The FIRTH Sisters
Name Variations FRITH1
Father John Wisset FIRTH b.c. 1828 m. 18552 d. 18953
Step-father Alexander HURLEY4 b. 18435 m. none d. 18876
Step-father George BRACKAM7 b. m. 18978 d.
Mother Anastasia aka Ann aka Anna aka Hannah aka Hannah Stasia KING b. 18369 m. 1855 d. 192510
Sister Margaret Eliza FIRTH b. 185711 m. (1) 187312 (2) 189013 (1) Henry Edward KILPATRICK (2) Michael MOYLAN d. 194414
Brother James FIRTH b. 185815 m. 187816 Ellen KING d. 194517
Inmate Mary Ann FIRTH b. 186018 m. none (see below) d. 192619
Brother John Thomas FIRTH b. 186220 m. 188821 Elizabeth Ellen MEPPEM d. 191722
Inmate Jane FIRTH b. 186423 m. none (see below) d. aft. 1875
Inmate Ellen FIRTH b. 186624 m. none (see below) d. aft. 1878
Half-sister Hannah FIRTH b. 187025 m. d.
Half-sister Johannah FIRTH aka HURLEY b. 187526 m. 189727 Arthur Baptist CARMICHAEL d. 195128
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father John29 39 5’ 10¼” brown to grey hazel fresh tall a sawyer; prominent chin, and medium mouth and nose
Father John30 40 5’ 11” brown brown
Brother John31 13 dark stout clear skin; good looking; good expression or countenance; dressed in mulberry colour tweed jacket and trousers and round cloth cap

Ellen, Jane and Mary Ann FIRTH, together with their brother John, were arrested from Tamworth around 10 January 1871,32 by constable STAVE of Tamworth Police under a warrant under the Industrial Schools Act. The children were reported to have been abandoned by their parents and had no means of support. It is unknown whether John and Anastasia were living together before their children were arrested so it is unknown who had actually abandoned them. The three girls were sent to Newcastle and their brother John was admitted to the Vernon on 18 January 1871.33 The sisters were admitted to Newcastle on 16 January so their arrest date must have pre-dated their admission. Their travelling time from Tamworth must also be taken into account. Because the section of the Entrance Book has not survived for the time the sisters entered the school, no family, education, religion or discharge details can be confirmed from this source however the Entrance Book recording John's admission to the Vernon provided considerable family information. It read:

Born 4th July 1862 at Moore Creek about 8 miles from Tamworth. Father John Wisset Firth. Mother Anastasia King. The father is a native of Enfield near London and is of the Church of England. – The mother is from Waterford, Ireland and is a Roman Catholic. The father is a sea-going man, a sawyer and a bushman he only lately left gaol. The mother is also of bad character. The father and mother were married in the year 1855 at Jamberoo New South Wales. These particulars have been learned from the Father and from the Registry of Births at Tamworth.

The list identifying the parents who didn't contribute to the upkeep of the boys on board and compiled in 1872 also confirmed that John's father was John Wisset FIRTH. The list further recorded in two further letters that his family had no means to contribute to his upkeep on the Vernon and that the whereabouts of his parents was unknown.34 When John absconded from his apprenticeship in 1875 it was identified that he had friends in Newcastle35 and it may be that these friends referred to his brother, James.

The Biloela transfer lists recorded that the three sisters were Protestants although their surnames were recorded on this document as FRITH.36 All three sisters were recorded as 'In the Institution' on LUCAS's April 1872 list.37


The sisters were the children of John FIRTH and Anastasia (X) KING who had been married in Kiama on 26 November 1855 by Peter YOUNG, the minister of the Catholic church of Kiama. Only Annastasia [sic] was Catholic. The witnesses were Peter ALLAN and Margaret KING, both of Jamberoo.38 The couple moved to Tamworth after their marriage.

John Wisset FIRTH was first tried in the New England area of NSW on 29 April 186539 where he was charged with cattle theft. He was acquitted at his trial. Two years later, on 18 June 1867, he appeared again on another charge of cattle stealing but for this appearance he was convicted in Tamworth. Two depositions for John Wisset/t aka Wissell FIRTH in the Tamworth area remain for both these appearances in 1865 and 1867 but they have not been viewed. As a result of the 1867 trial John was sentenced to work on the roads for seven years,40 a sentence that was commuted to three years in Parramatta Gaol.41 John appeared in Maitland Gaol records whilst he was in transit to Berrima Gaol.42 John was transferred from Berrima after he had 'completed [his] term of separate treatment'.43 He was identified in gaol records as a native of London, England. He had been born in about 1828. Some records from Parramatta Gaol show a clerical error as John's age was erroneously recorded as 59 rather than 39 years of age. Gaol records also identify two differing ships of arrival, the Columbia and or the Europa in 1854, even though both records refer to the same crime of cattle stealing in Tamworth. It is unknown whether a further clerical error has occurred regarding John's ship of arrival or whether John provided the conflicting information. John was a Protestant who could read and write. Due to John's imprisonment difficulties arose with the land that he had purchased. His wife had been attempting to keep the land but was evicted.44 John was released from Parramatta Gaol in June 187045 and returned to the Northern Tablelands. It is unknown whether he reunited with Anastasia after his release and by this date she was expecting another daughter who was born in the last half of 1870 that cannot have been his. John was located at Cope's Creek in New England in August 187646 when his house was robbed by one Louisa MORRIS.47 His death was registered in Tamworth in 1895 and this death has been confirmed by numerous online trees.

Online trees identify Anastasia's arrival with her parents Thomas and Mary KING on 12 December 1854 aboard the Lady Kennaway. She was recorded on the indent as eighteen-year-old Statia KING. Her father's sister, Margaret KING, who was living in Kiama, was their relative in the colony.48 After the arrest of her husband for cattle theft Anastasia remained on the land they had but was eventually evicted.49 As Hannah FIRTH, she was convicted of an assault with intent to murder on John McDONALD and tried on 1 July 1869 at the Tamworth Quarter Sessions.50 One deposition remains for Hannah for burglary and assault but it has not been viewed. Sympathy was given to her because of her large family and she was sentenced to three weeks imprisonment as well ordered to pay a fine of three pounds or receive twelve months imprisonment. The fine was paid immediately by the jurymen.51 It is likely that she began a relationship with an unidentified man to whom she became pregnant, delivering her daughter, Hannah towards the end of 1870.52 When John returned from Parramatta Gaol it is unknown whether he continued to live with his family.

There is no doubt that from about the time of the admission of her children to the industrial schools Anastasia was using the given name Hannah or Hannah Statia. Almost every researcher has missed the illegitimate births to Hannah FIRTH of the daughters Hannah and her younger sister Johannah. Both sisters were illegitimate and were born in Tamworth in 1870 and 1875 respectively. Johannah, the second child, was the result of a liaison with Alexander HURLEY with whom Anastasia remained until his death, even though he was admitted to gaol in 1878.53 After his release the couple reunited but Alexander died in 1887. In 1893 Anastasia as Hannah and Johanna HURLEY described as 'an infant', but who was in fact aged about 18, challenged the ownership of land previously owned by Alexander and now held by his brother, Martin HURLEY.54 Alexander's will had been written the day before Alexander died and although the will has not been viewed it seems likely that Hannah and Johanna were named in it as the court found in Hannah's favour.55 It is also believed that this report confirmed that Hannah, who had been born in 1870, was not the child of Alexander HURLEY as she was not part of the challenge.

There are no further confirmations yet found for Ann, Anna or Hannah as FIRTH after this court appearance until her death in Auburn as Anastasia FIRTH on 3 May 1925.56 Although this death is confirmed by descendants in online trees and although her parents, recorded as John and Mary on her death registration, match what is known of her, it must be questioned as it hasn't been cited.

It is very likely that in Tamworth in 1897 as Hannah S. HURLEY, either Anastasia or her daughter Hannah, married George BRACKAM or BRACKHAM. No further trace of Hannah and George BRACKHAM can be located. George may have gone on to marry Annie E. SWAN nee GREEN in 1904 and the couple were recorded as having three children before 1914.

Johanna FIRTH was the mother to an illegitimate son who died in 1895.57 The marriage registration numbers also indicate that shortly after the marriage of Hannah S. HURLEY, Johannah HURLEY aka FIRTH married Alfred B. CARMICHAEL in Tamworth.

John's son58 may be connected to an incident in 1898 in Wallsend near Newcastle.59

Nothing appropriate on the family can be found on Queensland BDM. It is still being investigated whether Ellen and Jane FIRTH were reunited with their mother and subsequently assumed the surname HURLEY.


Ellen was four years old when she was admitted to Newcastle. She remained on the island after her two sisters had been apprenticed. John DALE, the relieving officer, reported that Ellen suffered from a bout of the measles in his report on 15 February 1875.60 Selina WALKER, the new superintendent indicated in her report of 24 January 1876, that Ellen was again confined to hospital with scarlet fever61 which she had contracted on 18 January.62 Ellen recovered and was discharged from the hospital on 24 January.63

On 6 December 1877, Mr Hanley BENNETT wrote to the Colonial Secretary.

I do myself the Honor to Apply for a Girl named Frith an inmate of the Reformatory School64 Biloela to be employed in my own family as a General Domestic Servant. The Girl is 12 years old on or about the 12th of this month. … I am prepared to receive the Girl at once.

The letter was sent to WALKER for her comments and on 11 December 1877 she approved the apprenticeship but also responded that Ellen had not quite turned twelve. BENNETT agreed to wait until she could be sent to him. WALKER confirmed Ellen's admission details and that she had been conducting herself well. She was to be apprenticed to BENNETT for six years at the rate of a shilling a week for the first two years, two shillings a week for years three and four and three shillings a week for the last two years.65 On 29 January 1878, Ellen was apprenticed to Hanley BENNETT, M.P. Annotations in the Biloela Discharge Book suggested that Ellen completed at least three years of the apprenticeship66 so was still alive in 1880. While no locations were recorded in the correspondence or in the Discharge Book, BENNETT was the elected representative for the Liverpool Plains area.67 It is believed that BENNETT specifically requested that Ellen be apprenticed to him as the result of intervention by a member of her family. BENNETT knew her birth details so must have been provided with this information. This apprenticeship occurred in the area from whence she had been arrested and where both her mother and her father were still resident even though they were living separately.

Where has She Gone?

Ellen was the last of the three sisters to leave Biloela. She was quite young at the time of her admission and while she may never have known or may have forgotten the names of her parents, it is believed that a member of her family managed to get her returned to the area where they lived. It is possible that one of her parents or her sisters had approached BENNETT to apprentice Ellen. Online trees researched by descendants of John and Anastasia have attributed no marriage to Ellen but like her sister, Mary Ann, it may be that no marriage was registered and she assumed the surname of the man with whom she lived. No trace of Ellen's death has been confirmed.

There is no indication that this is the girl admitted to Newcastle but the marriage of Ellen FORTH to Michael Francis TWOHIG in Broken Hill in 189768 is of interest because when Ellen Mary TWOHIG died in May 1935, she was 68, which is a very good match for the birth of Ellen FIRTH.69 However her parents were recorded as Michael and Annie A. at the time of her death.70 There are no obituaries that identify any siblings for Ellen TWOHIG yet found. While there are births for a Thomas and Annie A. FORTH in Broken Hill, they are nearly twenty years after the birth of Ellen so there is some concern that the correct family has been identified. There are no births for Michael and Annie A. and no deaths have been identified for Thomas. Annie FORTH married George ROSS in Broken Hill in 190771 but it is uncertain if this is a remarriage. Michael TWOHIG died eleven years after Ellen at Young.72

While the death of Ellen May FIRTH in 1969 in Newtown shows the correct parents, it would mean that Ellen died at the age of 103 which is considered only a very remote possibility. Nothing has been found in the Ryerson Index to date73 for any Funeral Notices for this burial but it is considered unlikely that this is the Newcastle admission. This registration has not been viewed but this woman almost certainly appears on the 1930 electoral roll living at Enmore Road and recorded as home duties so she had been born before 1909. She appears on other electoral rolls at that address and finally in 1968. She may have also been recorded a second time on the 1930 roll at 9 Marian Street, Newtown. Between these dates and between 1958 and 1963, she probably appeared to be a resident at 25 James Street, Hamilton, in the Newcastle area. In 1958 a Richard William FIRTH was also at that address and it is likely that they were the Richard W. FIRTH and Ellen M. DREW who had married in Hamilton in 192074 but this has not been confirmed. This woman is therefore considered unlikely.

The woman of this name who had married Edmund MASON was born in about 1850 so was not only too old but the Newcastle admission was still on Cockatoo Island in 1876 so she can't have made this marriage.


Jane transferred with her sisters to Biloela on Cockatoo Island in May 1871 where she remained for nearly four years. On 1 March 1875, Henry G. BENSON of 275 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, requested an apprentice from Biloela to work as a nurse and a domestic servant and the relieving superintendent, DALE, sought permission to apprentice Jane. She was recorded by DALE as a twelve-year-old so was apprenticed to BENSON for six years. Jane was to receive one shilling a week for the first and second years, two shillings a week for the third and fourth years and three shillings a week for the final two years of her apprenticeship. Permission for the apprenticeship was cautiously granted by the Colonial Secretary with the notation on the correspondence directing that the warrant be obtained to discover whether Jane was:

of Sydney. It is not usual nor intended to apprentice girls in Sydney.75

There has been no indication yet found to indicate when this apprenticeship commenced nor whether Jane remained with BENSON in Sydney until she was 18. This correspondence outlined above was the only reference to Jane listed in the CSIL index.

No trace of Jane has been located after March 1875 and it is believed that Jane adopted the surname of the man with whom she eventually settled.

Where has She Gone?

Jane was only six at the time of her admission. Her older sister, Mary Ann, had been discharged from Biloela at least three years before she left the island so there was nobody in a position to remind her of her ancestry as her younger sister was unlikely to know.

Jane was not the woman named Jane Ellen FIRTH who married Ebenezer VICKERY in Sydney in 1879 as online trees indicated that this women had been born in Tonga to different parents. This birth location is very unusual so it is considered unlikely to be wrong and an exact date was provided so it is likely that at least some original registrations have been viewed.

The death of Jane FIRTH in Waverley in 1926 is the death of a woman whose parents were recorded as John and Ellen but Waverley cemetery records indicated that this woman had been born in 1839 in Rotherham, England.

Jane is unlikely to have married Alfred HANKIN as Ann J. FIRTH in 1891 as this woman's likely death in 1940 indicated very different parents.

Mary Ann FIRTH

Husband Richard Jonathan Joshua HUGHES b. 1855 m. d.c. 190076
Daughter Jane Ann HUGHES b. 187877 m. 189578 Henry Joseph STEY d. 195579
Daughter Mary Elizabeth HUGHES b. 188180 m. 190081 James George McSHANE d. 190882
Son John Robert HUGHES b. 188483 m. 191384 Pearl URQUHART d. 192485
Daughter Alice Louisa HUGHES b. 188586 m. (1) 190287 (2) 191088 (1) Robert Archibald REEVES (2) Robert Charles WILKINS d. 191289
Daughter Rose Emily HUGHES b. 188890 m. (1) 191191 (2) 193792 (1) Albert Stephens DIGBY (2) Robert WHITBY d. 197093
Daughter Minnie Agnes HUGHES b. 188994 m. 191195 Cyril John CREEK d. 194196
Son Richard G. HUGHES b.c. 1891 m. none - d. 189197
Son Richard98 HUGHES b. 189699 m. none - d. 1896100

Mary Ann remained at the industrial school on the island at Biloela until early 1873. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary on 24 March, LUCAS sought permission to apprentice Mary Ann to Mr. Patrick MANNION of Goulburn for six years at a rate of one shilling a week for the first two years, two shillings a week for the third and fourth year and five shillings a week for the final two years of the apprenticeship. LUCAS confirmed that Mary Ann had been admitted to Newcastle on 16 January 1871, was twelve years old and was ‘conducting herself well.’ The apprenticeship was approved.101

It is unknown how long Mary Ann stayed in this apprenticeship but it should have concluded by 1879. Mary Ann cannot have completed her time with MANNION as she was reunited with unidentified family members in about 1878 and returned to the New England area. No marriage has been registered but Mary's descendants identified that she married Richard Jonathan Joshua HUGHES at some time around this date. The NSW BDM Index recorded the registration of children firstly in Tamworth and then in Narrabri and Drake, north-east of Tenterfield. Some online trees have provided a marriage date of 2 March 1877.102 This information may have been sourced from a birth certificate for one of her children but without a church record, it must be considered that the couple had never married. The church records for the New England area have not been viewed.

By 1915 Mary Ann was working as a nurse in West Maitland (now Maitland) and was living on Oakhampton Road beside the Hunter River. She operated as a midwife and was accused of performing operations 'with intent thereby to procure a certain event.'103 She was called as a witness at an inquest into the suspicious death of Ada MURRAY whose body had been found in the Hunter River near Tocal in October 1916. MURRAY who had become pregnant while her husband was fighting overseas, had informed her acquaintance on 30 September that she was 'going to Maitland to make arrangements with Mrs. Hughes'. Mary Ann denied that she ever carried out the kind of procedure requested by MURRAY even though many believed that she did do so.104 It may be that Mary Ann was admitted to Maitland Gaol while awaiting trial for one of these events but Maitland Gaol records are not available online for this date. In March 1917 Mary Ann's rented home was destroyed by fire.105 One well researched tree recorded that Mary Ann served during the Great War. It is possible that her skills were put to use with returned soldiers but Mary Ann would have been too old to have enlisted to serve overseas. Photographs on some trees show Mary Ann in a nurse's uniform.

There is no doubt that Mary Ann died in West Maitland on 26 June 1926, as Mary Ann HUGHES. Her daughter, Jane, placed In Memoriam notices on a regular basis from 1927106 and most online trees agree with this death date. Mary Ann's parents were recorded on the NSW BDM Index as John and Ethel E. Mary Ann's obituary appeared in The Maitland Daily Mercury on 28 June 1926.

Late Mrs. Mary Ann Hughes.
The funeral of the late Mrs. Mary Ann Hughes left the residence of her daughter, Mrs. H. Stey, Station-street, Homeville. Deceased was born in Tamworth, but had lived the greater part of her life in and around the West Maitland district. She was confined to her bed for the past 10 months. Yesterday the remains were interred in the Roman Catholic cemetery at Campbell's Hill. Father Flanagan officiated. Messrs. Passfield, Khrams, Fry and Haling acted as pall-bearers. The chief mourners were:— Mrs. M. Moylan (sister), Gloucester ; Mr. J. Firth (brother), Broadmeadow; Mrs. H. Stey, Mrs. A. Digby, Mrs. C. Creek (daughters), West Maitland.107

This sister was Mrs MOYLAN was Margaret Eliza MOYLAN who married Michael MOYLAN in West Maitland in 1890108 and who died in 1944. She was Mary Ann's oldest sister who had first married Henry FITZPATRICK.109 The Mr. J. FIRTH was her brother James. No reference to the two younger sisters has been identified in connection with Mary Ann. She left a will that may shed some light on what happened to her sisters although this is only a very remote possibility. The executor of the will was her daughter Jane Ann STEY110 who had been named for her mother's sisters. Whether the trio ever met again is completely unknown.

Note: Some trees do disagree about the year in which Mary Ann died and state that her death was registered in Sydney in 1900111 where her mother, Anastasia, was the only parent recorded on the registration. One thorough family researcher has paid for this record and has stated that '[Mary Ann] didn't die in 1900 as I have that certificate. It is that of a baby.'

Updated July 2018

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