Mary Ann BROWN
Name Variations Alias CHAPMAN, Alias GARDINER, Alias 'Brick Toss'
Father John BROWN b. m. (1) unknown (2) none d. aft. 1877
Mother Barbara BROGEN b.c. 1830 m. (1) 18511 d. 18672
Step-mother Mary KELLY b. m. (2) none d. aft. 1877
Brother James BROWN b. m. d.
Sister Hannah3 BROWN b.c. 18524 m. d.
Inmate Mary Ann BROWN b.c. 1854 m. none (see below) d. 18945
Brother John BROWN b. 18646 m. d.
Brother William BROWN b. 18657 m. none - d. 18778
Husband George GIBSON alias CHAPMAN b.c. 18579 m. none d. aft. 190010
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Inmate Mary Ann11 16 5' 3" brown brown fresh medium
Inmate Mary Ann12 29 5' 6" light brown blue

Mary Ann was reported to have been fourteen when she was arrested by constable EATON in Clarence Street, Sydney,13 and charged with the theft of wearing apparel from Eliza Jane SULLIVAN. This clothing was not recovered. Mary Ann appeared in court on 16 September 1869,14 where she was discharged on the charge of larceny but was immediately re-arrested under the Industrial Schools Act and charged with wandering about in company with common prostitutes. Her father, John BROWN, appeared in court and stated that he could not restrain her and that she was frequently in the habit of leaving her home and consorting with low characters. He blamed Mary Ann's behaviour on her sister, who was unnamed in the article, alleging that she had led Mary Ann away to a bad life.15 This sister has been tentatively identified as Hannah.16 Because BROWN is such a common surname, newspaper reports pertaining to Mary Ann and Hannah are difficult to identify and gaol records for Darlinghurst for this period of time are sketchy. There is almost no doubt that no NSW newspaper pre-1867 reports or records are relevant to any girl.

The Sydney Morning Herald correctly reported that Mary Ann had been sent to the Industrial School but the Empire stated that she had been admitted to the Reformatory. Although Mary Ann had initially been charged with a larceny, the charge that ultimately sent her to Newcastle was under the Industrial School Act. While the reformatory was operating at this stage its records have not survived but Mary Ann cannot have been admitted there as her name doesn't appear in the one Reformatory list located. Mary Ann's name was clearly recorded in the Entrance Book on the last remaining page of Newcastle admissions. This page appeared immediately before the section of the book that has not survived so half her record has been lost and what does survive appears beside the page of names of girls admitted in 1876. Mary Ann's age recorded in the Entrance Book as thirteen.17 The next page from the book would have recorded her family, religious, educational background and discharge information so nothing further can be confirmed from this source.

Mary Ann suffered from a bout of measles in May 1870, and she was removed from the school to avoid contagion. She was placed in the Newcastle Hospital rather than being retained in the hospital rooms within the school.18 On 6 March 1871, Mary Ann's father, John BROWN, wrote to the Colonial Secretary requesting that she be discharged from Newcastle. He gave his address as No. 21 Jenkins Street, near the Gas Works, Sydney. In his response to the Colonial Secretary on 15 March, CLARKE stated that Mary Ann was about seventeen years and six months old and supported her discharge to her father stating that:

… this girl's father "John Brown" is a shipwright by trade. He wrote to his daughter on the 1st Instant saying that he was preparing to go to Melbourne and would make application for the girls discharge in order that he might bring her with him. I have a good opinion of J. Browns character and as his daughter has been well conducted for some time past and is nearly eighteen years of age I would respectfully recommend that the girls discharge should be granted.

Approval was given by the Colonial Secretary for Mary Ann's discharge on 20 March 187119 but four days after CLARKE's letter and two days before the approval from Sydney arrived, Mary Ann was involved in the major riot at the school on 19 March. She was identified as one of the ringleaders and for her involvement, she appeared alone in Newcastle Court on the 21st. Mary Ann was charged with the wilful destruction of Government property and was fined forty shillings with the alternative of spending a month in Maitland Gaol.20 The fine wasn’t paid and Mary Ann was admitted to Maitland with three other girls also involved in the same riot.21 Her admission record at Maitland indicated that she was a Catholic who had been born in Tasmania and that her ship of arrival into NSW was the City of Hobart in 1867.22 Mary Ann and a number of industrial school girls also admitted to Maitland during this period,23 continued to misbehave during their time in the gaol. The Maitland Gaol punishment return for April 1871, indicated that Mary Ann had spent seven days in the cells for 'quarrelling, bad language and disorderly in cell.'24 It is possible that Bridget SADLIER, who was now working in the gaol after her dismissal from the Industrial School, may have been involved in encouraging this rebellious behaviour.25 Maitland records indicated that Mary Ann was discharged on 20 April, very strongly suggesting that there was an error in the industrial school records which indicated that she had been sent to her father on 2 April 1871. This discharge, whenever in April it occurred, did happen before the transfer to Biloela in May 187126 so Mary Ann never moved with the school to Biloela on Cockatoo Island.

In view of subsequent events and available records it is considered unlikely that John removed Mary Ann to Melbourne as he had promised and, if he did, she didn't remain there. John was known to have returned to Sydney so it is considered very likely that even if she went to Victoria, Mary Ann returned to Sydney too.

It is very possible that both before and after her admission to Newcastle Mary Ann adopted and used the aliases Sarah REDDAN and variations and Sarah RUSSELL. Once she left the care of her father after her release she returned to a live of petty theft on the streets of Sydney. Numerous incidents are recorded in the Police Gazette and to date none have been found for the period of time when she was known to be in Newcastle. It is still being investigated whether this could be the older sister referred to in Mary's trial. This woman had been born in Hobart in about 1852. Mary Ann was also very likely to be the eighteen-year-old woman charged with being drunk and disorderly in early February 1875.27 It is also possible but cannot be confirmed that a little over two years earlier, on 30 October 1872, Mary Ann was erroneously reported as Margaret BROWN, a seventeen-year-old ex-Biloela girl, who had been released about a year earlier. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that this girl had been tried in the Water Police Court on Monday, 28th, for drunkenness.28 The other 'youthful drunkard, Thomas CUDDY, was named after his court appearance29 but it was rare for drunkards to be identified by name in newspaper reports and there was no report made in this case. No woman named BROWN appeared in the Darlinghurst Entrance Book on the 28th or 29th October. By this date, while there had been two further admissions to Biloela of girls with the surname BROWN, neither had been there for the requisite twelve months so were almost without any doubt still on the island and neither of these girls was named either Margaret or Mary. No girls named Margaret were released during from Biloela in 1871 and the only other inmate to whom this report may refer was Margaret BEVAN who had probably been apprenticed for the final time in March 1872.

No further confirmation has been found for Mary Ann BROWN but it is considered almost certain, but it cannot be verified, that she was the woman outlined below in Where has She Gone?. Exhaustive searching has yet failed to find confirmation of any later identity.


Mary Ann was reported in the Entrance Book as the daughter of John BROWN, a shipwright, and his wife Mary.30 She had been born in Tasmania between about 1853 and 1856 and her admission to Maitland goal in 1871 indicated an arrival into NSW in 1867. There is little doubt that she had arrived with her family and their ship of arrival was the City of Hobart.31 The only City of Hobart indent for 1867 identified only John BROWN on the passenger list and there was no indication that this man was Mary Ann's father. The vessel had arrived in Sydney on 31 August 1867.32 This arrival date is supported by the lack of registration in NSW for the birth of Mary Ann's brother, William, who was born in about 1866.

There are conflicting records concerning Mary Ann's age. Maitland gaol records agree with those from the industrial school at the time of her admission and record that she had been born in about 1856 but Mary Ann's age at the time of her discharge indicated that she had been born in about 1854 or possibly even a little earlier. Her father, John, was instrumental in both her arrest and in her release and it may be that he intentionally lied concerning her age at the time of her arrest to get her off the streets and into a secure environment. It may also be that he overstated her real age in order to successfully achieved her release. No proof has been found for either of these circumstances so the inconsistency between her admission age of 13 and her discharge age of almost eighteen within the space of eighteen months has indicated that some error exists. Without a birth record, Mary Ann's actual age cannot be identified but it is considered more than likely that she was older than thirteen at the time of her admission. It is believed that Mary Ann had been born in 1854.

Mary Ann's family has been identified by tracing the known address of her father at the time of his petition to gain Mary Ann's release – 20 or 21 Jenkins Street.33 Mary Ann's younger brother, William, was badly injured in an accident shortly before her release from Newcastle. In 1870, four-year-old34 William, identified as the son of the shipwright, John BROWN, living at 20 Jenkins Street, off Kent Street, Sydney, was run over by a cart. No appropriate birth registration for William, who would have been born in about 1866, appeared on the NSW BDM index. William survived this accident but died seven years later. His Funeral Notice read:

BROWN.—June 12, at his parents' residence, No. 20, Jenkins-street, of this city, William, the beloved son of Mary and John Brown, shipwright, late of Sydney, aged 11 years. " Safe in the arms of Jesus."

The death registration for this child recorded that he had died from tetanus on 12 June 1877.35 Family Notices confirmed that William was the son of the shipwright, John, and his wife, Mary, and had died on 12 June, at the age of eleven at 20 Jenkins Street, Sydney.36 The registration further indicated that he had been born in Tasmania in about 1866 and had been in NSW since about 1868. His mother was identified as Mary KELLY and the informant was his step-brother, J. BROWN, of 6 French Street. Neither the City of Sydney Assessment Books nor Sands Directory identified anyone named BROWN living at this address in 1877. William was buried in the Catholic Necropolis. Two births were recorded in Tasmanian records to the couple named John BROWN and Mary KELLY. They were John BROWN in 186437 and an unnamed son in 1865.38 This unnamed son was almost certainly William. The informant of each birth was probably the same person however she had two different familial designations. In 1864 she was identified as Hannah BROWN, the child's sister of Macquarie Street, Hobart Town, and in 1865 she was identified as H. BROWN, aunt, of Macquarie Street, Hobart Town. It is believed that these informants were the same person, but it is not impossible that they were two different people. The informant at William's death, J. BROWN, his step-brother, may have been the James BROWN who appeared in the NSW gaols stating that his place of birth was Tasmania. This man had been born in about 1851.

William BROWN's unidentified step-brother, J. BROWN, confirmed that William was a child of a younger family of John BROWN. Both William and his brother, John, had been born ten years after Mary Ann so it is considered very likely that she was J. BROWN's sister and therefore a child of a first relationship. Her mother and John BROWN's first partner remains unknown. The sister or aunt, Hannah BROWN, who was the informant at the births of John in 1864 and William in 1865 was almost certainly Mary Ann's sister. A search of women named BROWN admitted to NSW gaols who had also been born in Tasmania confirmed a likely appearance of Hannah who was recorded as seventeen in 1869.39 Gaol records further identified that Hannah had been born in Hobart Town in about 1852 but no clear religion can be identified from the record.40 Hannah was also almost certainly the sister referred to by John BROWN during Mary Ann's 1869 trial whom he accused of leading Mary Ann astray.

Note that Hannah's 1869 gaol admission occurred at the same court appearance as an older woman named Hannah BROWN alias QUINN or WEBB who had arrived on the Alpha in 1849.41 She had been born in Ireland and was Catholic. There was no indication that there was any connection between these two 'Hannahs' or to the family of John and Mary BROWN. The names are considered coincidence and they were unlikely to be related. The Hannah BROWN admitted to Darlinghurst also may have gone by the aliases Lizzie ANDREWS, ANDERSON and CHAPMAN.42

Based on this scant confirmation of Mary Ann's extended family, it is possible that John BROWN's earlier family may be identified from the birth and baptism that occurred in 1854. The child, Mary BROWN, whose parents were John BROWN and Barbara BROGAN43 occurred in Launceston. John BROWN had married Barbara BROGAN aka BROGEN on 11 February 1851, at the Catholic Church, Launceston.44 The couple had received Permission to Marry on 21 January. John was a 35-year-old waterman and had arrived free. Barbara was 21 and had been transported aboard the Lord Auckland. At least two children were born to John BROWN and Barbara BROGEN – Mary and John.45 The investigation into this family is ongoing but is still uncertain but this ancestry has been tentatively attributed to the Newcastle admission. In 1866 Barbara, now recorded as 39, married Ralph BONNER at the Wesleyan Church, Campbelltown, Tasmania, and at this time she described herself as a spinster. This marriage occurred at about same the time that Mary Ann's family had left Tasmania for Sydney and this seems an interesting coincidence. Barbara died of natural causes at Campbell Town on 17 May 1867, and her death was recorded as Barbara BONNER.

An alternate family was the John BROWN who was the husband of Hannah DWYER. On 5 May 1857 this couple registered an unnamed male child born on 9 February 1857. The birth was registered by Hannah BROWN the child's mother who was a resident in Elizabeth Street, Hobart. John BROWN was described as a ship's carpenter.46 This couple had received permission to marry on 16 July 1850. John had arrived free and Hannah had been transported aboard the Lord Auckland47 (3) that arrived in Hobart They married in Hobart on 9 August 1950.48 John was 35 and Hannah was recorded as 21 but her conduct report identified that she was 28 on arrival. She received a conditional pardon on 18 October 1853.49 A will suggests that the John BROWN, grocer of Elizabeth Street, died so more investigation must be undertaken as he had an adopted daughter named Mary Ann.50

Mary Ann's father, John BROWN, was known to be living in Balmain in 1870, 1871, 1873, 1875 and 1877 and his identified address was confirmed on the death record for his son, William, in June 1877. No suitable entry for John BROWN appeared in Sands in 1876 and none has yet been found after 1877.51 No confirmation of either John or Mary BROWN has yet been found in NSW after William's death in 1877 and by December 1877 the family appear to have left the Jenkins Street address.52

John may have been the shipwright, who, along with the carpenter, Edward LITTLE, drowned when a boat capsized between Goolwa and Murray Mouth, South Australia, in October 1879. It was thought that the boat had shipped water and sank as it was too heavily ballasted. Police were only able to locate the hat of one of the men.53 Another John BROWN, a shipwright, died in Tasmania and it is also possible that this may be the Mary Ann's father who had returned to Tasmania.

It is almost certain that John's wife, Mary, was Mary Ann's step-mother as Mary Ann had been born at least ten years before her younger brothers. Her father had been resident in Tasmania to enable him to be the father to an earlier family as Mary Ann's sister, Hannah, was known to have been older than Mary Ann. No trace of Mary Ann's step-mother can be identified. She did not remain at the Jenkins Street address after the death of her son, William, in 1877. She was not the woman who appeared in the admissions to Darlinghurst Gaol as a 28-year-old Catholic who had been born in Hobart Town after a court appearance on 17 September 1868. As this 'Mrs Mary BROWN' was the sister of Margaret BEVAN.54

Further letters from the CSIL may contribute more information to Mary Ann's family. No relevant families have yet been identified in Tasmanian records with the known children of John BROWN and any earlier wife.

The boy named Thomas Joseph BROWN who was admitted to the Vernon from Sydney on 8 November 1872, is not connected as his mother had remarried and his father was dead.

Where has She Gone?

Note: Any crimes occurring prior to 1867 have not been attributed to the Newcastle admission as it is accepted that her arrival date in NSW was 1867. Another woman of this name, born in Parramatta during the 1840s, was also appearing in gaol admission records before and after 1867 and the name Mary or Mary Ann BROWN is very common.


Mary Ann BROWN aka Mary Ann CHAPMAN [1887]
Courtesy of SRNSW: Photo No. 3856 [3/6048 p. 97], Reel 5102

It is almost entirely certain that Mary Ann BROWN, the Newcastle admission, was the same woman who often appeared in gaol from about 1873. It is thought very likely that she was the Mary Ann BROWN who was eighteen years old – approximately the correct age – mentioned in a letter to parliament on 16 August 1876, when she was associating with the Chinese in the opium dens of Sydney. It may be that she had been working there as a prostitute before she began using an alias55 and she probably continued to work there after its adoption.56 This woman was consistently recorded in Darlinghurst gaol records as a Catholic who had been born in Tasmania between 1855 and 1858. No ship of arrival for any of these admissions was recorded in the gaol records. It is also possible that Mary Ann was the same person who had been arrested for stealing five pairs of uppers and eleven pairs of sole leathers from Charles McKENZIE of Sydney. After this larceny she was arrested by constable COLQUHON of the Sydney Police and sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. This court report hasn’t yet been found.

Mary Ann BROWN eventually adopted the alias of Mary Ann CHAPMAN. George GIBSON alias CHAPMAN and Mary Ann BROWN were the couple featuring in the inquest into the Fire in Crown Street in March 1881. They had been living together as husband and wife at that time. The fire occurred at 127 Crown Street and was thought to have been deliberately lit.57 Reports at the inquest strongly suggested that Mary Ann had set the fire and in this report, Mary Ann was provided with a further alias of 'bricktop'.58 The decision of the inquest was that Mary Ann was committed to take her trial at the Quarter Sessions for arson. She subsequently appeared but was eventually discharged. A detailed Quarter Sessions trial has not yet been located. It may also be that she was the woman named Mary Ann BROWN who was described as a prostitute for whom an arrest was ordered after she had destroyed a table and other goods, the property of Thomas LUCROFT on 24 May 1881. It was thought that she had gone to Newcastle.59

By October 1881 Mary Ann was appearing in newspapers as Mary Ann CHAPMAN or Mary Ann BROWN alias CHAPMAN. Mary Ann was released from Darlinghurst in June 188260 to be rearrested after two warrants were issued in October 1882.61 She and George were often reported in the newspapers as they were committing violent assaults and thefts in Sydney. George and Mary Ann CHAPMAN were listed in the Police Gazette in 1882 charged with beating a Mary COUGHLAN62 – who was almost certainly the same girl who was admitted to the Newcastle Industrial School.63 Shortly after this event a warrant was issued for Mary Ann BROWN alias CHAPMAN for 'using threatening words to Rose WELLER, of No. 10 Burnell-lane, Wooloomooloo'64 and she may have been the same woman who had been offending against decency in Prince Alfred Park. This description in the Police Gazette as of a masculine appearance.65 Mary Ann received two months in prison for wilful damage.66 In September that year Mary Ann BROWN and George CHAPMAN were charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm and they subsequently appeared in the Quarter Sessions of 1887 charged with 'maliciously wounding Senior-sergeant John Robinson in the execution of his duty.'67 Mary Ann was released from Goulburn gaol in 1889 where she was recorded in the Police Gazette as having been born in Tasmania in 1859.68 By November 1890, Mary Ann was still known by the alias of CHAPMAN but it was unlikely that the couple were still together.69 Photographs of Mary Ann appear in the 1887 and 1892 gaol admission records. George was recorded with the additional alias of SHERWIN when he was admitted to Goulburn in 1891. He was described either as a Catholic who was a painter who was born in Sydney in about 185770 or a Primitive Methodist born in Kempsey in 1857 who was a stockman.71

In 1892 Mary Ann was admitted to Darlinghurst again as Mary Ann CHAPMAN with the aliases of BROWN, GARDINER and 'Brick Toss'. She had been arrested and tried for robbery in company with Charles JACKSON alias DENNETT and both were described as old gaol-birds. The Police Gazette identified Charles as David JACKSON alias THOMPSON alias DEMMETT.72 Mary Ann was sentenced to two years in prison.73 Her list of convictions read:

Dec 17 '78; Unlawfully wounding; 9 months74
May 10 '81; Arson; acquitted75
Oct 22 '81; Maliciously wounding; 2 months76
Mar 16 '82; Assault and Beat; 3 months
Jan 10 '87; Indecent Language and ? property; 2 months and 21 days
Apr 7 '87; Malicious wounding; 3 years
Nov 12 '90; (as Oct 22 '81); 2 months77
Dec 18 '90; riotous and indecent language; 1 + 2 months78
Dec 21 '91; indecent language; 2 months
Mar 4 '92; vagrancy; 3 months79
14 summary convictions for drunkenness, riotous and obscene language 14 days and under

Mary Ann died in Darlinghurst gaol on 21 March 1894, as Mary Ann CHAPMAN. Her death registration on the NSW BDM Index indicated that both her parents were unknown.80 There was an inquest that confirmed the information from the Darlinghurst description book that she was a married woman who had been born in Tasmania in about 1858.

A prisoner named Mary Ann Chapman died in the Darlinghurst Gaol Hospital yesterday. Deceased was 36 years of age, and was undergoing a sentence of two years' light labor for robbery. The deputy city coroner, Mr. Pinhey, held an inquest in the gaol this afternoon, and after hearing the medical evidence the jury returned a verdict of death from natural causes, viz., Bright's disease and convulsions.81

It is almost certain that this woman was the Newcastle admission. Descriptions for Mary Ann BROWN alias CHAPMAN vary only slightly from the one confirmed description of the Newcastle admission and every difference between the two women, with the exception of Mary Ann's eye colour, can be explained through changes with age. It is therefore understandable that BROWN alias CHAPMAN with sandy hair and grey eyes, four years earlier had had brown hair and blue eyes. On one occasion CHAPMAN was recorded with red hair.82 Mary Ann was 5’ 6” tall and could read and write. The known gaol admission to Maitland Gaol for the Newcastle girl in 1871 identified that her eyes were brown and Mary Ann BROWN alias CHAPMAN was always recorded with blue eyes. Research into other Newcastle girls or their family members83 noted variations in the descriptor of eye colour in gaol records when there was no doubt that the same individual was being described. It is therefore believed that this has occurred here too. Unfortunately it has been impossible to ascertain whether the Maitland Gaol descriptor of eye colour was a clerical error. For this reason it is considered almost certain but it cannot be verified that the two women, Mary Ann BROWN and Mary Ann BROWN alias CHAPMAN alias GARDINER alias 'Brick Toss' or 'Bricktop' are the same girl so this identity and these crimes have been attributed to the Newcastle admission.

Updated December 2017

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