The BURT sisters
Father Joseph BIRT b.c. 1820 m. 18501 Elizabeth COWARD d. aft. 1861
Mother Elizabeth COWARD b.c. 1822 m. (1) 18422 (2) 18503 (1) William CLAYSON (2) Joseph BIRT d. 18614
Half-sister Caroline Ann CLAYSON b. 18465 m. 18626 Henry TAYLOR d. 19277
Half-sister Sarah Jane CLAYSON b. 18488 m. (1) 18659 (2) none (1) Donald John MACDONALD (2) George COTTIER10 d. 193011 – as Jane COTTIER
Half-brother William CLAYSON b. 1850 m. none - d. 1850
Inmate Susan BIRT b. 185112 m. none - d. 187113
Brother Henry Joseph BIRT14 b. 185315 m. 187316 Mary LORD17 d. 192218
Inmate Jemima BERT b. 185519 m. - d. aft. 1872
Brother George BIRT b. 1857 m. 187820 Charlotte BURNLEY d. 191721
Brother William Robert BERT b.c. 1861 m. 1883 Ellenor MORGAN d. 192222
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father Joseph23 18 5' 3¼" light blue ruddy small dimple in chin, short necked, round scar near right check, two moles, left collar bone, blue mark inside lower right arm, scar back of right thumb, sun, J.B. and fish inside of left arm
Inmate Jemima24 18 5' 4" light brown hazel fair stout
Brother Henry25 32 5' 6" brown blue dark medium missing[?] top middle finger left hand

Note: The spelling of the surname BURT is variable and the spelling adopted here is that taken from the spelling used by descendants and in later issues of newspapers.

Although Jemima and Susan were admitted to Newcastle at different times, they were both daughters of Joseph BURT and Elizabeth COWARD. Susan was admitted to Newcastle after appearing in the Newcastle Police Court on 14 October 1868, but left the school shortly after the arrival of her sister, Jemima, on 23 May 1870. The only evidence of Jemima's existence is to be found in the Colonial Secretary's Correspondence in connection to her admission and apprenticeship to the Newcastle Industrial School. No trace of her trial or its location remains but it is thought that she was tried in Newcastle.


The sisters were the daughters of Joseph BURT and Elizabeth COWARD. Joseph and the widow, Elizabeth CLAYSON, were granted permission to marry on 11 July 1850, by Robert BOLTON at Hexham. Joseph was thirty.26 The couple married on 21 August 1850. The marriage appeared in the Newcastle Christ Church register but it occurred at Hexham. The witnesses were William LUCK and Irvine COULTER.

Joseph BIRT had been sentenced to transportation for life aboard the Strathfieldsay. The Strathfieldsay indent indicated that he was able to read and write. In 1844 he received a Ticket of Leave.27 He worked as a labourer at Hexham on the Hunter River west of Newcastle. Joseph and Elizabeth had five children in the Hexham area but only four of these children were recorded on the NSW BDM Index. Joseph abandoned his family around 1861 but it is unknown whether this abandonment was intentional or inadvertent. When his last child, William Robert, died in 1861 his death was recorded under two surnames, suggesting that his father may not have been around at this early stage. At the time his daughter, Susan, was arrested in 1867, the arresting constable stated that he believed that Susan's father was dead, indicating that even at this early time Joseph's whereabouts were unclear or unknown. Descendants,28 who cannot have purchased the actual registration, identified that Joseph's death was recorded on the NSW BDM Index in Newcastle in 1910 but the obituary for this Joseph BURT identified completely different children, and further, indicated that he had been born in 1834.29 He cannot therefore be the father of Susan, Jemima, and their brothers. The 1874 death in Victoria of a man of this name who was born in about 1817 and whose parents were unknown should be investigated by descendants as it must be considered that Joseph went to search for gold and never returned to his family.

Elizabeth had arrived free as a bounty immigrant in 1840 on board the Mary Ann at about the age of 16. Her first marriage was to the convict William CLAYSON in 1842. William had been transported aboard the Marquis of Huntley. William and Elizabeth had two daughters – Caroline Ann and Sarah Jane – and a son, William, who died as an infant. William senior died in 1849 at the age of forty-two and Elizabeth subsequently married Joseph at the age of twenty-eight. Elizabeth's death was registered in Newcastle in 1861 under the surnames BURT and COWARD. Her mother was identified as Elizabeth on the NSW BDM Index. It is possible that she died delivering her son, William Robert, whose birth was registered in Newcastle and who had been born at Alnwick, Hexham, in 1862. Because the birth and death registrations for William Robert don’t record Joseph’s name, and because Elizabeth’s death was recorded in both her married and maiden names, it is considered likely that Joseph had left his family sometime during 1861.

Elizabeth's death meant that her children from both marriages were effectively orphaned so the burden of the raising of the younger members of the family almost certainly became to responsibility of Elizabeth's older daughters, Caroline and Sarah Jane CLAYSON. Both were still under the age of eighteen in 1862. By 1867 both had married – Caroline to Henry TAYLOR and Sarah Jane to Donald John McDONALD. Both were still living in Newcastle. It is yet to be investigated whether Donald McDONALD was connected to the McDONALD sisters. One of these women, identified only as Susan's sister, gave evidence at her court appearance in October 1868. Susan and Jemima's brother, Henry Joseph BURT, also remained in the Hunter Valley and married one of the sisters of the reformatory admission, Jane LORD.30 Susan and Jemima's other brothers, William Robert and George, also remained in the Newcastle area.

Jemima BURT

Name Variations BERT

No record of Jemima's existence appeared anywhere is the NSW BDM Index. No birth or baptism, marriage or death as BURT has been registered. The only record of her connection to the BURT family of Hexham appeared in the original correspondence in the CSIL in connection to her admission to Newcastle. A letter written by George LUCAS on 2 August 1871, outlined the difficulties authorities had in establishing Jemima's age and baptism. This letter referred to Jemima's siblings and identified her position within the family from Jemima’s statement. LUCAS wrote that she

… was born after her brother, Henry Joseph, and before George in the year 1855 and that she is sixteen years of age. This corresponds with her age as registered in this institution.

A further letter from J. Spicer WOOD, representing the Church of England in Newcastle, reported on the contents of the baptism register and confirmed that Jemima’s baptism didn’t appear with those of her three siblings.31

The circumstances of Jemima's admission to Newcastle haven’t yet been uncovered and all records connected to her have been viewed. She was admitted to the school on 23 May 1870,32 but her admission was located in the missing section of the Entrance Book so no family, religious or educational details are available from this source and no discharge date was recorded for her in this record. It is thought that Jemima had been arrested in the Newcastle area because this was the arrest location of her sister and her family was from Newcastle. It is also thought that, like Susan, she was in the care of one of her older half-sisters who may have found caring for her financially or personally difficult. More information may be available in the Newcastle papers once all that exist are scanned onto Trove, however the Newcastle Chronicle and the Newcastle Pilot have not survived for this date so no reference to Jemima has yet been found in any newspaper microfilms.

On 3 March 1871,33 Jemima escaped with Mary COUGHLAN and Catherine HARDING. They were quickly recaptured by constable SMITH of Newcastle Police. Ten days later in Newcastle Court on 13 March, Jemima was tried with a group of girls all charged under the Injuries to Property Act with wilfully destroying Government property during the riot at the school earlier in March. The girls34 were each fined five pounds or in default were to be sent to Maitland Gaol for one month.35 Jemima went to Maitland Gaol and was recorded there as a Protestant who had been born in Newcastle.36 She was released from Maitland on 12 April 1871,37 and returned to the school. Ten days later, on 22 April, Jemima, Catherine HARDING and Catherine CONDON absconded from the school. They climbed over the fence on the south side of the building38 but were recaptured by senior sergeant LANE of Newcastle police and again sent back to the school.39 Their punishment was confinement in the cells within the school – possibly those in the guardhouse.

Jemima transferred to Biloela with the school in May 1871 and was identified as eligible for either service or apprenticeship in a letter from LUCAS to the Colonial Secretary on 23 June 1871.40 In a further letter on 2 August 1871, LUCAS recommended Jemima's apprenticeship and on 6 August she was apprenticed to John F. GRAY, Esq., the Magistrate at Byalla, near Wheeo, Yass, who had requested an apprentice. LUCAS stated that Jemima was conducting herself well so she was apprenticed for two years. This statement was frequently made by LUCAS in regard to the behaviour of inmates so little credence can be placed on it. Jemima was to be paid five shillings a week for the first year and six shillings a week for the second. By 12 December 1871, GRAY wrote stating

since I last wrote to you on 13th November respecting Jemima Burt apprenticed to me from the Public Industrial School on 12 Aug’ last she has refused to do any duty here and she refuses to have her Indentures assigned to any one unless in a town although Mr. MEDWAY, one of the most respectable settlers in this neighbourhood agreed to take her if you approved. I therefore sent her in to Gunning yesterday hoping to get her forwarded under care of the police to Biloela. I offering to pay her coach fare – but the Police would not consent to take the trouble so my son had to take her out here again and she is now, as she has been since I wrote you last, living with one of my shepherd’s families. She can never re-enter my house for reasons I did not know when I last wrote but have since learned to be improper conduct with the men here doing shearing and violent insolence to Mrs. GRAY on being reprimanded for it. I therefore wish you would take such steps as may be advisable in the matter for I cannot keep her until next Gunning court day …

Jemima was returned to the school and a further request for an apprenticeship to Mr Richard JOHNSON, Esq., was considered by LUCAS to be undesirable. No further references to Jemima appear on the index but she almost certainly remained on Biloela until she turned eighteen. This would have occurred in about 1873. There is no doubt that LUCAS's replacement, DALE, would have made a record of Jemima if she were still on Biloela at the time he took over the superintendency of the school but none exists. It therefore must be assumed that Jemima was discharged by LUCAS before 27 November 1873, when it was likely that she was simply discharged from the school onto the streets of Sydney with no correspondence concerning her welfare made to the Colonial Secretary.

Where has She Gone?

No further information has been located concerning Jemima's fate after leaving Biloela and what follows is included to avoid completing the research again. Jemima never registered a marriage but it is believed that she adopted the surname of the man or men with whom she associated. She then died with this surname.

It is possible that Jemima's inclination to rebellion may have continued after her release from Biloela. Tracking letters for Jemima in the CSIL may be possible but the index does not identify any correspondence concerning her that has not been viewed. Some of the letters in the CSIL that may refer to her as Jemma or Jenna have also been viewed but this correspondence in inconclusive. No further trace has been found for Jemima on the Australia BDM Index on Ancestry. There are no references to any person who may be Jemima or any possible husband in Funeral Notices for any of the children or grandchildren of Joseph and Elizabeth BURT so it is considered unlikely that she returned to her brothers or half-sisters in the Newcastle area.

No gaol admissions for Jemima BURT have been located. An investigation of Darlinghurst records for women named Jemima who were admitted after 1872 is ongoing as it is considered almost certain that Jemima had been released directly from Biloela into the city of Sydney with no attempt made to locate her anywhere else. Jemima's known conduct suggested that she may have chosen or been forced to make her living on the streets. Potentially appropriate women were Jemima PROCTOR, Jemima NAYLOR, Jemima LLOYD, Jemima GOLDING, Jemima WARD and Jemima WATKINS. Jemima WARD and Jemima WATKINS seem to be of an appropriate age after they were admitted to Biloela gaol around 1900 but WARD was possibly born in Tasmania. It is also difficult to understand why no earlier records have been identified for either of these women. No ages or details are available for any of the other Jemimas. Those named in Darlinghurst records whose age and/or birthplace do not match what is known of Jemima have not been included here.

Of the women named Jemima who died between 1872 and 1900, and based on the assumption that no errors were made on the death registration, possible women were

  1. Jemima RIGGS who died in 1885 at the age of 30.41
  2. Jemima A. GIBB whose parents were Joseph and Elizabeth42

Other less likely deaths need also to be considered.

Jemima was not the Jemima GODING who died on 10 December 1880, and whose mother was Elizabeth.43 This woman had appeared in one court appearance in January 188044 and was then admitted to Darlinghurst where she was recorded as Jemima GOLDING. While this was the death of a married woman, she had been born in England and was too old to be the Newcastle admission.

Jemima is not the Jerrima[sic] BUSH who married Thomas DOWLING in Yass in 187345 as when this woman died her parents were clearly identified and online trees confirmed that this woman had been born in Yass.

The only possible way to locate Jemima would be if she had descendants and they hold birth registrations that allow them to begin looking for their ancestry.

Susan BURT

Name Variations Susanna BIRT, BERT

Susan had been born at Hexham on 16 December 1851, and had been baptised as Susanna BIRT by R. F. BOLTON on 18 January 1852. She was arrested on warrant by constable SMITH and appeared in Newcastle Police Court on 14 October 1867. The Newcastle Pilot reported that

… between 9 and 10 o'clock on Friday night, he saw prisoner, who told him that she had no huse or place to sleep and that her brother-in-law had ordered her out of his house the day before ; she said she had slept the night before at a house at Honeysuckle point ; that she went back to her brother-in-law on Friday and that her sister turned her out. [SMITH] then brought her to the lock-up. Saw the sister yesterday, and asked her why she had turned her out, and she said that her husband was not satisfied that she should keep her, as she was in the habit of wandering about the hills, and he was afraid that some harm would come to her, as men had been seen speaking to her. I am of opinion that she is under sixteen years of age. Her mother is dead, and I believe her father is dead also. The prisoner … expressed a wish that she might be sent to the Industrial School, as she would rather go anywhere than return to her brother-in-law.46

Susan was admitted to the Newcastle school that same day. The Entrance Book47 didn't identify her parents and they were both recorded as dead. Susan was recorded as a Protestant48 and her level of education was assessed as 'first book on slate.' Her medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was a virgin.49 It is unknown which 'sister' had been caring for Susan as both her half-sisters, Sarah Jane and Caroline, were married by the time of her appearance in court.

On 13 September 1870, by order of the Colonial Secretary, Susan was removed from the school to the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum50 and in his annual report of the school, written in February 1871, CLARKE referred to her admission there.51 Susan died at the asylum on 11 July 1871, less that a year after her admission. She was twenty. Her death was registered on the NSW BDM Index in 1871 at Parramatta where no parents were identified. Her death was also recorded in the Entrance Book. A report from the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum, also in correspondence in the CSIL, listed Susan's death and described her as an 'invalid' but made no reference to any cause of death.52 The records for the Parramatta asylum may give more information about the reason for her admission and death.

Updated February 2016

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