THE ANCESTRY AND DESCENDANTS OF ELIZABETH 'BESSIE' JOHNSTONE
Notes for Mary Ann BRENNAN

General Note
Was said to be 30 on her death.

It is proposed by some researchers, so far without convincing the author of this note, that Mary Brennan was this individual, shown on the IGI: baptised 16 Oct 1779 Dunleary, Dublin, Ireland. The submitter, L KAY THOMAS 13854 DELANEY ROAD WOODBRIDGE VA USA 22193-4654 (Submission: AF97-129284) may know of material that has so far eluded other researchers. This is now on the IGI, with the same parents, Thomas Brennan and Jane, with her baptism given as 31st October, but no siblings on the same batch number, nor any children born to 'Mary Brennan'. The 1871 census for England shows 81 Mary Brennans born in Ireland. There would have been more in Ireland itself, and this helps to illustrate the problem of looking for a needle in a haystack as long as there is no paper proof.

What is fact, though, is that Mary, never married her final partner, Samuel Ogden Baker (see his own notes for the confusion about his name). She was sentenced in Dublin to transportation for seven years. She was probably one of Dublin's many wild women, a drinker and a thief. She could, though, have been an innocent and set up by someone else: it happened.

The birth date given here matches the following information on the official record, ie that she was 35. If she was indeed 35, then she almost certainly was already married,so Brennan would have been her husband's name. This baptism, then, would belong to someone else. There were, after all, hundreds of Mary Brennans in Ireland at the time, and probably dozens in Dublin, including several picked for the IGI around the same date. This, in the absence of her trial account, and full details on her transportation papers, makes any conclusions about her identity suspect. But does it matter? She was Irish, and in trouble, and came to a sticky end in Tasmania, assigned to a man she didn't know, who by all accounts (references are missing, anyone out there who knows?) was a drunk too.

At least all the children were baptised: the Rev. John Youl, that big-hearted man, made sure they were. Almost certainly, had there been grounds for marrying, then Mary would have been persuaded by John Youl to go to the altar. He was, as accounts of his ministry show, a busy man in his parish which extended 60 miles outside Launceston. He would stride about, ride by horse, row himself up the Tamar, and across to George Town, conduct marriages, baptisms and burial services wherever he could, in barns, sheds, out in the open. His history is one of the most interesting in Tasmania, but not so far researched or written up in any easily available format.

Mary was shipped in the Catherine which arrived in Sydney on 4 May 1814. She was tried in Dublin in 1813 at the age of 35 years (or was this 25?). In some of the transportation papers she has been referred to as Ann, so perhaps she was Mary Ann. So far, no details of her trial have been put forward. Anyone with knowledge of these from the Dublin records, please get in touch through the e-mail address given on this site.

The "Catherine" was dubbed "The Catherine Colleen's" as she carried only 97 Irish convict women, arriving Port Jackson (Sydney) 3rd. May 1814. Sixty of her passengers were sent to V.D.L., forty for Hobart, twenty for Launceston. The Hobart party arrived 15th. September 1814, the Northern party arrived 5th. November 1814. (ref *1. "Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls- Convict Women in Van Dieman's Land") from Tas Archives. (ref.*2. Convicts and Exiles transported from Ireland 1791-1820 by James H. Donohoe 1990. Darebin Library, Preston Branch. "Just goin' down under for a bit ta sparkle up the banner."

From this website: http://www.blaxland.com/ozships/events/4/309.htm: "The Catherine set off from Falmouth 8th Dec 1813 to Sydney, arriving 4th May 1814. Nothing is known about what type of vessel the Catherine was, but she sailed with Wlliam Simmonds as master, her weight was 304 tonnes and she carried a total passenger list of 97 female convicts. By any measure, this was a small craft with probably appalling living conditions."

To reach Cork, the convicts were sometimes walked there in chains from the Dublin gaol. She would have been shipped there to Falmouth from where the Catherine set off, probably held in a hulk there until the passengers had been assembled, many of them like Mary, from Ireland, or in the Catherine, or for a time in the Castle, used by the military, so a safe place for penning in prisoners while waiting embarkation. The Dublin enshipment records do not appear to have survived due to a fire, but enquiries are being made to see whether the court records dealing with her prosecution and sentencing are still on record (as at November 2004). The voyage would have been grim: the better conditions that convicts were allowed from the 1840s onwards did not apply to early transportations. To see a vivid account of the kind of conditions Mary would have endured, see Sian Rhees's true account entitled "The Floating Brothel", published in paperback by Review. The Catherine would have stopped at Santa Cruz or Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife to take on water and fresh food and animals, again in the Cape Verde Islands, then in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, with the last stop being Cape Town. The run across to Sydney might even have been broken by a stop at Melbourne. Sydney was the distribution point to the penal colonies as the first settlement in Australia. Some would go, as Mary's partner Samuel did, to Norfolk Islands. Mary was shipped to Van Diemans Land on the Kangaroo.

She was said then to be 26 years old, so there is a disparity in the apparent record which may never be resolved. She was convict number 7683 and was recorded as being the 'wife' of Samuel Ogden Baker. An account of her life from an unknown source supplied to a relative of the site owner follows:

Mary was probably an assigned servant to Samuel Baker, but in 1816 became the mother of the first of their (her and Ogden Baker's) three daughters. By 1818, a second daughter had been born and Samuel had been approved constable in Launceston, qualifying for an extra half-ration from the stores. Thirty acres on the South Esk River had been allocated to him, although it's not clear if he ever occupied the land. (It was situated where Baker Court now stands in Blackstone Heights.) At some stage he became locatee of two blocks in Brisbane Street in Launceston. A third daughter was born in 1820.

Samuel may also have been the "Mr. Baker" appointed in 1818 as the agent to whom Port Dalrymple subscribers to the Hobart Town Gazette were to give "a satisfactory Reference for the punctuality of their Payments." The index to the facsimile edition gives this as Samuel Baker, but as there were at least two other Bakers in town, this remains dubious. Constable or not, Samuel Baker the convict sawyer from Norfolk Island seems a strange appointment. [But not unusual: convicts often became reformed men and staunch pillars of the community.]

Mary Brennan is variously described as "married to S. Baker" and "wife of Baker" but there is no record of a marriage. Perhaps she was already a married woman, as already suggested, when she was transported. When the children were baptised together in 1825, Rev. Youl in the St. John's register named the parents as Samuel and Mary Baker, which he then crossed out and replaced with Samuel Baker and Mary Brennan, the convention of the time to indicate that the parents were unmarried. [The entry in the register also gave rise to a minor error. The children were baptized in May, but it does look like 'Aug' and whoever prepared the transcription which was subsequently microfilmed, can be forgiven. The error has been carried forward to the Tasmanian Pioneers Index.]

...On 15th August 1826, returning to his old ways, Samuel Baker appeared before Magistrate Peter Mulgrave charged with having in his possession a stolen blanket. The charge was dismissed, but only four days later, Mulgrave might have recognized the man up on the much more serious charge of "illegally retailing spiritous liquors" - the sly-grog shop! The fine of 25 Pounds would have been a great blow and was a considerable sum of money for the day.

But there was worse to come. Eight days later, on the 27th, Mary Brennan died. "Occasion'd by the Drink," noted Rev. Youl of the death, and so we gain some clues as to what life may have been [like] in the household in the preceding years. So the children lost their mother, but it seems little else changed [in their household. Samuel continued with his bad ways.] [Mary] was buried in Launceston on the next day."

The Tasmanian Pioneer Index, Digger version, shows her name as Brenam. Her age is given on the index as 30, probably a guess.

Any highly necessary addtions or corrections may be passed on by this e-mail address: gwynethcheesemanATyahoo.co.uk, replacing AT with the usual symbol.

Web page built by Cumberland Family Tree, 1 Aug 2016