A convict in the tree

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, Cumberland Hospital, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia

A majestic old tree sheltering convict and colonial buildings, Parramatta


A little while back I found some convict bricks in my veggie patch. It got me thinking about the Australian ‘royal blood’ or convict blood in my family tree. 

Of my convict ancestors the one that strikes my heart the most is Catherine Hughes, my great great great great grandmother (4 x great). Something about her sad plight touches me. I wanted to know more about her life on Australian soil and to retrace her footsteps.

Convict bricks showing arrow head mark and layers of clay

Convict bricks found in the veggie patch

Mrs Catherine Dixon was a thirty year old widow when she arrived at Port Jackson / Sydney, on the female convict transport the Henry Wellesley (2), with her four small children in tow. Thomas was 11 years old, Edward was 9 or 10, Sarah 6, and little Catherine barely 3 years old. 

I can imagine Catherine, a tiny 5 foot 2 1/2 inches with brown hair, grey eyes and ‘ruddy complexion’ – a mix of my family’s physical traits. On her Convict Indent she is also described:

Lost a front tooth right side of upper jaw. Small scar upper part of nose. 3 blue dots on back of left hand. 2 scars on forefinger of left hand. Large scar inside right thumb.

[Record courtesy of M McCowage, email]

While my relatives may have lost a tooth in their time, there are none with blue tattoos – as far as I know!

On dry land

Catherine and the children all survived the sea journey from Woolwich, England of 5 months and 2 days! (Can you imagine that!) The ship arrived on a Friday, 22 December 1837, but because of ‘the boisterous state of the weather’ it was late in the evening before it could enter Sydney Cove and the family could step foot on solid ground.

[National Library of Australia, Trove Australia (newspapers on-line), ‘Ship News.’, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 23 December 1837, p. 2, viewed 7 February, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2214604 ]

Catherine was assigned as a servant to M Sparke of Sydney, probably right off the ship at Sydney Cove. Her six year old daughter most likely also went with her as a servant. (Catherine was listed as assigned in the General Muster of 31st December 1837, 9 days later).

[Ancestry.com, NSW & Tas, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849 (database on-line). Original data: Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, NSW & Tas; (The National Archives Microfilm Publication HO10, Pieces 5, 19-20, 32-51); The National Archives of the UK, Kew.]

Inmate of the Female Factory

But something went wrong and some time in 1838, Catherine and her daughter aged 6 years old were returned from service to the Female Factory in Parramatta.

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, Cumberland Hospital, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia

Family on the inside

This was a place for female convicts who were either unassigned, sick or invalid or pregnant, or who were under sentence for a crime committed in the colony.

So why was Catherine at the Female Factory? And what happened to her children Thomas, Edward, Sarah and little Catherine?

I’ll do some more digging under the family tree and let you know. (See my post next week.)

Photos of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct

The heritage precinct is located within the grounds of Cumberland Hospital East Campus in North Parramatta, Sydney (New South Wales, Australia).

The hospital site is open but the buildings are in use and not accessible. Closest access is from the Fleet Street entrance of Cumberland Hospital.


Convicts, Aussie icons series

– My recent posts have featured Aussie cultural icons. 

– For other posts in my Convict series click on the ‘convicts’ tag below.

Photos taken 11 August 2013, with my old Canon PowerShot A550

More information and sources:

Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Association  website, http://www.parragirls.org.au/

Parramatta Female Factory“, ‘Free Settler or Felon?’ website, Jen Willetts, http://www.jenwilletts.com/female_factory_parramatta.htm


2 comments on “A convict in the tree

  1. […] (To see a description of what Catherine looked like and more on her transportation to Australia go to Part 1, ‘A convict in the tree’.) […]

  2. […] my earlier posts, A Convict in the Tree and A Convict […]

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