The FIRTH Sisters
Name Variations FRITH1
Father John Wissett FIRTH b.c. 1828 m. 18552 d. 18953
Step-father Alexander4 HURLEY5 b. 18436 m. none d. 18877
Step-father George BRACKAM8 b. m. 18979 d.
Mother Anastasia aka Ann aka Anna aka Hannah Stasia KING b. 183610 m. 1855 d. 192511
Sister Margaret Eliza FIRTH b. 185712 m. (1) 187313 (2) 189014 (1) Henry Edward KILPATRICK (2) Michael MOYLAN d. 194415
Brother James FIRTH b. 185816 m. 187817 Ellen KING d. 194518
Inmate Mary Ann FIRTH b. 186019 m. 1877 (see below) d. 192620
Brother John Thomas FIRTH b. 186221 m. 188822 Elizabeth Ellen MEPPEM d. 191723
Inmate Jane FIRTH b. 186424 m. unknown (see below) d. aft. 1875
Inmate Ellen FIRTH b. 186625 m. unknown (see below) d. aft. 1878
Half-sister Hannah FIRTH b. 187026 m. d.
Half-sister Johannah FIRTH aka HURLEY b. 187527 m. 189728 Arthur Baptist CARMICHAEL d. 195129
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Father John30 39 5’ 10¼” brown to grey hazel fresh tall a sawyer; prominent chin, and medium mouth and nose
Father John31 40 5’ 11” brown brown
Brother John32 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 1871,33 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. At this stage the children's father, John, was in prison but without access to the report of the trial, it is unknown whether their mother had actually abandoned them. John was admitted to the Vernon on 18 January 1871,34 and the three girls were sent to Newcastle. They were admitted there on 16 January, so their arrest date must have pre-dated their admission and 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 so family, education, religion or discharge details cannot be confirmed from this source. The Entrance Book for John's admission to the Vernon however provided considerable family information.

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, confirmed that John's father was John Wisset FIRTH. It also indicated in two letters that his family had no means to contribute to his upkeep on the Vernon and that the whereabouts of his parents was unknown.35 When John absconded from his apprenticeship in 1875 it was identified that he had friends in Newcastle.36

The Biloela transfer lists show that the girls were Protestant. Their names were all recorded on this document as FRITH.37 All three sisters were recorded as 'In the Institution' on LUCAS's April 1872 list.38


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.39 The couple moved to Tamworth after their marriage.

John was tried on two occasions in the New England area of NSW. On 29 April 186540 and 18 June 1867 he was convicted in Tamworth for cattle stealing. Two depositions for John Wissett aka Wissell FIRTH in the Tamworth area in 1865 and 1867 for cattle stealing are available but they have not been viewed. John was sentenced to work on the roads for seven years,41 a sentence which was commuted to three years in Parramatta gaol.42 John appeared in Maitland Gaol records whilst in transit to Berrima Gaol.43 He had been born in London, England, in about 1828 and gaol records identified two differing ships of arrival but both records refer to the same crime of cattle stealing in Tamworth. He was transferred from Berrima after he had 'completed [his] term of separate treatment'.44 Some Parramatta Gaol show a clerical error as John's age was erroneously recorded as 59 rather than 39 years of age. It is unknown whether a further clerical error has occurred regarding his ship of arrival or whether John provided the conflicting information. One record stated that he had arrived on the Columbia and another on the Europa in 1854. John was a protestant who could read and write. He was released from Parramatta in June 1870.45 He was located at Cope's Creek in New England in August 1876.46 John’s death was registered in Tamworth in 1895 and this death has been confirmed by numerous online trees.

Online trees identify Anastasia's arrival on 12 December 1854, with her parents, Thomas and Mary KING, aboard the Lady Kennaway. She was recorded on the indent as eighteen year old Statia KING. Her father's sister, Margaret KING, was his relative in the colony. She was living in Kiama.47 As Hannah FIRTH, Anastasia was convicted of assault and tried on 1 July 1869, in Tamworth QS.48 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. 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.49

There are no further confirmations yet found for Ann, Anna or Hannah as FIRTH after this court appearance until her death in Auburn possibly as Anastasia FIRTH on 3 May 1925.50 Although this death is confirmed by descendants in online trees and although her parents were recorded as John and Mary on her death registration which matches what is known of her, it must be questioned. 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 of two further daughters, Hannah and Johanna, to Hannah Stacia FIRTH in Tamworth in 1870 and 1875. In 1893 Hannah and Johanna HURLEY endeavoured to challenge the will of Alexander HURLEY and the land that he had once owned.51 No mention was made in this newspaper report about another child but that does not necessarily indicate that the child Hannah FIRTH had died. There is a strong possibility that in 1897 as Hannah S. HURLEY, either Anastasia or her daughter Hannah, married George BRACKAM. The registration numbers indicate that it occurred shortly before Johannah HURLEY aka FIRTH married Alfred B. CARMICHAEL in Tamworth also in 1897. 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. It is still being investigated whether Ellen and Jane were reunited with their mother and subsequently assumed the surname HURLEY.

Johanna FIRTH was the mother to an illegitimate son who died in 1895.52 John's son53 may be connected to an incident in 1898 in Wallsend near Newcastle.54

Nothing appropriate on the family can be found on Queensland BDM.


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 1875.55 Selina WALKER, the new superintendent indicated in her report of 24 January 1876, that Ellen was again confined to hospital with scarlet fever56 which she had contracted on 18 January.57 Ellen recovered and was discharged from the hospital on 24 January.58

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 School59 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 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.60 On 29 January 1878, Ellen was apprenticed to Hanley BENNETT, M.P. Numerical notations in the Biloela Discharge Book suggested that she completed at least three years of the apprenticeship.61 While no locations were recorded in the correspondence or the Discharge Book, BENNETT was the elected representative for the Liverpool Plains area.62 It is unknown whether BENNETT requested that Ellen be apprenticed to him after an intervention from some member of her family but it seems very likely as she was returned to the area from whence she had been arrested and where her father was possibly still resident.

Where has She Gone?

Ellen was quite young at the time of her admission and may never have known or have forgotten the names of her parents. Her older sisters, Mary Ann and Jane, had been discharged from Biloela before she left the island so there was nobody in a position to remind her of her ancestry. The request for her apprenticeship to the Tamworth area strongly suggested that she had returned to her family and it is possible that one of 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. No trace of Ellen's death has been found.

The marriage of Ellen FORTH to Michael Francis TWOHIG in Broken Hill in 189763 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.64 Her parents were recorded as Michael and Annie A. at the time of her death.65 No obituaries identified any siblings for Ellen TWOHIG. While there are births for 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 190766 but it is uncertain if this is a remarriage. Michael TWOHIG died eleven years after Ellen at Young.67 There is no indication that this is the girl admitted to Newcastle.

The woman of this name who married Edmund MASON was born in about 1850 so was too old and the Newcastle admission was still on Cockatoo Island in 1876 so she can't have made this marriage. While the death of Ellen FIRTH in 1969 shows the correct parents, it would mean that Ellen died at the age of 103 which is considered only a very remote possibility.


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.68

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 was the only reference to Jane listed in the CSIL index.

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 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 as Ann J. FIRTH to Alfred HANKIN 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. 190069
Daughter Jane Ann HUGHES b. 187870 m. 189571 Henry Joseph STEY d. 195572
Daughter Mary Elizabeth HUGHES b. 188173 m. 190074 James George McSHANE d. 190875
Son John Robert HUGHES b. 188476 m. 191377 Pearl URQUHART d. 192478
Daughter Alice Louisa HUGHES b. 188579 m. (1) 190280 (2) 191081 (1) Robert Archibald REEVES (2) Robert Charles WILKINS d. 191282
Daughter Rose Emily HUGHES b. 188883 m. (1) 191184 (2) 193785 (1) Albert Stephens DIGBY (2) Robert WHITBY d. 197086
Daughter Minnie Agnes HUGHES b. 188987 m. 191188 Cyril John CREEK d. 194189
Son Richard G. HUGHES b.c. 1891 m. none - d. 189190
Son Richard91 HUGHES b. 189692 m. none - d. 189693

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.94

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 her father or her brother in about 1878 and returned to the New England area. No marriage has been registered but Mary's descendants identify 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 1877.95 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.'96 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.97 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.98 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. 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 192799 and most online trees agree with this death date. Her 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.100

This sister was Mrs MOYLAN was Margaret Eliza MOYLAN who married Michael MOYLAN in West Maitland in 1890101 and who died in 1944. She was Mary Ann's oldest sister who had first married Henry FITZPATRICK.102 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 remote possibility. The executor of the will was her daughter Jane Ann STEY103 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 1900104 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 February 2018

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