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James Donnelly

James Donnelly, one of 150 convicts transported on the Woodman, 01 December 1825

Name, Aliases & Gender

Name: James Donnelly
Aliases: Mcdonald
Gender: m

Birth, Occupation & Death

Date of Birth: 1800
Occupation: Weaver
Date of Death: -
Age: -

Life Span

Life span

Male median life span was 54 years*

* Median life span based on contributions

Conviction & Transportation

Sentence Severity

Sentence Severity

Sentenced to Life

Crime: Theft
Convicted at: Glasgow Court of Justiciary
Sentence term: Life
Ship: Woodman
Departure date: 1st December, 1825
Arrival date: 29th April, 1826
Place of arrival Van Diemen's Land
Passenger manifest Travelled with 149 other convicts


Primary source: Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 88, Class and Piece Number HO11/5, Page Number 322
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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Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

Precognition and trial - 1825, Glasgow.

National Records of Scotland, Reference AD14/25/141
Title: Precognition against James Donnelly for the crime of theft by opening lockfast places, habit and repute at The Butts (or Bughts), Glasgow
Dates: 1825
Accused: James Donnelly, alias McDonald, Age: 25, itinerant tailor, formerly weaver, Address: No fixed abode, lately Manchester
Victims: Janet McGregor, wife of James McGregor, The Butts (or Bughts), Glasgow; and James McGregor, labourer, The Butts (or Bughts), Glasgow (see http://catalogue.nrscotland.gov.uk/).


National Records of Scotland, Reference JC26/1825/217
Title: Trial papers relating to Jean Donnelly and James Donnelly for the crime of theft by opening lockfast places, habit and repute at The Butts (or Bughts), Glasgow. Tried at High Court, Glasgow.
Dates: 28 Sep 1825
Accused: Jean Donnelly, alias Wilson; McDonald, wife of James Donnelly or McDonald, m.s. [maiden surname] Moffat, Verdict: Guilty, Sentence: Transportation - 14 years. Note: A separate indictment was issued against the couple with an additional charge of theft. The case was due to be held at the High Court on 12 Jul 1825 but there is no entry in the minute book.

Accused: James Donnelly, alias McDonald, Verdict: Guilty, Sentence: Transportation - Life. Note: A separate indictment was issued against the couple with an additional charge of theft. The case was due to be held at the High Court on 12 Jul 1825 but there is no entry in the minute book.
Victims: James McGregor, labourer, The Butts (or Bughts), Glasgow; Janet McGregor, wife of James McGregor, The Butts (or Bughts), Glasgow.

Note: Jean Donnelly aka Jane Moffatt from Huntly, Aberdeenshire, was transported to VDL per Sir Charles Forbes, arriving in 1827. She was listed as Jane Moffatt alias Wilson or Donnelly or McDonald. She was granted a Conditional Pardon no.926 on 28 August 1836. She received her Free Certificate no.768 in 1839.

Along with her husband James Donnelly, she was convicted at the Launceston Quarter Sessions on 28 March 1845 for theft from her employer and sentenced to be imprisoned at the Launceston House of Correction with hard labour for two years. That sentence was remitted on 26 August 1846 (see http://search.archives.tas.gov.au/ImageViewer/image_viewer.htm?CON40-1-7,316).

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1825, 30 October: James Donnelly, 25, convicted for theft, was received aboard the prison hulk Justitia at Woolwich. He was sent from there for transportation on 18 November (see UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849).

1826: On arrival in VDL, James Donnelly was 25, a weaver and married. He was 5’5¼” tall with brown hair and blue eyes.

1831, 2 November: Appointed a Constable, as per Colonial Secretary’s notice (see Hobart Town Courier, 5 November, p2).

1834, 22 April: Launceston – “James Donnelly, a constable, was fined 10s. for neglect of duty and disobedience of orders” (see Colonial Times, p7).

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1834, 16 September: Granted a Conditional Pardon for assisting in the capture of four armed bushrangers on 10 September.

From the Tasmanian, 19 September, p3: “Indulgences—The Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to grant the undermentioned indulgences, viz: … James Donnelly, a conditional pardon, in consideration of their very praiseworthy conduct, in assisting in the capture on the banks of the Tamar, of four armed Bushrangers.” Eight civilians were also recognised later for helping the police to capture the armed men.

1836, 15 December: From the Launceston Advertiser, p2: “PUBLIC POUND, LAUNCESTON, December 14, 1836. IMPOUNDED, by James Donnelly, constable, on the 9th day of December, 1836 — One White Sow, black about the eyes, both sides of the neck, part of the left ear black. For being at large, 5s.; Poundage fees, 1s. per day; food and water, 3d per day. If the above animal is not claimed and redeemed within the time allowed by law, it will be sold by me at the above pound, on Wednesday, 4th January, 1837, according to the provisions of the Impounding Act. WILLIAM GREEN, poundkeeper.”

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1837, 11 March: From the Cornwall Chronicle, p1:

“Police Office, Launceston, 7th March, 1837. William Peel, James Donnelly, James Oldsworth, and John Bydee, constables, were charged upon the information of William Mann, Esq., with having feloniously broken into a house, his property, on the evening of Saturday last. Mr. Clark, the Police Magistrate, refused to hear the complaint against any other constable than Peel, who being placed at the bar, pleaded Not Guilty.”
James Donnelly was one of several witness called. He testified that he was “a free constable; was in George street on Saturday night with Peel and other constables; heard cries of murder proceed from Cramer’s house opposite the Penitentiary; was refused admittance; saw the door broken open; a man named Brooks was behind the door; he appeared to be sober; all those inside appeared to have been drinking; a person named Hill came in after them; he was not given in charge; gave one of them in the front room a light; the door was shut; a person in the street might not see a light in the house; there were no marks of blood or violence on any of those in the house.”

Cross-examined by Prosecutor— As soon as the light was got the door was broken open; am a constable, and was one of the party; a man came in after us; he was not given in charge by Peel; do not know what became of him after.”

Verdict: Constable Peel was fined 5 shillings.

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1837, 1 July: From the Cornwall Chronicle, p1 – an accusation of police and judicial corruption:


We have refrained until now, from noticing the disgraceful affair recently submitted to the private humbug of the Police Magistrate, to give him the opportunity to fairly represent the matter to the Chief Authority, and to punish as it deserves to be, the flagrant outrage committed against society by two of our conservators of the peace. Until this moment no notice has been taken of the matter by the Authorities, and the party is screened from punishment by being sent to Port Phillip, it is said upon business of particularly important nature. Bah!

The facts of the case alluded to are simply as follow:-

Mr. William Peel, a district constable, and Mr. James Donnelly, entered a private home one Wednesday evening, about seven o’clock, and found several persons playing at cards, one of whom, a ticket-of-leave man, they took away, and put into the watch-house. The following morning on being brought before the Magistrate, he was reprimanded and discharged.

An evening or two afterwards, the same two constables found their way into the same house about the same hour of the evening, and finding the same Ticket-of-leave man there took him away, together with an assigned servant of the party, who kept the house, saying, they would put them into the watch house. The ticket-of-leave man was within a day or two of receiving a conditional pardon, and aware, no doubt, of the consequences likely to result from his being a second time in the course of a very few days — charged at the Police-office — pleaded hard for his liberation, and backed his entreaties up with the tender of a £5 note – Donnelly, after consulting Peel refused it— but still continued to lead their victim up and down the streets — and not in the road to the watch-house.
The Ticket-of-leave man increased his offer with a two pound note, which after a consultation between the gentleman conservators was likewise refused; do not suppose gentle reader, that either the five pound or the two pound note was returned to the man — not so, they were firmly retained, and still more money was demanded. It is immaterial for us to state the various negotiations that took place; eventually the Ticket-of-leave man was released, together with the assigned servant (who by the bye was kept out of the way of hearing what was going on) minus the sum of £11.15s, which was the amount of its purchase.

About half an hour after the parties were arrested at the house, and were taken away to be put into the watch-house — they returned to it — when the Ticket-of-leave man explained the method he had adopted to save his conditional pardon. The facts soon became known to a District Constable, who laid the whole affair before the Police Magistrate, Mr. John Clark, in the shape of an information.
Some days were allowed to elapse before the information was heard — when it came on Mr. Police Magistrate, heard in his private office—and performed the duties of clerk to himself. The defendant in the case was not required to disprove the charge laid against him — Mr. Police Magistrate sat very patiently penning down the examination of several witnesses whom Peel brought forward to give evidence that the Ticket-of-leave man was not quite a Joseph.

Now, this affair, in itself, is unworthy our notice, but does it not expose the system by which felons holding the office of constables rob and plunder the peaceable and good citizens at their pleasure?

Since this affair has been made known — numberless, almost, are the statements of people who have been stopped in the streets at night when walking peaceably in them, and charged by the felon constables with the commission or crime, and threatened with the watch-house — but who, to save themselves from exposure, knowing that oaths will not be wanting to convict them — have permitted themselves to be fleeced of their money, and or everything valuable about them.

The case now in question deserves a fair and public investigation. If a respectable citizen be charged by a felon constable, he is placed by Mr. Police Magistrate Clark at the public bar, and in the presence of his auxiliaries and the public, to stand his trial — but, it seems, that when Mr. district constable Peel and his deputy, Mr. Donnelly, are charged with an offence destructive to the interests of a civilised society, they must be favored with a PRIVATE examination — at which Mr. Police Magistrate himself pens the depositions as they choose to arrange them. Oh, this is monstrous, and smells foully.

But we have not room this week to express our indignation at this abominable transaction. We shall now only say, that when Mr. Clark got ousted in his attempt to ride over the sentinel, at the Government Cottage gate- upon the faith of his paltry pro. tem. commission — he should have resigned his situation. We may find space, probably, another week, to scrutinize Mr. Clark’s general conduct in his official capacity.”

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1838, 24 February: From the Cornwall Chronicle, p1:

“Monday, Feb. 19: Jonathan Howarth, a constable, was charged by James Donnelly, with neglect of duty. Donnelly deposed to being on duty the night before, in Chas.-street, when he found the accused fast asleep under a verandah. Jonathan, with many tears, protested his innocence, and called as a witness constable Coakley, the very man with whom Donnelly swore he found Howarth asleep. Captain Wentworth expressed his determination to visit every lapse of duty on the part of the constabulary with immediate punishment, and sentenced Howarth to seven days solitary confinement on bread and water.”

1838, 31 August:  “James Donnelly, [Launceston] district constable, fined £2, and severely reprimanded, for assault.”

1841, 14 July: James Donnelly alias McDonald per Woodman was granted a Free Pardon (see https://stors.tas.gov.au/CON34-1-1$init=CON34-1-1P645).

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1844, 5 June: Is the James Donnelly in this case “our” James Donnelly?

From the Colonial Times, p3. Supreme Court Criminal Sittings:

“Michael Ryan, Michael Robinson, and James Donnelly, were capitally charged, under the Colonial Act, with a robbery, being armed with a gun, at the house of William Palmer, on the 4th of April last.

The prosecutor, who lives at Bridgewater, at the back of the Black Snake, stated, that about seven o’clock on the evening of the 4th of April, the prisoners came to his house; witness was called out, and stopped by three men; Ryan and Robinson were two of them; Robinson had a gun in his hand; he told witness to go back, or he would blow his brains out; he drew his gun towards his shoulder, and presented it at witness; witness then turned to go back to the house, when he had his hands tied behind him. The witness then described the conduct of the prisoners, and deposed to their taking away a watch, Robinson standing sentry over witness, while Ryan searched the house. (The watch was produced, and identified by the witness.) The prisoners, locking witness in a room, went away, when witness having liberated himself, missed other property, a gun and some wearing apparel, some of which was found upon the person of one of the prisoners; witness could not identify the third man, Donnelly; nor could he tell how he was dressed…”


1845, 8 March: From the Courier – Hobart Town Supreme Court: Is this man “our” James Donnelly?

“WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 5. James Donnelly and Isaac Fall were charged with burglariously entering the dwelling-house of and robbing Mrs Mary Ann Hendrick. Mrs. Hendrick was in bed very ill, when the prisoners, Fall and another man, entered the room about midnight by the window -one only dressed in a shirt. Fall demanded money from Mrs. Hendrick, and she gave him all she had; the other man went into another room and dressed himself in some clothes he found there, and they then departed, taking a bundle with them. The haste with which Mrs. Hendrick’s evidence had to be taken, as she was evidently in a dying state, led to some deficiency in the evidence fatal to the indictment, and His Honor was under the necessity of directing the jury to acquit the prisoners. Mrs. Hendrick only lived a few days after the robbery was committed.”

Footnote: The pair was subsequently retried and convicted, as per this report in the Hobart Courier on 26 April 1845, p3:

“James Donnelly and Isaac Fall, convicted of burglary, sentenced to transportation for life, His Honor’s mind being satisfied on the point [that] lifting up a window constituted the offence.”

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1845, 28 March: James and Jane Donnelly were tried at the Quarter Sessions at Launceston, convicted and sentenced to 7 years and 2 years respectively for stealing a shawl and other items. He was sent to Port Arthur for 2 years (see https://stors.tas.gov.au/CON34-1-1$init=CON34-1-1P645).

The case was reported in the Launceston Examiner on 29 March, p6:


(Before Joseph Hone, Esq., Chairman, James Robertson, Esq., J.P.) … James Donnelly, and his wife, Jane Donnelly, were indicted for stealing on the 20th December, 1843, a shawl, handkerchief, waistcoat, toast-rack, books, razor, and a variety of other articles, the property of their master, Mr. Joseph Penny.

Mr. Rocher appeared for the prisoners.

Mr. Penny deposed to having missed the property and identified several articles when produced. The prisoners were in his service, Donnelly left some three or four months before his wife.

Mrs. Penny confirmed the above testimony, and particularised the articles missed while both prisoners were in her service, and those missed since they left. There was another female servant employed in the house. The prisoner Jane Donnelly was cook, and her husband waiter, but she had occasionally access to the rooms where the property was kept.

In cross-examination Mr. Rocher elicited that the female prisoner had about two years since restored to her mistress a valuable ring and a pair of salt cellars, which had been missed.

Constable Potter visited the prisoners’ house, in various parts of which the stolen property was found; the shawl was found in the yard, and witness observed Mrs. Donnelly going in that direction apparently concealing something under her clothes. The prisoner accounted variously for the articles discovered, alleging that some were her property; others had been given her by Mrs. Penny, &c.; the books were lying open on the table with other works, and none of the property was concealed.

Mr. D. C. Davis gave similar testimony, detailing more minutely the suspicions conduct of the prisoners when the house was searched.

Mr. Rooher, for the defence, laid down four points for the consideration of the jury; they must be satisfied, 1st, that the prisoners were servants of the prosecutor on the day named in the indictment; 2nd, that they stole the property whilst such servants, and on the day named; 3rd, that the property belonged to Mr. Penny; 4th, that the prisoners jointly stole that property, for if one was the thief and the other the receiver, the indictment could not be sustained. He hoped, if the jury entertained the least doubt about any question of law, they would apply to the chairman for his decision, and not come to a conclusion unfavourable to the prisoners. He made the request in consequence of what had transpired respecting the verdict of a jury upon some former occasion. If the jury believed that Mrs. Donnelly acted under the coercion of her husband, in law she was excused. Having briefly reviewed the evidences Mr. Rochier left the case with the jury.

The chairman summed up, pointing out the peculiarity of the case, the prisoners being husband and wife, charged jointly for an offence committed whilst servants of the prosecutor. Admitting the difficulty of determining between stealing and receiving, he cautioned the jury to be careful lest by their verdict a license should be given to husbands and wives to plunder with impunity. He disposed of Mr Rocher’s second point at once, by instructing the jury it was not necessary to find the particular day upon which the theft was committed. Respecting the question of receiving, the chairman remarked, in reply to the prisoner’s counsel, that no one was so likely to have stolen the property as persons residing on the premises, having free access to the articles stolen. He directed the jury to confine their attention to the articles stolen whilst the prisoners were both in the service of the prosecutor; of the identity of which there could be no doubt. If they could believe that one of the prisoners stole, and the other received, the property, they could only convict the thief.

The jury retired about an hour and a half, and brought in a verdict of Guilty.”

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 wrote:

1848, 17 October: James Donnelly alias McDonald per Woodman was granted a Ticket of Leave (see Launceston Examiner, 21 October, p8).

1852, 27 April: James Donnelly received a Free Certificate, “his sentence having expired” (see https://stors.tas.gov.au/CON34-1-1$init=CON34-1-1P645).

Convict Changes History

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 made the following changes:

alias1: Mcdonald (prev. McDonald (Alias)), date of birth: 1800 (prev. 0000), gender: m, occupation

Dianne Jones on 9th May, 2021 made the following changes:


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