coombe . id . au ~ colonial newspapers ~ historical mystery ~ family history

 

#TroveGenie: A Social Media Experiment To Crowd Solve a #HistoryMystery using NLA’s Trove

 

The Judge’s Girl Kept Sydney Town Guessing

 

Can we Identify from 1804 an Unnamed Woman with an Assumed Name? How Hard Can This Be?

 

Current Status : NOW SOLVED

 

Do you want to try this challenge just for the fun of it?

 

You know how Trove comes up with “On This Day” on the newspaper zone search page? Well this one recently distracted me. It was a 1990 Canberra Times article by Robert Willson. It included the sentence:

 

But unless new evidence comes to light it seems that this convict girl took the secret of her real name and family to the grave with her.

 

Can we resist that challenge? In the internet age? Can we find the (convict) name of this “girl”? Can we identify her real name through her army brother?

 

I’ve had a quick look. It does have some factual basis. But it doesn’t seem easily solvable. It’s a great chance of being a fun problem to solve. Would you like to take on the challenge of a crowd sourced solution via Twitter?

 

Let’s start with the straightforward stuff.

 

First of all she is a woman, not a girl. She is then 24. So let’s call her “pretty young woman” (PYW) which although still unnecessary, at least reflects her description in the historical source document.

 

Here is the Trove list #TroveGenie 01 - The judge's girl kept Sydney Town guessing. It includes the Willson article, plus an initial time frame (1803-1804). It also includes the article’s source, “A Master Mariner,” Captain Robert William Eastwick’s autobiography. I will add to this list as we accumulate clues / evidence. It includes links to articles, web references, etc. And here is the initial timeline. (Further below is a timeline that is updated progressively with our finds.) Dates are in format yyyy-mm-dd.

 

1803-12-24                 Ship “Betsy”, Captain Eastwick, arrived Sydney from Madras, with tea, sugar, wine

1804-03-04/05            Castle Hill Rebellion

1804-04-20                 Ship “Betsy”, Captain Eastwick, departed Sydney for Madras

 

What’s Next?

 

Rule 1 is that if you find clues in Trove Newspapers then you fix the article text!

Rule 2 is that you are allowed to nominate only one primary lead. Later you may nominate a secondary lead that comes from your primary lead.

 

I will update this page and the Trove list as often as I practicably can. Pop back here every now and then.

 

And if this turns out to be fun, someone else may like to start another #TroveGenie!

 

Our Case Room Glass Whiteboard (“As Seen on TV”)  – Leads & Lines of Research

 

   Tweet with tag #TroveGenie to offer to follow a lead. (Nominate only one lead. Leads can be taken by more than one investigator.)

 

There are some obvious leads from Willson’s article. I’m going to structure this. At first this seems a bit over the top, but I think it will be useful shorthand for communications and help us manage our “whiteboard”. Also this abbreviation should help:

PYW – pretty young woman (our person of interest)

 

Primary:–

P1.   Initial timeline and feasibility | @coombeidau – COMPLETE

P2.   What convicts were assigned to Richard Atkins? |

P3   “A Master Mariner,” Captain Robert William Eastwick’s autobiography (the book) | @coombeidau – COMPLETE

P4.   Old Bailey Online: Theft from silk-mercer's store in London | @alanthall – COMPLETE

P5.   Brother in the Madras army (Fort St. George c.1799, Cheltenham c. 1819) |

P6.   Simeon Lord's store |

P7.   NSW BDM lookups |

P8.   UK BDM lookups |

 

Secondary:–

S1.   Play The Virgin Unmasked |

S2.   Ann Rochfort | @alanthall

S3.   Mary Martin | @alanthall

   ...  (your suggested lead) |

 

Finds / Clues

 

   Tweet with tag #TroveGenie or DM me (Twitter direct message) your finds for inclusion on this page and any reference links for inclusion in the Trove list. Also check out #TroveGenie for what other investigators are finding.

 

Finds are prefixed by their lead number. A find may generate a new lead.

 

P1.1.   The encounter was while Eastwick was in Sydney, 1803-12-24 to 1804-04-20. 24 year old PYW would be born c. 1779-80 and her 26 year old brother c. 1777-78.

P1.2.   “Betsy” former chief officer in a legal case after its departure, 1805-05-19.

P1.3    Autobiography mentions Eastwick attending theatre to see the play The Virgin Unmasked. The play title echoes his autobiographical tale! Does this cast doubt on the authenticity of his story? (New lead S1.)

 

Captain Eastwick in 1805 (After a Drawing)P3.1   Autobiography has a sound ring of authenticity. (Contrast with P1.3, S1)

P3.2   Madras, Seringapatam dates – see timeline. Eastwick meets PYW’s brother and sees Tippoo's Tiger while in Madras. You must see this Tiger! Check our Trove List.

P3.3   PYW’s brother surname begins with “M” ("Do you know a gentleman named M-----?")

P3.4   Captain Eastwick in 1805 (After a Drawing) - see image

 

P4.1   Ann Rochfort sentenced 1797-01-11 aged 16 (b.c 1780/81) for stealing silk ribband from a haberdasher and hosier in London. Transportation 7 years.  Spoke very little in the trial, and did not attempt to defend or elaborate. (New lead S2).

P4.2   Mary Martin sentenced 1802-04-28 aged 26 (b.c. 1775/76) for stealing muslin from a linendraper in London. Did try to defend her actions in trial. (New lead S3).

 

The following were provided by Seringapatam historian, Robin Walsh:

P5.1   List of Seringapatam officers with possible links to Lachlan Macquarie (link in Trove list) including candidate MEIN, Nichol Alexander - Lieutenant (1777-1847).

P5.2   Eastwicke's account should be taken with caution; being written well after the alleged event and somewhat romanticised.

P5.3   PYW is possibly in reality Mary Beckwith, convict girl possibly assigned to Richard Atkins, convicted of shoplifting material, 17 in 1804. She left Sydney with Baudin in 1803. If so, Eastwick could not have met her in Sydney in 1804, though he could very well have heard her story while in port, perhaps from her stepmother, another Mary Beckwith, assigned to Richard Atkins. (links in Trove list)

P5.4   Old Bailey trial notes suggest young Mary the daughter of John Beckwith, but that Mary senior is her stepmother.

P5.5   There is a baptism for Mary the daughter of John Beckwith (no mother mentioned) in Leeds on 15 Jan 1786.

P5.6   Anthony Brown’s “The Captain and the Convict Maid: A Chapter in the Life of Nicolas Baudin” extracts the stories of Mary Beckwith the younger, and Mary Beckwith the elder who later married Richard Atkins, and the prestigious background and military family and name change of Atkins himself! And there are connections to a brother and Madras! “It seems probable that Mary accompanied Auguste Baudin to Tranquebar [south of Madras].” (link in Trove list)

 

Solution

It seems highly likely that PYW is a conflation of the stories of Mary Beckwith the younger, Mary Beckwith the elder, and her later husband Richard Atkins. Eastwick may have heard the story from young Mary herself in Madras. But it seems more probable he heard it from either Mary Beckwith the elder or from Richard Atkins at that “Cheltenham meeting”.

 

Further very rewarding reading : Anthony Brown’s excellent article, accessible by a link in the Trove list #TroveGenie 01 - The judge's girl kept Sydney Town guessing.

 

Timeline (Updated)

 

Events include reference to lead / find.

 

1775-06-25                 Eastwick born Goodman's Fields, London making PYW just 4 years younger! (P3)

1777/78                       PYW’s brother born (P1.1)

1779/80                       PYW born (P1.1)

1799-04/05                 Siege of Seringapatam (1799-04-05 to 1799-05-04)

1799-06-01                 Eastwick arrives off Fort St. George, Madras in his brig “Harington” (P3.2)

1799-07                       Eastwick departs Madras in his brig “Harington” after a month (P3.2)

1800-07-09                 Mary Beckwith, 14 & Mary Beckwith, 34 (step?)mother convicted of shoplifting cotton prints (P5.3)

1801-12-14                 Mary Beckwith’s arrive Sydney (P5.3)

1802-06                       Baudin arrives Sydney in Géographe (P5.3)

1802-11-18                 Mary Beckwith departs Sydney with Baudin on Géographe (P5.6)

1803-12-24                 Ship “Betsy”, Captain Eastwick, arrived Sydney from Madras, with tea, sugar, wine (P1)

1804-03-04/05            Castle Hill Rebellion (P1)

1804-04-20                 Ship “Betsy”, Captain Eastwick, departed Sydney for Madras (P1)

1817-10-06                 Richard Atkins marries Mary Beckwith the elder in London (P5.6)

c. 1819                        Eastwick meets PYW’s brother in Cheltenham, London (P1, P3)

1820-11-21                 Richard Atkins dies London (P5.6)

 

2016-08-01 14:45 AEST