Elizabeth Davison is the earliest of our ancestors to arrive in Australia. Elizabeth’s birth is estimated to be around 1791 based on her death certificate. It has not been possible to find a birth record or any details of her parents or early life. Even her surname is not definitely confirmed, in some records, it is written as Davis and others Davison. What is known that on 7 September 1807 when she was about 16 years old, she was convicted of the theft of goods to the value of 1 shilling or more, without any aggravating circumstances. It could have been more than a shilling, but charges were kept to this amount as anything over this could result in capital punishment. If it was just a shilling then for the twelve pence that were stolen, she could have purchased two loaves of bread.
She was sentenced to transportation for 7 years at the York East Riding Quarter Session under the name of Elizabeth Davison. Despite the punishment far exceeding the severity of her crime the sentence was in line with similar convictions in this period and highlights the British government’s policy of specifically targeting female convicts that were potential “breeders” for their new colony, and at sixteen years of age, she would have fitted into this category.
Elizabeth was held in the harsh conditions at Newgate prison to await transportation where, according to Mrs Fry, a prison reformer, the main amusements were swearing, fighting, singing, dancing and drinking. In an article written for the Edinburgh Review in 1808 it reported Sir Richard Phillip’s description of the appaling conditions of the prison:
There are generally in Newgate from one hundred to one hundred and thirty women. He compares … the manner in which they are disposed at night to the arrangement of a slave ship … each person has an allotted breadth of only eighteen inches. This wretched accommodation is, perhaps less to be deplored than the indiscriminate mixture, in the same room of the unconvicted with those who have been found guilty … of those accused, perhaps on slight grounds, of crimes with those against whom the charged has been established … and of the young and repentant offender, with the old and hardened in transgression.
After eight months in Newgate, Elizabeth boarded the convict ship, The Speke. Before being sent to the ship, the women were provided with one jacket or gown; one petticoat; two extra shifts; two spare handkerchiefs; two spare pair of stockings; one spare pair of shoes for their six months journey. The ship sailed from Falmouth on 18th May 1808; Elizabeth was one of the 99 female prisoners who embarked the ship for transportation to New South Wales. The Speke was part of a convoy and arrived at Rio, with the fleet on the 24th July.
By the time that the Speke arrived in Rio, Elizabeth was pregnant. At sea for months, there was no possibility of separating the female convicts from the crew. A “Selection of Reports and Papers to the House of Commons. Vol. 58” includes papers from 1811 – 12 reporting: “Improprites will be committed on board a female convict ship under the best regulations, but females who do not wish to do wrong should not be compelled against their inclinations”. For many of the prisoner, especially a 16-year-old girl like Elizabeth, I think that survival rather than inclinations would have played a part! The father of her child was William Travers, a 20-year-old crew member. The ship set sail again on the 11th August and arrived at the Cape the 10th of September with Government stores.
The ship sailed again for Port Jackson on the 30th September, and having an uninterrupted succession of favourable weather, reached there on 15 November 1808 after a journey of almost six months. Ninety-seven female prisoners arrived on the Speke, two having died on the passage out.
The women were all reported to be healthy on arrival – The healthy and cleanly state in which the prisoners from the Speke were landed is a strong proof of the care and humanity with which they were treated during the voyage.
While they may have been “healthy” according to government reports for Elizabeth and the other women the unfamiliar climate, plants, animals and insects, combined with a heat they weren’t used to, flies and dust, and a lack of clothing would have made them feel isolated and far from home.
The Female Factory (prison) at Parramatta where female convicts were normally employed on weaving looms, had been partly damaged by fire the previous year and the Supervising weaver George Mealmaker died a few months before the Speke arrived, so many of the women who came on the Speke were probably mostly distributed around Sydney and Parramatta . As Elizabeth was pregnant, she would have been kept in or near one of the “Female Factories”, doing laundering, sewing, carding and spinning.
Her son, Edward Travers, was born on 11 April 1809. Women who gave birth stayed with their infants until they were weaned; the babies were then kept in the nurseries and, if they survived, at the age of two, they went to the orphanages. On 17 February 1811, at 20 years of age Elizabeth was buried at St Matthew’s at Windsor. There is no date or cause of death recorded, and she is buried in an unmarked and unknown site.
William Travers, the man who fathered her son, had remained at sea and as a seaman on board the Cumberland was murdered by cannibals on one of the Friendly Islands in 1814. (Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Saturday 22 October 1814, page 2). Her son was taken into care by Sarah Webb and William Mortimer until July 1818 when he was recommended for new orphan school at the age of nine years. The Mortimers had arranged his christening at St Matthews, Windsor, in 1811. He was given the name of Edward Mortimer Davis, but in life, he used the name Edward Mortimer Travers.
Elizabeth is my 4th great grandmother and is related through my father Charles Godfrey Biggs:
Son of Elizabeth Davison
Son of Edward Mortimer Davis Travers
Daughter of John Mortimer Thomas TRAVERS
Daughter of Eliza Jane Travers
Son of Sarah Beatrice Shepherd