia died only three weeks later aged just 52 and was buried at the Springsure Cemetery, to the west of Gladstone, under the name Keziah Tregilgus. The following year, John Tregilgus remarried but only lived another five years, dying in Rockhampton in 1879.


Headstone of Keziah Tregilgus (née Sophia Grantham), Springsure Cemetery. Photographed by Aileen Moore, Find a Grave website, posted 10 Sep 2018.


In contrast to Sophia’s small family, several of the Tasmanian women had eight or more children. Among them are Margaret Smith per Midlothian (1853) and Margaret Reardon per Maria II (1849), who had nine and ten children respectively. Margaret Smith, an Irish convict from Derry in Northern Ireland, married William Milward, a convict per Lady Kennaway (1851), at the Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph, Hobart in 1856. Their first two children were born in Tasmania and the remaining seven in Queensland, starting with Thomas Milward in January 1859. When Margaret Milward (née Smith) died at Spring Creek, Killarney in 1916 aged about 81, she had been living on the Darling Downs for about 58 years. Margaret Reardon was also Irish, but from Queen’s County, now known as County Laois. According to her death certificate, Margaret married Thomas Hinchcliffe in Brighton, Tasmania at the age of 17 years and William Jones in Hobart at the age of 29 years. She had four Hinchcliffe children with her first husband and six Jones children with her second. Margaret moved to Queensland when she was about 77 years old, arriving at Jandowae on the Darling Downs in about 1909 with the family of her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and James Sargent. Margaret Jones (née Reardon) died on 22 January 1915 at Glenbrook Farm, Jandowae aged 83 and is possibly the last female emancipist to have died in Queensland.


[1] Trudy Cowley and Dianne Snowden, Patchwork Prisoners: The Rajah Quilt and the Women Who Made It, Hobart, Research Tasmania, 2013.

[2] ‘Police Court – Rockhampton’, Rockhampton Bulletin, 4 Jan 1868, p. 2.