in Family history

Hester Wright – An Eventful Life Story – Part Two 1818-aft 1837

A very Tasmanian scene. Taken at Eaglehawk Neck July 2013

A very Tasmanian scene. Taken at Eaglehawk Neck July 2013

This post follows from Part One, which summarized my research into Hester Wright up till her arrival in Van Diemen’s Land in February 1818.  She was then aged about seventeen, single and six months pregnant.

As a convict, she probably had no minute to call her own.  She would have been shepherded to her quarters, to meals, to daily tasks.  The convicts’ health had been assessed in Sydney before transfer to the Duke of Wellington, but no doubt there was another assessment made on arrival in Hobart Town. She would be looked after, if harshly, in her last months of pregnancy.

One week after Hester’s arrival the main communication to colonists was regarding provision of stores and the “Scarcity of Grain in the Colony” (Hobart Town Gazette 28 Feb 1818).  This kind of sets the scene for Hobart Town in these early days. Whenever the residents began to combat their food problems, more mouths would arrive needing to be fed.  Those new mouths might be convicts or soldiers.  In 1828 a letter of recommendation was required by free settlers.  The colony was still closed to general immigration.

The ship ‘Duke of Wellington’, however, was bringing the sort of convicts that Hobart Town could use – tradesmen and women.  Both were in short supply, both categories had excellent prospects in the colony but would have had no idea of this. Hester was no doubt occupied with her own needs.

Advertisements such as this often preceded the arrival of female convict ships:

SETTLERS and Inhabitants who may wish to have assigned Female Servants upon the Arrival of a Vessel with Female Prisoners, are desired to send in their Applications to the Secretary’s Office next Week.

“GOVERNMENT PUBLIC NOTICE.” The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter (Tas. : 1816 – 1821) 28 Aug 1819: 1. Web. 5 Jul 2015 <>

Scene from Port Arthur on a summer day, but maybe Hobart Town looked a little like this too.

Scene from Port Arthur on a summer day, but maybe Hobart Town looked a little like this too.

As well as people, ships brought a variety of goods in hopes of making a profit by the journey.  Incoming ships would set up shop in a room near the wharf and displayed their goods for sale. Examining the new offerings was probably a popular pastime.  Advertisements in the Hobart Town Gazette list everything from barrels of rum to ladies’ petticoats.

Hester’s child was born on 10th May 1818 and was given the name Eliza.  My guess is that she was named after Hester’s friend Eliza Patrick.  The baby was baptised in October of the same year in the Parish of Hobart Town.

Baptism of Eliza Wright in Hobart 1818

Baptism of Eliza Wright in Hobart 1818.

By 1818, Hobart Town was only fifteen years old so the population was small. Hester can be found in the early musters but I have not had a chance to view this. She was apparently living with Joseph Eastwood who was originally a convict transported to New South Wales in 1810 then shifted on to Van Diemen’s Land in 1816.

On 10th September 1819, a daughter Mary was born to Hester Wright, once again baptised by Robert Knopwood to whom we are indebted for so many early records.  Hester was still unmarried and no father’s name is mentioned in the record.

On 20th June 1821, a daughter Ann was born to Hester Wright, baptised by Robert Knopwood.  Hester once again is unmarried.

Then, on 27th August 1821, Hester married William Watts, a fellow convict.  From this date, her children were known by the surname Watts.  Ann is generally considered to be Joseph Eastwood’s daughter, but it seems to me that she could equally be William Watts’ child.

William Watts was a fellow Bristol exile, about twelve years older than Hester. He was a horsebreaker by trade. Height 5 foot 3 1/2 inches, brown hair, grey eyes. I don’t know much about him or his time in Hobart Town.  By later records we can extrapolate possibly another child born  to William and Hester –  Fanny born between 1826 and 1831 (unless Fanny is the same as Ann or Mary?). Or should I say, we can extrapolate at least another child born to Hester and attributed to William?  One cannot be sure.

William never did settle down.  His convict record is full of absconsions and receiving of stolen property.  He received at different times 25 lashes, 50 lashes, even 100 lashes.  The man had a will to live for a long time there, but in the end his sentence was converted to ‘life’ (1828) and he absconded for good – he was executed in England in 1830.

Old houses in Tasmania

Old houses in Tasmania

In 1828, presumably coinciding with William Watts’ absconsion, Eliza Watts and Mary Watts were placed in the Orphan School in Hobart Town. Both girls were admitted on 9th September 1828.  Eliza was aged 10 and Mary was aged 8.  On each of their records is a note ‘Joseph Eastwood’.  This note is not explicit but seems to indicate that he was considered the father.

Both Eliza and Mary were there for several years. Mary was discharged to her mother in 1832 with a note ‘has been with Whiteburn’.  This presumably referred to a domestic apprenticeship but I have not yet located anyone surnamed Whiteburn in Hobart Town.

Eliza was discharged twice – once in 1832 with Mary, once in 1836.  The ‘Discharged To’ entry reads ‘Thomas Forster, mother’.   Does this mean she was discharged into service to Thomas Forster and only returned to her mother in 1836?  By 1836 she was eighteen years old, unusually old for the orphan school unless she was undertaking work duties there.

In the meantime, Hester was somewhere presumably with Ann and Fanny, if they were different children. Otherwise, she was somewhere with one of them only.

From this point, the story is very hazy indeed.  The final entry on Hester’s conduct record (CON40-1-9,374,227 at Tasmania’s state archives) is dated  January 24th 1837, when Hester was charged with:

‘Stealing part of the carcase of a sheep the property of Robt Patterson otherwise receiving the same well knowing’

She was held pending trial but no record of a court case has been found involving Hester. Maybe there was not enough evidence to proceed?

This newspaper report may have referred to the same incident although Hester is not mentioned:

Reese and Goudon stealing sheep

Trial of Thomas Reece and Andrew Goudon for stealing a sheep from Robert Patterson 1837

“SUPREME COURT—CRIMINAL SIDE.” Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857) 21 Mar 1837: 9. Web. 11 Jan 2016 <>.

If this was the same incident then Hester was in Hamilton in 1837, but no confirmation of her presence has been found.

This is all I have learned so far about Hester, posted here in the hope that other researchers will help me out and correct any misconceptions.

Hester’s family as I have it:

Hester Wright children update

I once believed I had found Hester ending her days in Wellington Street, Launceston in northern Tasmania.  However, that woman appears to be quite a different Hester Wright.  Where our own ancestor spent her final years is still a mystery.

I also wonder where Hester’s other children went.  Fanny died following childbirth with twins(?) in 1858 at age 27, suggesting she was born in 1831 which would mean she, also, was not William Watts’ child.  Eliza was living at Hollow Tree near Hamilton with her own very large family. Mary and Ann … I have no clues. Mary lived long enough to leave the Orphan School in 1832, of Ann I know nothing since her baptism unless she and Fanny are one and the same.

Research continues.

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  1. Hi again.
    I have previously been in touch but need to contact you again but can not find the contact details.I have conflicting information you might be interested in. I enjoy reading your posts on the family.

  2. I too have this information but been unable to verify it. or find anyone researching this family.