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

This Harry Gentle Resource Centre project, concentrating on convict and ex-convict women present in Moreton Bay following the closure of the penal settlement in 1839, has investigated the lives of 70 convict and emancipist women, along with those of their spouses and de facto partners (many of whom were also convicts and ex-convicts). In addition, these women are known to have borne approximately 220 children, though some had very large families of up to 16 children while others stated that they were childless. However, it should be noted that, so far, only 38 of the 70 women are known to have children. Of the remaining women, five stated that they were childless, one left four children behind in England but had none in Australia, and it is not known how many children were born to 26 of the women.

For the 38 women known to have had children in Australia, the average family size was 5.8 children, ranging from four women who had one child, to nine women who bore ten or more children. While these figures provide an indication of the fertility rates of female convicts and emancipists, it is important to note that infant births and deaths may not have been registered, including in the case of stillbirths and babies who died shortly after birth. Illiteracy, distrust of authorities, and distance from a town may have also played a part in ‘missing’ birth records. Another factor contributing to the difficulty of locating the marriages of female convicts and emancipists, along with the births of their children, is the repetition of common names and the use of aliases in the nineteenth century. It may never be possible to trace children born to Ann Brown per Margaret 3 (1840) and Margaret Smith per Sarah and Elizabeth (1837), nor Mary Butler who stated she was transported on the Buffalo (1833) but is not listed on the ship’s indent.

The location of the burial places of convict and ex-convict women and their spouses has also proved challenging. Nevertheless, some success has been achieved in establishing that 42 of the 70 women died in Queensland. Of these, 15 women died at the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum and are buried in unmarked graves at the Dunwich Cemetery on Stradbroke Island, while a woman who died at the Rockhampton Benevolent Asylum is buried at the South Rockhampton Cemetery. In addition, one woman died at the Brisbane Gaol and another at the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum. Of another seven ex-convict women known to have died in Brisbane, four are buried at the Toowong Cemetery and one in the South Brisbane Cemetery. Five women were buried at or near Ipswich; eight died in areas south and west of Ipswich, including the Darling Downs and Granite Belt; and another four died north of Brisbane and are buried at the Gympie, Maryborough, Roma and Springsure cemeteries. Finally, 12 of the 70 women died (or are likely to have died) in New South Wales, leaving the places of death and/or burial of 16 women unknown.

To date, photographs of five of the 70 ex-convict women associated with Queensland have been located, as well as images of spouses and children, either through direct contact with descendants or via images posted to online family trees on websites including Ancestry. In addition, descendants and ‘citizen historians’ are posting a growing collection of images of gravesites and headstones of convicts who died in Queensland to websites including Find a Grave and the Australian Cemeteries Index.[1] It is hoped that growing interest in Queensland’s convict connections, along with the demonstrated willingness of descendants to share their family trees and the results of their research online, will assist in locating further images. In particular, the collection of data and photographs related to places of residence and burial will be crucial in enabling geo-spatial analysis of where convicts and ex-convicts lived and died in Queensland’s early colonial period. Needless to say, the expansion of a library of images related to convicts and ex-convicts in Queensland will also add a vital visual element to stories that have previously only existed on the printed page, if at all. Indeed, the rapidly growing archive of genealogical research and images posted online by descendants and local historians, combined with the ongoing digitisation of archival records, presents historians and genealogists with previously unimagined opportunities to bring convict Queenslanders to life through combining detailed biographies with evocative visual memorials.


Mail delivery at Perwell station, Queensland, 1868, with Caroline Schofield (née Haines) per Buffalo (1833) believed to be standing on the right. Copy held by Barbara Baker, descendant, reproduced with permission.


[1] Ancestry,; Find a Grave,; Australian Cemeteries Index,