Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sisters in Crime

Following a recent trip to Belfast, I thought it was a good time to write the story of my Belfast ancestor, Eliza Tully, and her sister, Sarah.

Eliza Tully was born around 1818.  Her death certificate lists her parents as William Tully, a boatman, and Annie McGregor.  Her sister’s death certificate just lists a father, John.  As you can see, there is some uncertainty here.  To further confuse matters, an Eliza Tully, daughter of William Tully and Eliza Kerr (a variant of Carr), was baptised in St Anne’s church in the parish of Shankill, 31 January 1821.  Sarah was about a year older that Eliza.

The first definite record I have of Eliza Tully is from the 28 Jan 1834 edition of the Belfast Newsletter.  In report of the quarter sessions, there is mention of two little children, Elizabeth Tully and John Clarke being found not guilty of stealing boiled beef from the property of Hugh Hogan in Belfast on 20 December.  Elizabeth and sister, Sarah, are mentioned in various Irish newspaper articles between 1829 and 1835, accused of theft.  In spite of this, they both were able to gain employment as house maids.

On 14 Sept 1835, Eliza stole a cotton gown and a silk gown from a James McCullough.  She pleaded guilty and because she was “an old offender”, she was sentenced to 7 years transportation.  A short time later, on 24 November 1835, Sarah Tully and John Clarke were found guilty of steeling two pieces of calico from a James McConkey in Belfast.  Sarah was sentences to 7 years transportation, again as “an old offender”, and John was sentenced to 6 months hard labour.  Whether by luck or with some sympathy from the authorities, Eliza and Sarah were sent to Australia on the same convict ship, the Pyramus, leaving in August 1836, two teenagers setting off together on the adventure of their lives.  They arrived in Australia in December 1836.  

It is worth mentioning that a William Tully, possibly the girls’ father, is frequently mentioned in the Belfast quarter session reports in the 1830s and 1840s.  Given the sisters’ early criminal careers, I think it is reasonable to assume that their parents may also have been criminals.  In various convict records, Eliza is referred to and “Eliza Tully alias Carr”.  This link to the name Carr or Kerr, may be an indication that she was indeed the daughter of Eliza Kerr of Shankill.  As for John Clarke, I have not yet discovered his fate or what his connect to the Tully family was.  

Within two years of arriving in Australia, both girls had applied for and been given permission to marry, as convicts were required to.  Eliza Tully married William Jenkins, a convict from Warwickshire, 2 October 1838. Sarah married William Murray, a free settler, also in 1838.  So rather than spending a life split between petty crime and stints in prison in Belfast, the girls found respectable lives as wives and mothers in New South Wales, Australia.

Eliza Tully and William Jenkins had 14 children between 1839 and 1862.  Their first two children were born in Sydney, including my ancestor, their son William Jenkins.  Around 1840, the small family moved to an area called “The Oaks” near Camden, where they and many of their descendants stayed. 

Eliza lost her husband William Jenkins in 1875 to a carriage accident.  She survived him by nearly 30 years, dying in 1902. Her sister Sarah died a few years later in 1906.

Given that both women died almost within living memory - I met my great grandmother who would have known Eliza, I find it easy to understand why it is only in relatively recent times that having convict ancestors has become a matter of pride for Australians, instead of something to hide.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Louisa Jane Jenkins > William Jenkins > Eliza Tully

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