Josephine Mercelin (1795–1834)

MARY JOSEPHINE MERCELIN, aka JOSÉPHINE ALLY, and her husband, an affranchi (freed slave) “hairdresser and bird stuffer” (taxidermist) LOUIS MERCELIN aka MARCELIN CURRAC (1793–1865), were two of three Mauritian convicts transported per brig Dart (1833). JOSEPHINE was one of only seven female Mauritians who came to the colony as convicts overall. The third prisoner on board Dart (1833) was cook and house servant PAUL NANINE, also a native of Mauritius, who was found guilty of burglary on 26 September 1833.

The MERCELINS had been tried and convicted on 18 September 1833 in Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius) for “night theft & receiving stolen goods” and “giving asylum to slaves, Charles and Hypolite,” and both were sentenced to seven years transportation. As Eilin Friis Hordvik asserts, the couple’s actions—namely buying stolen property from a gang of marooned (runaway) slaves that had been active in and around Port Louis for fifteen months, hiding the items, and distributing them throughout JOSÉPHINE’s commercial networks—was very concerning to colonial officials. Their actions “represented more than criminal activity—they were acts of resistance enabling maroons to survive by helping each other, and they drew non-slaves into collusion with the runaways.”

JOSÉPHINE was recorded as having two sons and three daughters at home in Mauritius. Though she and her husband petitioned to be able to bring the two youngest children with them to the colony, their petition was refused. On arrival in the colony of New South Wales JOSÉPHINE was recorded as being “pregnant” and was, therefore, forwarded to the Parramatta Female Factory where she died on 5 June 1834. She was buried in an unmarked grave in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta on 6 June 1834.

Her husband LOUIS was described as a man of 5 feet and 4 ¼ inches with a dark copper-coloured, pockpitted complexion, black hair and dark hazel eyes. His two middle upper front teeth were apart, he had a small mole on his left cheek, ears pierced for rings, two hearts inside lower right arm. He had a scar betwixt the knuckles of fourth and little fingers of his right hand. The middle finger of his right hand was contracted. In 1838, family historians state that he married another Mauritian woman who went by the name of ELIZA FIGARO and hailed from Port Louis, though their marriage record has not been found. They had a large number of children in the colony. LOUIS applied for permission to marry a third woman, a seventeen-year-old free woman named MARY LEES, on 3 October 1839. Though at first successful, this was later refused when it was discovered he was already a married man and not a widow, as he had evidently claimed. Presumably, his marital state referred to the unverified marriage to ELIZA FIGARO.


Names

  • Alternate: JOSÉPHINE ALLY (c.f. trial records)
  • Alternate: JOSEPHINE MARY MERCELIN
  • Alternate: JOSEPHINE MARCELLINE (c.f. convict death register)
  • Alternate: MARY JOSEPHINE MARCELIN
  • Possible alias: CAROLINE CURET (c.f. Gaol Entrance Record, ship, year of arrival, birth year, and physical description including height are all exactly the same).

Timeline

  • For as long as fifteen months, JOSÉPHINE and her husband bought, hid, and distributed goods stolen by a gang of marooned (runaway) slaves who were committing robberies in and around Port Louis: c. late 1831–17 February 1833, “Miss Joséphine’s House,” Rue des Forges, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • A member of the organised crime gang named CHARLES was arrested and, under questioning, admitted to recent burglary then led police to the group of marooned (runaway) slaves committing robberies: 16 February 1833, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • JOSÉPHINE was arrested in the early hours along with her husband and the group of marooned (runaway) male slaves: 17 February 1833, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • Premises at Rue des Forges searched thoroughly by police leading to the recovery of stolen items including gold and silver watches, jewellery and gemstones, fine china, furniture, clothing and tools: Rue des Forges, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • Letter written on the couple’s behalf to Chief Commissioner JOHN FINISS and signed by JOSÉPHINE’s husband, urging the Commissioner to “consider the cruel situation” and begging him to provide their children “any food available” but FINISS refused their request: 18 February 1833, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • Tried for the crime. During the trial, Eilin Friis Hordvik notes, the marooned slaves “all refer to Miss Joséphine’s house; giving the stolen goods to Miss Joséphine; Miss Joséphine hid the stolen items and so on” demonstrating in their testimonies that she “wielded considerable power in this domestic space of crime and enterprise and played an important role within the gang of marooned slaves”: 18 September 1833, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • Though there was no evidence of their direct participation in the actual robberies themselves, as Eilin Friis Hordvik notes, JOSÉPHINE and her husband were seen as being “in charge of the nerve centre of this lucrative enterprise” so they were convicted for “night theft and receiving stolen goods” and “giving asylum to slaves, CHARLES and HYPOLITE”: 18 September 1833, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • The couple requested for their two youngest children, aged four and fourteen months, to be allowed to go with them to the colony, but this request was also refused by local authorities who erroneously claimed the children would not be received in New South Wales: 1833, Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • Sailed to the colony of New South Wales per Dart: 8 October 1833, Isle de France (Mauritius)
  • Arrived in the colony of New South Wales per Dart: 31 December 1833, Port Jackson, New South Wales
  • Admitted to gaol: c. 31 December 1833, Sydney Gaol, Sydney, New South Wales
  • Forwarded to the Parramatta Female Factory: > 31 December 1833
  • Died: 5 June 1834, Parramatta Female Factory
  • Buried: 6 June 1834, St. John’s Parish, Parramatta

Burial Location

  • Unmarked grave, exact location in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta unknown.

Relationships

  • Wife of LOUIS MERCELIN (aka MARCELIN CURRAC), married in Port Louis, Isle de France (Mauritius) < 1833.
  • Mother of MARIE ESTELLE MERCELIN, Port Louis, Isle de France, Mauritius
  • Mother of unidentified male MERCELIN, Port Louis, Isle de France, Mauritius
  • Mother of unidentified male MERCELIN, Port Louis, Isle de France, Mauritius
  • Mother of unidentified female MERCELIN, Port Louis, Isle de France, Mauritius
  • Mother of unidentified female MERCELIN, Port Louis, Isle de France, Mauritius
  • Mother of unidentified MERCELIN (perhaps unborn), Colony of New South Wales

Occupation

  • Washerwoman / Laundress
  • Needlewoman

Religion

  • Catholic

Description

  • Recorded age on arrival: 38 years
  • Height: 5 feet and 1¼ inches
  • Make: Stout
  • Complexion: Copper colour “woman of colour”
  • Hair: Black
  • Eyes: Dark Brown / Hazel
  • Former convictions: none
  • Education: none (could neither read nor write)
  • General Remarks: Large scar left cheekbone, small scar left side of lower lip, scar knuckle of left thumb. Pregnant. Husband MARCELIN by same ship.

Related Content

Josephine Mercelin: Convicts, Slaves and the Global Entanglements of New South Wales and Mauritius (2019)

By Briony Neilson

Abstract: How did a pregnant, free, French-speaking Creole woman from Isle de France (Mauritius) come to be an inmate of the Parramatta Female Factory in 1834? And how might her experiences have differed to the majority of female convicts sent to the colony? The life of Josephine Mercelin (aka Joséphine Ally), a married mother of five who colluded with a gang of runaway slaves by distributing their stolen goods, is interesting in its own right. It is, after all, the story of a woman whose actions, like those of fellow Mauritian convicts Constance Couronne and Elizabeth Verloppe, constituted a resistance to the Mauritian system of slavery in the early 1830s; actions which led to a permanent separation from loved ones and a sentence of servitude in a colony where she was a minority figure. But, as Dr. Briony Neilson discovers, the life story of this exceptional individual provides an entry point into a much bigger story of global significance; revealing entanglements that connected convicts, slaves, imperial administrators of both France and England, and a southerly outpost of the British Empire to the Indian Ocean world in the first half of the nineteenth century. more>>


Multimedia


Sources

Primary Sources

  • National Archives of Mauritius, Coromandel Court of Assizes Trial Records, JB Series (NAM) JB 253, letter from Marcelin Currac to Chief Commissioner of Police John Finniss, 18 February 1833.
  • National Archives of Mauritius, Coromandel Court of Assizes Trial Records, JB Series (NAM) JB 253, Marcelin Currac, Joséphine Ally and Hypolite, 18 September 1833.
  • National Archives of Mauritius, Secretariat, RA Series (NAM), RA 502, letter to Colonial Secretary G. F. Dick from Commissioner of Police John Finniss, 10 October 1833.
  • National Archives of the UK (TNA), Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania, HO 10, Piece: 52, (The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England).
  • New South Wales Government, Annotated printed indents (i.e., office copies), NRS 12189, Item:[X635], Reel 707, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).
  • New South Wales Government, Butts of Certificates of Freedom, NRS 1165, 1166, 1167, 12208, 12210, Reels 601, 602, 604, 982-1027, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales).
  • New South Wales Government, Convict Death Register, Series 12213, Reel 690, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).
  • New South Wales Government, Description books [Sydney Gaol], Series: 2517, Reel: 855, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).
  • New South Wales Government, Indents First Fleet, Second Fleet and Ships, NRS 1150, Reels 620–624, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).
  • New South Wales Government, Musters and other papers relating to convict shipsPapers re convicts from Mauritius (Dart 1833), Series: NRS: 1155; Reel: 2420; Item: 2/8255, pp. 37–60, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia).
  • New South Wales Government, Registers of convicts’ applications to marry, Series 12212, Item: 4/4513, Page: 119, (Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia: State Records Authority of New South Wales).
  • Parish Burial Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.
  • SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE. ARRIVALS,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Thursday 2 January 1834, p. 2.

Secondary Sources

  • John Addison and K. Hazareesingh, A New History of Mauritius, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1984).
  • Richard B. Allen, “Capital, Illegal Slaves, Indentured Labourers and the Creation of a Sugar Plantation Economy in Mauritius, 1810–60,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 36, No. 2 (2008): 151–170.
  • Richard B. Allen, Slaves, Freedmen and Indentured Laborers in Colonial Mauritius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
  • Clare Anderson, Subaltern Lives: Biographies of Colonialism in the Indian Ocean World, 1790–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  • Clare Anderson, “Unfree Labour and Its Discontents: Transportation from Mauritius to Australia, 1825–1845,” Australian Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Summer, 1999): 116–133.
  • A. J. Barker, Slavery and Antislavery in Mauritius, 1810–33: The Conflict between Economic Expansion and Humanitarian Reform under British Rule (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996).
  • James Bradley, “The Colonel and the Slave Girls: Life Writing and the Logic of History in 1830s Sydney,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 45, Issue 2 (2011): 416–435.
  • James Bradley and Cassandra Pybus, “From Slavery to Servitude: The Australian Exile of Elizabeth and Constance,” Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 9 (2007): 29–50.
  • Edward Duyker, “Mauritians,” Dictionary of Sydney, (2008), http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/mauritians, accessed 9 January 2019.
  • Edward Duyker, Of the Star and the Key: Mauritius, Mauritians and Australia (Sylvania: Australian Mauritian Research Group, 1998).
  • Eilin Friis Hordvik, “Exotic Cargo: Convict Women Shipped from Mauritius,” in Lucy Frost and Colette McAlpine (eds.), From the Edges of Empire: Convict Women from Beyond the British Isles, (Hobart: Convict Women’s Press, 2015), pp. 35–60.
  • Eilin Friis Hordvik, (PhD Diss.), “Mauritius – Caught in the Web of Empire: The Legal System, Crime, Punishment and Labour, 1825–1845,” (Hobart: University of Tasmania, 2016), https://eprints.utas.edu.au/23447/1/Hordvik_whole_thesis.pdf, accessed 9 January 2019.
  • Briony Neilson, “The Paradox of Penal Colonization: Debates on Convict Transportation at the International Prison Congresses 1872–1895,” French History and Civilization, Vol. 6 (2015): 198–211.

Lists

# Convict

# Mauritian

# Trial Place: Port Louis (Mauritius)

# Punishment: Seven Years Transportation

# Ship: Dart (1833)

# Parramatta Female Factory

# Death Place: Parramatta Female Factory

# Burial year: 1834

# Grave: unmarked