Ann Lambert was one of the thousands of people who left Ireland in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Many arrived in the English port of Liverpool with dreams of travelling further afield, but work in Lancashire was plentiful and onward travel expensive so many remained as rural or industrial labourers. Did Ann intend to travel further, perhaps to North America? As it turned out she travelled far beyond Lancashire—to New South Wales. In 1829 she was convicted of robbing a warehouse and sentenced to fourteen years transportation.
We know little of Ann as an individual, but like many convicts, we can retrieve glimpses of her through the “maze of official correspondence,” and in her case, some newspaper reports. In turn, Ann’s experiences shed light on life at the ‘New’ Female Factory at Parramatta. Ann was born in about 1800 in Strabane, County Tyrone. We don’t know when or with whom she left Ireland, but by the time she left England aboard the Roslyn Castle, she had a husband and son who she probably never saw again. Ann was stout of stature, only just five feet tall, with black hair and blue eyes. Some officials recorded her complexion as “fair,” some as “ruddy.” Ann was Catholic and it’s likely that her mother tongue was Irish.
As soon as she arrived in New South Wales, Ann was assigned to Edward Sparke senior whose “old-established butcher’s shop and residence” was situated at the corner of King and Pitt Streets, right in the centre of Sydney. It wasn’t long, however, before she absconded from her work, an offence she repeated time and again during her years as a convict. Perhaps the temptations of the city were too much for her. In mid-August, she was arrested for “absenting and drunkness (sic),” and was sentenced to three months at the Parramatta Female Factory, to be served in Third Class. This was the first of over twelve stints Ann served as punishment at the Factory, always in Third Class. The punishment was harsh. Ann ate and slept alongside her fellow Third Class inmates, separate from the First and Second Class women. Her work was hard labour, such as breaking stones sent from the Pennant Hills quarry to metal the roads of Parramatta. Instead of the Sunday dress or the blue jacket and dress of the First and Second Class women, Ann was issued with a rough woven striped jacket and skirt with a leather apron, and her hair roughly cut.
Ann’s frequent stints in the Factory didn’t encourage her to change her ways. By 1833 she was assigned to Mrs Howell, who ran a laundry on Castlereagh Street, Sydney. After more than one occasion before the courts whilst in Mrs Howell’s service, Ann was returned to the government as “incorrigible.” The magistrate noted that “Ann had been determined to make up for lost time, and had behaved so grossly, that forgiveness [by Mrs Howell] was impossible.” Mrs Howell had tried to help Ann in the past; she had interceded in a prior appearance before the magistrate in hopes she would reform, and she had given Ann a “new shawl, which cost fifty shillings, a leghorn bonnet and trimmings,” and a gown. We know this because Ann argued that the clothes were stolen from her on a night out in May 1834. Two people were tried for the theft, including former Female Factory inmate Eliza Ellis, but neither was convicted. According to the Sydney Herald, Ann “rigged herself out” in her new clothes on a Sunday evening and went to see a friend, “when she unfortunately got a little tipsy.” She then “rolled into a house of ill-fame” and went to bed, “taking the precaution of putting her clothes in the corner of the room.” Next thing she knew, Ann was woken by a police constable, who had recovered the clothes from a man by the name of Peter Holmes. Holmes claimed that he’d taken the clothes for safekeeping as he said that Ann “was in bad company.” The outcome of the case was inconclusive, although Ann recovered her clothes, and we get a glimpse of how she spent her leisure time!
A few months after this court case, Ann returned to the Female Factory for another three months. According to the Australian newspaper, she appeared in court “for about the twentieth time on a similar charge, viz being fond of roaming without leave had and obtained.” The police had taken her out of a house in Goulburn Street in Sydney at ten o’clock on a Tuesday evening “while in the act of dancing an Irish jig.” The magistrate sent her to Third Class for three months “to affect a change in her roaming propensities.” Yet again Ann proved the magistrate wrong—she clearly had no intention of changing her ways. After the three months at the Factory were up, Ann was released but then almost immediately back to Sydney Gaol (in January 1835), and then sentenced to another two months at the Factory.
“In the month of January, 1835, there were sixty-two females confined [in Sydney Gaol] in one room of small size, besides about eight or ten children.”
— High Sheriff Thomas Macquoid to the New South Wales Legislative Council Committee on Police and Gaols.»
In fact, Ann was often out of the Factory for very short periods before she was arrested again and returned to Third Class. Was she lazy? Was she physically or mentally incapable of the work assigned to her? Was she a prostitute or an alcoholic? Or was she defiantly refusing to comply with the terms imposed upon her as a convict? Research on Irish crime in colonial Australia suggests that Ann was by no means unusual in her frequent arrests for public order offences. Later in the century, such offences (like drunkenness and absconding) in NSW accounted for almost three quarters of all arrests, with drunkenness alone accounting for almost half. Women figured particularly prominently in arrests for drunkenness. Recent research by Elizabeth Malcolm and Dianne Hall shows that arrests of Irish immigrants and Catholics in NSW were in line with this general pattern. The police showed a marked inclination to arrest women they suspected of being drunk in public.
In 1835, Ann’s request to marry William Cooper, an emancipated convict, was declined because she already had a husband with one child “at home” in England. Whether she and Cooper remained together is a mystery. Around this time, Ann was assigned to work in Maitland, but like her previous postings, it didn’t last long. She was committed to Newcastle Gaol for a period during 1837, before being assigned to a different man (Mr Reid) in Newcastle. A relatively long period of ‘freedom’ from incarceration followed, but in September 1839 she was committed to gaol from Dungog “with child” (whether she was pregnant or had a child is unknown) to be returned to the government for being “useless in her service.” She stayed for a time at the Newcastle Female Factory, before being transferred to Parramatta.
Relief from convict life came for Ann in the form of her Ticket of Leave in December 1842. Three years later she finally received her Certificate of Freedom. Ann disappears from the record for the following five years, but she re-emerges spectacularly in 1850 when she was convicted alongside an accomplice (Thomas McCluckie) for larceny and receiving. Both were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and hard labour at Darlinghurst Gaol. When she was released from gaol on 8 February 1851, Ann finally disappeared for good from the public record.
Jennifer McLaren, “Adopt-a-Convict: Ann Lambert,” Female Factory Online, (2018) https://femalefactoryonline.org/2018/11/17/adopt-a-convict-ann-lambert/, accessed [insert current date]
Read more about Dr. McLaren’s research and find links to her websites here.
Patricia E. Burritt, Old Sydney Gaol: The 1979 Rescue Excavation, (Sydney: Sydney Cove Authority, September, 1980), accessed 12 November 2018.
Female Factory Online (www.femalefactoryonline.org, 2018), ANN LAMBERT, accessed 8 November 2018.
Female Factory Online (www.femalefactoryonline.org, 2018), ELIZABETH PATRICK aka ELIZA ELLIS, accessed 8 November 2018.
Laura Kelly, “Irish Migration to Liverpool and Lancashire in the Nineteenth Century,” (2014), University of Warwick, Centre for the History of Medicine, accessed 8 November 2018.
Carol Liston, “Convict Women in the Female Factories of New South Wales,” in Gay Hendriksen, Trudy Cowley, and Carol Liston, Women Transported: Life in Australia’s Convict Female Factories, (Parramatta, N.S.W: Parramatta City Council Heritage Centre, 2008).
Elizabeth Malcolm and Dianne Hall, A New History of the Irish in Australia (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2018).
New South Wales Legislative Council Committee on Police and Gaols, Final Report of the Committee on Police and Gaols, (Sydney: Ordered by the Council to be printed, 1835).
Research assistance for this piece was provided by Michaela Ann Cameron.
 Laura Kelly, “Irish Migration to Liverpool and Lancashire in the Nineteenth Century,” (2014), University of Warwick, Centre for the History of Medicine, https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/chm/outreach/migration/backgroundreading/migration/, accessed 8 November 2018.
 Carol Liston, “Convict Women in the Female Factories of New South Wales,” in Gay Hendriksen, Trudy Cowley, and Carol Liston, Women Transported: Life in Australia’s Convict Female Factories, (Parramatta, N.S.W: Parramatta City Council Heritage Centre, 2008), p. 29.
 Carol Liston, “Convict Women in the Female Factories of New South Wales,” in Gay Hendriksen, Trudy Cowley, and Carol Liston, Women Transported: Life in Australia’s Convict Female Factories, (Parramatta, N.S.W: Parramatta City Council Heritage Centre, 2008), pp. 36, 39.
 “Police Report,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Thursday 30 May 1833, p. 3.
 “Police Incidents,” The Sydney Herald (NSW: 1831 – 1842), Thursday 8 May 1834, pp. 2–3.
 “Police Incidents,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW: 1824 -1848), Friday 17 October 1834, p. 2.
 Elizabeth Malcolm and Dianne Hall, A New History of the Irish in Australia (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2018), pp. 209–211.
© Copyright Jennifer McLaren 2018