University of Tasmania
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Learning to be the mistress : convict transportation, domestic service and family structure in 19th century Australia and America

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posted on 2023-05-27, 12:01 authored by Hodgson, AM
Many thousands of women were transported to Britain's colony Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) between 1803, when the colony was founded, and 1853 when transportation ceased. Some died at sea; some endured colonial lives of struggle, poverty or crime; many failed to form families and lived out their years without kith and kin to support them. Eliza Williams was one who prospered. Williams achieved security, status and wealth. Her legacy of letters allows a new assessment of the life, aspirations and opportunities of convict women. Williams, a young Irish woman convicted of theft from her London workplace, arrived in Hobart Town in 1852. By 1862 she was living in Detroit, married to Irishman George Hanley, and with her first child toddling at her feet. In the space of a decade she had travelled from Britain to Australia and back, then across the Atlantic to New York and on to Detroit. Three decades later she was firmly established in Detroit society, living in its premiere Yankee suburb. She had departed Tasmania with skills, knowledge and determination. Hers is a story of transformation: from servant to mistress. Williams served her sentence in the house of John Leake and his family. Leake was master to a household and estate workforce that was predominantly drawn from convict ranks. The Rosedale estate was an open prison. The way convictism shaped the lives of both master and worker is fundamental to this thesis. The original contribution of the research is an analysis of the impact on domestic life of the colonial convict experience. This is achieved by close examination of the lives of two nineteenth-century women, one a transported convict and the other her colonial employer. The thesis also explores how daily life in the private home was conducted and maintained. The research has exposed a neglected archive to detailed examination. The Leake Papers held by the University of Tasmania provided the means to give voice to a diverse community who inhabited a colonial estate and hitherto were silent in the record.


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