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From Cronelea to Emu Bay to Timaru and Back: Uncovering the Convict Story

posted on 2023-05-22, 16:58 authored by Kavanagh, J, Dianne Snowden

Cronelea is a townland in the parish of Mullinacuffe, south County Wicklow, Ireland. Emu Bay is on the north coast of Tasmania, Australia. Timaru is on the east coast of the South Island, New Zealand. These three places are connected by Eliza Davis, a foundling admitted to the Dublin Foundling Hospital as an infant. In January 1841, when she was 22, Eliza was apprenticed by the governor of the Foundling Hospital as a servant to James Twamley, a farmer of Cronelea in County Wicklow. In July 1845 she was charged, tried, and found guilty of the crime of infanticide. The sentence of death was later commuted to transportation for life to the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land.

Eliza was one of approximately 80,000 convicts transported to Van Diemen's Land between 1803 and 1853. Few historians have analysed the colonial experience of individual convict women, particularly in Van Diemen's Land. These women often dropped out of sight once they emerged from the convict system. This chapter adds to the body of knowledge about the individual convict experience and the migration of convict families from the colony. It also considers the 'convict stain' as an important historiographical issue as well as its impact on family history and popular memory.

In 1998, A.G.L. Shaw expressed scepticism about the value of the contribution of many of the books and articles on female convict history. However, Kay Daniels, Deborah Oxley, and Kirsty Reid have all carefully examined the development of convict historiography generally, and female convict historiography specifically. The debate about female convict historiography has been complex and far-reaching.

An important strand of the female convict historiographical discussion has been predicated on the existence of a criminal class and its corollary, the habitual criminal. Daniels and Reid both suggest that much of the early writing on convict women was moulded by this belief; this is especially evident in the work of Shaw, Manning Clark, and Lloyd Robson. Although Shaw later clarified what he meant by 'criminal class'-that is, that it was not a group of professional criminals who hoped to live exclusively by criminal means but a moral grouping of opportunistic poor people, 'perennially petty thieves' - his focus on convict background has persisted. More recently, Oxley argued for a reopening of the debate about female convict origins but on a much broader scale than indicated by a mere qualitative study.


Publication title

Ireland in the World: Comparative, Transnational, and Personal Perspectives


A McCarthy






School of Humanities



Place of publication

United States



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Copyright 2015 Taylor & Francis

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Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology

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