The COLLYER Sisters
Name Variations COLYER, COLLIER
Father Stephen COLLYER b.c. 18141 m. 18502 d. 18953
Mother Eliza DONLAN aka Elizabeth DONNELLY or DONNELLAN b.c. 1834 m. 18504 d. aft. 18775
Brother Henry COLLYER b.c. 18526 m. 18777 Agnes Gertrude ORR d. 19328
Brother James COLLYER b.c. 18559 m. 187110 Ellen RIGGS d. 192311
Inmate Jane aka Elizabeth Jane COLLYER b.c. 185612 m. 187613 (see below) d. aft. 1876
Brother John W. COLLIER aka William14 b. 185815 m. d. 188816
Inmate Mary Ann COLLIER b. 186017 m. none (see below) d.
Brother Edward COLLYER b. 186218 m. none - d. 186819
Brother John Thomas COLLYER b.c. 186520 m. d. aft. 1876
Sister Louisa Adelaide COLLYER b. 186721 m. d. aft. 1876
Brother Arthur Edward COLLYER b. 187022 m. d. aft. 1876
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father Stephen23 25 5' 5½" brown hazel grey pale and freckled small mole on each side of neck; arms freckled; part of an anchor S C inside lower left arm; scar on back of little finger of left hand
Father Stephen24 31 5' 4½" brown hazel fresh slight S C ↑ lower left arm
Mother Elizabeth25 39 5' 0" black brown sallow stout none
Brother Henry26 27 5' 7" black hazel or grey swarthy medium nose, mouth and chin medium; nose small and straight; small moles on back and one mole on wrist of left hand; scar on right eyebrow and scars on right shin; features oval
Brother William27 21 5' 5¼" very dark brown grey sallow stout nose small and straight; mouth & chin medium; tattooed with anchor on left arm and [unclear] marks on middle finger of left hand; scar under right knee; scar on left knee; scar on centre of back; two moles on abdomen; [unclear] freckles about face, neck and back; features oval
Brother James as Andrew28 21 5' 8¼" auburn [unclear] grey fair medium nose thick & wide on bridge and very much cocked[?] extended[?] at nostrils; mouth & chin medium; lost tooth out of front of upper jaw; scar on left cheek bones; three scars on right knee; scar inside of right thigh; features oval
Brother Patrick29 16 5' 6" light blue sallow stout two scars on left knee; scar on top of left foot
Sister Louisa30 8 4' 2" brown hazel fair stout nose short; mouth and chin medium
Brother Arthur31 5 4' light blue fair stout nose short; mouth and chin medium

The Monaro Mercury on 5 September 1867, reproduced in the Empire on 9 September, reported that on 25 August, James, aged twelve, and his brother, identified as Henry,32 aged eight, appeared in court for stealing fowls.33 While Henry was reported to have stolen the fowls, William was the boy admitted with James to the Vernon and who is identified on the letters regarding their arrest.34 Jane COLLIER, their sister, was charged with receiving the fowls with a guilty knowledge and she was sentenced to two years in the 'Reformatory.' The other children in the family were identified only by age and the article indicated that their father was in Port Macquarie Gaol, their mother was in Eden Gaol and an elder brother had just finished a sentence in Eden gaol. The family was described as 'a nest of thieves.'35

Admissions to the industrial ship, the Vernon, recorded the names of James and William COLLYER, aged twelve and ten, respectively, when they were admitted from Pambula on 25 August 1867. James was eventually apprenticed to the Clarence River.36 Edward at the age of four and his two-and-a-half-year-old brother, John Thomas, were admitted to the Benevolent Asylum on 28 August. Edward was subsequently sent on to the Randwick Asylum two months later where he died in March the following year.37 John Thomas was sent from the Benevolent Asylum to Randwick in October 1867, and was apprenticed to Mr. J. F. JENKINS of Wagga Wagga in July 1876. No trace of any admission for Henry to an industrial institution has been located even though in August 1867 he was probably still under the age of fifteen.

The correspondence connected with these arrests indicated that Elizabeth Jane and Mary were arrested with their brothers on 19 August 1867. This date means that the sisters were in fact the first arrests for any girls made under the Act for the Relief of Destitute Children as they appeared in court a full week before Jane BAKER, the most frequently reported 'first' admission to the school, had been arrested. Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Jane and six-year-old Mary Ann were detained in Sydney in police custody until instructions for their disposal were sent.38 No indication has yet been found to identify where they were kept but they were admitted to Newcastle on 5 September 1867, nearly a week after the first girls arrived at the school. The sisters were recorded in the Entrance Book as Mary Ann and Elizabeth Jane. No religion was recorded on the Vernon admissions for James and William but records for Randwick and the Newcastle Entrance Book indicated that the siblings were Catholic. A telegram included with letters concerning the children confirmed that they were all Catholic.39 By 1875, two further siblings, Louisa and Arthur, born after the arrests of their older siblings, were admitted to Goulburn Gaol from Sydney by the Governor charged with destitution. They were subsequently sent on to the Roman Catholic Orphan School in Parramatta in February 1876 but no record of their admission to the Male or Female Orphan Schools has been found for either child online on the SRNSW: Child Welfare Index40 so it is believed that their admission records have not survived. It is for this reason that it is suspected that the Elizabeth COLLYER in Parramatta gaol is the children's mother as she may have attempted to be near her children.

This various collection of admissions to the welfare institutions of NSW at the time strongly suggests that the siblings became scattered and may never have maintained contact with each other after their discharges from the various institutions. William was probably last child confirmed alive in 1883 in Braidwood Gaol.41


Elizabeth Jane's and Mary's parents, Stephen and Eliza COLLYER, were clearly identified. They were named in the Entrance Book; located on the North Shore in the Vernon records; listed in prison records and named in the Randwick Asylum records. The couple, recorded as Stephen COLLIER and Eliza DONELLY, were married on 3 January 1850, by Eugene LUCKIE, the Catholic minister of Ipswich, then in NSW but now in Queensland. The witnesses were Mary (X) MAXWELL and Samuel (X) HOLDSWORTH. Only Eliza was Catholic. This marriage date and location were confirmed in the birth record for their daughter, Louisa Adelaide COLLYER, who had been born in 1867 in Lockiel, Eden. By the time of Louisa's birth the couple had five sons and two daughters living and one male child who had died. It is likely that Stephen’s occupation, recorded in the Entrance Book as a teamster, enabled such large distances to be covered by the family. Spelling of the family surname of COLLYER varies enormously. The NSW Police Gazette indicated that both Stephen and Eliza had appeared in the courts of Sydney and the South Coast as COLYER, COLLYER and COLLIER on charges of larceny. Eliza and Stephen moved to the North Shore42 of Sydney at some time during the early 1870s.43 They appeared in the Sydney courts on different charges on 18 December 1873.44 It is unknown where the couple lived immediately after they married as their older children were unregistered but registrations of the younger children commence in Eden in about 1858. Their two youngest children were removed from them by 1875 due to the family's destitution and they were sent to Goulburn Gaol on 11 January 1876, where they were then forwarded to the Roman Catholic Orphan School.

Gaol records enable Stephen COLYER to be identified. He had been born in Kent and in 1839 he appeared at the Kent Quarter Sessions charged with housebreaking and was transported for fifteen years. It is possible that Stephen may have been married earlier in NSW but the indent of the Barossa indicated that he had been arrived as a single man.45 After his arrival in NSW he appeared in Newcastle and Parramatta Gaol records. Newcastle Gaol records from 1845 confirmed that he was a labourer and had returned to service with the harbour master after his release from gaol.46 Prior to his admission to Parramatta in 1847 he had an earlier arrest and trial in Mudgee. He finally received his Ticket of Leave and married. He was charged with stealing an adze in Pambula in December 1865.47 In 1866 he was arrested and charged with stealing a bull from John MILLER. He was ordered to appear at the Eden Quarter Sessions48 and was tried in Pambula Court in March 1866.49 He received three years labour in Darlinghurst Gaol at the Sydney Quarter Sessions on 1 August 1866,50 but he was transferred to Port Macquarie Gaol. Reports of his release from Port Macquarie Goal on a charge of cattle stealing appear in the Police Gazette in August 1866.51

In 1865 at the age of eighty-seven the death of a Stephen COLLYER was registered in Shoalhaven. This man was the father of the Barossa transportee. He had arrived with his wife Sally nee SPICKET and their five children, James, Jesse, Edward, Henry and Ann, in Port Adelaide, South Australia, aboard the Fairlie which left London on 4 April 1840. Another son, William, emigrated aboard the Anglia as an assisted immigrant in 1850. After Sally's death in 1859, Stephen travelled to NSW to visit his son William, in Shoalhaven where he eventually died on 1 June 1865. He was buried at Worregee.52

Descendants accept that Stephen died in Moree in 1895 where both his parents were recorded as unknown.

Stephen was probably not a brother to George and Jeremiah COLLYER as these men are most likely related to the Stephen COLLYER who lived in the Yass area. Jeremiah COLLYER had advertised for his brothers to contact him in the newspapers in 1856.53 This Stephen COLLYER died in 1889 and his death was registered in Gladesville Insane Asylum but reports concerning an issue over his will indicated that he had previously lived in Yass.54 He was described as mad and had no descendants.55 It is remotely possible that the Yass man and the Pambula man were identical people and this possibility is still being investigated.

The letters from Eden Police written on 10 September 1867, clearly but erroneously stated:

I … bring under notice that a family of six children whose father is dead and mother (a prostitute) is in gaol having been brought before the bench at Eden

Stephen COLLYER was in gaol during 1865 and was almost certainly identified in court cases in 1869 so the statement cannot be correct.

Eliza was also referred to in other documents and therefore by descendants as DONNELLIN,56 DONNELLAN aka DONNELLY. Louisa's birth recorded her surname as DONLAN. Eliza also varied her given name on the birth registrations that do exist and has been variously recorded as Eliza, Elizabeth, Louisa and Sarah.

No confirmation of the identity of Eliza COLYER nee DONLAN aka DONNELLY has been made. The larceny that caused her imprisonment in 1867 and the subsequent admission of her children to the institutions of NSW was the theft of a bull, the property of James MANNING. It is possible that she had arrived into Queensland as she had married there but no appropriate admissions have been identified and this is considered unlikely. After the larceny incident, Eliza was to appear at the Eden Quarter Sessions in October 186657 and she had been imprisoned in Eden Gaol in about July 1867, charged with having a quantity of beef in her possession. She was fined fifty pounds or was to serve six months in gaol. James HOLMES was recorded as an accessory.58 It is considered very unlikely that she was able to pay such a large fine but details of both this trial and any imprisonment are yet to be found. In 1869, Stephen COLLYER took out a warrant for the arrest of HOLMES charging him with perjury. This charge was dismissed.59

It is considered likely that the Elizabeth COLLIER who was married and who had arrived on the Lady Page in 1848 may have been the mother of the Newcastle admissions.60 She had been born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1838. It is unknown whether this statement to the gaol authorities was true. While there is little doubt that Elizabeth had been born in Ireland and this would have been difficult to lie about, her birth location may not be correct and no ship named the Lady Page has been identified. A search of NSW assisted immigration indents identified a woman named Elizabeth DONLAN who had arrived in 1849 aboard the Lady Peel. This woman had been born in Killenkin, Leitram, in about 1832 and was a member of the Church of Rome. Her parents were James and Ellen and she had no relatives in the colony.61 While she married as DONELLY, her daughter's marriage clearly identified her mother's maiden name as DONELLIN so both these records are believed to refer to her.

It is possible that Eliza/beth was the woman who, in June 1871, had not seen her husband since 1869.62 She may be the Eliza COLLIER who had been sentenced at the Yass assizes to six months in Yass gaol in October 1875.63 If this is her this does suggest that there may be some link with the man who died in Yass in 1889. She may also have been the Eliza COLLIER sentenced at the Water Police Court by J. M. MARSH on 30 April 1875,64 for threatening. She was examined and sentenced to 14 days on 7 May 1875.65

On the 18 Jan 1877, an Elizabeth COLYER was living at Exeter Place, Sydney. This woman gave evidence that sent Mary Jane IRWIN to Biloela. Unfortunately there was possibly another woman of this name living in Sydney since before Elizabeth Jane and Mary Ann were sent to Newcastle so this appearance cannot be confirmed. Eliza may also be the woman appearing at the same time and for the same offence – allowing water to run – as Ann HOWARD in court in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 3 Jan 1876.

Eliza/beth did not die in Sydney as Eliza A. COLYER in 1878 as this registration was for the daughter of Henry Cox COLYER.66

The thirty-year-old Elizabeth COLLIER and her daughters, Ann, aged 18, and Sarah Jane, aged 15, were admitted to Darlinghurst after a court appearance in late March 1871.67 Elizabeth was recorded here as at least ten years younger than the mother of the Newcastle admissions. The birth record for Louisa Adelaide COLLYER clearly indicated that she only had two older sisters. It is therefore thought that this incident doesn't refer to the family as it is known that although Elizabeth Jane had been released from Newcastle, even by adopting an alias, Mary Ann cannot be either of these girls as she was still in Newcastle. They had all been born in Sydney but their births have not been identified. It is also known from the NSW BDM Index that the family were in St Leonards by 1870 when the child, Arthur, was registered.

It is very unlikely that the numerous gaol admissions Louisa COLLYER/COLLIER who had been born in 1806 and had arrived on the Elizabeth is the children's mother as this woman almost certainly arrived as Louisa COLLIER even though the 1843 admission to Newcastle is recorded as 'Elizabeth Louisa COLLYER'. This woman died as Luoisa [sic] COLLIER in 1852.68 Because the name Louisa appeared within the family, it may be that there was a connection to this woman.

Henry COLYER remained in the Eden area where he was arrested for cattle theft in 1874. Details in report of his court appearances indicate that he was living with a Mrs COWELL, whose 11 or 12-year-old son, Nicholas, was also involved in the theft.69 Nicholas had been born to Joseph and Mary A. COWELL in 1863. It is unclear whether he was ever united with his other siblings.

It must be considered that many more gaol admissions refer to members of the family as an alias may have been adopted by one or more of them but this cannot be absolutely verified. It is likely that another son of the family was Patrick who was born in the Monaro and was admitted to Parramatta in 1875. It is suspected that he was the Patrick COLYER alias CAMPBELL. It is also thought that James may have used the alias Andrew as well as gone by the name James SEYMOUR.70 Henry was reported in the Police Gazette in 1872 as already having served one term in Bega gaol.71 It is considered unlikely that the 1872 admission to Darlinghurst of Ann CONNELLY alias COLLYER who had been born in about 1854 in Sydney may be one of the children from this family as appearances for this woman also occurred during the time that the sisters were in Newcastle.

Elizabeth Jane COLLYER

Name Variations Jane COLLYER
Husband William JOHNSON b. 185572 m. 187673 d. 189074
Son Henry JOHNSON b. 187175 m. d.
Daughter Elizabeth JOHNSON b. 187376 m. d.
Son John Wesley JOHNSON b. 187477 m. d.

Elizabeth’s birth wasn’t registered and she was recorded in the newspapers before her arrest with the name Jane so some confusion remains about her actual name. Elizabeth Jane COLLYER was recorded as twelve years old when she entered Newcastle on 5 September 1867. As there was no reformatory established at this date, Jane was admitted to the industrial school but it is very likely that had the larceny occurred in 1869, she would most probably have been admitted to the Newcastle Reformatory. Because she was arrested with her siblings from Pambula and because births of all her siblings were registered in the Bega area, it has been assumed that she was also born in the south coast region but this may not be the case. Elizabeth's education was assessed upon entry as 'first book on slate'78 and her medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was a virgin.79 Elizabeth Jane was apprenticed to F. R. WILTSHIRE, Esq., Police Magistrate, for three years on 6 April 1870,80 so didn't transfer to Biloela in May 1871. She was to be paid four shillings a week for the first year and her weekly wage was to increase by one shilling a week for each of her second and third years. Jane's sister, Mary Ann, was sent to the same master on 22 October 1872, but it is unknown whether Jane was still completing her apprenticeship or whether WILTSHIRE needed a new apprentice and an attempt was made to reunite the sisters.

As Jane COLLYER, Elizabeth Jane was married to William JOHNSON on 15 February 1876, at the Scot’s Church, Sydney, by the Rev. Dr. LANG. Jane was described as the eldest daughter of Stephen COLLYER of Pambula and William was identified as the eldest son of John [sic] JOHNSON of Watson's Bay.81 The actual church record identified the date as 29 February 1876, and confirmed that William was a confectioner and that his father was named Henry. Henry was a lighthouse keeper and his wife was Mary KENNY. Jane, recorded as a domestic servant of George Street, identified her parents as Stephen COLLYER, a brickmaker, and Eliza DOLLELLIN and was not identified as Elizabeth Jane COLLYER. William and Jane were both recorded as 21 and neither had been married before. The witnesses were Charles M. LOUGHLIN [?] and Susan SCOTT. All the participants signed the register.82 Identifying any children has not yet been possible and no birth registrations have been viewed.

There is some question as to whether the two children, Henry and Elizabeth, born to William and Elizabeth Jane JOHNSON in Berrima in 1871 and 1873 are children of the couple. These children have been very tentatively attributed to Jane and William but no records have been identified and they are questionable. Online trees attribute these children to William Henry and Elizabeth Jane JOHNSTON née FREE who married in 1863 and this seems to be correct. One online tree that has not been verified, has identified that the death of William occurred in April 1890 in Sydney.83 Descendants have attributed to him the middle name of Henry and have identified his parents as Henry and Mary. There are many mentions on Trove of Henry JOHNSON of Watson's Bay.

The death of 69-year-old John JOHNSTON in Bulli on 12 July 1932,84 is that of Elizabeth Jane FREE's son, John, whose birth was probably registered as 'male' JOHNSON in 1863.85 The John Wesley JOHNSON who was ten years younger and was born in Berrima in 187386 has not been located.

Although she was already married, Jane was almost without doubt the woman admitted to Darlinghurst Gaol on 5 August 1877, for being drunk but it is unknown whether this admission name was due to her assuming an alias at this point or whether her marriage had not lasted and she and William had separated after only a month. This admission was made the same day as an Ann McDONALD and the admissions may therefore refer to two inmates from the industrial school.87 There will be no newspaper report about this appearance as it was for drunkenness and drunkards were only very rarely named in newspaper court reports.

Where has She Gone?

No further confirmation of Jane has been made. It is unknown whether she remained with William or remarried. No possible gaol records for Jane or Elizabeth Jane have been identified although the Bessie COLLIER who was imprisoned in Darlinghurst Gaol for keeping a brothel with James JONES88 on 4 May 1890, at Sydney Quarter Sessions may refer to her.89 She was described inThe Australian Star on 5 March described Bessie as 'a sinister-looking middle-aged woman'.90 She was allowed bail.91

William's death also cannot be confirmed. No Family Notices have been identified to assist in linking Jane with either her siblings of her parents. The inability to follow convention in the family suggests that no further records will be easily or logically located. If Jane's husband did die in 1890, Jane was very unlikely to have gone on to marry James F. COLQUHOUN92 in Cooma in 1895 as this woman was having children well into the 1900s.


Mary Ann was recorded as the sister of Elizabeth Jane COLLYER in the Entrance Book and this notation indicated that she was a daughter of Stephen and Eliza COLLYER.93 This record doesn’t agree with her birth registration made at Eden near Pambula. This original record has not been viewed but the NSW BDM Index indicated that her mother was named Louisa. The pronunciation or a poor transcription could easily confuse the names Eliza and Louisa or, alternatively, Eliza assumed other given names.

Mary Ann was eight years old when she entered the school on 5 September 1867. The Entrance Book assessed her education level as 'alphabet on slate'. Mary Ann’s medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was a virgin.94 She transferred to Biloela in May 1871 and was mentioned by the teacher, Margaret KELLY, in her report on 16 April 1872,95 as progressing well in writing and geography. She was still on Biloela in April 1872 as LUCAS's list stated that Mary Ann was ‘In the Institution.’96 Mary Ann was apprenticed to F. R. WILTSHIRE Esq., the Police Magistrate at Berrima, for three years on 22 October 1872. Her sister, Elizabeth Jane, had been apprenticed to WILTSHIRE two years earlier. There was no indication in the Entrance Book concerning Mary Ann’s apprenticeship pay.

Where has She Gone?

Mary was likely to have been the woman who was tried as a common prostitute in the Water Police Court on 26 March 1884 and imprisoned for a month in Darlinghurst.97 No newspaper report has been located to match this appearance and no description is available to confirm an age or identity. She may have been the mother of the illegitimate daughter, Stella M. COLLIER who was born in Balmain in 188998 but this original record has not been viewed.

There is something odd about the woman named Sarah COLLIER, the wife of Thomas COLLIER, who died on 23 August 1902. She had a daughter named Stella May and sons named Thomas and Timothy. She possibly was formerly named LENEHAN.

The death of a Mary Anne COLLIER was registered in Sydney in 1957. She died at Little Bay and had the name DONLEAY recorded in the column in place of a father's name but this death registration refers to a 71-year-old married woman, the wife of John COLLIER.99 This woman was 21 years too young to be the Newcastle admission.

A woman of the same name was accidentally gassed in her flat in Potts Point ten years earlier100 but no death registration was made in 1949. This woman wasn’t quite old enough to be the Newcastle woman as the record indicated that she had been born in about 1871.

Some trees identify that Mary Ann married a John WRIGHT and died after being hit by a motor bike in September 1930. Death registrations for the woman who died on Sunday, 14 September101 show that her parents were Neil and Margaret. There is a difficulty as the autopsy was carried out on 22 September and showed that this woman was 74 and not 60 as reported in the paper. There are funeral notices for a woman who was buried in Botany on 16 September. Was there a second death of a Mary Ann WRIGHT that was not registered?

Updated February 2020

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