Physical descriptions of convicts, entered into their records upon arrival in Tasmania, may be read with interest by their descendants. No doubt they were intended as an aid to identification if any should try to escape and take on a new identity. Whether those records so carefully made were ever used for their original purpose I have no idea, and the chance of such details as they contain being accepted as clear evidence of the identity of a convict ancestor several generations later must be very unlikely, but in the case of my great grandmother Catherine's mother the description of a tattoo on her right arm provided the final clue which enabled us to establish her true name and family of origin after more than twenty years of searching.
Marks such as scars and tattoos can be described with a precision which is difficult if not impossible in regard to features such as the size of a nose or the shape of a chin, though even such ambiguous clues can sometimes refer to recognizable characteristics. For example, my aunt Dorothy Russell used to say that she had "old Henry's bumps", referring to the forehead of Catherine's father, Henry Peever, which was described in his convict record as "projecting", a description confirmed by the one photograph we have of him. Nor was there any doubt about Henry Peever being the father of Catherine even though for many years we could not find any registration of her birth: it was "well known" in the family, not that such "knowledge" is always a reliable guide; but more importantly, we had documentary evidence and reports from people who were old enough to remember him living in his last years at "Florence Vale", the home of Catherine and her husband Thomas Beswick at Derby, where he was called "Grandfather Peever" by Catherine's children and her first grandchildren; and the newspaper report of his death in 1890 gave his place of residence as "Florence Vale, Derby". But as to the identity of the mother of his illegitimate daughter Catherine there was a great mystery.
Interestingly, Henry Peever also had a tattoo when he arrived on the Lord Lyncoch in 1831. Under "Remarks", where these things were recorded, we read "Mar'd E.P. on rt arm". It is largely irrelevant to our search for Catherine's mother except that it demonstrated how an early tattoo can point to an identity established in a period of a person's life before that covered by the convict records. It turned out that Henry's "real" name was Edward, as appeared on the registration of some of his legitimate children: indeed when the first of those children was registered in 1855 the father's name was first written as "Henry" and then crossed out and replaced with "Edward".
The bits and pieces we had of family tradition included a few useful leads mixed up with innocent errors and deliberate deception. Indeed, this is a story of breaking through a barrier of silence and deception which was largely designed to hide the convict stain in what became a very "respectable" family, with a fair quota of high achievers, and some public figures among Catherine's living descendants. Not that our family is unique in that, or that many today would wish to hide the distant past. The barriers we had to overcome were of the common type erected a century and more ago when, as Robert Hughes observed in The Fatal Shore, what most distinguished a post-convict society was its search for respectability.
We had neither Christian names nor a surname. Catherine being known as Catherine Peever, as in the family Bible, even the fact that her parents had not been married was hidden and with it the surname of her mother, and that quite deliberately, as may be seen from the confession of how one of Catherine's grandchildren was inducted into the conspiracy of silence by an older cousin when she was a young girl. When she was nearly ninety years old in 1984 Kath Martin wrote to my cousin Richard Gandy in London:
As we all grew up to the age of enquiring old Thora gave me the secret that Grandma was an illegitimate child!! I always kept my part of the secret, but apparently Thora's love for Grand[ma] was not equal to mine!! I adored dear little Grandma. I was not going to take away any of her character (loud laughter in 1984.)
"Old Thora" was Thora Bottcher, later Burton, who was Catherine's eldest grandchild, born in 1886, and the source of one crucial piece of information on the identity of Catherine's mother which she passed on to Richard Gandy when he interviewed her in 1973, to which I will return shortly. Perhaps she thought he was safe, living in London, and somehow special too, as the eldest of the next generation and very highly respected as a former Rhodes Scholar, scientist and opera singer. Thora did apparently keep the secret as far as her own children were concerned. In an interview recorded about 1979, her daughter asked her of Henry Peever, whose death Thora said she could remember, "You don't know who he married?", and she replied,
No, I only know that he married a woman, that she was Irish. Whatever was wrong with her I don't know, but he took the baby from her and brought the child up himself, and afterwards he married ... because she [Catherine] had half brothers and sisters.
Her daughter persisted, "You don't know who her mother was?"
No, I don't know any more than that she was Irish. That's all I know about her.
Whatever was her purpose in making that strong declaration it was not all she knew, for she had already told Richard Gandy more in 1973: that is, that Catherine's mother had married a man named Anderson. Here was a clue of some importance, for we found in addition that her mother's surname was recorded at the registration of Catherine's marriage, where we find Catherine Clarke married Thomas Beswick at Westbury, 1 March 1862. The Clarke name was also used in preference to Peever for the mother's maiden name at the registration of the births of 12 of the 14 children of Thomas and Catherine. It was useful to know the surname Clarke, for it could be combined with the information about the Anderson marriage to find her Christian names. It turned out that there was only one Anderson-Clarke marriage in Tasmania in the relevant decade, and that was of Mary Ann Clarke to John Anderson in 1853. So we a had a full name for Catherine's mother, Mary Ann Clarke, but who was she?
We could find no record of the birth of a Catherine Clarke or Peever, nor the birth of any female child at about the right time born to a Mary Ann Clarke. Catherine's birth date was given in the family Bible as 18 May 1844, which we now know to have been wrong, and according to her death certificate she was born in Hobart, which was also wrong; but neither of those errors prevented us from finding her birth registration, for when we did find it years later, it contained neither the name Catherine nor the mother's name as Clarke, nor her father's name. For reasons which it would be tiresome to recount, in 1986 I put together a fair case, nevertheless, for believing that Catherine's birth had not been registered and that her mother was a convict Mary Ann Clarke who arrived on the Garland Grove early in 1843. That hypothesis was unfortunately allowed to stand as fact when my history The Family of Thomas and Mary Beswick was printed for the Beswick family reunion in 1992, and maintained in the revised chapters published on my web site. It was later discovered that Mary Ann Clarke of the Garland Grove, although she had much in common with the person we did later identify as Catherine's mother, had married someone other than Mr Anderson and that another convict woman whose name was given as Mary Ann, but not Clarke, had given birth to Catherine.
If the deception about the marital status of Catherine's parents was reasonably systematic yet rather hopeless, it was as nothing compared to the effort put into covering up their convict backgrounds. There was a lot to cover. Not only were both of her parents convicts, but her husband Thomas Beswick was the son of a convict of the same name, and his mother was the daughter of a convict, all of which is documented elsewhere. "Old Thora" must surely have known the convict background, as at least some of her cousins and their spouses did also: for example, it was remembered that my grandmother was heard to the say to her mother-in-law, Catherine, in reference to her own parents from Scotland, "At least the Dicks came to Tasmania of their own accord!"
But although she gave him the crucial information about the Anderson marriage, Thora not only covered up Mary Ann's background, she told Richard Gandy what he later described as "a cock and bull story" designed to hide the convict origins of Thomas Beswick as well. It was an attitude kept up in the recorded interview when her daughter repeated what she must have been taught, "And you don't think there were any convicts in it .... [and a bit more cock and bull]", to which she said only "Mmm" and to "There's no good us looking for the old records amongst the convicts then?", to which she said, "No, I don't think so." "That goes as far back on your mother's side as you can trace". "Yes." I had been told similar things from other sources.
That was, more or less, where it rested until 1999, when an archivist, Margaret Bryant, who had a common interest in the Peever name, happened to notice in the baptismal register of the Catholic Church of the Apostles, Launceston, an entry for the baptism of a child named Catherine, the daughter of "Marianne Ray" and "Henry Pevor", born 19 June 1845, which she passed on to my cousin Kathleen Alexander. The corresponding birth registration was soon found of a female child, unnamed, born on that date to Mary Ann Ray at the Female House of Correction, Launceston, father not named. The date of birth was interestingly one year, one month and one day later than the date given in the family Bible.
Much discussion followed as to the likelihood of Henry Peever having fathered two children named Catherine, by convict women both named Mary Ann, at about the same time, and even of whether there could have been two Henry Peevers; but we had one birth registration, one baptism and one Henry, and it seemed to me one mother Mary Ann Ray, but who was she? Significantly, there was no later record of a marriage or death in Tasmania of either a Catherine Ray or a Mary Ann Ray who could have been the same people. They had simply disappeared. Was Mary Ann Ray also Mary Ann Clarke who married John Anderson and whose surname Catherine gave for her maiden name when it was officially required? Had Mary Ann Ray changed her name to Clarke after she completed her sentence of transportation in 1851? If she had changed her name, why Clarke? It was certainly a common enough alias, but if it was entirely arbitrary why would Catherine have followed suit, when she had apparently nothing more to do with her mother after Henry took her as an infant? Could it be possible that Clarke was Mary Ann's original surname which might have been known to Henry Peever?
The convict records of Mary Ann Ray were very informative. It may not have been fortunate for her, but is was certainly useful to us to find that she had many subsequent offenses after transportation, fifteen in fact, about three times the average number reported by Robson and many more than Henry Peever who had three and Thomas Beswick with none. Amongst the convictions were two showing that she had been assigned to one "Saltmarsh" which placed her geographically and socially within the community in which we know Henry Peever moved at the time when she became pregnant in 1844. This Saltmarsh was surely William Saltmarsh of Longford (Norfolk Plains) who was a half brother of a known friend of the Beswick and Peever families, Richard Jordan, both being children of Mary Butler born on Norfolk Island, an account of whose arrest after an hilarious episode at a house of ill repute in London in 1786 is told in Chapter 1 of my history and in Alma Ranson's Jordans of the Three Isles. It was part of the family tradition that Henry Peever had brought up Catherine with the help of Richard Jordan and his family; there was also a tradition in the Jordan family that Richard and his wife had adopted Catherine; and furthermore, it was known that Catherine named her eldest son, my grandfather Richard, after Richard Jordan.
As to there being, in Thora's words, something "wrong" with her, the record shows that Mary Ann was a prostitute as well as a thief in Liverpool, who had been "on the town for two or three years" and had already served one sentence of twelve months for stealing money and two of one month for being "disorderly", when she was tried for stealing money "from the person" on 25 October 1841, aged 17, and that she was transported on the Emma Eugenia, on 9 April 1842, single, aged 18. Her numerous convictions in Tasmania included riotous behaviour, obscene language, being drunk, disorderliness, theft, being absent without leave and found in a disorderly house, etc., for which she spent about half her time in prison between 1842 and 1848, at various times in both Hobart and Launceston. Her last sentence, for being absent and found in a brothel, was significantly for six months imprisonment with hard labour in Hobart from February 1848. We assume that was when Henry "took the child" at about three years of age, and that the information that he collected her from Hobart was passed on in a way which was later thought to indicate Catherine's place of birth.
There was another problem. Mary Ann Ray's native place was given in the convict records as Liverpool, but Catherine's mother was supposed to have been Irish. Where was she born? An Irish background might be consistent with her religion being stated as "RC", and of course we had Catherine's baptism in a Catholic church. Liverpool was after all a common place of residence for Irish immigrants to Britain from about 1830. That she was Irish in spite of the convict record of her birthplace was attested not only by Thora, but by my grandfather who told his children that he was part Irish on his mother's side, and by Catherine who was known to say at times that she was "getting her Irish blood up". Yet the convict record seemed to say otherwise. That contradiction needed to be resolved.
Now we come to the final clue. Under "Remarks" in the convict record of her physical appearance we have "F. C. John Ray and other marks too faint to be made out on right arm above elbow" and then a list of numerous other initials below the elbow and on the other arm. So, who was John Ray, and why did he have the same surname as Mary Ann? In the convict records she was described as "Single". That too could be wrong, but we have no evidence that they married. It seemed unlikely that she would have a tattoo of her father's name, and more likely that she carried the name of a lover. Given its prominent position and the fact that his was the only name spelled out, I decided to look for a man named John Ray who might have been the man with whom she began her life in Liverpool, perhaps after running away from her home in Ireland at about the age of 14. That was the hypothesis to be tested.
I did not find anything very convincing under the names of Mary Ann or John Ray. To find a possible location in Ireland, I looked for a Mary Ann Clarke, rather than Ray, born at a time consistent with the age of Mary Ann Ray at her trial and upon arrival in Tasmania, which pointed to the later months of 1823 or early 1824, if those ages were accurate which they might well not have been. There was only one such birth in the IGI, for Ireland, not that that proves there were not others, but it was at least one possibility: Mary Ann Clarke, b. 3 December 1823 Dromore Parish, Down, Ireland; father Hamilton Clarke and mother Anne Craig.
To find whether any John Ray might have been associated with the same person, I was forced after other means failed to use the very late 1881 census, because it is indexed and searchable for the whole of Britain, on the off chance that John Ray might still have been alive somewhere in England, and that the census might contain other useful information about him. As luck would have it there was one likely looking John Ray, a man in Lancashire aged 74, whose birthplace was "Ireland", and who happened to be living in the household of his daughter who had been born in Liverpool about ten years after he should have been there with Mary Ann if my theory was correct.
When I searched for the birth of John Ray in Ireland, born about 1807, I struck the jackpot with only one possibility, John Rea (sc.) b. 10 May 1807, Dromore Parish, Down, Ireland. He came from the same parish as Mary Ann Clarke. The odds against such a co-incidence are remote. He must have been the man whose name was tattooed on the arm of the convict Mary Ann Ray, and she must have been born Mary Ann Clarke. Clarke=Ray=Clarke, and she was Irish! Catherine had rightly called herself Clarke as well as Peever, and spoken of her Irish blood. We had found her mother at last, almost thirty years after the quest had begun, during which time the original investigators, Richard Gandy and Dorothy Russell had died, as had most of their informants, and despite all those errors, deceptions, false leads and much wasted effort, the half of which I have not told.
[For more detail on the relevant documents and the Beswick Family History context see http://www.beswick.info/besfam.htm].
Note: On a recent visit to Ireland I found further confirmation of the association of John Ray with the origin of Mary Ann Clark at Dromore, but there are significant questions unanswered in respect of her apparently Protestant family of origin and her identification as Catholic when a convict, although probably not later when she married John Anderson. A report on this additional research is now posted on this site: see Dromore and more on Mary Ann. DB 27 October 2004.
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