Mary Wade: The Littlest Convict

The Pass Room at Bridewell from Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-11) where Mary was first imprisoned. Drawing by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin. References: Women o of History and Wikipedia. w.400
The Pass Room at Bridewell from Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-11) where Mary was first imprisoned. Drawing by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin. References: Women o of History and Wikipedia. w.400

While today’s children are thinking about Sugar Plum fairies and Santa Claus, the thoughts of ten year old Mary Wade must have been vastly different. At Christmastime in 1789, Mary was the youngest convict aboard a ship bound for Australia: one of two hundred and fifty or so women, half way to a strange land. Their female convict ship The Lady Juliana, part of the Second Fleet, had set sail from Portsmouth in July.

Months earlier Mary, (born in England in 1778), had been arrested and found guilty of stealing another child’s clothes. Her death sentence, commuted to transportation for life, was bitter sweet. Mary had escaped the gallows but would never see her family again. She spent the spring of 1789 in horrendous conditions at Newgate Prison. Mary was one of fifty women fed bread and water in a cell that had neither beds nor lavatories. However, once aboard The Lady Juliana, her situation improved. All convicts were reasonably fed and given warm beds. Only five women and two children died during the eleven month voyage and the condition of those who arrived in the colony in 1790, had improved.

To relieve the pressure on Sydney Cove, Governor Phillip sent many new arrivals including Mary, to a place described by Captain Cook as, ‘a Paradise’ – Norfolk Island. There, at age fourteen, Mary gave birth to a daughter. She had two more children with emancipated Irish transportee, Teague Harrigan and by 1806, the family was living in a tent on the banks of the Tank stream in Sydney. Harrigan joined a whaling ship but never returned.

By 1809, Mary had married and set up home near the Hawkesbury River with convict Jonathan Brooker. Emancipated circa 1812, the pair took ownership of a thirty acre farm in Airds, Campbelltown and lived happily until Harrigan’s death in 1833. Twenty six years later in 1859, eighty year old Mary died at home. She had given birth to twenty one children. In her lifetime, her family had grown to include five generations and over three hundred descendants. Now, Mary’s descendants number in the tens of thousands, including Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia.

At Christmastime in 1789, ten year old convict Mary Wade was facing an uncertain future. Today, she is recognized as one of Australia’s founding mothers.