The COUGHLAN Sisters
Father Thomas COUGHLAN b.c. 1811 m. 18483 d. 18934
Mother Sarah DRISCOLL b.c. 18245 m. 1848 d. 18996
Brother John COUGHLAN b. 18497 m. d. 19198
Sister Alice Mary Agnes COUGHLIN9 b. 185210 m. 188311 James DOWNEY d. 193712
Brother James COUGHLAN b. 185413 m. d. aft. 1899
Inmate Mary COUGHLAN b.c. 1855 m. 1885 (see below) d. 190414
Brother Thomas COUGHLIN b. 185815 m. 189316 Evelyn CUMMINGS d. 189917
Inmate Catherine aka Kate COUGHLAN b.c. 1865 m. 1886 (see below) d. 192318
Brother Phillip COUGHLIN b.c. 186719 m. d. 194920
Brother Daniel COUGHLIN b.c. 186621 m. d. 193222
Sister unknown COUGHLAN b.c 1870 m. bef. 1899 Thomas TOPHAM d. aft. 1899
Sister Ann COUGHLAN b.c. 1871 m. none - d. 187123
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Brother John24 49 5’ 7” brown to grey grey [?] lives; Faith, Hope and Charity; E. R. P. left forearm; 2 angels over Australian Coat-of-Arms, right forearm
Brother Thomas25 21 5’ 7½” dark curley[?] grey fair medium T C. Heart P C. right forearm; [?] back rt hand (five spots); anchor left forearm
Inmate Mary26 15 5’ 3” light brown fair medium
Inmate Mary27 17 5’ 3½” auburn brown fair stout medium nose, mouth and chin
Inmate Mary28 22 5’ 5½” auburn hazel fair stout
Brother Phillip29 26 5’ 6” brown brown
Sister Kate30 15 5' 5" dark brown grey florid medium nose short and cocked at tip; mouth and chin medium; body free from marks and scars
Brother James31 30 5’ 8" or 9" curley clean shaved except for small dark moustache

Mary and Kate COUGHLAN were both admitted to Industrial Schools – Mary to Newcastle in 1870 and Kate to Biloela five years later. The sisters were arrested separately and while Mary did transfer from Newcastle to Biloela, they were never at Biloela at the same time because Mary was discharged by 1873 and Kate was admitted in 1875. The first family member arrested under the Industrial Schools' Act was their brother, Thomas, who, at the age of eleven, appeared before Yass court and was admitted to the Vernon on 24 July 1869,32 the year before Mary was arrested. Another brother, Daniel, was also tried and sentenced to admission to the Vernon in January 1881, a writ of prohibition was directed from the Supreme Court33 to restrain the prosecution and he never arrived.


Mary and Kate were the daughters of Thomas (X) COUGHLAN and Sarah DRISCOLL who were married in St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church, Goulburn, by Rev. R. WALSH on 18 May 1848. The witnesses were Peter (X) COUGHLAN and Johanna (X) DOLAN. It may be that Peter was related in some way to Thomas. Thomas was from Goulburn and Sarah was from Menaroo.34 Thomas and Sarah lived in Goulburn where they had at least nine children – registrations or baptisms for only half of whom have been identified on the NSW BDM Index. At the time of the admission of their son, Thomas, to the Vernon, the couple was identified as having '3 sisters and 4 brothers. One brother breaks in horses. One sister35 teaches.'36 Four of these siblings placed Funeral Notices at the time of the death of their younger Thomas in 1899. They were James, Catherine PEARSON and Mary SWEETMAN.37 The identity of the fourth sibling, Mrs THOMAS TOPHAM, is very uncertain and she has not been successfully identified. No possible marriage can be found of a COUGHLAN – or variations – to a TOPHAM. While the notice read 'Thomas', it is interesting to note that a George TOPHAM per the Moffatt was imprisoned in Goulburn in 1868. No TOPHAM women were admitted to Goulburn gaol. This woman was not mentioned in any Funeral Notice yet found for Mary38 or Catherine.39

Thomas may have been a convict who had been transported aboard the Earl Grey in 1836. He had been born in Kilkenny, Ireland,40 and this birth location agreed with a place of birth identified by his descendants who possibly retrieved this detail most likely from a NSW BDM registration41 although this cannot be confirmed. Thomas senior died on 2 April 1893. Thomas's death in 1893 indicated that his parents were John and Alice.42 The informant was probably his wife, Sarah, but the death registration has not been viewed.

It is possible but unconfirmed that Sarah DRISCOLL arrived as an assisted immigrant with her parents, Timothy and Margaret, and her brother, Timothy, aboard the Moffatt in 1841. She was shown on the indent as 13-years-of-age. The family were Catholic from Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland.43 Descendants identify that Sarah was from Cork. After Thomas's death Sarah moved to Sydney. She died in Randwick on 22 March 1899,44 and an In Memoriam notice was placed the following year by Mary.45 Sarah was buried in Goulburn46 after a service at St Peter and Paul's Catholic Church, Goulburn.47 Her death registration indicated that both her parents were unknown and a short obituary contributed nothing further to the knowledge of her ancestry.48 Her will may divulge the identity of her surviving children.49

The COUGHLAN family were often caught up with the law but there is a suggestion in the reports that they were quite well-off. Both parents left wills and the fight in the Supreme Court to stop their son, Daniel's, admission to the Vernon must have been expensive. The admission details at the time of Thomas's arrival on the Vernon provide much background to the family. Patrick BRENNAN, the sub-inspector of Police at Yass stated:

on Monday last, the 5th Instant, I arrested the lad before the court, Thomas Coughlan, at the aboriginal's camp, North Yass, I found from enquiry that he had been with them five or six months, that his Mother resided in the town of Goulburn, and that his father was up at Mr Ryan's station, Breakfast Creek, I asked the boy how he came to be with the blacks,50 and he said his mother hunted him, and he had been with them ever since. The boy is about eleven years of age he was in a very filthy state. The Aboriginals with whom he was living have no lawful visible means of support. I confined him in the lock-up. I arrested him under the provisions of the Industrial Schools' Act. He was living just the same as the aboriginals.51

Catherine COUGHLAN

Husband William PEARSON b. 186352 m. 188653 d. aft. 191954
Daughter Pauline PEARSON b. 189155 m. 191256 Claud S. PRENTICE57 d. aft. 1938

Catherine was almost always referred to in newspapers as Kate. Sometime after her court appearance in Goulburn court on 22 December 1875, Mary’s sister, Kate, was admitted to Biloela. She had previously appeared in the Goulburn courts charged with larceny and had run away from home so her mother applied for a warrant to have her admitted to Biloela.58 Her records, like those of her sister, Mary, appear in the missing section of the Entrance Book so no confirmation of education, religion, family, admission or discharge can be made from this source. Kate's discharge from Biloela occurred before the commencement of the Biloela Discharge Book so the only evidence of her being at the school appears in the newspaper report of her trial but is verified in the letters of the Colonial Secretary. Kate's mother, Sarah, was named in her court appearance. Sometime after her discharge from Biloela, Kate returned to Goulburn and was admitted to Goulburn gaol by 1879 where she assaulted a warder.59 Kate was as much of a handful60 as her older sister, Mary, and appeared often in the Goulburn courts until her marriage in 1886.

Kate married William PEARSON in Goulburn in 1886. No confirmation of the births of any child has been found but the couple had one daughter, Pauline.61 They were living in Sydney at Ravenswood, Soudan Street, Randwick, when her mother, Sarah, died on 22 March 1899.62 Kate died intestate63 in March 1923. A short obituary appeared in the Goulburn newspapers identifying that William was a book-maker64 and all obitaries found stress the charitable nature of her life.65 A registration of her death has not been located. Her Death Notice reads

PEARSON.—March 11, 1923, at her residence, Glanmire, Allison-road, Randwick, Catherine, beloved wife of William Pearson, and beloved mother of Pauline, aged 60 years. R.I.P.66


Husband Henry SWEETMAN b. 186167 m. 188568 d. 192869
Step-daughter Annie SWEETMAN b.c. 188370 m. 190471 William E. STUTCHBURY72 d. 194573

Note Additional newspaper articles and references in the Police Gazette about Mary are likely to be found. There are so many articles about her under the various spellings of her surname that not all have been referenced.

Mary was arrested under warrant under the Industrial Schools Act by constable WALKER of Goulburn Police and appeared in Goulburn Police Court on 14 February 1870.74 She appeared in court as Mary COGHLAN on 14 February, when her father, Thomas, gave evidence that Mary was fourteen years old 'this month'75 and neither he nor his wife was able to control her.76 It is possible that he deliberately lied in court as Mary’s gaol entries record her as being a little older than this stated age. Although he was a labourer and hadn’t worked for a while 'as his eyes were bad', he was prepared to contribute a shilling a week to her upkeep so Mary was sent to Newcastle. Her admission would appear in the missing section of the Entrance Book, so no admission or discharge details, education, family or religious details can be verified from this source. The 1871 transfer lists show that she was a Catholic and was admitted to Newcastle on 24 March 1870.77

Mary was not a compliant inmate in Newcastle. In 1970, she was one of four girls78 punished with forty-eight hours solitary confinement on a bread and water diet for 'sleeping together and making use of obscene language.'79 She was one of the four ringleaders80 of the riot81 that occurred on the night of 6 January 1871. CLARKE stated

… that the eleven girls who conducted themselves so badly, are still in solitary confinement and on bread and water diet they cannot in any way account for their conduct nor give any reason for acting as they have done, it has been estimated that it will take from £8 to £10 to repair the damage they have done.
Under these circumstances I would most respectfully suggest that the four ringleaders … should be handed over to the Police Magistrate and dealt with according to law for using obscene language, for mutinous conduct, and for wilfully destroying Government property. On speaking to Mr Scott82 on the subject I regret to to find that the punishment is not near so great for such conduct as I think they deserve.83

On 3 March 1871, Mary, Jemima BURT and Catherine HARDING escaped from the school.84 They were recaptured by constable SMITH of Newcastle Police nearly a fortnight later and returned to the school. On 13 March, in Newcastle Court, she was tried with a group of girls all charged under the Injuries to Property Act with wilfully destroying Government property during a further riot at the school earlier in March.85 Mary was described in the Evening News as one of the two most violent girls during the March riot.86 The girls were fined five pounds each or sentenced to Maitland Gaol for one month's labour.87 Mary went to Maitland Gaol and was recorded as a Catholic born in Sydney.88 She was released on 12 April 1871, and was returned to the school.89 She appears LUCAS's transfer list as still a resident of Maitland Gaol90 but returned in time to transfer to Biloela and was listed in a letter to the Colonial Secretary by LUCAS on 23 June 1871, as eligible for service.91

Her difficult behaviour continued on the island. She was one of the eight girls arrested there on 16 October 1871, by constable DICK.92 They were charged with “unlawfully, wilfully, and maliciously damaging thirty windows [at Biloela], valued at £1 10s., the property of the Government.” The girls must have been returned to the island to await their trial as on the day of the trial,93 LUCAS reported that Mary

was confined in No. 3 Dormitory for attempting to fight, and very abusive and insubordinate conduct towards the Matron. 6 days bread and water.94

It is unknown whether this punishment was administered as at her trial, Mary and Ellen JOHNSTON initially denied the charge but Mary eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a fine of thirty shillings each or go to goal for two months. In this report she is also referred to as Mary COPELAND who was further charged with breaking three panes of glass valued at 4s. 6d., at the Engine House of the Fitzroy Dock, at Biloela and was fined 4s. 6d., or two further months’ imprisonment.95 The Darlinghurst Description book in 1871 confirmed that she was a Catholic who could read and write and was born in Goulburn around 1853. Mary, and the Biloela girls, Jane MURPHY and Sarah BOURKE, were released from Darlinghurst in February 1872.96 On 4 March 1872, Mary was again in trouble. LUCAS reported to the Colonial Secretary that

[She] was very insubordinate at Muster on Sunday morning last and on her refusing to go to her dormitory when requested. I had her placed in a straight Jacket, when she was taken to the hospital, where it was removed.97

LUCAS’s report on 15 April 1872,98 indicated that Mary was apprenticed to J. OAKLEY, Esq., of Stroud on that date.99 Mary had absconded from OAKLEY's service on 18 April and had reached Newcastle where she was arrested100 and remanded to Scone. The Maitland gaol Entrance Book showed that Mary was tried on 29 April at Scone by Thomas NICHOLS. She was admitted on 1 May and discharged back to Biloela on 28 May 1872. This description recorded that she had been born in Sydney.101 No newspaper report has yet been found for this incident. LUCAS's report to the Colonial Secretary on 3 June 1872,102 confirmed that Mary was readmitted to Biloela on 30 May103 At about 3 o'clock on 10 June 1872, Mary was involved with Sarah AUBURN and two Biloela girls, Janet BOYD and Sarah BOURKE, attempted to instigate the rest of the girls to rioting and smashed 30 panes of glass in the schoolroom. The decision of the Colonial Secretary was to bring them to the court of Petty Sessions so no further records of their trial will exist.104 LUCAS confirmed in his report of 19 June 1872, that the four girls were confined in number three dormitory for ten days on a bread and water diet as a further punishment.105 In a further report on 12 August 1872, he recorded that Mary, Jane WINDSOR and Mary CASHER, together with four Biloela girls106 were involved in an arson attempt on the building. LUCAS wrote

after their Captain attempted to set fire to the door of the Dormitory in which they were confined – by procuring a few matches from a girl named Sarah Auburn – thro a small slit in the window taking off their stockings and lighting them they created a great [?]tle – which was at once discovered and their mischievous designed were frustrated.107

By the time of his next report on 19 August 1872, LUCAS was able to report that the girls 'were released from confinement on the 15th.108 It is as yet unknown what incident occurred to place Mary in solitary again but she, Elizabeth KING and Elizabeth DONOHUE were released from confinement on 19 October 1872.109 On 18 November 1872, LUCAS reported to the Colonial Secretary that Mary had been released to the care of the House of the Good Shepherd.110 It is unknown how long Mary remained in this institution but it is considered very likely that all the women named Mary COGHLAN,111 COGLIN112 or COGLAN113 appearing in court from 1873 and through into the 1880s refer to her. The earliest appearance yet found occurred in June 1873.114 Darlinghurst gaol records are sketchy but almost without exception they can be linked to the woman born in Goulburn in about 1855. There are further likely references where Mary appeared in court but no corresponding gaol record has been located. It is likely that Mary was very well-known among the constables of Sydney and many articles indicate that she was prone to physical responses115 – often against them.116 She was charged with an assault in March 1873 where she

… unlawfully and maliciously wounded Henry Elliott. Prisoner pleaded not guilty. She was defended by Mr. Carroll. The disturbance took place in Syrett's-lane ; and prisoner was "jawing" with another woman, when she made use of his name. He remonstrated, and she called him an abusive name. More words followed, and prosecutor was assaulted again and again by prisoner, who tore his trousers, struck him on the head with stones, and then dropped part of a bottle at the back of his neck, so as to cut him severely, and cause the blood to flow freely. … Prisoner picked up the jagged neck, and struck prosecutor with it at the back of the head. She then said that she might " as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb."117

Surprisingly, Mary was found not guilty. She is almost certainly the seventeen year old woman appearing in court on 16 April 1873, charged with riotous behaviour on Circular Quay.118 Mary was admitted to Darlinghurst in October 1874 at the age of nineteen for two months, probably for an assault on Eliza HARDIMAN, again in Syrett's Lane.119 Mary was reported to have

caught her by the hair, and dragged her into the house, where she and others beat her with their hands (and then) picked up a stone and threw it.


Syrett's Lane, Sydney 1875
Image Courtesy of State Library of NSW

Mary was identified as a prostitute in May 1875,120 and March 1876.121 There is very little doubt that she was the woman punished in Darlinghurst Gaol with 21 days in the cells in August 1875, for being insubordinate to, spitting at and otherwise being grossly insulting to the Assistant Matron.122 The following month she was again confined to the cells for seven days for making use of abusive and insulting language to the Assistant Matron123 and on 29 October 1875, she spent another three days in the cells for fighting124 with another inmate, Mary WHITE.125 During another admission in June 1876 Mary Ann was again restricted to the cells for three days by the Matron.126 As Mary COGHLAN, she was sentenced to twelve months in Maitland gaol on 31 January 1877,127 for an assault causing grieous bodily harm on Ellen HOCK, with whom she had lived. On 3 April, an official application was made by Maitland gaol to remove Mary to Sydney gaol for coercion. There had been six instances of punishment within the gaol for various misdemeanours and the Maitland authorities wrote on her record 'Bad. Quite unmanageable.' The record indicated that, prior to this arrest, Mary had

Eleven previous convictions for threatening language, Assault, Stealing and Vagrancy. Ranging from 6 [?] [?] to 14 days impt.128

Mary pleaded guilty to keeping a house of ill-fame in October 1880, for which she was imprisoned for three months.129 Her correct age of twenty-eight years was recorded in a court appearance in September 1883.130 It is almost entirely certain that the assault committed upon Mary, of 4 Evan’s Place, Surry Hills,131 in August 1882, by George and Mary Ann CHAPMAN132 was an altercation between the two Newcastle admissions, Mary and Mary Ann BROWN.

Mary married Henry SWEETMAN, who was about six years her junior, in Sydney in 1885 and court appearances for Mary cease as both COUGHLAN or SWEETMAN after this date. No registrations of any births have been found to the couple but Henry had at least one child, Annie, who had been born about two years before her father married Mary. It is possible that Annie was Mary's daughter as in 1910 she was identified as the cousin of Kathleen NASH, the married daughter of Mary's sister, Alice.133 In 1900, a year after the death of her mother, Mary placed an In Memoriam notice in the SMH.134 Mary died on 9 July 1904,135 at the Prince Alfred Hospital three years later. While her death registration only recorded her father’s name, the Funeral Notice confirmed the names of two of her sisters. Mary was buried in Waverley Cemetery on 11 July 1904,136 beside Henry's mother, Ellen. When Henry SWEETMAN died on 4 July 1928, at the age of 67, his daughter, Annie, erected a SWEETMAN headstone.137

Updated June 2016

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