The Case of Mary Ann Oseman

A Female Juvenile Convict Transported

As the last research blog centred on the male juvenile George Fenby, this blog will focus on a female juvenile. Mary Ann Oseman was chosen in the same way that Fenby previously was, that is by looking for the youngest juvenile offender in my sample that was transported to Van Diemen’s Land –so far this was Oseman. Concentrating on a female offender here is important because of the lack of research into this group. Moreover, I foresee gender as being a big part of my final thesis. Of course the reason for this relative neglect of female juvenile offenders is due to the considerably fewer female juveniles convicted at the Old bailey. Fitting my criteria, only 5% of offenders, convicted and sentenced to transportation in the Old Bailey, were female. While there is some comparison between Oseman and my sample, this blog is primarily a narrative of the life of Oseman. Essentially I wanted to assess the types of information that can be garnered about the individual life-narrative of these offenders. Using this process and sources – can we get at the human caught up in the authoritative labyrinth that are the criminal records largely relied on here?

Oseman’s Origins

 oseman 2

oseman 3Figure 1.1

Born to her namesake Mary Ann Oseman, and Thomas Oseman who was a bricklayer, in the Parish of St. Pancras, Mary was a Londoner from the borough of Camden. Later in her transportation records Mary would be described simply as a “girl” under “Trade” – implying at this age she had no employment. However, Oseman previously claimed in her court case that she was paid one penny every morning to light the fire of her prosecutor – though the prosecutor strenuously denied it (see Figure 1.6). Oseman’s Description Record (see Figure 1.2) states that Oseman was 14 years old – this matches her birth record which states she was born in late October 1822 (see Figure 1.1). Therefore, she had reached Van Diemen’s Land, and been separated from her parents, at the age of 14.  As such the age she gave during her Old Bailey appearances – age 12 – was about right (See Figures 1.5; 1.6).

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Figure 1.2

Offences before Transportation

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oseman 6Figure 1.3

 Despite being transported out of the country by the age of 14, Oseman managed to tally up a number of offences. Her first appearance in the courts was in September 1831, when she was just 9 years old (see Figure 1.3). The case was acquitted as having “no bill”. However, she was again brought before the court in April 1834, under another charge of Larceny – and this time she was given an imprisonment sentence of 1 week (see Figure 1.4).

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oseman 8Figure 1.4

We can only know if former convictions or appearances at court, were known by the courts during sentencing – if they were recorded during the trial. Neither Oseman’s acquittal nor stay in prison, were mentioned in the trials which resulted in her transportation. However, this lack of recording also does not mean that it was not commented on during the trial. We have no way of knowing whether such information was simply not selected for inclusion in the Proceedings. Yet, during her final sentencing in 1835, the court was aware that she was indicted for two offences in the same session – so it is reasonable to assume that this may have weighed in on the decision-making.

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Figure 1.5

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Figure 1.6

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Figure 1.7

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 Figure 1.8

This sentence of 7 years transportation, was handed down when Oseman was just 12 years old – for stealing a watch to the value of 1l from a widow named Ann Moore. In fact, Oseman had broken into her prosecutors house while she was asleep, waking her up in the process. This gave rise to alarm and the presence of police within 3 quarters of an hour. According to John Fitzgerald, the police constable, the offender stated it was the first time she had ever taken anything. However as we can see here, Oseman was indicted twice in one session. Later she pleaded guilty for stealing a shawl worth 1l from Elizabeth Naylor. It is very possible that it was because of these two successive successful prosecutions against her that she gained an actual transportation voyage to Australia (as we must remember not all those sentenced to transportation were sent). Especially coupled with the fact that, despite being classified as Simple Larceny in the Old Bailey Online, she did in fact break into a Dwelling House at night. Breaking into a house at night was seen as a particularly serious crime because it was thought that the owners would be put in fear.

So before we look at the fact that she had two consecutive convictions acknowledged in court, let as look at the offences itself. While those juveniles imprisoned in this period tended to commit more of a variety of crimes – including different kinds of assault – all those sentenced to transportation, except for the odd coining offence, were theft. While it is not uncommon for female juveniles to steal from the dwelling house – as a spatial environment – it is suggested by historians that it is uncommon for them to actually break into the house to do so – they are assumed to have had reason to be in the house in the first place. Even if Oseman’s claim of being employed by the prosecutor is believed, she stated that was for the morning – it was the night. Therefore, Oseman did break into the house. Thus she engaged in the kind of risky offending suggested by historians to be carried out by males. Of course this is one example of a female breaking with the pattern, I will need to look closer at my sample to see how many female offenders who stole from the house did so after breaking-in.

Yet, while the circumstances of the theft may have been uncommon, the fact that she did this offence alone is not – females tended to commit crimes alone. This in itself is interesting because contemporaries and subsequently historians have, in comparing female offenders in opposition to males, characterised female offenders as the accomplices of male offenders. When in fact, notwithstanding types of crime, and although the percentage differences are small – females were more likely to commit crimes alone.

My sample also shows that females juveniles sentenced to transportation were more likely to have a formed conviction than male juveniles sentenced to transportation. And Oseman certainly reflects this pattern. Does this suggest a greater reluctance to sentence females to transportation? Certainly females were less likely than males to be sentenced to transportation in general.

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oseman 15Figure 1.9

 

Transportation and Behaviour in the Colony

Whatever the reasoning, Oseman was transported. Just one of 165 convicts transported on the New Grove one 30th October 1834, Oseman arrived at Van Diemen’s Land on 27th march 1835 – aged 14.

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Figure 2.0

The conduct record holds a wealth of information about these juveniles (see Figure 2.0). It is my belief that through such records we can learn a great deal about the behaviours of juveniles in the nineteenth century in general – because these generally petty juvenile offenders were far from extraordinary. Of course this information will be given from the perspective of the authorities writing these sources, who certainly had other agendas in mind – but if we are careful and take account of the authorship and context of such sources a great deal can be learned.

While confirming Oseman’s two Old Bailey convictions, the record also reveals further information about Oseman’s contact with the criminal justice system. Namely, that she was in Newgate prison, and she also spent time in a refuge and/or at Mrs. Fry’s school. When the surgeon refers to her character, he stated she is “indifferent but young and thoughtless disposition” but he also adds that she was not “bad”. Indeed, Oseman’s behaviour while under supervision in the new colony reflects this. Oseman conducted a series of offences, though nothing serious, they did result in several visits to the factory for hard labour (see Figure 2.1). Most offences were absenteeism – of which there were many – this was a common comment of bad behaviour in conduct records. There was however, an instance where “through extreme carelessness [Oseman] let her master’s baby fall to the ground by which its leg was broken”. Importantly, although punished, from this comment we can judge that there was nothing malicious thought to be in this incidence – it was an accident which was occasioned through thoughtlessness.

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Figure 2.1

Oseman’s Life after Freedom

Eventually, Oseman received her “Free Certificate” in 1841, a timely 7 years after her sentence had expired. If a successful life can be measured by such outcomes such as marriage or steady employment – for Oseman there was a happy ending. Approved for marriage in May 1839, she married a “free man” (not a former convict) named George Clarke (see Figure 2.2). She went on to have at least 3 children.

oseman 18Figure 2.2

Oseman died at the old age of 67 – slightly older than the average age of death for women at this time.

Conclusion

Oseman, though not “bad”, was indicted twice in the same session, and her crime involved breaking into the dwelling house at night. It is also true that a young girl of 14, may also have been of utility to the colony. Of course this narrative raises question of why Oseman was actually transported while so many were not. Yet what I wish to address here is what we have learned about Oseman as an individual. Inevitably we can never know – as with many historical studies of people – the internal process and decisions made by the people we study. Yet, we can still try to assess their life events. After repeated petty offences, Oseman was finally taken away from her family in London and we can be fairly certain she never saw them again. Shipped off to the other side of the world, put in prison several times with hard labour – Oseman eventually received her certificate of freedom. Though it is clear she had already made her plans to marry by this time. As her petition for marriage was made before her certificate of freedom was granted. Although we cannot know whether Oseman was happy in marriage, we can assume that she had made a conscious choice to leave her convict life behind. This is suggested by the fact she was convicted of no further crimes. Thus the agency of the offender is evident if we look for it – despite her arduous start in life Oseman managed to build a new life, free from crime. Naturally we cannot ignore structural influences – the familial, social and economic factors and their effects. Through group analysis it will become possible to make comparisons. What if Oseman had not been sent to the colony? What if she had once again been sentenced to imprisonment instead on transportation, or gained a place at the Refuge for the destitute as others had?

Digital Resources

 

Founders and Survivors; Australian Life course in historical context 1803-1920, Founders and Survivors, Found at http://www.founders-storylines.com/mugsheets/convicts/identikit/9926

National Library of Australia, Trove, Found at; http://trove.nla.gov.au/

State Library of Queensland, Convict transportation registers database, Found at http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/family-history/convicts /

Tasmanian Government, Tasmanian Names Index, Found at http://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, 1764-1913, Found at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org//

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