Mary Bowater, Convict and Landholder

A Most Remarkable Women

Mary Bowater, Convict and Landholder 1765 -1849
Shrewsbury England, to Norfolk Plains V.D.L.

© Irene Schaffer 2005

(For the complete story about Mary see my book on my website under "A most Remarkable Women - Mary Bowater" complete with maps and photos)

Like many men and women in England in the early nineteenth century life was often a struggle just to survive, and many turned to a life of crime often as a means to have somewhere to live and something to eat. Some of cause were born into crime as there parents before them suffered the same fate, that of being poor.

There were others who may have been born into a working family who through no fault of their own fell on hard times, and finding they had to live by their wits to keep their families from becoming reliant on the parish, or worse, being sent to the poor house, they too often found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

It would seem that Mary Bowater may have been one of the latter, as she could read and write.

Mary Bowater was tried at (Shrewsbury) in the Salop gaol on 20 March 1802 and sentenced to seven years transportation to the Colony of New South Wales.[1]. Mary's age was not given but she appears to have been about 33.

Mary arrived in Sydney on the Experiment on 24 June 1804 having departed from Cowes on the 2 January. The Experiment carried 136 female convicts and 2 male convicts. Six women died on the voyage.[2] Mary sailed to V.D.L. on board the Buffalo arriving at Port Dalrymple on 4 April 1805.

The Buffalo left Sydney on 24 March with animals, stores and passengers. Colonial Paterson's wife was one of the passengers. It is most likely that the wives and children of the military and officials were also on board, plus 50 convicts and 5 settlers from Norfolk Island.[3]

One of the convicts on board the Buffalo was Thomas Smith who had been tried in Essex and arrived in NSW on the Perseus in 1802. Its possible that Thomas and Mary may have been together in Sydney and that Mary was allowed to accompany him to Port Dalrymple in 1805.

Mary and Thomas were marriage in Launceston on 4 March 1811. She was 42 and he was 35 years old. They were amongst the first marriages to be preformed in the north because it was not until then that the Rev. Knopwood was able to make the journey from Hobart, where he performed both marriage and baptism services, in many cases marrying the parents and baptizing their children at the same time.

From Mary's age when she died in 1849 she would have been born between 1759 and 1761. Its possible that she had been married before in England, as we will see later from her will.

Thomas Smith was granted 50 acres of land at Norfolk Plains on 30 June 1823 by Sir Thomas Brisbane Governor of NSW. This land was bounded on the west side by forty chains on Harwicks's east boundary commencing on the river. North side by an east line of fourteen chains on the east side by the south line and the South Esk River and on the south side by that river.[4]

Unfortunately he did not live to see it prosper, he was drowned while crossing a river near his home in 1823. He was 47 years old. This is possibly the land that later carried on by Mary Smith (see map).

The following was reported in the Hobart Town Gazette on 25 January 1823.

`A fatal accident occurred to Mr. Thomas Smith a settler at Norfolk Plains on the 30 January 1823 while fording a river at that place on horseback. In crossing the stream Mr. S happened to lift up his legs to keep them out of the water by which means he pricked the animal with his spurs, which caused him to plunge, the girth broke, the saddle overturning with the rider Mr. S. From the report force of the current was found and the horse saved.`[5]

Mary Smith now a widow took over the running of the land and by 1823 had 60 acres of land. She appears to have large numbers of cattle, that were branded under her name.[6] In 1826 two of her workman was killed by aborigines while working on her land.[7]

Lieutenant-Governor Arthur appointed three Commissioners to travel the island and report back regarding the types of land etc. 1826-28 (George Frankland, Peter Murdock and Roderic O'Commor) The following was recorded in Journals of the Land Commissioners.[8]

Mary Smith (formally Mary Bowater) Mrs Thomas (1767-1849) O.G. Arrived c1805 Bowthorpe Norfolk Plains. A.P. St Paul's River. `Proceeded to Mrs Smith's hut up the St. Paul's River about 10 miles from Mr Knopwood's. After crossing the creek that flows from the Blackman's Corner the land becomes of an inferior quality. Value from river to the Tiers at 4/- an acre. Mrs Smith had this farm from Mr Towers the distiller from Launceston. She had a large stock of sheep and cattle. They thrive well here in the summer, but the land is too cold and wet in the wintertime. South Esk River Nile.

In 1828 Mary was recorded as having cart licenses for 3 pole carts.[9]

In the early 1830s a blind man by the name of James Holman, who was traveling around the world, arrived in Tasmania and conducted a tour from Hobart to Launceston, he records seeing Mary Smith on his journey to Launceston.[10]

As they passed through the Norfolk Plains district, they met the celebrated Moll Smith on horseback, who stopped to talk to Mr Dutton.

The names assigned to places of the island are not particularly remarkable for elegance. A little further on, some rich meadow land, known by the name Moll Smith's Bottom having belonged to a women who had been a convict, and had come from Sydney, with Col. Paterson in 1804.

In 1829 Mary who was by then a widow, purchased 200 acres of land. She later sold this and took out a mortgage in 1830 to secure payment to the sum of £597/9/6, paying £25 interest per annum. This mortgage was to buy 1,000 acres from the well-known William Field, gentleman, from Norfolk Plains.[11]

The property boarded on land belonging to well known settlers along the South Esk River. Those named were: John Coward, William Kelly, John Richards, W. Lellis, John Harris, James Towers, Stephens and Jordan.[12]

There were other purchases up to 1836, for 30 and 50 acres of land at Norfolk Plains, and a further 400 acres at Campbell Town.

Horse racing at that time was very popular in Norfolk Plains,[13] and the name Mary Smith was well known for her fine horses. One of her best known horses was Little John. He was son of the Henty's Little John, and was foaled in 1839. His dame was the imported mare called Creeping Jane. He won a succession of races in VDL including the Launceston St. Leger in 1843 and the Town Plate at New Town in 1844.

Isabella Mead had the following to say about Mary Bowater/Smith.

As Mary Bowater she was transported in 1804 for stealing a greatcoat and went to Norfolk Island.[14] She and her husband were evidently traveling tinkers and the greatcoat was found `between her pots`. She came to Van Diemen's Land in the Buffalo in 1805 just months after Paterson. She married Thomas Smith in 1811, Thomas was transported for stealing a ewe lamb. Unfortunately he was drowned crossing the South Esk on horseback in 1822.[15] It was Mary Smith who first offered a cottage for church services in the district, and a cottage for a school. She races alongside William Field, Richard Dry, Alexander Rose, James Brumby and other such famous race horses as Little John, Sparkle, Buzzard and Widow's Pet. She had her own training track and from her lookout on the central hilltop had an uninterrupted view of it. When she died the auctioneers said her horses needed no comment, as they were the best in the colony. Unfortunately she left no family, but her property is the most attractive on the road in every season the elm drive is beautiful. The present homestead was built shortly after Mrs Smith's death in 1849.[16]

According to Holman, early colonial horse racing, like its English model, was such a cubby, male affair that there was no room for women only a accompaniments. The presence of the fair sex was regularly commented on in the press as an item of decoration, imparting respectability to the scene. But Mary Smith has age on her side, and a colourful past showed she had little worried by convention. She stands out in racing history as the only women in her time to race horses in her own name. It was for Mrs Smith that Little John won the 1844 Hobart Plate. She had others as well.[17]

Mary died on the 22 April 1849 widow aged 80 of natural causes. On her death certificate the informant was a Daniel Bowater from Long Plains, he signed with an X.[18]

The Probate for the will of Mary Smith, dated 1849, named her executors as Thomas Ritchie and David Gibson.[19]

A sum of two hundred pounds was to be divided between members of her family in England. They were:

"Susannah Gould wife of William Gould near Rowley, Staffordshire, Nailer.
George Bagley of Dudley in Worcestershire. Fruitman

Thomas Bagley near Rowley,Ragan, (Regis) Staffordshire. Nailer.
Jeremiah Bagley near Rowley, Ragan, (Regis) Staffordshire. Nailer.
Sarah Parish near Halesowen Shropshire wife of Joseph Parish. Farmer"

Another sum of two hundred pounds was to be divided between the following, as Tennants in Common.

To Roger Bagley of Hales Parish Sheopshire. Nailer. Blackheath near Rowley my eldest son, and Samuel Bagley, son of George Bagley of West Bramish (Bromwich) near Staffordshire, Licensed Victualler.[20]

A search on the IGI[21] reveled that there was a Mary Bagley born 24 November 1765 at St. Thomas, Dudley, Worcester England, to Samuel and Rebecca Bagley. A, Mary Bagley, married a George Bowater on 13 June 1791 at St. Thomas, Dudley, Worcester England. I believe this might be the Mary Bowater who was tried in Salop and came to Port Dalrymple in 1805.

While researching a Daniel Bowater per Bienheim(1), a convict who had arrived in V.D.L. in 1837. (Daniel was 18 years old and had been tried in Stafford and his native place was Birmingham) I discovered an application for a land grant belonging to Mary Smith and Benjamin Walters at Norfolk Plains for 1837. This application was in the name of a Daniel Bowater, but it could not have been the Daniel on the Bienheim (1), as he was still under sentence, and did not get his conditional pardon until 1842.

So who was this Daniel Bowater who had bought this 30 acres of land from Mary Bowater for £90 in 1837?

There were 5 convicts with the name Bowater who arrived in Tasmania between 1819 and 1838, Daniel 1819; Isaac 1827; John 1832; Daniel 1837 and Benjamin 1838. On viewing all these men's names on the BDM register, I found that they all settled at Norfolk Plains (except Benjamin who went to Richmond)

From their convict conduct records they had all come from neighboring districts near where Mary Bowater lived in England, Staffordshire, Warwick and Birmingham. Could this mean that they knew each other or even be related.

The first was Daniel Bowater [born 1793] he was a gun stocker by trade, aged 26. He arrived in NSW per Globe in 1819 and transferred to VDL by the Elizabeth Henrietta the same year. He was tried at Warwick, and his native place was Staffordshire. It was this Daniel Bowater that went to Norfolk Plains after he received his pardon in 1837 and bought the land that Mary Bowater's owned at that time.[22] Daniel died in Hobart aged 79 in 1869, he never married.

The following men arrived in VDL between 1827 and 1838. All came from Birmingham and were tried in Warwickshire. All but one was tried for very minor crimes such as stealing goods. (two for stealing from the person)

Were these men related to Mary or more likely her husband George. Had they become aware that she was doing very well for herself in VDL and thought they maybe able to cash in on her good fortune.

If this was so, it does not show up in her land deals, or her will. There is no mention of any of them. The only two who even comes close is Daniel Bowater who bought her land at Longford in 1837, and Isaac Bowater who in the 1842 census was living in the same house at Perth. The others all seemed to have make their own way.

Isaac Bowater [born 1807] aged 20, his trade was a brass-founder, he was tried at Warwick, and his native place was Birmingham. He was tried in 1827 to 14 years. Transported to VDL on the Asia (2) in 1827. On his convict conduct record it mentioned that his father was Benjamin Bowater.[23] Isaac purchased land at Perth from J. Knight in 1843.[24] The 1842 census for Perth shows Isaac was in charge of a house belonging to Mary Smith. The census showed the female (Mary Smith) was over 60 years old. There were 7 males listed under other free persons and 2 holding tickets of leave. (one of these would have been Isaac).[25]

There was an Isaac Bowater christened at St Martins Birmingham Warwick England on 7 October 1808, father Benjamin, mother Mary. There was also a John Bowater christened 31 December 1810 at the same place, and with the same father and mother.[26] This is the only proof that I have that some of these Bowaters were in some way connected to Mary Bowater.

Isaac's death took place at Longford in 1847, he was aged 45. He did not marry. Isaac died with out a will but there is an Administration Document under his name dated 1849. The citation was for John Bowater a dealer from Launceston, his eldest brother, who agreed to pay his outstanding debts and take charge of his goods and chattels.[27]

John Bowater aged 22 [born 1810], he was transported for stealing from a person. He received 7 years transportation. Tried in Warwick in 1832. Native place Birmingham, he arrived in VDL on the Georgiana. The last mention on his convict conduct record was in Launceston in 1838. John aged 37 married Maria Louisa Swenchatt in Launceston in 1847 and died in 1871 aged 65. There was a John Bowater who owned The Golden Lion pub in Launceston from 1853-1861.[28] John Bowater's name was on the jury list for 1855 & 1858.[29] He also hired convicts between 1848 and 1857.[30]

John Bowater's will mentions a sister Hannah Ravenhall and a nephew William Thomas Bowater[31] as his benefactors[32] Hannah died in Victoria in 1880 aged 63.

Daniel Bowater [born 1818] aged 18 was tried in Stafford in 1836 and was from Birmingham. He arrived in VDL on the Blenheim (1) in 1837. He married four times, first to Bridget Nowlan in 1843; Rebecca Collins in 1872; Elizabeth Betts in 1886 and Emma Evans in 1889. Daniel died at Westbury in 1890 aged 83. He left half of his property to his sons William and Benjamin. He left his money to his three daughters, Margaret, Marianne and Martha. To his wife Anne of one year he left one shilling. Daniel also hired convicts between 1848 and 1857.[33] His name was on the jury list in 1852,1856, and 1858.

Benjamin Bowater [born 1816] aged 22, a glass blower by trade. He was tried in Warwick in 1838 and his native place was Birmingham. He was sentenced to 10 years transportation arriving in VDL on the Coromandel (2) in 1838. Benjamin's last sentence was in 1845.[34] There was nothing more on him in Tasmania.

There was a Benjamin Bowater who married a Mary Ann Garven in 1850 in Victoria. He died in Victoria aged 62 in 1875. Mary Ann died in 1884 aged 56. Benjamin born in Birmingham England. Father Benjamin, mother Mary Grainger. This could be the convict on the Coromandel (1) and it could also be that Isaac and John were his brothers.


There were some convicts who made good in these early years in VDL. Many were able to own pubs, ships and land, in a very short time after their arrival. Some went on to become respectable members of the community, regardless of their past deeds. Did these Bowater men have the same luck or were they helped by Mary?

Did she see to it that they could also make good by their own hard work? Did she hand out cash to them and left it to them to make their own way? One owned a pub, and three had land, two hired convicts, and also served on the jury. All lived in and around the same district (except Benjamin).

It may never be proved that any of these people were connected but it does seem strange that they came from the same counties in England, and then find that most of them ended up in and around Longford and Westbury in Tasmania only a few years after Mary settle there. All very interesting and I believe worth recording.

It is a mystery that may never be solved. Because Mary and Thomas did not have any children, there are no descendants to hunt through the many available archives and family history depositaries that are now available to the researcher. I will leave what I have found hoping some day someone may have cause to go further into the life of Mary, another extremely interesting women who made good in early VDL.

James Austin is recorded as committing a crime (stealing honey) so that he and his cousin John Earl would be transported to the colony. James and John arrived with Lt. Col. Collins in 1804. Could this have happen with five individuals men coming as they did over a period of nineteen years, and all to the same place.[35] There was no record of any convict by the name of Bowater arriving in NSW other then Mary Bowater. [Updated 22/7/06]

[1] Schaffer, I. Land Musters and Stock Lists 1803-1822 p 74
[2] Tardif, Phillip. Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls pp 66-7
[3] Ranson, Alma. & Dent, John. People Arriving at Port Dalrymple November 1804 to August 1806 - Tasmanian Ancestry Dec 2003 pp 145-158, Musters, list of people who arrived at Port Dalrymple in March 1805 p35 at the time of publication it was thought by the author that the ship was the Lady Nelson, but at a later date the list was found in the Buffalo's log while the Lady Nelson was under her sailing orders, two other list for the Lady Nelson also appeared on the Buffalo's log
[4] LSD 354/407 Vol6 No 39, AO; Norfolk Plains later became Longford.
[5] HTG 25 January 1823 p2 c1;
[6] Schaffer, I. Free Women Norfolk Plains 1823
[7] Colonial Times 29 January 1826 p8 c2
[8] Tasmaniana, State Library, Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land 1826-28. (ed) Anne McKay
[9] A pole cart was 6'4" long by 1'8". Axle 6'3". Tire 4". Schaffer, Irene. Cart Licenses 1826-1831 Northern Tasmania
[10] Tasmaniana, State Library, James Holman, Voyage Around the World Vol, 2, pp 417, 432, 1835
[11] Later known as Longford
[12] Deeds Office Hobart, Book 1 No 794 (Mary Smith, Norfolk Plains)
[13] Schaffer, Irene. James Jordan's Last Journey. Norfolk Island to Norfolk Plains 1813 p27
[14] There is no record of a Mary Bowater being on Norfolk Island and Miss Mead did not supply and references in her paper. Papers and Proceedings THRA November 1964
[15] ibid
[16] ibit
[17] Holman 1830
[18] Deaths for Longford RGD 177/1849
[19] David Gibson, had arrived as a convict on the Calcutta Ocean with Lt. Col. Collins in 1804; - I Schaffer The Mistress of Pleasant Banks
[20] AD960/3 p32, will 372. AOT. This is a very complex will and must have given the executives a difficult job finding these people in England.
[21] International Genealogical
[22] SC 285/85 AOT
[23] CON 31/1 AOT; An Isaac Bowater was born at Birmingham, Warwick in 1808 to a Benjamin and Mary Bowater. A brother Benjamin was born in 1806 same parents, IGI website
[24] Deeds Office Hobart, Book 2 No 6188
[25] CEN1/31 p133
[26] IGI - batch Co10728, Source 0919767
[27] AD961/3/215 page 72-75. Thomas Bowater's name is in the index, it should be Isaac (since corrected) AOT
[28] HTG
[29] Tas. Col. Index 1816-1989, Hobart Ref Library
[30] CON30/2/F301
[31] There was a William Thomas Bowater who married Winfred Agnes Reece aged 25 in Westbury in 1885. He died in 1874 aged 83 also at Westbury.
[32] AD960/18 p212 number 3837
[33] CON30/2/F331
[34] CON31/3, CON18/5 AOT
[35] Butler, Marjorie. Convict by Choice.


 Information found about Mary Bowater after her story was printed.

In 1827 Mary Smith complained on oath that two men came into her home and broke down her bedroom door and stole a box belonging to her. The names of these men were James Tate and Edward Jones. Mary in a passion defended herself with a pair of sheep shears slashing the man called Jones with it. She also stated that Jones had been living with her for the past 2 months.  

She called her manservant Charles Priest to mend the door. Later she discovered that her box that she kept locked in her bedroom had been stolen. The next day the box was found in the garden by Daniel Bowater, her servant Priest and another man named Black Will.

The box contained land deeds and some money. The deeds were of interest as she was able to give the names and the amount of land that she had acquired. (Mary must have obtained these deeds from the owners for one reason or another)

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to William Kelly of 30 acres at Norfolk Plains.

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to John Harris of 50 acres at Norfolk Plains.

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to Charles Hardwicke of 200 acres at Norfolk Plains.

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to John Moore of 40 acres at South Esk River.

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to Thomas Scott of 30 acres at the Lake River.

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to John Coward of 30 acres at Norfolk Plains.

A grant from Gov. Brisbane to James Haughton of 400 acres at Humphrey's waterhole.

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to Neil Kerrigan of 40 or 50 acres at Norfolk Plains.

A grant from Gov. Macquarie to James Savage of 80 acres at South Esk River.

Also several conveyances of various grants before mentioned.

The above statement was sworn at Launceston 14 March 1827. 

Mary Smith nee Bowater nee Bagley was a very enterprising women who seems to have come by a large amount of land, its no wonder she was able to leave her family back in England large sums of money in her will.

(I would like to thank Julie Gough for passing this information on to me) 


Further information was sent to me by the great great great grandaughter of Thomas Bagley, who from family research was Mary's brother. Ref. R.G. 10/2993 (sent by a descendant)

According to the family tree Mary had 6 siblings, Susannah born 1771, George born 1773, Thomas born 1777, Samuel born 1780,  Sarah born 1782 and Jeremiah born 1786. 

Received from Thomas's G/G/G/grandaughter who lives in Halesowen, not far from where Mary lived.

More information
on Mary and her son's family in England.

1871 Census for Causeway Blackheath Rowley Rigis England

Born:     Staffordshire Rowley Rigis: 

Samuel Harris  Householder marr. 45 years   Nail maker
Maria Harris     Wife           marr. 42 years   Nail maker
Sarah Harris    Daughter        -     22 years   Nail maker
Enoch Harris    Son               -       6 years         -
Ruth               Daughter       -       3 years         -

Born ....................Burmingham:

Roger Bagley   Father-in-law Wid.  83 years   Coal miner
Sarah Harris    grandaughter    -    2 months       -

Born: ...................

Ann Bagley      Wife             marr. 43 years    Nail maker

Born: Staffordshire Rowley Rigis

Henry Bagley    Son                -     17 years    Coal miner
Sarah Bagley    Daughter         -     14 years    Nail maker

Born: Wostershire ................

Mary A Lees      Neice             -     18 years    Nail maker

Ref. R.G. 10/2993 Public Records (sent by a descendant)

On going profiles of those who settled at Norfolk Plains.