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Margaret Dawson

Margaret Dawson, one of 262 convicts transported on the Lady Penrhyn, Scarborough and Alexander, January 1787

Name, Aliases & Gender

Name: Margaret Dawson
Aliases: none
Gender: f

Birth, Occupation & Death

Date of Birth: 1771
Occupation: House servant
Date of Death: 17th February, 1816
Age: 45 years

Life Span

Life span

Female median life span was 61 years*

* Median life span based on contributions

Conviction & Transportation

Sentence Severity

Sentence Severity

Sentenced to 7 years

Crime: Stealing
Convicted at: Middlesex Gaol Delivery
Sentence term: 7 years
Ship: Lady Penrhyn, Scarborough and Alexander
Departure date: January, 1787
Arrival date: 22nd January, 1788
Place of arrival New South Wales
Passenger manifest Travelled with 293 other convicts


Primary source: Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 87, Class and Piece Number HO11/1, Page Number 11 (7)
Source description: 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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Community Contributions

Eric Harry Daly on 21st December, 2012 wrote:

Margaret Dawson was born abt 1771 and died 16 Feb 1816 in St James, Westminster. She was tried at the Old Bailey on 22 Feb 1786 at the age of 15 for stealing from her employer.

She came from Liverpool and in 1786 was employed in London as a servant in the house of Joseph and Frances Shetley. On the afternoon of Sunday 12 February 1786, while her employers were out of the house, Margaret collected a large quantity of clothing, jewellery, and money, and left the house. Mrs Shetley returned home and found the house in disorder and the young servant girl missing. She sent for Mr Shetley who set out to follow Margaret that evening. Knowing she came from the Liverpool area, he asked after her at the Golden Cross at Charing Cross and was told that a girl of her description had boarded the coach for Chester in the north at 7.00 p.m. Mr Shetley took a postchaise with a Mr Lowe, and overtook the coach at St Albans. Margaret was found on the roof of the coach, apprehended, and taken into a local Inn where she handed over the stolen goods from her pockets and two boxes. The goods were recognised by Mr Shetley, the only item missing being a guinea coin which she had used to pay for the coach. When asked if she had acted with an accomplice or was travelling with anyone, she said no. Margaret was then taken back to London and Mrs Shetley identified the items of clothing!!.
Her trial record, like that of most of her fellow convicts, remains completely silent as to motive. We can only speculate as to whether her rash action resulted from cruel or indecent treatment at the hands of her employer, a family crisis pulling her back home, a threat from an unknown person, or a simple failure to resist the temptation of an empty house.
At her trial at The Old Bailey on 22 February for “feloniously stealing” goods to the value of £12 4s 1d, Mr Lowe stated that she was so changed in appearance that he would not have recognised her. In her defence, Margaret said “I have nothing to say, I have no witnesses.” She was found guilty and sentenced to the mandatory sentence of death. The prosecutor and jury recommended mercy on account of her youth, being only fifteen, and it being her first offence.
After ten months in Newgate Prison, in conditions where malnutrition, filth and violence were common, Margaret was returned to court. Here, on 4 January 1787, her death sentence was commuted “on condition of being transported for [a term of seven years], to the Eastern coast of New South Wales, or some one or other of the islands adjacent”.
On the 26th January, she was delivered from Newgate to the Lady Penrhyn, then moored in the River Thames. Conditions here were no better than in prison, with the women on board described as “almost naked and so very filthy’ and “where there are very many venereal complaints”. She sailed with the Fleet for New South Wales from Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, arriving after a cramped and insanitary voyage of seven months at Sydney Cove in Port Jackson on 26 January 1788.
After allowing time for land to be cleared and huts erected, Margaret, along with the 189 other female convicts, went ashore on 6 February. Here, it was reported by one onlooker “the convicts got to them very soon after they landed, and it is beyond my abilities to give a just description of the scenes of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night.”
In August 1789 the convict John Hayes received 50 lashes in a flogging ordered for his “infamous Behaviour” towards Margaret. Perhaps it was this event that brought her to the attention of the assistant surgeon, William Balmain. And perhaps she assisted Balmain in tending to the large number of sick convicts who arrived in mid 1790 in the Second Fleet.
In November 1791, Margaret and Balmain travelled together to Norfolk Island on Atlantic, along with Philip Gidley King, travelling to take up the post of Lieutenant Governor. Her penal sentence expired in January 1793, and soon after she signed a receipt for payment for some grain sold to the government stores, indicating she was literate, free, and farming some land. Their first child, a daughter, was born here in May 1794. The family returned to Sydney in August 1795.
Back in Sydney, Margaret bore two more children, a girl and a boy, with Balmain. The older daughter died on 4 September 1797.
The family left Sydney in August 1801, and arrived in London in March 1802, an absence of just under 15 years. In May 1803 Margaret, now pregnant with their fourth child, and the children, were sent to Ormskirk, near Liverpool.
On 17 November 1803 William Balmain died. In his will, dated four days before, he left a yearly sum of £50 to “my dear friend Margaret Dawson, otherwise Henderson ... whose tenderness to me, while in ill health , claims my warmest gratitude and by whom I have had two natural children … and who is now ensient”. On Margaret’s death his executors were to provide £12 10s for her “last sickness and funeral expenses”.
No doubt due to her convict status, in contrast to Balmain’s professional position, she was unable to marry him, and she and the children had taken the surname ‘Henderson”, which was Balmain’s mother’s maiden name.
Margaret left Ormskirk and gave birth to the fourth child in London. Little is known of this baby, except that it was a girl, and still living with the family at Clements Inn in January 1807.
Although she was receiving some rent from properties in New South Wales, it is likely that Margaret would have had to earn a living, perhaps as housekeeper. With the help of Balmain’s friends she continued to encourage her son John William’s education, and he was to return to New South Wales in January 1829 as a surgeon (like his father).
On 16 February 1816, while living at St James’s, Westminster, Margaret died, and was buried in the churchyard of St-Giles-in-the-Fields, where Balmain was buried.

Convict Changes History

Eric Harry Daly on 21st December, 2012 made the following changes:

date of birth 1771, date of death 17th February, 1816, gender, occupation, crime

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