Elizabeth Brown/Browning Owen (1792 -1839)

According to her conviction records, Elizabeth Brown Owen (aka Browning Owen) was born about 1792 in Surrey.  She had four children all born in Surrey. From a letter written to authorities in 1820, she states that “I, unfortunately, entered in a second Marriage with a hope of getting a home for my children”. Her second marriage was to Robert Owen. It has not been possible to find a record of either her first or second marriage. According to Elizabeth, Robert Owen left her to raise her children alone, and she did not know where he went.

Elizabeth had attempted to support herself and her children honestly, but when she fell ill, she was dependant upon a sum of eight shillings a week from the parish. Rather than be forced to turn to prostitution, the horrors of the workhouse or see herself and her children starve, Elizabeth slipped from being one of the poor underclasses of London into the criminal underworld and the passing of forged currency.

According to a letter written for her in February 1820, Elizabeth was aware that she was passing forged notes, of the person involved and the location of production. She also offered to give the authorities the details.

In a letter written for her on 18 March 1820 Elizabeth had changed her story saying she was innocent and her husband had received the notes in payment for a horse. When he realised they were forgeries, he became frightened and “went away and had not heard or seen him since.”

Whichever version was accurate on 23 March 1820 Elizabeth was convicted at Surrey Assizes of uttering a forged note. Her sentence was transportation to Australia for a term of fourteen years.

After her sentencing Elizabeth was sent to Horsemonger Lane Goal, in South London, to await transportation. Built around 1792 it was considered a model prison with 177 cells in three wings for petty criminals, and the fourth wing for debtors. It had a capacity of 300 inmates. A control keeper’s house oversaw eight separate courtyards, allowing the prisoners to be both separated by sex and offence (felons, petty criminals, debtors). This prison was also a central place of execution for London at the time of her incarceration with the gallows erected on the flat roof of the prison’s gatehouse.

Despite being illiterate, Elizabeth had letters written for her during her period in goal that show her determination to keep her children with her:

‘Letters, nos 301-400’, in Prisoners’ Letters to the Bank of England, 1781-1827, ed. Deirdre Palk (London, 2007), pp. 92-121. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-record-soc/vol42/pp92-121 [accessed 28 February 2019].

387 [F25/6/32a] Elizabeth Brown Owen, Horsemonger Lane gaol, 27 February 1820

Sirs, I hope that you will excuse the liberty that I have taken in writing to you but I Wish to State to you the particulars of my Unfortunate Situation untill the time that I Suffered Myself to be Led in to the Error that I have I had Allways Worked hard and Maintained My Family by my Own Industry I had four Children and the Parish only Allowed me Eight Shillings per week to Support them and What I Could Earn myself and I had no Father no Mother nor Freinds to Advise or Assist Me in my distress I am very Sorry for What has happened and I pray to God Almighty to Support me and to Spare Me for the Sake of my Dear Children and I will Strive for them Again as I have done and I Declare to your Sirs that I have worked hard for three Days and had only one penny Worth of Bread to Eat and Distress Drove me do What I have But I was Drawn in to it quite Inocently not knowing the Consequence and Trouble that it would Ocasion and My prosecutor says that he taken his Oath that I Said that My Name was Bowen Which I did not for I Said Brown Owen and I thought that the place of my Abode was named Carlisle Court Instead of which it is Called Carlisle Place but I was not Aware of that for there is no Name up at the Corner of the place and if you will take the trouble to Come and Speake to Me that I will Inform you Wheare these Notes are Made and the Name of the person that Comes Constant to the Bank to See if their is any Alteration in the Notes but if I do so I hope that for the Sake of My poor Children that he will try and get me my Liberty as they Will have no Freinds in this world When I am go[ne] to look to them but God Almighty and all My Troubles now are from being parted from them and Should I be Bannished in to Another County [sic] I Would Certainly Break my heart to leave them and I pray to God Almighty Night and Day to Let Me have them with me once more let me Suffer Any Hardships to Maintain them hoping that you will take pity on me for the Sake of my Children and that you will excuse this Liberty

I Remain Sir your humble Servant Elizabeth Brown Owen

388 [F25/6/32c] Elizabeth Brown Owen, Horsemonger Lane gaol, 18 March 1820

Sir, I hope that you will Consider my Distressed Case and take pity on Me for the sake of My four Fatherless Children. I have no Father nor Mother and My Children has no one to look to them but Myself having no Father I was Left very young in the world to strive for them which I Did working in the Fields and have not had but one penney Loaf in three Days for Myself that I might be able to give to My Children as I had but 8 shillings per Week from the parrish at that time I was 8 Weeks Laying on a bed of sickness Which overwhelmed me in New Trouble and having no freinds in the Whole World to assist me or Mine but the Almighty God in whom I still put My trust with every hope in his Goodness I shall not be Cast or Leave my Dear Children I unfortunately entered into a se[c]ond Marriage with a hope of getting a home for My Children but as most unfortunately turnd out otherwise that I expected for I am now in More Trouble and Distress with the thoughts of parting with My Dear Children. I am sincerely sorry that I suffered myself to be Drawn into the error that I have but I Did not Consider the Consequence Before but I hope that If I get My Liberty with the Blessing of God Almighty I shall be able to support them by my own Industry as I have Done before. I hope sir you will spare me and Consider my unhappy situation for the sake of My Four poor Dear Children. I have no Friends to Consult or Advise me for the Best, for believe me I was Innocently Drawn In to it as my Husband took the Notes for a Horse which I had no Idea the Notes where bad. My husband being frightened and told they where bad, he whent away and I have not heard or seen him since I have been in Confinement which I take much to heart, therefore Sir I hope and Trust you will be kind enough to Do all that lays in your power for a most unfortunate and Friendless Woman, I pray to God night and Day that I may not be parted from my poor Children

Sir I remain your very humble and Obedient Servant Elizabeth Brown Owen P.S. Sir I forgot to Mention that the Officers as sworn faulsely against me and the prosecutor most wrongley

 390 [F25/6/32d] Elizabeth Brown Owen, Horsemonger Lane gaol, 28 March 1820

Sir I hope you will not be offended at the Liberty I have takeing in riteing to you concerning My Drisstrees case as I am cast for Foureteen years. Sir I hope you will Do all you can to set me free for I was inosent of the crime For I do not know a good and Bad one apart and I took the notes of my husband wich he told me he took for a horse. I am sorry that I entered the second time of Marrage but i did it for the best thinking to have a home for my Childeren for if I am sent out of the Cuntterry I Shall Leve 4 Childeren Without a frind in the world

Sir if will take the trobble to come to Speek to me I can inform you of A Great Deal

I am your umble Servant Brown owen


It was almost two months between the trial and embarkation on the Morley. During this period she was separated from her children. By 17 May 1820, she boarded the convict ship the “Morley”, along with 121 female convicts gathered from various locations across England.  Despite her pleas, it initially seemed that the children would not join her. Her nine-year-old child was deemed too old to travel with his mother. The ship’s surgeon Thomas Reid noted her distress at the possible separation and took action on her behalf. He wrote:

At 6 pm… a person arrived saying he had brought four children belonging to Browning Owen, a convict, but had left them at Woolwich, being uncertain whether they would be received on board. One of them happened to be three years above the age permitted [aged 9]. The case of this poor woman seems one of aggravated distress: About nine months since, her husband incited her to commit a crime; and after involving her in guilt and misery, left her with a helpless family without a friend in the world. Her conduct having been exceedingly good since she came on board, induced me to lay a statement of her case before Mr Capper, for consideration of the Secretary of State, whose benevolence granted permission for all the children to be embarked and accompany her.

Her four children are listed as one boy aged 9; one girl aged 7; one boy aged 5; and one girl aged 3 years. The place of birth for all children is recorded as Surrey. The ages of the children vary in later records, meaning, it cannot be assumed that these are the correct details. In a report in Australia in 1824, the children are named: John 17 years; Eliza 14 years; Robert 12 years; Elizabeth 10 years.


The ship Morley and other vessels (1828), William Adolphus Knell, National Maritime Museum

The voyage of the “Morley” to Sydney took 131 days. It is a credit to Superintendent Surgeon, Thomas Reid, that no prisoners died during the journey. Thomas Reid undertook the voyage on the “Morley” primarily at the insistence of Mrs Elizabth Fry. Elizabeth Fry was an English prison reformer and included the “Morley” as part of her campaign for the rights and welfare of prisoners who were transported. As well as working with the captain to ensure adequate preparation were made for the prisoner’s physical care during the voyage she also oversaw the provision of straw for plaiting and material for knitting and sewing, bibles, children’s books and other items that were thought necessary for such a long journey.

Despite a list of regulations drawn up by Reid to manage the prisoners, including a ban on swearing, cursing and fighting; scrupulous attention to cleanliness and proper reserve towards the sailors the journey was not without incident.

An article written for the Morning Post in7 January 1822 provides an overview of the journey. https://newspaperarchive.com/london-morning-post-jan-07-1822-p-4/

… .”Some of the most curious facts relative to the treatment of the prisoners may here be stated. Previous to their sailing, the Solicitor to the Bank presents five pounds to every woman convicted of uttering forged notes, or having them in her possession!! This practice appears to be more philanthropic than judicious; for the money, according to Mr Reid, was either misapplied on its receipt, or at the first subsequent opportunity. The Governor of Newgate also visits the ship and gives every woman from that prison half a crown, out of some idea devoted to that charity. This donation also led to quarrels and blows. The prevention and punishment of such misconduct is to tie the pugnacious combatants back to back and leave them pinioned in this inoffensive attitude till their passions cool. For graver offences, confinement to the hospital, and exclusion from the deck are the awards. ….

The conduct of the crew seems to have been most atrocious. Mr. Reid slept with pistols in the prison, to prevent their intrusion; and when thus baulked, they not only threatened his life but resorted to the most unmanly means of offence; …

The Morley arrived at Hobart 29 August 1820 landing 50 prisoners then travelled onto Port Jackson arriving on 30 September 1820 with the remaining 71 female prisoners.
On arrival in Sydney Elizabeth was assigned to the Female Factory, Parramatta and her two daughters were sent to the Female Orphan School at Parramatta. The boys may have been sent to the Male Orphan School in George Street, Sydney but I have not found a record of this as yet.

The first female factory

The old Parramatta Gaol and Bridge over the Parramatta River. From the collections of the State Library of New South Wales
 [a1313036 / PXD 388 v3,f 6 (detail)]
(Detail of ‘A view of part of Parramatta Port Jackson’ c1809) (Mitchell Library)  The stone prison built in 1802 housed the first female factory

This factory produced linen, wool, linsey-woolsey (a coarse fabric with a linen warp and a woollen weft) and twine. The women worked at wool picking, cloth scouring, spinning and carding. They also did laundry, stone breaking, oakum picking, needlework, straw plaiting, cleaning and other duties the factory required such as nursing and cleaning. The Parramatta Factory focused on manufacturing rather than ideas about crime and punishment. Rev Marsden described the problems of the Parramatta Factory in a letter to Governor Macquarie in 1815:

“There is not any room in the factory that can be called a bedroom for these women and children. There are only two rooms and they are both occupied as workshops, over the gaol, almost 80 feet long and 20 wide. In these rooms, there are 46 women daily employed, 24 spinning wheels on the common wheel and 22 carding. There are also in them the warping machine &c belonging to the factory. These rooms are crowded all day, and at night such women sleep in there as confined for recent offences, amongst the wheel, wool and cards.”

A new Factory was opened in 1821, and the female prisoners transferred. However, hopes for improved conditions were not met, and the female prisoners continued to suffer when the “model” of the female factory failed to met requirements, particularly in regards to dealing with overcrowding.


A watercolour titled, Female penitentiary or factory, Parramatta, by Augustus Earle, 1826.
Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

The Factory acted as a depot where women awaited assignment or for a potential master to select them as servants. It was also a “marriage bureau”. Both settlers and convict men could apply to Bishop Marsden to visit the factory to seek a wife. The matron accompanied the man and answered any questions regarding a lady that may have interested him. Once he had made his choice, and the selected woman had agreed, the marriage was arranged and the convicted woman received a “ticket of exemption”. Given the advantages to both bride and groom in marrying, pragmatism likely triumphed over romance. In this way, my 4 x great grandmother married Emanuel Marvin.

The government turned a blind eye to any previous marriage of a convict and likewise Elizabeth was effectively considered divorced by the distance from England. She married Emanuel Marvin on 11th March 1822, who had arrived on the ship, ‘Fame’ in 1817. He had been assigned to Richard Rouse, the Superintendent of Government Works as a supervising carpenter.

Despite petitioning the Female Orphan Institute many times to have her daughters kept with her, Elizabeth had been unsuccessful. Now Elizabeth depended upon her husband not only for her release and wellbeing but also on news of her children and any hope for their release into her care. Shortly after their marriage on 21st March 1822, Elizabeth applied again for the return of her daughters from the Female Orphan School, but the request was still refused.

In 1823 an application from Emanuel Marvin for the return of Elizabeth’s two daughters, Eliza and Elizabeth (his step-daughters), was finally successful. Emanual was granted a Conditional Pardon in 1825. Elizabeth, Emanuel and her family lived in Parramatta, and the Register of Publican Licences shows Emanuel Marvin holding the title to the General Bourke Inn, Palmer Street, Parramatta in 1833 and the Governor Bourke Inn, Church Street, Parramatta, 1834.

Elizabeth (Browning Owen) Marvin died on 12th August 1839 and was buried in St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. There is a headstone on her grave which reads:

Sacred Memory of
ELIZABETH the Beloved Wife of
Emanuel Marvin, who departed this life
on 12th August 1839. Aged 50 years
We are not sure who next may fall
Beneath Thy chastening rod
One must be first but let us all
Prepare to meet our God

Emanuel Marvin died 10th November 1854 aged 68. Elizabeth and Emanuel had been together for 17 years.