Book Review: The Girl Who Stole Stockings, by Elsbeth Hardie

cv_the_girl_who_stole_stockingsAvailable from selected bookshops nationwide.

Elsbeth Hardie, like many of us, was curious about her own family history. She started the journey of tracing her ancestors, which took her in fascinating directions. We follow Susannah Noon, Elsbeth’s great-great-great grandfather Samuel Cave’s wife, who was transported for stealing stockings. Elsbeth was able to reconstruct the crime and the ensuing journey in great detail.

Susannah Noon walked into a shop she passed by most days, made up a story which saw her attempt to steal stockings by fraud, and three days later, was convicted of said fraud, and sentenced to transportation for seven years. Just nine days after entering the shop, Susannah Noon was sent from her home town of Colchester, never to return. Susannah Noon was one of 101 women from all over the UK delivered to the docks at Woolwich in London. By the time she was transported, she’d been waiting for 10 months for a ship to transport her to NSW, Australia.

The ship she was transported on, Friends, was a three-masted square sailing ship of only 339 tons. It was common practice for a convict transport which operated as a commercial enterprise to maximise its financial return by filling cabins with fare-paying passengers, so there were 101 female convicts and at least 10 fare paying passengers had berth on the Friends. When Susannah arrived in NSW, in 1811, there were only 100 women living there who weren’t convicts.

NSW was operating the world’s first open prison. Any labour arriving in the colony was too valuable to be put into prisons: Male convicts were put to work to help build the infrastructure of the settlement, while female convicts were assigned as home help or similar. Men were billeted in government huts or left to find their own lodgings or were ‘assigned’ to individual employers who provided their accommodation. Those who weren’t immediately assigned were usually sent to a small prison at Paramata, west of Sydney, to await assignment to settlers.

On 25 November 1811, Susannah wed William Dockerell, a fellow convict in his early forties. On marriage to a fellow convict, a woman could be reassigned to her husband – this for her, happened only six weeks after her arrival, though there is a possibility she was tasked to other work prior to being placed with her husband. William worked as a carpenter in Windsor, allowing him to put together a nest egg that would lead to a life a shopkeeper, allowing them to move to Sydney in 1820. Unfortunately, William died in January 1824; with Susannah left in charge of the shop. She did not make a success of this, but she was young enough to remarry, Samuel Cave being her second husband. She had a family with him, from which Elsbeth Hardie is descended via a direct maternal line of descent.

Samuel Cave’s story is yet more complicated. By the time he had reached Sydney, he had been married four times. He was transported for fraud and bigamy, and in fact his marriage to Susannah was in itself bigamous, for which he was never convicted. After Susannah failed in her career as shopowner, they eventually moved with their children to a new life in New Zealand, and Samuel lived in a whaling station in Port Underwood in the Marlborough Sounds. Susannah lived on the mainland, and was witness to the events that led to the disagreement between Maori and the early European settlers in the top of the South Island.

The amount of research that has gone into this book is incredible. Most of us have heritage and ancestors of whom we are unaware, and this is a great read for those of us who are interested in genealogy and the early history of both the convict colony of New South Wales and the early settlers in New Zealand.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Girl Who Stole Stockings
by Elsbeth Hardie
Published by Australian Teachers of Media
ISBN 9781876467241

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