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Maria Fay

Maria Fay was a persistent thief in the villages of the East Riding, and spent prison sentences in the East Riding house of correction, in 1848 and 1849 before finally being sentenced to transportation in 1851.

Maria Fay was sentenced to transportation for theft at the East Riding quarter sessions in Beverley on 8 April 1851. She is recorded as living in the parish of Kirkella, married to John Fay, labourer. She was found guilty of having stolen ‘two hempen sacks of the value of six pence each and two other sacks of the value of six pence each…of one Joseph Watson’ on 3 January 1851. The crime took place in Kirkella, and Maria was sentenced to ten years’ transportation, an unusual number since sentences were usually seven years. The unusual sentence may reflect Maria’s persistent criminality [1].

Maria had several previous convictions, and previous names (she also had a previous ‘husband’, the labourer John Scott, although he may not have been married to her in the full legal sense since the records before and after this prefer to refer to her as husband to James Fay or Feeney  - it seems she was widowed from one of these husbands, perhaps Fay, since she is named as Maria Fay, widow, in the Tasmanian documentation). The indictment for which she was transported mentions an earlier conviction of 3 July 1849, for a felony committed under the name of Mary Scott [1].

The record of this earlier conviction [2] shows that in 1849 Maria had been living with John Scott in Preston, East Yorkshire. She had stolen a ‘skirt of the value of one shilling’ from Elizabeth Carter, and was sentenced to twelve months hard labour in the house of correction. At the same sessions she was also charged with stealing twelve bottles of the value of one shilling, one halter valued at six pence, and two linen cloths valued at six pence, from John Fewson in Preston [3]. Both indictments refer to a yet earlier conviction of 4 April 1848, and an alternative name, Mary Feeney.

This first conviction came at the East quarter sessions on 4 April 1848. In the documentation for these sessions, Maria is referred to as ‘Mary Feeney otherwise called Mary Fay’, and her husband is given as ‘James Feeney otherwise called James Fay’ (suggesting that this marriage preceded that to John Scott, and that James Fay may have been her legal husband, since his name was given as husband in the final indictment of 1851). At this quarter sessions, Maria was described as ‘late of the parish of Winestead’, and was found guilty of stealing ‘two sheep nets (?) of the value of ten shilling and one brush of the value of six pence…of one John Thorp’. She was sentenced to ‘be confined in the house of correction and kept to hard labour for the space of three calendar months’ for this crime, a sentence that was to be ‘computed from the expiration of the sentence passed upon her on the indictment preferred against her by one Catherine Hildyard’ [4]. This last comment refers to Maria’s sentencing for a separate crime at the same sessions. On the same day she had stolen the sheep nets from John Thorp, 25 March 1848, Maria had also stolen ‘one copper boiler of the value of five shillings and fourteen pounds weight of copper of the value of five shillings…of one Catherine Hildyard’ (also of Winestead) for which she was sentenced to ‘be confined in the House of Correction and kept to hard labour for the space of three calendar months’ [5].

East Riding House of Correction
The East Riding House of Correction in Beverley, where Maria spent several prison sentences. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service DDX734/4.
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Maria Fay indictment 1851
Maria Fay's East Riding Quarter Sessions indictment of 1851 (QSF 571/B/33). Records for the East Riding quarter sessions are held by the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies Service.
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Maria Fay register entry
Exerpt from Millbank prison registers held by the National archives HO24/13, giving details about Maria's crime, age, occupation and literacy.
Kirk Ella
Kirkella, the village in the East Riding of Yorkshire where Maria Fay committed the crime which brought her the sentence of transportation. Photo by Paul Harrop. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

So it was at Maria’s third appearance before the justices of the peace in as many years that she was given the unusually harsh term of transportation for ten years. Maria was first taken to Millbank prison in London; the records for this prison list Maria as ‘Fay or Fieney or Scott’ and her occupation as ‘Rag gatherer’, her age as 28 and birth year as 1851. Her crime is given as ‘larceny after previous conv.’, she is described as ‘single’ and able to neither read nor write. The register states that she was received from Beverley Gaol on 2 October 1851 and removed on 16 March 1852 to be transported aboard the Sir Robert Seppings [6].

Maria was one of one of 220 female convicts transported on the Sir Robert Seppings to Van Diemen’s Land, departing on 17 March 1852 [7]. In this ships’ surgeon’s records, Maria’s age is given as 27 and she is recorded and being taken ill on 14 May with ‘contusio’’, which is a condition associated with head traumas and gives headache symptoms. It appears not to have been serious in Maria’s case since she was discharged three days later on 17 May [8].

Tasmanian convict records give a large amount of detail about Maria, including that she was from Lancashire and that she was also known as Maria Turner. The website suggests that Maria was widowed, and gives details of her convictions that sometimes do not match up with the details in the quarter sessions records (the Tasmanian records state ‘six months for a candlestick’). Maria was a Roman Catholic, was freed in 1861, and could read but not write [9]. Maria had a ‘fresh’ complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and was freckled, with a blue mark on the wrist of her right hand. Her stated offence is ‘stealing one corn sack’ – perhaps some of these details are self-reported, as she was indeed transported for stealing sacks, but more than one. The prosecutor is given as ‘Watson, near Hull’ [9].

In July 1854, Maria was given a ticket of leave [10].

References cited

[1] ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, Easter (8 April) 1851, QSF 571/B/33.

[2] ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, midsummer 1849, QSF/564/B/25.

[3] ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, midsummer 1849, QSF/564/B/27.

 [4] ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, Easter (4 April] 1848, QSF/559/B/21.

[5] ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, Easter (4 April] 1848. QSF/559/B/22.

[6] National Archives, Millbank prison registers: female prisoners vol. 3, HO24/13.

 [7] Queensland Library, online British Convict Transportation Registers, (accessed 14 November 2015).

[8] National Archives, Admiralty records, Sir Robert Seppings medical records, ADM 101/68/4/3 Folio 4.

[9] ‘Founders and Survivors Storylines’ website, (accessed 14 November 2015).

[10] The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston Tasmania, Wednesday 16 August 1854, consulted on ‘Trove’ digitised newspapers website, (accessed 14 November 2015).

NEXT CHAPTER: Criminal Justice, 1788-1851