Catherine Henrys

Catherine Henrys (c.1805-1855), a convict also known as Jemmy the Rover, was born in County Sligo, Ireland. Nothing is known of her early life except that she was 'pock-pitted' from smallpox. By 1832 Catherine was living in Derby, one of the thousands who had left Ireland in search of a better life in England. There she associated with 'persons of the worst description': a man with whom she had been living and to whom she may have been married was transported in 1835. She was several times in Derby gaol and had been acquitted several times, once of 'breaking open the Gaol at Derby'. In October 1835, she was charged with 'stealing from the person of Charles Haynes, two shillings and sixpence'; she had accosted Haynes and 'in a most impudent manner picked his pocket'; it was a 'very clear case'. She was sentenced to transportation for life.

She arrived in Hobart on the Arab on 25 April 1836. As on other female transports discipline was lax and at night there was easy access to sailors and rum. The surgeon's report described her as 'very bad'.

Her trade was given as house and laundrymaid. She was assigned to John Swan, a haberdasher in Hobart Town, but following charges of disorderly conduct she was sentenced to six days on bread and water in the cells, to be followed by assignment in the interior. In the next five years she was assigned to a number of masters throughout the colony, with some of whom she stayed only a matter of weeks. In 1837 she was some months in the service of George Augustus Robinson, then superintendent of the Aboriginal settlement on Flinders Island, but in 1838 she had no fewer than six masters and convictions for drunkenness, neglect of duty, use of obscene language and absconding.

In 1841 she remained free for over a year, living in the bush, dressed as a man and working as a timber splitter. She was familiar with the Derwent Valley from earlier assignment and it was here that she lived, probably in some isolated bush camp, possibly with other fugitives. When apprehended in October 1842 she was in the company of two men, one an escaped convict. She was found guilty of stealing from a dwelling, 'stealing from the person', 'putting in bodily fear' and assault; she was sentenced to three years hard labour. Although a notorious gang of bushrangers was active in the New Norfolk area at this time, there is no evidence to connect them with Catherine and her companions.

She received her ticket-of-leave in 1845, but following further offences it was revoked. In January 1848 she was convicted on charges of assaulting a constable and sentenced to time in the female factory. Within weeks she had escaped by removing the bars of her cell with a sharpened spoon and scaling the wall with the aid of a stack of tubs and a strip of blanket. It was some months before her recapture in the north of the island. After twice attempting to escape the arresting constable, she assaulted and threatened to kill a factory attendant. The Launceston Examiner was moved to remark that this 'notorious female' had a reputation as a pugilist and 'her masculine appearance was quite in keeping with her character'. Eventually, in late 1850, Catherine was granted a conditional pardon and left the island on the Caroline,. She died in 1855 in Melbourne Hospital.

To the authorities and free settlers Catherine Henrys was the archetypal female convict - addicted to drink and violence, and beyond redemption. Such evidence of her character as can be gleaned from official records, however, shows her to have been determined, resourceful, independent and capable of living by her wits.

Lindy Scripps