The COE Sisters
Father Charles COE b.c. 18141 m. (1) c. 1838 (2) 1852 d. 18852
Step-mother Susan DAGENHAM3 b. 18274 m.c. 1838 d. aft. 18415
Mother Elizabeth PHILLIPS6 b. 18277 m. 18528 d.
Brother Charles COE b.c. 18539 m. 187510 Elizabeth PARKER d. 192811
Sister Clara COE b. 185512 m. none - d. 185613
Inmate Theressa COE b. 185614 m. none (see below) d. 194615
Brother William COE b. 185716 m. d. 188717
Brother Robert COE b. 185818 m. 188319 Ellen WEST d. 189620
Inmate Elizabeth COE b. 186121 m. (1) 1878 (2) 1907 (see below) d. 194622
Brother Frederick COE b. 186223 m. none - d. 186324
Sister Clara COE b. 186425 m. none - d. 186426
Sister Hannah COE b. 186527 m. none - d. 186528
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father Charles 2729 5' 5½" brown light blue dark oval head; black to red whiskers; dark brown eyebrows; long visage; high forehead; curled nose; small mouth; mole between shoulders
Uncle George 3430 5' 4" brown grey dark long head; small whiskers inclined to black; brown eyebrows; long visage; low narrow forehead; rather large nose; small mouth; small chin
Brother Charles31 21 5' 8" dark brown sallow stout nose straight with slight scar on bridge; mouth & chin medium; a few slight moles on knee; scar across right wrist [?]; mole on back of right shoulder; [?] scar on right knee; mole on calf of left leg; features oval; no whiskers
Inmate Theresa32 16 5' 2" light brown grey or hazel pale slight medium nose mouth and chin

Note: Theresa and Elizabeth were born with the surname COE however, their admissions to and records connected with the Industrial Schools were recorded with the surname COLE.

The sisters, Theresa and Elizabeth COLE [sic], were arrested under warrant in Sydney charged with being under the age of sixteen and having no lawful means of support. They appeared in the Central Police Court on 4 April 1868.33 They had been arrested whilst in the care of the barrowman, Thomas COLE of Parramatta Street who stated that about two months earlier the girls’ father – 'a blind beggar' – had left the children at his house and had promised to return for them in a few days. Thomas COLE said that they were well-disposed, obedient children and he would willingly keep them but he had no means. He stated that they shared the same surname but he wasn’t related to them. The newspaper account erroneously reported that they were to be sent to the Destitute School at Newcastle but they appear in the records of the Newcastle Industrial School. The Entrance Book identified their father and noted that the sisters were Protestant. Both girls transferred to Biloela in May 1871 and were apprenticed separately from Cockatoo Island.

Many errors in personal details of inmates have been identified in the Entrance Book34 and subsequent research has indicated that their admission entry was wrong and had occurred around the time of the sisters' admission. It is however, unknown whether any errors, especially with their surname, were made intentionally or inadvertently. Both girls were relatively young at the time of their arrest but both were aware of their correct name as they each used it after their release from the school. They were also old enough to have known details of their father. It is thought that the barrowman, Thomas COLE, had been told the information provided to the courts, and subsequently the school, by Charles COE. It is also possible that he had misheard the girls' surname as it is unknown whether anything was written for him nor whether he could read or write. It is considered likely that neither girl was aware of the content of their written records.


Theresa and Elizabeth appear to be the only surviving daughters of the COE family. Their parents were Charles COE and Elizabeth PHILLIPS. The Entrance Book identified that their father was Charles COLE [sic], who was described as ‘paralytic.’ It was further recorded that their mother, who was unidentified, had absconded.35

The key to the identification of the family appeared in the NSW Police Gazette of 1874 after an arrest in Windsor which provided an alias of COLE for the man named, Charles COE, who was very possibly either the sisters' father or their older brother.36 Gaol records for this man provide no description so he cannot be positively identified. Even if that particular reference was not for their relative, the clue of the alias permitted appropriate birth registrations to be found on the NSW BDM Index for both sisters and their siblings. An examination of the registration numbers for the children of Charles and Elizabeth COE suggested that many registrations may have been made far longer after a birth than should have occurred. A baptism for the oldest child, Charles, has not been located but he was thought to be older than the 1856 birth outlined in the gaol description books.37 Because the girls were known to be Protestant, it is unlikely that the 1855 baptism for the oldest recorded child, Clara, would confirm Elizabeth's maiden name.

The 1861 birth registration for Elizabeth identified that her parents, Charles COE and Elizabeth PHILLIPS, had married in Geelong, Victoria, in March 1852. Charles stated that he had been born in about 1814 in Hornchurch, Essex, and Elizabeth in about 1828 in Oxford, England.38 No appropriate marriage registration for Charles and Elizabeth in Victoria or NSW has been identified in the Australian Marriage Index under the spelling of COE, COLE or COLES and it is considered likely that no marriage occurred. Subsequent research identified that Charles had been married before his arrival in Australia but it has not been ascertained whether Elizabeth had been married earlier.

The COE family initially frequented the area around Cooma as this was where their first known child was born. By the time of the baptism of their first daughter, Clara, on 25 February 1855, in the St John the Baptist Church, Mudgee, county Wellington, they were living at Gunlamang where Charles was recorded as a labourer.39 The family was at Avisford in the Mudgee area when there was an inquest into Clara's death the following year. She had died in an accident.40 They were still near Mudgee when Theresa was born but had moved to Bathurst by the early 1860s. The admission of Elizabeth senior to Gladesville was almost certainly the catalyst for the family's arrival in Sydney and the subsequent admission of the sisters to Newcastle. It is thought that after Elizabeth's admission Charles returned to the Cooma or Goulburn area.

COE family historians, descended from Charles's brother, George, identified that Charles had been transported for seven years to Van Diemen's Land and had arrived aboard the Lady Raffles in 1841. His conduct report indicated that he had been born in about 1814 and was already married with one child at the time of his embarkation. His first wife was identified as Susan.41 This first marriage may be the reason that an Australian marriage to Elizabeth PHILLIPS cannot be found. Charles, his father, William, and his brother, George, were convicted in 1839 of stealing a sack of potatoes, six pigs and an ass from a property in Rainham, Essex. While the older man, William, served his time in England,42 George was transported to Van Diemen's Land aboard the Mandarin and had died in hospital there about six months after his arrival in January 1841.43

How and when Charles reached mainland Australia is still under investigation but he would have completed his sentence by about 1849. At this time he should have been free to leave Tasmania. He was certainly in NSW by 1855 when Clara's baptism was recorded and had probably arrived earlier as his son, Charles, indicated that he had been born in Nimmitabel, near Cooma, NSW.44 Charles senior was described in the Newcastle Industrial School Entrance Book as ‘paralytic'. It is unknown to what this classification refers. It may be literal or it may be a mistranscription or a misinterpretation of either 'a lunatic' or 'a mendicant,' which was the descriptor used in the sisters' court appearance. Charles was further described in the newspapers as being blind.45 Theresa's various court appearances after her apprenticeship to the Goulburn area suggested that her father had been or was living in the Goulburn area and that her master, Thomas KIMBERLEY, of Collector, was his friend. While some of Theresa's gaol records during the mid-1870s identified that she was an 'orphan girl'46 it is not believed that either of her parents were dead at this stage. When Theresa finally appeared in court in 1885 the newspapers indicated that Charles had died relatively recently and his descendants confirm that he died at Merilla, near Mummell, north-west of Goulburn,47 in 1885,48 possibly as a result of slight burns he received in an incident in June 1885 while in the employ of William CHISHOLM of Merrilla that were considered trifling49 at the time they were received.

Charles, or more likely his son, Charles, was almost certainly the man who absconded from his hired service at Mudgee in 1864.50 One of these men was almost certainly committing crimes in the Windsor area about ten years later. It is thought that these events refer to the younger man but no identification has yet been confirmed.

Charles was not likely to be the Charles COLE who was initially admitted from the Cassilis bench charged with attempted murder and was imprisoned in Maitland gaol whilst awaiting trial. No trial report has been located although he was listed as due for trial at Maitland Circuit Court on 3 October 1863.51 He wasn't discharged from Maitland gaol until late October 1863 when he was transferred to Darlinghurst gaol, was recorded as a 'lunatic'52 and was subsequently transferred to Parramatta Lunatic Asylum. This man's ship of arrival was identified in Maitland records as the Norman which had arrived in 1856. He was a Protestant who had been born in Devonshire, England, in about 1832. It is possible that this man died in Parramatta at the age of thirty-six in 186953 as this registration probably recorded an institutional death. No inquest has been found. Charles cannot be the man who was struck by a train near Yass in January 1882, as this man was described as a young father with two young children.54 His parents on his death registration were recorded as being unknown. While it is possible that he was connected in some way to this family, he was not the father of the two admissions55 nor was he Theresa's and Elizabeth's brother.

No identification of the fate of Elizabeth, the mother of the two sisters, has yet been verified. She was reported during Theresa's 1885 court appearance to have been admitted to Gladesville Lunatic Asylum and the court appearance suggested that she was still alive at the time of Theresa's trial.56 No date for any admissions for her have yet been ascertained but it may be possible to view Gladesville records to identify further details about Elizabeth and possibly also her daughter, Theresa.

It is not possible for the younger Elizabeth to be the Elizabeth COLE who appeared in court frequently after 1870 as these incidents occurred when she was still in the Newcastle institution but it must be considered that some of the court appearances may have referred to incidents involving the the girls' mother. Gaol descriptions identify that there were at least three women appearing in the gaol records between 1860 and 1900. One was born in Cork, Ireland, in either 1832 or 1846. Another was born in Queensland in about 1862 and the last was born in England in about 1813.57 None of these women match what is known of Elizabeth COE née PHILLIPS.

Elizabeth COE

Name Variations Elizabeth COLE
Husband (1) James Francis SOORLY b. m. 187858 d. 190459
Husband (2) Nicholas BUGDEN b. 184960 m. 190761 d. 1929
Daughter Ellen Theresa SOORLY b. 187862 m. 189863 Walter Campbell DARK d. 195864
Son James Francis SOORLEY b. 188065 m. d.
Daughter Elizabeth SOORLEY b.c. 1881 m. none - d. 188266
Daughter Annie SOORLEY b. 188367 m. 190068 Daniel CARR d. 193269
Daughter Mary Elizabeth SOORLEY b. 188670 m. 191771 John HARRIS d. 195872
Daughter Clara SOORLEY b. 188873 m. 190574 John J. COLLYER d. 196575
Daughter Elizabeth R. SOORLEY b. 189076 m. none - d.189077
Son William Robert SOORLEY b. 189278 m. none - d. 197479
Daughter Lillian (Lily)80 K. SOORLEY b. 189481 m. (1) 191182 (2) 195183 (1) Septimus William LARKIN (2) Elwin Kenneth WILLS d. 197484
Son Alfred John SOORLEY b. 189885 m. none - d. 194886
Son Francis E. SOORLEY b. 190387 m. none - d. 190488

Elizabeth was recorded in the newspapers as nine years old when she was arrested in Sydney. When she was admitted to Newcastle on 7 April 1868, her admission recorded a pencilled age of ten beside her alternate age of nine. She was recorded as a Protestant who was able to read the first book and write on slate.89 Her birth was registered in Bathurst in 1861 but she was born on 16 December 1860, in Brucedale, Roxburgh, District of Bathurst.90 This registration year was a fair approximation for her year of birth that was stated in the newspapers and the Entrance Book. Elizabeth was named by SELWYN on his Protestant list in 1868.91

Elizabeth transferred with her older sister, Theresa, to Biloela in May 1871 and was listed by LUCAS in his letter to the Colonial Secretary on 23 June, as eligible for service.92 On 20 December 1871, Elizabeth was discharged to F. J. EATON, Esq., Collector of Customs at Ballina, Richmond River Heads.93 LUCAS's letter arranging this apprenticeship, written on 2 December, outlined her wages and stated that she 'had uniformly conducted herself well.' Elizabeth was to be paid one shilling a week for the first two years, two shillings a week for the next two years, three shillings a week for the fifth year and four shillings a week for the sixth year.94

There is almost no doubt that Elizabeth married James SOORLY at the Richmond River in 1878. It is known that the Newcastle admission was apprenticed to this area and specific details from her obituary match what was known about Elizabeth COE – specifically that she had been born in Bathurst and that she came to the north coast at a young age. The appearance of the given names Theresa and Clara in the names of her children is further circumstantial evidence that she was the child of Charles and Elizabeth COE. James and Elizabeth SOORLY had eleven children registered in the Lismore and later the Ballina areas. In 1907, after James's death, Elizabeth remarried Nicholas BUGDEN but no further children were born. At the time of her death in 1946, her obituary read:

Mrs Elizabeth Bugden, one of the oldest and best known pioneer residents of the Lower Richmond, died in St. Vincent's Hospice, Lismore. She was the relict of the late Nicholas Bugden. Born in Bathurst 85 years ago, she came to the Richmond at an early age and had resided in Wardell ever since. She married twice, her first husband, the late James Soorley, predeceasing her 41 years ago. There were no children by the second marriage. She is survived by three sons, James Soorley (Tweed Heads), William (Fingal) and John (Sydney), and three daughters, Mrs. J. Harris and Mrs. J. Collyer (Wardell) and Mrs. L. Larkin (Lismore). There are 38 grand children, 40 great grandchildren, six great great grandchildren.
A service was conducted in St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Wardell, by the Very Rev. Father Giesin, who paid a tribute to the exemplary life of Mrs. Bugden who, he said, had always a kindly word for everyone. The remains were interred in the Roman Catholic portion of the Wardell cemetery. Pallbearers were Messrs. W. Soorley (son), W. Larkin, W. Carr, D. Carr and W. Soorley (grandsons) and J. Collyer (son-in-law), Messrs. Ronald, Arthur and Don Collyer (great grandsons) carried the wreaths. Very Rev. Father Giesin officiated at the graveside, and Chas. Henderson, of Ballina, carried out the funeral arrangements.95


Elizabeth's headstone at Wardell Cemetery
Photograph courtesy of Australian Cemeteries Index (

Elizabeth was erroneously identified on the NSW BDM Index as 88. Neither her marriage nor her death registration has been viewed.

Note: Elizabeth is not the Elizabeth COLE who died on the North Coast in 188096 as this 40-year-old was married.97

Theresa COE

Name Variations Theresa COLE

Theresa was recorded as thirteen when she was arrested and admitted to Newcastle. Her birth registration was in the name of Theressa [sic] COE and was registered at Mudgee in 1856. She was baptised at St John the Baptist, Mudgee, on 24 April 1858, the same day as her younger brother, William. This record indicated that she had been born on 20 June 1856, when her father was a shepherd at Gralli.98 This birth year was a very good match to Theresa's year of birth calculated from the Entrance Book. The birth location stated by Theresa COE aka COLE in subsequent gaol records also matched.99 The Entrance Book recorded that she could only write letters on a slate and read the alphabet which was not as advanced an attainment as that of her younger sister, Elizabeth.100 Theresa was recorded by SELWYN on his list of Protestant admissions in 1868.101

Theresa transferred with her sister, Elizabeth, to Biloela in May 1871 and was listed by LUCAS in a letter to the Colonial Secretary on 23 June 1871, as eligible for service.102 The word 'discharged' had been pencilled in under Theresa’s entry date in the Entrance Book but no further information concerning her apprenticeship was provided in this record. LUCAS's April 1872 list does indicate that Theresa was apprenticed to T. KIMBERLEY, Esq., of Collector, on 29 February 1872,103 and this location and master was confirmed in his letter outlining the conditions of her apprenticeship. Thomas KIMBERLEY was the publican of the Collector Hotel104 and KIMBERLEY knew her father so it may be that he was doing Charles a favour by taking Theresa into his care. Theresa's apprenticeship was for two years and she was to be paid two shillings a week for the first year and three shillings a week for the second year. LUCAS stated that Theresa had always conducted herself well.105 It was unusual that Theresa was apprenticed when she was about sixteen, four years after she would have been eligible and after the apprenticeship of her younger sister. In light of her academic achievement at the time of her admission, her late discharge and subsequent events, it is considered likely that she suffered from some type of physical or mental disability. This disability was identified in later correspondence106 as a lunatic.107

On 7 February 1873, Theresa appeared before the Police Court at Collector charged with being of unsound mind. Goulburn Gaol records indicated that she was a native of the colony, had been born in Mudgee, was a Protestant and an orphan who could read and write. Theresa was sentenced to one month's imprisonment but was soon admitted to the Liverpool Asylum.108 Theresa must have returned to the Goulburn area as in 1878 she again appeared in Goulburn gaol records described as a servant girl. By this stage she had lost a tooth from the front of her upper jaw. Some of the 1878 description is unclear. On 4 November 1880, a gaol admission notation of 'Certified Lunatic' was made and she was sent to the Reception House on 11 November.109 Her admission record to the Hospital for the Insane, Gladesville, was located in the CSIL. In this record the cause of her insanity was described as imbecility and she was described as a congenital idiot.110 Specific problems identified by the two doctors assessing her over the week between the 4th and 11th November 1880, were that Theresa was:

melancholy, cries without cause, will not give coherent answers, is incapable of doing ordinary acts requiring mental exercise; cries often without cause and is listless, would not eat or drink unless pressed to do it:
vacant expression, talks in a silly manner, cries without cause: The nurse says she is quite silly and cries frequently without cause and must be looked after like a child.111

Theresa seems to have remained in Gladesville for some time but on 14 December 1885, she was back in Collector and suffering again from a disordered mind.112 As Theresa COE she appeared in Goulburn Police Court on remand and Dr GENTLE stated:

[Theresa] has been under my observation for about a week; she refused to take her food, and has had to be forced to eat; she has frequently had crying fits; she asks a number of number of simple and very foolish questions, and answers those put to her in an incoherent manner; I consider her to be insane and not fit to take care of herself; she has been in the Asylum before; she would be benefitted by being sent to the Asylum now; her mother has been in the Asylum for some time; Mr. Kimberley, of Collector, is the only person who takes any interest in her, and at present that gentleman is unable to do anything for her.
Dr. Ray deposed: I have examined the person before the court; she talks very irrationally ; I believe her to be insane and incapable of taking care of herself; I recommend that she be sent to an asylum for treatment.

Theresa was returned to the Gladesville Lunatic Asylum. As Theresa COE she died at the mental hospital at Hunter's Hill on 18 May 1946, where her parents, Charles COE, a teamster, and Elizabeth PHILLIPS, were identified on the death record. Theresa had never married, had no children and was recorded on her death registration as 'late of Goulburn'. She was buried at the Church of England Cemetery at the Field of Mars on 22 May.

Theresa is unlikely to be the unnamed adopted daughter of Thomas and Emma KIMBERLEY named in Thomas's obituary.113 More information may be found in the deceased estate of Thomas and Emma.114 It also must be considered that the Margaret Theresa Cole alias Marshall115 who was arrested in Goulburn in 1935 and who was born in about 1906 is connected in some way to Theresa.

Updated November 2015

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