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Margaret Cunningham, one of 40 convicts transported on the Emu, October 1812
Name, Aliases & Gender
Birth, Occupation & Death
|Date of Birth:
|Date of Death:
life span was 61 years*
* Median life span based on contributions
Conviction & Transportation
Sentenced to Life
* Arrival date is estimated
||Lancaster Lent Assizes
30th May, 1813
|Place of arrival
||New South Wales
Travelled with 39 other convicts
||Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 87, Class and Piece Number HO11/2, Page Number 78
||This record is one of the entries in the British convict transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Queensland from British Home Office (HO) records which are available on microfilm as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.
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Beth Kebblewhite on 25th October, 2019 wrote:
CUNNINGHAM, Margaret (c1766-?) (Mrs, maiden name unknown)
Tried - 21 March 1812 Lancaster Lent Assize
Margaret was sentenced at Lancaster Assize Court in 1812 for uttering forged Bank of England notes. She had entered Mr Quirk’s pawn-broker in Bridgewater St., Liverpool and made an offer to buy two blankets and a man’s coat. She had been a housekeeper and gave her address as Blundell Street and it was said that she was married to Nicholas Cunningham (?-?). At the conclusion of the trial “the Judge was pleased to reprieve the whole of those condemned before he left the town.” Margaret’s death sentence was commuted to transportation for life to New South Wales. The gaoler was given instructions to provide the female prisoners from Lancaster extra clothing for the journey, such as shoes, stockings, handkerchiefs, shifts and a jacket. Margaret was first placed on the ship Emu & finally reached there in 1814 on the Broxbornebury. She was one of the oldest convict women, then aged about 48.
For info re her colonial life, see the second entry for Margaret Cunningham on this site listed as a convict on the Broxbornebury.
On the 12th of November 1812, the ship Emu left England in company with the brig James Hay, bound for the Colony of New South Wales. Lieutenant Alexander Bisset of the Royal Navy was the Commander of the Emu and he had a crew of twenty-two men although the Declaration given to Bisset stated there were thirty-six crew. They carried stores of food to last three months.
The ship was a small brig of 182 tons, with two decks and two masts, especially built for service in New South Wales and was armed with ten guns mounted and fitted with a devise to prevent attacks over the side. As well as some stores and a large quantity of ammunition for the Colony, on board were forty women convicts, several with children, having been put under sentence of transportation to Sydney, Port Jackson in the Colony of New South Wales, over 20 thousand kilometres away.
At this time Britain was still fighting a war with France (mainly at sea against Napoleon) however in 1812 a second Colonial war with America began, called the War of 1812. The American’s grievance was the British insistence upon the right of search of their vessels at sea and the trade blockades which were in place. The Americans started with inflicting heavy losses on English ships using privateers (American government-sanctioned pirates) and their “prizes” were often sailed into American waters and sold. The Americans also invaded Canada, which was under British rule, and set fire to the city of Toronto. The English retaliated with setting fire in Washington to the presidential mansion (the White House).
On leaving England, Captain Bisset was handed a Declaration granting him Letters of Marque and Reprizals “for the apprehending, seizing, and taking the ships, vessels and goods belonging to the United States of America”.
The war was soon over, but unfortunately the Emu found herself directly in the firing line. In the Bay of Biscay they had parted company with the James Hay and on the 30th of November they were alone when the Holkar, an American privateer approached. Captain Jonathan Rowland was the commanding officer of the larger vessel which was mounted with eighteen guns and a crew of one hundred and fifty. The Emu was vastly outnumbered and most of the crew refused to fight, except for Captain Bisset, a gunner and a landsman. With little choice against such odds, Bisset capitulated, first throwing overboard the ship’s papers and other official documents and the Emu was boarded by the Americans.
Nearly seven weeks after their capture, on the 17th of January 1813, the crew of the Emu and the forty women convicts were landed at Mindelo on Saint Vincent one of the Cape Verde Islands “with provisions enough for four months”.
The Holkar sailed away with the Emu to Providence Harbour, Rhode Island where the ship was sold as a “prize” and the Captain and crew receiving most, if not all, of the money received.
The Cape Verde Islands are located in the Atlantic Ocean, six hundred and twenty kms. off the Coast of Senegal, Africa, then under the control of the Portuguese. There seems to be no official record of what happened to the women convicts, their children and the crew during their stay there, but an unverified report states that they were looked after by Catholic nuns. One of the women, Elizabeth King, died on the island on the 29th of January 1813.
It must have taken a few months for the news of the ship’s capture to be known by the authorities in England and they finally sent the ship Isabella to the Cape Verde Islands for their “rescue”. They arrived back at Portsmouth England (via a journey to Bear Haven, Ireland), about the 12th of October 1813, only for the authorities to be told the women were “….in a state of nakedness and inadvisable of their being landed…” They were kept on board in the harbour for a total of four months until another ship was made ready for a voyage to the Colony, which was the Broxbornebury in February 1814, along with an extra eighty-five female convicts.
Not all the thirty-nine remaining women from the Emu made the journey to New South Wales. Five convicts were transferred to the Captivity prison hulk ship in Portsmouth Harbour. Four of these women were granted Full Pardons and one died on the hulk ship. For the other thirty-four it had been a long voyage when they finally arrived in Sydney in July 1814, twenty months after first embarking on the Emu!
From the book “Journey to a New Life…” the story of the ships Emu & Broxbornebury by Elizabeth Hook (3rd ed. 2014). I am the author & can be contacted on email@example.com for further info
Public Record Office (UK), Reel 32; CO 201 (Colonial Office); Original Correspondence; Vol. 70, pp72-3
Admiralty records at National Archives (UK) ADM 7/319 & ADM 108/24 p15)
Convict Changes History
Beth Kebblewhite on 25th October, 2019 made the following changes:
date of birth: 1766 (prev. 0000), gender: f, occupation, crime