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Did Ann have a family?

Student activities

Task no. 1

Did Ann have a family?

On 4 September 1795, Ann had a baby who she named Sarah. Look at this drawing of a mother and child. This is not Ann Martin or even a convict although we can imagine it might be Ann. For women having babies in the first few years after arrival in 1788 there were no baby clothes or nappies and no spare cloth to wrap them in. There were no children’s clothes as they grew. The British organisers of the First Fleet did not think about sending supplies for a family’s needs. Mothers in these very early years would have sewn their children’s clothes from whatever scraps of fabric could be found. The situation was different for Ann as Sarah was born in 1795 and by then many ships (both government and private) had brought varied supplies and goods for sale, although she may not have been able to procure or purchase very much as she was a convict.

[For more information on money, see Activity 6 - Money in your pocket, in the Esther Abrahams: A life transformed Learning Activity.]

Porfolio of sketches, ca 1794-1831 / John Glover, ca 1794-1831
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Ann and the baby’s father, William Miller – a convict, lived together in their own hut.

Look at the images of huts in Sydney in about 1795, below. This is the type of hut Ann might have lived in for a while with her small family.

[For more information on huts see the Setting up camp Learning Activity.]

Two  simple houses with fences around them, standing in an open landscape that leads down to a valley

Image 1: Detail from View of Sydney Cove / painted by Thomas Watling

A landscape with tents and buildings

Image 2: Detail from North-West View taken from the Rocks above Sydney / in New-South-Wales, for John White, Esqr

Read the record Judge David Collins has in his journal for 19 June 1796:

Some thieves broke into the house of William Miller… and stole articles…but in the morning the greater part of what had been stolen was found placed in a garden where it could be easily discovered, and restored to the owner.

Answer these questions:

  • How do you think Ann felt having items stolen from the home she shared with William and nine month old baby Sarah?
  • Why were convicts stealing from other convicts?

Very few primary sources mention family life in the early colony. One letter written in July 1788 exists from John and Elizabeth Russell to Elizabeth’s mother Mary in England. John was a Marine private (soldier) who travelled on the First Fleet with his wife and daughter, and a son was born on the journey out. Both John and Elizabeth were illiterate (they could not read or write) so they had someone write their letter for them. In some ways the life of a soldier and his family was not all that different to that of a convict. They were living in the same conditions, eating the same food rations and sleeping in the same type of huts. Many soldiers and convicts were friends.

Look at this handwritten letter.

Letter, July 10th 1788, Head Quarters Sidney Town New South Wales, addressed to Mrs Mary Fogewell, Totness,, July 10, 1788
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Read part of the letter written on 10 July 1788 from John and Elizabeth Russell to Elizabeth’s mother Mary:

Letter from… Sidney Town New South Wales July 10th 1788
Hon’d Mother

This with our duty to you and Love to our Sister and all Friends hoping you are in good health as it leaves us thanks to God for it, Since we left England we have a son Born and blessed be God he remains in Good health and is About A Year Old he handles his feet bravely and can walk Alone a little. Our daughter have had A very trying fit of Sickness but thank God she also is recovered…

…Since our Arival we have found several Shrubs that serve as Teas Sweetining the rest which I have heare sent some Leaves as a sample…

…I have many more things want relating conserning this new Settlement but the Limets of the Paper will not Admit I hope you will send me an Answer by the return of the fleet

So with my Kind Love to all Enquiring Friends

We Remain Your Dutiful Children

Jno & Elizh Russell

Answer these questions:

  • What does Hon’d mean? What word do we often use today at the start of our letters?
  • What ‘gift’ have they sent Elizabeth’s mother with the letter?
  • The Russell family are expressing their love for their family and friends in England, do you think Ann may have been feeling something similar?
  • How would you feel knowing, like Ann, you would never see your family and friends again?
  • John and Elizabeth Russell write I hope you will send me an Answer by the return of the fleet, guess how long it was before the first letters arrived in the colony from Britain? [Answer in Additional Information.] 

Look at this image of the same type of ‘tea leaves’ sent to Elizabeth’s mother Mary in her letter.

Leaves from Botany Bay used as tea (2 leaves of Smilax glyciphylla / sweet sarsaparilla), ca. 1791
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[For more information on these tea leaves see Activity 6 - The food that was found, in the Food of the colony Learning Activity.]

This letter reminds us of how far away the First Fleeters were from their family and friends in England and how much they may have been missing them. John and Elizabeth Russell talk with love and affection about their children and are sending news to Elizabeth’s mother, the children’s grandmother, who may have provided support to this young family if they were living in England. It tells us about the isolation felt by everyone in Sydney Town and also the limited communication between them. This letter would have taken eight months to get to back to England.

Ann and William’s relationship did not last and sadly, Sarah did not live with her mother Ann for very long either. As a single mother with no family support and few friends able to help, life in the new colony for single women with children was challenging. From the time she was about seven years old, we believe Sarah was living at the Sydney Female Orphan School. Children did not need to be orphans (which today means that both parents have died) to be admitted to the school.

In 1800, just 12 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, the colony’s Governor, Phillip Gidley King, was very concerned about the number of children who were living on the streets. When the number of colonists living in NSW was counted that year, 958 children were included, and of these Governor King thought that 398 needed help.

Read what he wrote to the Colonial Office on 3 May 1800:

the children are abandoned to misery… and every vice of their parents and in short, nothing less than a total change in the system of administration must take place.

Define the word vice.

Calculate what percentage of children in the colony needed help.

Answer this question:

  • Why was the percentage so high?

In 1800 Governor King purchased a house and land owned by a man who was leaving Sydney, with a plan to convert it into an orphanage for girls. It was waterfront land on the western side of Warrane/Sydney Cove, close to where the Tank Stream entered the harbour, and it had a two-storey brick house, large garden and offices.

Look at this image of the Sydney Female Orphan School.

A two storey building set back from the shore, with a fenced garden in front and some small buildings in the surrounding landscape

Image 3: Detail from  A view of the west side of Sydney cove, [c.1803 / attributed to G. W. Evans]

The Sydney Female Orphan school opened in 1801 and was run by a committee of six people. This included two women, Anna King (the wife of Governor King) and Elizabeth Paterson (the wife of William Paterson, Lieutenant-Governor) both of whom would visit the girls daily.

Read what Elizabeth Paterson wrote about the school in a letter to her uncle in late 1800:

The children are to be entirely secluded from the other people and brought up in habits of religion and morality… the girls [will learn] housewifery and the use of the needle, as well as instruction in the basic subjects….

Answer these questions:

  • Why did Elizabeth Paterson want to seclude the girls from other people?
  • How do you think Ann felt about that?
  • How do you think Ann’s daughter Sarah felt about having no contact with her mother? How do you think the other girls felt?
  • What skills are the girls learning?
  • What are they being trained for? [Answer in Additional Information]

Write a plan to make changes at the Sydney Female Orphan School. If you were in charge of the Orphan School, what would you do?