One of my ancestors was a young Irish girl called Ellen McCarthy. She was also know as Eleanor McCarthy and, in her Old Bailey Trial, Ellen M’Carty. She was transported for seven years – not for the legendary stealing of a loaf of bread, but for kidnapping. A copy of her trial can be found at:
Here is my version of events:
A Better Journey
Eleanor looked at her sleeping daughter, Ann, and felt the familiar gratitude for Mr Recorder, her sentencing judge. Life in 1828 Maitland, New South Wales was not easy but seven years transportation was far better than any time spent in Newgate or Millbank prisons. It was at times like this that Eleanor often reflected on the events that led a young Irish girl to a penal colony on the other side of what had been her world.
Despite the appearance of growth and prosperity, Ireland for the poor was harsh in the early nineteenth century. Eleanor had known that there was no future for her there. The Industrial Revolution had people flocking to England in the hope of finding work. She found her way to London full of hope, reasoning that she could be no worse off than in Cork.
But London was big and bustling and Eleanor did not know where to start finding lodgings, let alone employment. Norah Brady, a young wife and mother, found her wandering the streets and felt sorry for the 22 year old Irish lass. She took her in as a house servant to live with herself, her husband John and their baby, also John. Eleanor was relieved and excited: an income as well as a place to stay. Norah went about her business as a market-porteress every day and Eleanor took care of the baby. For an entire month Eleanor was happy and content. Then things went horribly wrong. The worst of it was that Eleanor didn’t know how or why.
It was the day of the Coronation of George IV: 19th July, 1821. That was the day that Eleanor took baby John away. The memory of what she had done, or rather, the lack of memory of it, haunted Eleanor. Newspaper reports stated that she had taken baby John from his London home and was found in August begging the streets of Brickhill. Still other reports claimed that she was not only using the baby but pretending to have fits in an effort to gain sympathy.This accusation always bought a tear to her eye and she was glad that she could not have read the report even if they had allowed her to see it. She loved the Brady’s and they had loved her. But not anymore. In their eyes, she was despicable. And this made Eleanor’s heart ache.
From that moment she had become part of a system that was too busy to care about her. They didn’t even get her name right. She told them that she was Eleanor McCarthy, they tried her as Ellen M’Carty. The Bradys didn’t correct them. Maybe it was easier for Norah to remember Eleanor as the young girl she saved and Ellen as the betrayer who stole her child. Eleanor did not blame them if that was the case. She would have felt the same way had someone taken her Ann from her.
The thought jolted Eleanor back to the present. She fought the tears as she realised that, had she not put the Bradys though the heartache of taking their son, she would not be where she was today. Fresh air, a loving husband and a beautiful daughter was her so-called punishment for putting a mother and father through hell. She fervently hoped that the Bradys could forgive her and that she could forgive herself. It was hard to forgive herself for something she could not remember.
The trial, however, Eleanor could remember as if it was yesterday. She could even remember the date: 12th September, 1821. The way the people in the public gallery looked at her. The contempt in the eyes of Norah Brady as she gave evidence. Eleanor’s emotions had darted between sadness and confusion: sadness, because of what she had done, but confusion because she could not remember doing it.
Eleanor also clearly remembered the evidence of the keeper of The George hotel, William Ratcliffe. Eleanor had clung to every word of his testimony, hoping that he would explain what had happened. He alone looked at her kindly during the trial. Or was it pity?
William stood in the witness stand, daunted by his first time in a courtroom. He felt that it was his civic and moral duty to give his evidence. He looked from Norah, the mother of the baby, to Eleanor, the poor little Irish girl who was clearly out of her wits, at least for a while. William took great pains to get his words right so that justice, whatever that was to be, could be done. He related how Eleanor’s landlady had come to him, concerned that the lass with the baby was unwell. That the landlady had asked him to get a doctor, which he did.
William paused before continuing his evidence. He knew that the evidence he was about to give could have a crucial impact on the outcomes for Eleanor.
“The doctor was extremely concerned. She was just staring into the distance, like, not seeing nothin’. I mean, anythin’. Sorry, yer honour. So he said to watch her. She did not utter a word for twelve hours, yer honour. Twelve ‘ours! Not even when the younin’ was screamin’ from hunger.”
Norah Brady audibly sobbed while the tears began streaming down Eleanor’s face. William wondered if he had done the right thing. He had to tell the truth and he told it as best he could, hoping that the judge would know the right thing to do.
“But yer honour – as soon as the young lady came out of her daze, she saw what she had done. And she cried and she told us who the baby belonged to and where to find his parents.”
William stepped out of the box, hopeful that he had at least given Eleanor the compassion from the judge that she deserved. He prayed that she was not sent to Bedlam: she would never get out of there. And nobody deserved that just because they weren’t right in the head.
Of course, Eleanor knew none of William’s private thoughts. All she knew was that he had smiled at her. And the judge smiled at her with the same look of sympathy as he announced her sentence: seven years transportation. With relief, Eleanor hoped that this journey would prove to be the one that saved her.
©Kerry A Waight 2016 – Stories of then
Photo above: Living conditions in Ireland in the 1800s Egans of Freemount website