[from Dr Pat MILLAR & Noel Wilkinson]
Mary Gibbons was born in 1803, in Ireland. She had been a farm servant and was convicted on 15 August 1827 of stealing a sheep. She was convicted with Margaret Mara, who was 48, married to Francis Huston Mara, a farmer in County Tipperary, and who had eight children. As Mary later stated that she was married to John Mara, a farmer of County Tipperary, we can assume this John was one of Margaret’s children. Mary’s trial was at Tipperary in 1827, and she got seven years — the minimum sentence for those to be transported. She came out on the City of Edinburgh in 1828, which was the first of several voyages this ship made to Sydney. On this occasion it sailed direct from Cork and took 142 days to complete the voyage. On the way, Mary got into its medical record: ‘1 Aug Mary Gibbons, 23, Prisoner – Catarrh – discharged 1 September. Issue – well.’ She is described as five feet tall, having brown hair, brown eyes, and a ‘ruddy & freckled’ complexion.
The Sydney Gaol Register notes Mary offended with ‘repeated insolence’ and on 17 December 1829 she was punished with ‘third class six weeks’ at the Parramatta Female factory. The Female Factory was a mixture of prison and workplace. It was the second such building that had been at the Parramatta site, and had been new in 1821. The Parramatta Female Factory was used as place of punishment for various misdemeanours as well as a place for convict nursing mothers, reassignment of female convicts to new masters, and even a marriage agency! There was space in the workplace for carding and weaving, there were loom rooms, a workshop, spinning wheels, stores, and a bleaching ground. Weaving was discontinued in 1831, but carding, spinning, tailoring and needlework were retained.
Women in the Female Factory were socially isolated. Rebellious women were held in check by solitary confinement, restriction of rations, rock-breaking and the most resented punishment of all, hair-cropping.
Mary was not a model prisoner. The six weeks turned into years. She had three further convictions while at the Factory. She also managed to give birth to a child, John, on 28 April 1830. In 1833 Matron Ann Gordon requested the child she named as John Gibbons be admitted to the Male Orphan School at Liverpool. He was taken there, aged 3 years and 2 months.