Bridget DOWNS
Father Peter DOWNS b.c. 1805 m. 18491 d. 18882
Mother Rebecca TITTERTON b.c. 18323 m. 1849 d. aft. 1862
Inmate Bridget DOWNS b. 18504 m. 1872 (see below) d. 18765
Brother John DOWNS b. 18526 m. none - d. c. 1860
Brother Samuel DOWNS b. 18537 m. Martha unknown d. 19308
Sister Mary DOWNS b. 18569 m. none - d. 185710
Sister Elizabeth DOWNES b. 185811 m. none - d. 185912
Brother Peter DOWNS b. 185913 m. none - d. 185914
Husband (1) unknown possibly REDMAN or BODMAN b. m. (1) none d.
Husband (2) Li HIONG aka Le YOUNG b. m. (2) 187215 d.
Son Thomas DOWNS b. 187016 m. d.
Daughter Annie DOWNS b. 187217 m. d. 188318
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father Peter19 40 5' 6¼" brown hazel fair stout20 two inoculation scars on upper right arm
Mother Rebecca21 28 5' 0¾" light blue slight fresh
Inmate Bridget22 23 low stature brown florid stout scurvy marks on face23
Brother Samuel24 19 5' 6" dark blue

Bridget DOWNS first appeared in the Sydney courts in September 1861 at the age of eleven25 when her mother sent her to steal gin.26 Six years later, on 30 August 1867, Bridget, reported to be fourteen, appeared in court after being arrested in Cleveland Street, Sydney, in company with Eliza and Ann McDONALD.27 The Empire erroneously reported that Bridget was only seven.28 During her court appearance Bridget declared that she refused to return home with her father, Peter, when he was sent for after her arrest. On 31 August 1867, the Entrance Book recorded that she had been admitted to the school in the very first group of girls who had been sent there. Bridget was a Catholic and this religion was confirmed in other records. The age of nineteen was pencilled into the Entrance Book and it is thought that this was the age that Bridget provided when she arrived in Newcastle.29 Bridget's educational level recorded that she was working in the First Book and could write on slate.30 Only Bridget’s father was identified in the Entrance Book and he was described as a lighterman in Sydney.31 Bridget’s medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was not a virgin.32 Because her baptism has been identified, it is evident that Bridget was aged either seventeen or eighteen at the time of her arrest and as she was over the age of sixteen, had been illegally arrested under the Act and should never have been sent to Newcastle.

On 22 June 1868, KING wrote to the Colonial Secretary indicating that Bridget, Charlotte PERRY and Sarah Jane WILDGUST had made an escape from the school between five and six o'clock, the afternoon of 20 June. Bridget returned to the school of her own accord after crawling under the fence but Sarah and Charlotte were not recaptured until half-past eleven that night when they were found wandering the streets of Newcastle.33 About a fortnight later, on the evening of 8 July 1868, Bridget was one of ten girls who escaped34 from the school at about six o’clock.35 They were all recaptured by the Newcastle police – some at Borehole36 and some at Waratah – before ten o’clock, and were returned to the school. This escape was one of the events that led to the very first riot at the school and because Bridget was involved in that riot she was interviewed by CANE in the days after it had occurred.

Bridget Downs – age 17 – states that Mrs King called all the girls when they were in the muster room at lot of dirty street walkers. On the occasion of her return the second time she had absconded – Mrs King called her a thief for taking a key of one of the doors to open the Store Room, from which she took two frocks one for herself and one for another girl named Charlotte Perry for them to wear as they went away – she told all the girls & me in the Muster Room That she wanted ducking down the well– and that we were dead shook[?] after the dirty sailors – Mr King throws up to us what our parents were and we do not like this – she said these things in the muster room or the yard, because we were late in coming into muster & this is why we rebel against her - about a month before this last outbreak, on the [unclear] in the presence of the Cook, Mrs King told her – "this girl is perfectly rotten" and walked away – I was one of the first who ran away and one of the three last.

Bridget made her mark on her statement.37

The teacher, Margaret KELLY reported on 1 September 1868, that Bridget, Mary Ann HOPKINS and Elizabeth SAMPSON 'were ordered to attend school they [had] absented themselves on several occasions and shewn the greatest disinclination to pay attention.'38 By 19 December 1868, Bridget had been at the school for fifteen months and the new superintendent, CLARKE wrote to the Colonial Secretary stating that she and six others were eligible for service. He sought permission to find situations for them all.39 Four days later, on the 22 December, Bridget was seriously burned while she was working in the laundry at the school.40 The fire in her clothing was extinguished but she received severe burns – especially about the abdomen.41 She was treated by Dr HARRIS and his report stated that she was 'still in a precarious state.' In a letter on 5 January 1869, to the Principal Under Secretary, CLARKE verified that she was progressing favourably.42 Although no earlier communication between the Government and Bridget's father has been found, on 31 March, CLARKE responded a communication from Peter DOWNS indicating that Bridget 'being past the age at which she can be retained as an Inmate of this Institution, I have to request you will forward the necessary expenses to transmit her to your charge. An immediate answer is particularly requested.' At this time Peter was living in London Place, Sydney.43 On 4 May 1869, Peter wrote to the Colonial Secretary stating:

This is concerning my daughter which was sent to newcastle School and during the time of her being there she has had the misfortune to be burned in consequence of which she is not able to be sent to service and I wish her home but I am not able either to fetch her or send her passage so I am not doing anything or have I earned L12[?] for the last 6 months and I would feel grateful if you would interceed to have her sent home to me by doing so you would much oblige your very humble servant
Peter Downes

The Colonial Secretary responded on 7 May stating: 'Under the circumstances of this poor girl being so seriously burnt and injured the price of her passage 10/6 may be paid from vote[?] for [?]saussion of paupers.44 The Entrance Book and the complete list of admissions45 confirmed that Bridget was released to her father by order of the Colonial Secretary on 25 May 1869. The government paid her fare to Sydney on the steamer46 and she supervised the SMITH sisters, Ann and Marion, on the voyage back to Sydney.47 On 1 August 1870, in his letter to the Colonial Secretary concerning his follow-up of girls who he had discharged, CLARKE stated that he had been unable to discover anything about Bridget after she had left Newcastle.48 This suggested that she had not been involved in any criminal incidents as it is believed that CLARKE's source in Sydney was the magistrate David SCOTT, the brother of the Newcastle Police Magistrate, Helenus SCOTT.

Bridget was very likely to have been the mother of two illegitimate children who were registered in Sydney in 1870 and 1872. These births have been attributed to her but the registrations have not been viewed. It is interesting that no birth has been located to match the 187449 death of the apparently illegitimate child, Annie COUST, whose mother was Bridget. No trace of Bridget COUST can be found and it may be that this was another reference to Bridget. It is considered likely that Bridget was the Bridget DOWNES alias BODMAN50 or REDMAN51 who was sued in July 1872 for using threatening language. In 1872 Bridget married the Chinese immigrant, Li HIONG, and on 8 April 1874, she was recorded in the Darlinghurst Gaol records as Bridget LE YOUNG alias LEON alias DOWNES.52 The Australian Criminal Court Records erroneously transcribed her admission number as 1286 but the Darlinghurst Gaol Description Book recorded her name as Bridget LEON with an admission number of 2186. The record confirmed that she had been born in about 1851.53 It is likely that she was also the Bridget LEON fined for indecent behaviour in Ruby Lane in May 1874.54

Articles concerning the opium dens of Sydney indicated that Biloela girls had married members of the Chinese community. These unnamed girls were interviewed and it is possible that that Bridget was one of them. It is almost entirely certain that the marriage to Li HIONG didn’t last and on 8 February 1875, Bridget appeared in the Water Police Court charged with being drunk and disorderly in Argyle Street.55 She was sent to gaol for a week.56 In early March 1875, a warrant was issued for the twenty-three-year-old, Bridget DOWNS, who was recorded as a prostitute and who had again been drunk and disorderly in Argyle Street.57 Bridget was eventually arrested by constable DAWSON58 and was fined ten shillings and costs.59 She was again admitted to gaol in March 1875.60 in an incident in March 1875 as Bridget Lee YOUNG, Bridget was charged with a theft from John GARLAND61 and in April, as Bridget Le YOUNG, she appeared at the Sydney Quarter Sessions charged with the theft but she was acquitted.62

No further trace of Bridget has yet been confirmed after these events and it would be reasonable to assume that further records for her would continue to appear in the NSW gaol records, particularly in Darlinghurst Gaol, but none have been located. It is therefore believed that Bridget died in Sydney at the age of 25 in 1876.63 No parents were identified on the NSW BDM Index but the age is correct. Her name at death was recorded as Bridget LEELOVE and this unusual spelling can be interpreted as a reasonable Anglicisation of her Chinese surname LE HIONG.


Bridget was a daughter of Peter DOWNS and Rebecca TITTERTON, who were married in St Mary’s Catholic Church, Sydney on 12 November 1849, by John Eugene GOURBEILLON. The witnesses were Matthew (X) COLEMAN and Jane (X) VELLA. Bridget was born on 12 October 1850, the year following the marriage, and was baptized on 24 October at the St James Catholic Church in Sydney by the Rev. John KAVAN. In this record Rebecca’s maiden name was recorded as TARBUCK and the family was living in Argyle Street in Sydney.64

Peter DOWNS had been transported to NSW in 1832 aboard the Captain Cook (1) for sheep stealing. He had been born in about 1805 in County Wexford, Ireland, and had no previous convictions.65 On 1 April 1839 he was admitted to Parramatta Gaol from the Hyde Park Barracks.66 He appeared at the Sydney Quarter Sessions in 1848 for robbing a seaman67 and spent time in Darlinghurst Gaol68 but was discharged.69 He was free by 1848 so there was no permission to marry required. Peter was recorded as a resident in Little Hunter Street in 1861, was in Pottinger Street in 187570 and specifically at 7 Pottinger Street in 1880.71 After this date he does not appear either again or regularly. On 17 November 1884, he was requested admittance to the Liverpool Asylum where he remained until a discharge on 24 September 1885. A second admission occurred on 22 June 1886, but there is no record of a discharge shown in the records that are available.72 Peter died in Sydney at the age of 81 in 1888. His death may have been at the Liverpool Asylum but the registration has not been viewed.

Rebecca TITTERTON had arrived free at the age of 16 aboard the Earl Grey in 1848. She was recorded on the indent as a member of the Church of England who had been born in County Down, Ireland. She was unable to read or write. Her parents were identified as Hugh and Catherine and both were recorded on the indent as deceased. No surname was provided for them.73 Her marriage to Peter DOWNS occurred when she was about 17 or possibly 18 years of age. The Catholic record for Bridget's baptism in 1850 recorded that her maiden name was TARBUCK74 and no explanation has been located for the use of this surname. Time must be taken to read the baptisms for the other DOWNS children to ascertain the maiden names recorded there. Rebecca has been identified on two occasions in reports from the Sydney courts. On 24 August 1855, as Rebecca DOWNS, she appeared for drunkenness.75 Six years later on 23 August 1861, she was imprisoned for seven days for using obscene language.76 Her arrival details were confirmed at each of her gaol admissions in 1855, 1860 and 1861. Locations for her birth were specified in various records as Belfast in 185577 and Ellesborough in 186178 but no actual location has been confirmed. During her 1860 admission the records indicated that she was either confined and subsequently delivered a child or that a child was confined with her.79 No registration has been found for any birth of a child in 1860. The identified child may possibly be a reference to the seven-year-old boy named Samuel but cannot have referred to any of her other children as they had all died before 1859. Rebecca was consistently reported in gaol records as a Protestant.80

No date of death has been identified for Rebecca but as she wasn’t named in the Entrance Book it is possible that she had died by this date – although this wasn’t stated at the time of Bridget's admission. There are no appropriate deaths of a Rebecca that can confidently be attributed to her between 1861 and 1870. It also must be considered that she had not died but had abandoned her husband who was nearly thirty years her senior and whose religion was in conflict with hers. It is almost certain, although no confirmation has been found, that by about 1860 Peter and Rebecca were living separately. No further gaol admissions for a woman named Rebecca who arrived aboard the Earl Grey have been identified.

Most of Peter and Rebecca's children died in infancy. Bridget and her brother Samuel, appear to be the only children who survived into adulthood. Samuel does not appear to have married but had two daughters, Ethel DOWNS,81 who never married, and Martha DOWNS aka GRAINGER who married William BRICKELL aka BRICHELL.82 These daughters had a mother named Martha.83 Neither Bridget nor her children have been mentioned in any Funeral Notice for Samuel's family.

No trace of Bridget's brother John DOWNS, has yet been found.

Where has She Gone?

No trace of Bridget has been verified after April 1875 when she appeared in court and the 1876 registration outlined above is considered almost certainly her death.

If this death does not identify Bridget then it is almost certain that she began a relationship and assumed the surname of her partner. No trace of Bridget's two children have yet been confirmed and no mention of them has been found in any of the few Funeral Notices for her brother's family.

A woman named Bridget DOWNS was in Sydney at this time. She placed the following unusual advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 April 1883:

WOULD the person who forwarded a letter enclosed with two pounds to Mrs. Downs, from Mrs. Langton, send her address, if not she will be under the penalty of the law.
BRIDGET DOWNS, Myrtle-street, Darlington.

There is little doubt that this was the same woman who appeared as a witness in the court case for the boy named Ralph LANGTON who, on 21 July 1884, was sent onto the Vernon. Bridget stated at his trial:

that the boy was eight years of age, was left in her charge by his mother, that she had no control over him, and that he consorted with low characters and spent the money given him for his school fees.84

Further references to this woman, this time as Bridget DOWNES, appear in Sands Directory from 1883 living in 26 Bennett Street, Sydney, and by 1892 she was living at 108 Cowper Street. There was no male 'DOWNES' living at that address. In 1886 two women of this name appear and it is unknown whether these entries refer to one or two women.85 One was living in Montague Villa in 1887. Montague Villa was on the corner of Elizabeth and Cooper Streets. Numerous advertisements between 1883 and 1889 indicated that Montague Villa was a boarding house.86 In 1903 the funeral of a Dennis CONNELLAN left from Montague Villa.

Bridget was not the woman who married William Henry CROFT because when Bridget CROFT died in 193987 she was identified as the child of Francis and Mary who had been born in about 1866.88

Bridget didn't marry Philip P. CALLACHOR in 1886 as this woman was the child of Charles DOWNES.89

Bridget didn't marry Mark CURRAN in 1884 as Bridget LEO. This woman's brother John LEO died in 190090 and the NSW BDM Indexidentified that his parents were Michael and Julia.91

The marriage of Bridget HONEN to Patrick FOX in Sydney in 187592 indicated that Bridget HONAN was the daughter of P. HONAN of Tipperary93 so HONEN was a maiden surname and not likely to be a marriage of Bridget with a anglicisation of HIONG.

Bridget was not the Mrs HONG who was recorded in a letter in the CSIL from September 1877 that stated:

Mary Smith from the Benevolent Asylum is at present residing at No. 1 Harrington St94 with a Mrs Hong formerly the wife of a Chinaman. … The Police know nothing of the character of Mrs Hong for some years past.95

Mrs HONG was identified as Sarah HONG in the City of Sydney Archives as the lessee of 1 Harrington Street.

Bridget was not the woman named Bridget YOUNG who was involved in some criminal events in 1878. NSW Police Gazette records identified that this woman had been born in Ireland in 1838.96

The Bridget DOWNES living in Gunnedah was too young to be the Newcastle admission.97

The Bridget DOWNS who had a pair of winkers stolen by Thomas PETTY was almost certainly the resident of Collector and was therefore not the Newcastle admission because PETTY had been arrested in Gunning in 1874.98

The woman who died in 1892 has not been investigated but the names of her parents on the registration do not match those of the Newcastle admission.99

Updated April 2020

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