Anna Parnell Travel Grant 2015 Awardee Report: Joint Winner Dr. Bláthnaid Nolan
Research Trip to Tasmania
by Bláthnaid Nolan
March to June 2015 was my second research trip to Tasmania. Having visited in 2010, I am extremely fortunate that I was able to reconnect with volunteer groups and individuals and foster these relationships for what I hope is a life-time. On this occasion, I was invited as a Visiting Research Fellow to Jane Franklin Hall. Jane Franklin Hall is a residential college of the University of Tasmania (UTAS). I was also made an Honorary Associate of UTAS, co-sponsored by the History and Gender Studies Departments.
Altogether, 162,119 men and women were transported to Australia from its establishment as a colony in 1787 until the last convict ship docked in Western Australia in 1868. Of this number, some 24,658 women were transported to Australia up until 1853, of which 8,686 or more than a third were Irish. From 1842 until the end of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in 1853, over three thousand women were transported on nineteen ships from the Grangegorman Penitentiary in Dublin to Hobart in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. My PhD research focused on seven of these ships, from which I created a sub-sample of John Williams’ pioneering database. Statistics, although important and necessary, can produce quite dry results, such as average ages, length of transportation sentence, most prevalent transportation crime etc. To answer these questions quickly and simply for Irish women transported? Twenty-seven, seven years, and larceny (or theft). However, what I have always found infinitely more interesting are
the individual stories, the women and what happened to them. Like Judith and Margaret Byrne, sisters from Louth who stole a pair of shoes, like Mary Sherridan, who was involved in a theft in a brothel in Cavan and a man died, like Margaret Colgan, convicted of the murder of her elderly neighbour, although it is highly likely her husband framed her.
This was the mission of this research trip. Inevitably, as happens in any historical research endeavour, I came up against many brick walls and cul-de-sacs. Having said that, actually being in Tasmania and going to Maria Island, Port Arthur, Ross Female Factory, Cascades Female Factory, the Penitentiary Chapel, or attending live theatre productions at these sites creates a greater and more intimate understanding of what Irish convict women really went through. I attended a Female Convict Research Group one day seminar on May 9th entitled Succeeding in the regular economy: the aftermath of convict sentences. I would like to thank the following for their generosity of time and information particularly Collette McAlpine, Lucy Frost, Alison Alexander and Colleen Arulappu from the Female Convict Research Centre, and Julie Kapeller and the heroic Joyce Purtscher of the Tasmanian Family History Society Inc.
I gave a lecture in the history department of UTAS to the staff and students and the general public on June 5th.
I would also like to thank the WHAI for their award of the Anna Parnell Travel Grant.
Dr. Bláthnaid Nolan graduated her Phd in December 2013 from UCD. Her thesis is entitled Power, Punishment and Penance: An Archival Analysis of the Transportation of Women from Grangegorman in Dublin to Hobart Town in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) 1844 – 1853. Most recently, she has been published in Sexual Politics in Ireland published by the Irish Academic Press and she has a forthcoming publication by the History Press. The title of the collection will be The Famine Irish: emigration and the Great Hunger and will be published in print and eBook format.