Remembering the Past Australia

Ann Rumsby 1802-1850

As published in The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 12 October 1921 and 26 October 1938.

Ann Rumsby was one of 108 convicts transported on the ship ‘Mary Ann’ in November 1822. She was convicted at Norfolk, Norwich Assizes for a term of 7 years on 16 May 1821,

Ann Rumsby Conviction May 1821

“for stealing from the dwelling house of Thos. Foulsham, of St. Augustine’s, confectioner, 51, in copper, six silver teaspoons and dessert spoon, and some wearing apparel.”

(Source: Bury and Norwich Post 23 May 1821)

The following address was delivered by Mr. Richardson Clark at the Parramatta Historical Society in October 1921: 

The story I am about to relate is certainly based upon sordid jealousy and revenge, but I should like you to understand that I do not relate it for this reason: it is because the facts throw a lurid light on the domestic history of Parramatta, and that although it happened 100 years ago Parramatta faults are not now any worse. But if I have an excuse at all in taking up your time, I ask that you will consider it to be a focusing of one quarrel between people of high degree in which one person of low degree grievously suffered. The opposing parties in the Colony during early times were always fighting, and with unhappy results to the pawns. Here we have a faction fight between Sir Thomas Brisbane and his friend Dr. Douglass on one side and Marsden and Macarthur on the other. In this case, Hanibal Macarthur and Marsden sought to blast the reputation of Dr. Douglass. They were unable to do so because Governor Brisbane’s influence was wholly used in favor of Douglass, but whether it was just to do so is another matter. Personally, as one detached from these acts, deeds and jealousies of a century ago, I think Douglass was guilty; as to the others they deserve contempt, and I believe Hall’s motives were equally to be condemned as were Douglass’ actions.

In speaking to you of the people of the old times in this dear old town, it is sometimes difficult to be frank for fear of offending the susceptibilities of those whose opinions differ, and I should therefore request to be understood as not stating my own opinions (diffident as they are), but those of Governors, judges and magistrates and all I now tell you is to be read by anyone interested in these matters in the Commonwealth Records of Australia, edited by that brilliant and able historian, Dr. Watson, to whom posterity will owe much, as his notes on the otherwise sometimes dry dispatches and records are illuminated by other facts, which at once attract the permanent attention of a studious reader and enable one with a little imagination to piece together the romantic stories of the convict days. 

Ann Rumsby, convict, aged 19 years, was young and handsome, so said Brisbane, K.C.B., the Governor to whom she was introduced. She had youth, beauty and a lovely figure, said Dr. Hall, R.N., surgeon superintendent of the convict ship “Mary Ann,” which brought Ann and 107 other convict women to Sydney in July, 1822, after a journey of six months. At the age of 17, when doubtless, she was as beautiful as at 19, she was transported to this country for seven years. According to Dr. Hall her life had not been good. The doctor, however, seems to have been a religious hypocrite, in love with her, so it is difficult to accept his statement. 

In the good old days of Sydney, where the commencement of Australian history begins, all the convict women on arrival were sent to the dreaded factory (a wall of which still stands) at Parramatta, a place of punishment for females who had transgressed the law. Free labor, and especially that of domestic servants (women for many years did not amount to a fifth of the population) was very scarce, so any women convicts who were at all decent, or young or pretty, or both, soon left the factory on assignment to some settler or official as a servant — very frequently the whole transaction and service were grossly immoral, and we can imagine that in the case of Ann there would be great competition; and it might have been had she not possessed some charm of character and so aroused affection and the sympathy of the Governor, she would never have been known, but such is Fate. 

Femal Penitentiary Parramatta

Female penitentiary or factory, Parramata (sic), Augustus Earle (1793-1838). Wikipedia.

Her name, her trials, her beauty and her lovers are preserved in our records, for there was a battle between Dr. Henry Grattan Douglass, M.D., the Superintendent of the Factory at Parramatta, Police Magistrate, J.P. and Government Medical Officer at Parramatta on one side and Dr. James Hall, R.N. of the “Mary Ann” and Rev. Samuel Marsden on the other.

Originally, the convict women were in the absolute charge of the Captain of the ship, and the doctor on board had no authority, with the result that there was a great degree of debauchery and licentiousness; so eventually a doctor was given the sole charge, for some reason, which, in the imagination of many, seems to endow doctors with a nature different from other human beings. Dr. Hall must have been so endowed, for he used to talk to the women about religion, God and forgiveness, and give them religious books, and after punishing them for some trifling offence, he kissed them. On one occasion he had several women handcuffed together for days and at midnight released them, when one poor thing fell on her knees, and said her prayers and cried. The doctor kissed her, but he says he did so as a father and a forgiving friend, which was doubtful. Later he gave Ann money and in his endeavour to wrest her from Douglass wrote to Governor Brisbane begging his aid; who replied asking several questions, one of which was: “How much money he gave Ann, and why?” In his reply he said the reasons for his benevolence were to be found in the Scriptures which he was in the daily habit of reading. 

Ann, with a number of other convict women, was taken from the convict ship “Mary Ann” to the Factory at Parramatta, where she seems to have aroused the interest of everyone, including the paramount chief, Dr.Douglass, who led her to believe that he had secured her a place as a maid in the house of Judge Barron Field, in Sydney, the Judge who was a poor poet and a worse lawyer. That was what the doctor gave out in the Factory, but he secured an assignment of her to himself, which Hall, with rampant jealously, swore was a pretence, as doubtless it was, as almost directly he told Ann she must marry an old convict named Bragge, who was a wardsman in the Government Hospital at Parramatta, where the doctor was chief. Naturally Bragge stood in awe of him and it is plain that the projected marriage was a blind. The banns were published in Parramatta by the Rev. Samuel Marsden, but Ann did not marry Bragge. She seems to have been much sought after in marriage, as all the doctor’s man-servants wanted her, but the doctor thought they were all too young.

Douglass, who was a man of great influence, arrived in Sydney in about July 1821, with a private letter of introduction to Governor Macquarie from Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, who had appointed him a Government surgeon in N.S.W. and warmly recommended him to Macquarie, so that he was allowed to pick his own district, and he chose Parramatta, where Macquarie built him a house and appointed him Police Magistrate — in those days a position of great honor and power, but the strange thing is that Douglass was already a surgeon in the Army and came to Sydney in a secret manner, and some years after, on being recalled to join his Regiment, refused, for which he was practically cashiered and deprived of half pay. It does, therefore, seem peculiar that Bathurst should give him an appointment and such a letter to Macquarie. Later he became the bosom friend, adviser and confidant of Governor Brisbane, who came here in November, 1821, a few months after Douglass, and during most of his government resided at Government House in Parramatta, so, naturally he and Douglass, in the small society of those days, saw a great deal of each other. Brisbane was a perfect gentleman of wealth and scientific attainments, of a kindly nature and the first Governor to bring a breath of real freedom and just treatment to the community. He had not that awful autocratic nature of the earlier Governors.

Ann had been some weeks in the Factory when Dr. Hall, feeling lonely, came from Sydney to visit her and other girls who had been in his care for six months on the journey of the “Mary Ann” to Sydney. The passage had frequently taken only 3½ months. He told Ann he expected that she would have been out of the Factory. She said she was going to Judge Field’s. A few weeks afterwards Dr. Hall made another journey to Parramatta (which in those days by road was arduous, and in July would certainly be wet and uncomfortable) with the main object of seeing Ann, as living in Sydney and mixing there amongst the few officials and having a keen eye, he soon discovered that Ann was not in the Judge’s house. 

In Parramatta the doctor met Sir John Jamieson and together they called on Dr. Douglass, who was out. Ann was looking after her sick mistress (Mrs Douglass) but hearing Hall’s voice, immediately, appeared on the scene, when the doctor, pale and agitated, put up his finger and beckoned her saying: “Ann, I want you.” Ann followed him on to the verandah, but she, too, was excited, and the doctor not being in a proper state to talk to her before Sir John, they walked off, parting a little distance on. The doctor, meeting a convict named Scrummy Jack, who had started to walk to Sydney on a message, sent him to Douglass’ house to tell Ann to come to him; she did so without permission. She ran down the road eager and joyous to meet Hall, and they had a long talk; the girl telling Hall of Dr. Douglass’ wicked conduct and of his intention to marry her to Bragge; she said if she stayed with Douglass she would be ruined, which was a rather exaggerated description, unless she wished to impress Hall. Dr. Hall said he would protect her and take her away. 

On her return she was questioned by her fellow-servants; she told of a gift by Dr. Hall and that he had been making her all sorts of promises which can well be imagined. The story that Ann told Dr. Hall about Dr. Douglass, was, no doubt, true. Hall says that, when he saw her in Douglass’s house she looked as though she had something on her mind, and of course she had; the fact of Hall, her loving friend, leaving for England, and of her impending marriage to the old convict Bragge, whom she loathed. She spoke in great detail of her unhappiness. Hall naturally would be distressed at the thought of leaving Ann with Douglass, so he sought the aid of Rev. Samuel Marsden, whose true character has not been investigated, though much has been written of him. He was of a very quarrelsome disposition. 

If the Governor or anyone in authority did not act as he wished, he wrote specious whining letters to religious people of great influence in England attacking the Governor; as well by means of his wealth he attracted allies in the Colony and so stirred up hostility to the Government. Macquarie said that under the garb of sanctity and pretended zeal for religion, he was a liar and an intriguer, with large tracts of land and great flocks and herds. Foveaux, who was Governor before Macquarie, gave him the same character. Governor Brisbane, after less than a year in Sydney, reported to England that Marsden carried on a trade under the cloak of a surplice and was a continual instigator of litigation, but as senior clergyman, Magistrate and a man of wealth he had considerable power, so it is not to be wondered that Hall enlisted his services, knowing, of course, of his hostility to Brisbane and Douglass. 

This story is a picture of an incident in the early days of Australia; it tells what happened then. Indeed most of the stories which could be written about those early days are full of tragedy, but to understand that history, and realise how it has evolved it is necessary that facts should be bared; it is also necessary that the character of those of rank and influence should be known and presented in a true sense, as most of the information relating to the early people of influence has been surrounded with glamour and much untruth, so that a false picture has arisen. Now, with reference to the Rev. Mr Marsden, a clergyman of the Church of England and who arrived in this country in 1794; we must bear in mind that clergy men then and clergymen now are different human beings. Then they were servants of the Government; they were paid by the Government and they were all magistrates, so that a man who preached on Sunday morning to you might, on Monday occupy the seat of Justice and sentence you to receive 100 lashes. It sounds incredible, but it is true. 

Governor Macquarie in reporting upon the continual misconduct of Marsden and his misuse of his positions of clergyman and magistrate wrote that he was the most severe magistrates in the Colony. Those were not words, they were facts, and some of those facts are that Marsden used to sentence a man to be flogged until he confessed his crime. Some of his sentences, as a magistrate, were absolutely inhuman, for example he gave a convict, who refused to work two months gaol on bread and water, another for stealing a duck, 95 lashes and three months in gaol, to one absent without leave, two months in yeah gaol and 50 lashes; and to a woman for refusing service he gave two years in gaol. Imagine it from one who professed to be a Christian and who preached salvation from the pulpit; but that is what Marsden did. He was of an over-bearing vindictive nature, but occupied an entrenched position as a clergyman. We know very well if a clergyman be charged with any misdeed we are slow to believe it. We must recollect that all the quarrels in Sydney, Parramatta and other settlements had to be referred to England. When they were stale, and were dealt with by gentlemen who were detached from influences in this country, who knew nothing of it, and whose environment was such that very many things they could not understand and could not by any imagination realise.

A short time after Ann’s story, Hall saw Marsden in Sydney, to whom it was related in such a harrowing manner as to cause tears to come in his eyes and anguish in his heart. He promised to do all in his power to defeat Douglass, but being cunning and scheming, he went to work very cautiously, for, instead of warning Douglass, a brother magistrate, with whom he was on terms of social intimacy, he did nothing until it leaked out that Hall was on the war-path. Douglass, at the Parramatta Court, attacked Marsden on the subject, who merely advised him to remove the girl from his house. Another man with a spite against Douglass, Hannibal Macarthur, a magistrate, came in while the controversy was on, and heard Douglass abuse Marsden. He also advised Douglass to send Ann away and let her complaint be inquired into. Douglass assented and left the Court with him for his house, in George street, where Macarthur says he was introduced to Ann and calls her the “young woman.” 

Pause for a moment and consider the positions of Ann and Macarthur. Ann was a convict. Macarthur was a wealthy gentleman, a magistrate and of great importance. He says he was “introduced” to Ann: that surely shows she must have been of an attractive appearance and fascinating character to have induced Macarthur to speak of the incident in those terms. Macarthur saw her in private and ascertained that she had no complaint against Douglass; she admitted that she had told Hall she would be ruined if she stayed in Dougass’ house, but explained what she meant was she would be ruined if she married Bragge (it might have been a good thing if she had, as Bragge afterwards became a chemist in Parramatta). After their conversation the whole thing apparently got on Douglass’ nerves, as he told Ann that she would have to go to the Factory, whereupon she protested, screamed and cried so much and besought Douglass not to send her there, that his feelings got the better of his judgement so he changed his resolution and asked Marsden to receive her. Marsden, however, being hostile and having promised to help Hall, refused, but Douglass feeling secure decided to temporise and did nothing. 

Hall relied upon Marsden to take the girl from Douglass, and learning that she was still a maid in his house, wrote a strong letter to Marsden, detailing all she had told him, which was, of course, a moral intictment of Douglass, who hearing of the letter, asked Marsden to show it to him. Marsden refused. At the same time Hall wrote to Ann a most affectionate letter, which ultimately became public and did him a lot of harm. He asked her to repeat in writing her story, but as she could neither read nor write, his appeal fell on on barren ground. Hall’s letter, when read to her by one of the Douglass’ men servants, who wished to marry her, commenced ‘”My dear girl” praised her beauty, applauded her and her reformation said that he was going away and would see her when he came back; he would always be glad to see her, and concluded with a cunning appeal that he would keep secret whatever she wrote about Douglass and that he had made arrangements with Sir John Jamison to give her any money she should need during his absence. 

Human nature in 1820, was probably the same as it was in 1920. Ann, however, by force of circumstances, and in her unfortunate position, still remained with Douglass. Marsden, owing to his promise to Hall, felt bound to show him that he had sufficient power to redress his complaint, but, of course, reasonable people will wonder what on earth Marsden could do unless he went to the girl and spoke openly about things, which he did not, and he had refused to have her in his home pending an inquiry. He might have induced her to leave Douglass. Underlying the whole of this romance are feelings clouded with enmity and vindictiveness. Marsden was a Magistrate, so was Macarthur, and they were, as Sir Francis Forbes said: “The Patriots of Parramatta” and jealous of Douglass’ influence.

Douglass was a friend of Brisbane, the Governor, and responsible, to a great extent, for his administration. You must remember that the Governor was Parliament, Government, Judge and Magistrate, all rolled into one. He had the granting of land, powers of patronage and could, advance or retard the progress of any person or anything, so that to have the ear of the Governor placed Douglass upon a pedestal which, however, Marsden, Hall and Macarthur, attacked and they all suffered for it by being struck off the Commission of the Peace.

The next scene is transferred to the Police Court at Parramatta, and echo asks: “Why?” There was no charge against Douglass — there was no charge against the girl, but still it cropped up in the Police Court — that Court of terror and flogging. We have Marsden, Macarthur, the two Palmers and John Blaxland, of Newington on the Bench at Parramatta. Marsden made a statement from the bench before the case came on, which was ridiculous in a Magistrate. It showed no conception of his duty. He spoke of the complaint of Ann to Hall, and that he had told Dr. Douglass it would be inquired into that day. Douglass practically told him to go to the place which is paved with good intentions. Neither Douglass nor Ann appeared before the Bench. The Magistrates then sent Chief Constable Thorn to Douglass’ house with a message that Ann was required at the Court, but she was not at home. The Magistrates considered that they had been treated with contempt, which was absurd, as Magistrates were not empowered of their mere motion to inquire into morals. 

Where were Douglass and Ann? Had they eloped? The place was small and the mountains were unsettled; Melbourne was not settled. In New Zealand there were only cannibals. Douglass took Ann to Sydney to his friend Gov. Brisbane, who saw her privately. She told him that Douglass had always behaved as a gentleman; that she was happy in his home and that what Hall said was untrue. Was Ann loyal to Douglass — and was she truthful? Why had she deserted her other friend, Dr. Hall? A little side light upon her character is shown during the voyage in the “Mary Ann.” One of the women convicts at night had gone out of prison where Ann was. Ann became ill and sent for Hall. Fancy a convict sending for the doctor at midnight. However, Hall obeyed the call and then discovered the absence of the woman. He punished her for it. The woman blamed Ann and said she was a sneak, which seems to be true. It proves that Ann was spiteful, and that she would stoop to any act which suited her own interest. 

Hall said that her reformation on board the Mary Ann was the most marked amongst all the women. But she knew where her interests lay and under-went a very severe ordeal which she survived with danger to herself and great loyalty to Douglass. It is easy to imagine that Douglass, friend of the Governor, the man of power in Parramatta, was able to defy Marsden. Ann knowing this, and seeing probably that what she had told Hall about Douglass would do her great harm, her interests lay in sticking to the latter, which she did as Hall importuned her in a second letter to expose Douglass, to which she sent a haughty verbal message in reply, refusing, as Dr. Douglass had promised to do something handsome for her. Hall was terribly excited about the disappearance of Ann; he posted to Sydney with all speed, wrote a letter to Judge Advocate Wylde vehemently calling upon him to see justice done, and a long intemperate letter to the Governor detailing the facts and asking him to take the side of truth and justice.

Wylde had no jurisdiction whatever to interfere, but he did, which is an instance of the administration of justice in Sydney before the arrival of Chief Justice Forbes. Wylde bombarded the Governor and his secretary with letters about Ann and Hall, seems to have been writing the whole of the day and night concerning her, when it was discovered that she had been before the Governor, who directed Wylde to be informed, in the most laconic manner, that Ann was with the Chief Constable at Parramatta, and to Hall were addressed a number of very awkward questions to some of which we have referred, framed in the interests of Dr. Douglass, the answer to which was a condition precedent to the Governor enquiring into the charges. Wylde did not go into the matter, but on the following day the Magistrates sat at Parramatta and resumed their enquiry concerning Ann and her complaint to Hall about Douglass, who was invited by Marsden to attend and replied, in terms of contempt, declining. Ann being with the Chief Constable was brought by him to the Court.

This concluded the address of Mr. Richardson Clark at the Parramatta Historical Society in 1921.

How does this story end?

Fortunately for Ann, the Governor stepped in.  He had familiarised himself with the full facts.  He smelt a domestic row, and with short notice dismissed the five pillars of justice from the Bench.  Ann was given her freedom, and on 3 February 1853 she married William Bragge.  Ann and William would have eight children.  Ann died on 18 March 1850.

As for the worthy Dr. Hall, protector of convict maids, he was severely censured by the Colonial Office for taking part in a “faction fight” and give a position where he was no longer able to supervise the transport or control of female prisoners.

Douglass had the last laugh.

Twelve months later, in 1823, a quarrel arose between Marsden’s gardener at the Parsonage and a convict working there, named James Ring, a good working man, but a low character.  Marsden was temporarily absent, so womanlike, and without her husband’s knowledge, Mrs. Marsden referred the dispute to the Bench of magistrates now consisting of Dr McLeod, and her husband’s opponent, Dr. H. G. Douglass.

This was the last thing Marsden would have wished his wife to do.  Although the Bench took no action concerning the servant’s dispute, evidence revealed that Marsden, by allowing Ring – his assigned servant – to display his sign as a painter and glazier, and to work for money freely about the town, had broken the law of the land.

The principal chaplain in the colony was fined £10/2/6.  To make matter worse, he flatly refused to pay the fine, and resisted the law defiantly.  When a warrant of distress was taken out against him, Marsden took his troubles to the Supreme Court.  He charged William Lawson, who, with Douglas, heard the case, with breaking and entering the Parsonage, and claimed £250 damages.

At the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Field hinted that Douglas and Lawson had shown malice in their magisterial decision, but ordered Marsden to pay the fine imposed, as well as the full costs of the case

The exposure of the whole scandal, with its background of political intrigue, so seriously undermined the colonial feudal system and helped build up so a strong a case for Dr. Douglass’s friend, William Charles Wentworth, that the affair which commenced with a convict maid, ended, indirectly, in the success of Wentworth’s move for democratic government in place of the feudal colonial system.

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