The COE Sisters
Father Charles COE b.c. 18141 m. (1) c. 1838 (2) none (stated 1852) d. 18802
Step-mother Susan TABARD3 b. 18274 m.c. 1838 d. aft. 18415
Mother Elizabeth FIDLER or FIDDLER b. 18276 m. (1) 1847 (2) none (stated 1852)7 d. aft. 1875
Step-father David BECKINSDALE b.c. 18148 m. (1) 1847 (2) none d. 18809
Brother Charles COE b.c. 185010 m. 187511 Elizabeth PARKER d. after 1880
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, on their admissions to and records connected with the industrial schools, they 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 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 late May 1871 and were apprenticed separately from Cockatoo Island to different parts of NSW.

Many errors in personal details of inmates have been identified in the Entrance Book34 and subsequent research has indicated that the admission entry for Elizabeth and Theresa was also wrong. The error 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 about their father. It is thought that the barrowman, Thomas COLE, had been told the information provided to the courts, and subsequently to 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 at the school so were unaware that any error had occurred.


Theresa and Elizabeth appear to be the only surviving daughters of the family of Charles COE and Elizabeth FIDLER or FIDDLER. The Entrance Book identified their father as 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 was found in the NSW Police Gazette of 1874 after an arrest in Windsor which provided an alias of COLE for the man named, Charles COE. The identity of this man is unknown but he may well have been either the sisters' father or their older brother.36 Unfortunately his gaol records in 1874 provide no description so he cannot be positively identified. Even if this particular reference was not a reference to a relative of the sisters, the clue of the alias permitted appropriate birth registrations to be located 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 does suggest that some registrations may have been made far longer after a birth than should have occurred at this time. 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 books37 and on Elizabeth's birth registration. His father's death registration identified that he had been born in about 1850. Because the two sisters 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. It further identified that Charles had been born in about 1814 in Hornchurch, Essex, and Elizabeth had been born in about 1828 in Oxford, England.38 No appropriate marriage registration for Charles and Elizabeth has been found in Victoria or NSW on the Australian Marriage Index under the spelling of COE, COLE or COLES and subsequent research by descendants of the COE family has confirmed that no marriage had occurred. Descendants confirm that both Charles and Elizabeth had been married in the UK before they arrived in Australia. These earlier marriages are thought to be the reason that no marriage had occurred.

From the early 1850s the COE family frequented the area around Cooma. This was where their first child Charles, identified that he had been born. On 25 February 1855, in the St John the Baptist Church, Mudgee, county Wellington, their first daughter Clara, was baptised and 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 in an accident the following year.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 it was difficult for Charles to earn a living with two needy daughters to care for alone. Charles is thought to have returned to the Cooma or Goulburn area after their admission and his occupation as a carter or carrier41 meant that he travelled frequently.

COE family historians, descended from Charles's brother, George, or his son, Robert, confirm 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.42 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,43 George was also transported to Van Diemen's Land aboard the Mandarin and died in hospital there about six months after his arrival in January 1841.44

How and when Charles reached mainland Australia is still under investigation but he would have completed his sentence by about 1849 and would have been free to leave Tasmania. He was certainly in NSW by 1855 when Clara's baptism was recorded and had very probably arrived earlier, as his son Charles, who had been born in about 1850, indicated that he had been born in Nimmitabel, near Cooma, NSW.45 Charles senior was described in the Newcastle Industrial School Entrance Book as ‘paralytic'. Family researchers outline family stories that indicate that Charles had suffered a stroke so this description was almost without any doubt an identification of his physical disability.46 Whether this disability restricted his ability to earn a living is unlikely as Charles continued to work as a carrier. It is unknown whether his description in the newspapers as 'a mendicant' was accurate or not, as while Charles was also described in the newspapers as being blind47 and he may have been begging, this word may also be a compositing error or reporting error. 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'48 it is not believed that at this date either of her parents were dead. In early 1878 Charles gave permission for his daughter Elizabeth, to marry James SOORLY on the North Coast so he was definitely not in the Goulburn area at that time and it is believed that he was likely travelling extensively. By the time Theresa appeared for a likely final appearance in court in 1885 the newspapers indicated that Charles had died relatively recently. Without the assistance of the researchers of his extended family and their generosity in sharing Charles' death registration, a confirmation of his death would have been impossible. While the death at Merilla, near Mummell, north-west of Goulburn in 188549 would seem a good match, this man was too old. Charles died in Wooloongabba south of Brisbane on 11 March 1880. His parents, age, and his birth location of Essex were correctly identified. His surviving children were named and it was recorded that four children had died. The registration50 recorded the surname of his wife Elizabeth, as FIDDLER.

Charles, or more likely his son, Charles, was almost certainly the man who absconded from his hired service at Mudgee in 1864.51 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 1863.52 He wasn't discharged from Maitland gaol until late October 1863 when he was transferred to Darlinghurst gaol, was recorded as a 'lunatic'53 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 186954 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.55 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 admissions56 nor was he Theresa's and Elizabeth's brother.

Considerable investigations by COE descendants has identified Elizabeth. Clarifying her identity is not helped by conflicting records that erroneously identify that her maiden surname was PHILLIPS. Tracing Charles by his descendants has uncovered that in his final years he stayed close to his son Robert. Reminiscences of Alexander LOW, another COE descendant, recalled that Charles and Robert recalled the two of them in a horse driven cart with an organ and a monkey. Of all Charles' children only Robert identified when he married and when Charles died that Elizabeth's maiden name was FIDDLER, contradicting the name PHILLIPS provided by other COE children. Charles died at Woolloongabba in Brisbane and was buried here, so it is considered very likely that Charles discussed his marriage with Robert. Only this documentation provides a clue to her identity. She has been very difficult to locate.

On Teresa's birth registration Elizabeth stated that she was from Witney in Oxfordshire, about 12 miles west of Oxford. A search of the baptism records for Witney, St Mary Anglican church and the Wesleyan and Baptism churches in Witney between 1823 and 1832 identified no family named PHILLIPS. There was however a baptism record for an Elizabeth FIDLER on 5 June 1827. Her father was Charles FIDLER and her mother was also Elizabeth. The family appeared on the 1841 census in Witney. in 1847 at the age of 20, Elizabeth FIDDLER whose father was Charles, married David BECKINSALE at Brize Norton, a short distance from Witney. On 29 March 1848, David and Elizabeth BECKINSALE emigrated from Plymouth, Devon, to Victoria, Australia. They arrived in Port Phillip Bay on 5 July 1848, aboard the Mahomed Schah. The indent recorded that Elizabeth was able to read and write. The couple was employed by Mr W. BRODIE of Moonee Ponds in Melbourne for six months but that contract was terminated on 18 October 1848. On 13 February 1852, The Argus printed a public notice written by David.

My Wife, Elizabeth Beckinsale, having left her home without any provocation, I hereby give notice that I will not be accountable for any debts that she may hereafter contract.
February 10, 1852.

No death record in Victoria or New South Wales for an Elizabeth BECKINSALE or variations has been identified. Elizabeth did not return and in 1863 David remarried another woman also named Elizabeth stating that he was a widower. It is considered significant to note that Elizabeth FIDLER's younger sister who remained in Oxfordshire, also had daughters named Teresa and Clara. It is almost absolutely certain that Elizabeth FIDLER left David BECKINSALE to begin an association with Charles COE.57

No identification of Elizabeth's fate has been verified by family historians or this researcher. During Theresa's 1885 court appearance, Elizabeth was reported to have been admitted to the Gladesville Lunatic Asylum and Theresa's court appearance suggested that she was still alive at this date.58 No date for any admissions for Elizabeth have yet been ascertained but it may be possible to view Gladesville records to identify further details about not only Elizabeth but perhaps also 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 sisters' mother. Gaol descriptions identify that there were at least three women with this name recorded in the NSW gaol system 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 1813.59 None of these women match what is known of Elizabeth COE née FIDDLER.

Elizabeth COE

Name Variations Elizabeth COLE
Husband (1) James Francis SOORLY b. m. 187860 d. 190461
Husband (2) Nicholas BUGDEN b. 184962 m. 190763 d. 1929
Daughter Ellen Theresa SOORLY b. 187864 m. 189865 Walter Campbell DARK d. 195866
Son James Francis SOORLEY b. 188067 m. d.
Daughter Elizabeth SOORLEY b.c. 1881 m. none - d. 188268
Daughter Annie SOORLEY b. 188369 m. 190070 Daniel CARR d. 193271
Daughter Mary Elizabeth SOORLEY b. 188672 m. 191773 John HARRIS d. 195874
Daughter Clara SOORLEY b. 188875 m. 190576 John J. COLLYER d. 196577
Daughter Elizabeth R. SOORLEY b. 189078 m. none - d.189079
Son William Robert SOORLEY b. 189280 m. none - d. 197481
Daughter Lillian (Lily)82 K. SOORLEY b. 189483 m. (1) 191184 (2) 195185 (1) Septimus William LARKIN (2) Elwin Kenneth WILLS d. 197486
Son Alfred John SOORLEY b. 189887 m. none - d. 194888
Son Francis E. SOORLEY b. 190389 m. none - d. 190490

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.91 Her birth was registered in Bathurst in 1861 but she had been born on 16 December 1860, in Brucedale, Roxburgh, District of Bathurst.92 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 1868.93

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.94 On 20 December 1871, Elizabeth was discharged to F. J. EATON, Esq., Collector of Customs at Ballina, Richmond River Heads.95 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.96

On 13 January 1878 Elizabeth married James SOORLY in the Catholic church at the Richmond River. Although no parents or ages were recorded on the registration, her father Charles COE gave permission for her to marry as she was only 18 so must have just concluded her apprenticeship. Her brother William was a witness to the marriage and was the only person to have made his mark in the record. Specific details from Elizabeth's obituary confirm 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 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.97


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

Elizabeth was erroneously identified on the NSW BDM Index as 88.

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 March 2019

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License