Name Variations Helen, Eileen, JOHNSTONE,1 JOHNSON2
Father unknown b. m. d.
Mother unknown b. m. d.
Cousin Mary Jane STUART b. m. unknown d.
Inmate Ellen JOHNSTON b.c. 1854 m. 1875 (see below) d. 19303
Husband Daniel aka Dan Kingsmill BREASLEY b. 18534 m. 18755 d. 19376
Daughter Lucy BEASLEY b. 18757 m. 18948 Thomas Vellego HOWARD d. 19119
Son Albert John BREASLEY b. 187610 m. d. 197011
Son Arthur Daniel BREASLEY b. 187812 m. (1) 189713 (2) 192114 (3) 194715 (1) Bella DONALDSON (2) Margaret I. MANNING (3) Emily Josephine KINNANE d. 195716
Son Sydney Thomas BEASLEY b. 188017 m. d.
Son William BEASLEY b. 188318 m. d.
Daughter Margaret Jane BREASLEY b. 188419 m. 190120 Harry George PATTERSON d. aft. 1901
Daughter Florence May BREASLEY b. 188721 m. 190622 William J. BLAND d. 194823
Son Henry C. BREASLEY b. 188824 m. d.
Daughter Edith M. BREASLEY b. 189025 m. (1) 191026 (2) 192327 (1) Robert John TURNBULL (2) Richard Frank HARRIS d.
Son Leslie BREASLEY b. 189428 m. none - d. 191729
Son Daniel BREASLEY b.c. 189430 m. d. 196931
Daughter Evelyn G. BREASLEY b. 189732 m. 191733 James P. DONOHUE d.
Son Alfred George BREASLEY b. 190134 m. 192335 Rita NEWTON d. 197036
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Inmate Ellen37 16 5’ 2” fair light blue fair stout

Ellen was sent to Newcastle after appearing in Sydney's Central Police Court on Tuesday, 9 August 1870.38 In every newspaper she was recorded as JOHNSTONE. The most detailed account of her arrest appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.39 Constable NAPIER stated that he had arrested Ellen on 7 August, in Shepherd Street, Sydney, as she had been sleeping in the open air. He reported that several times on the night of 17 January, he’d seen her with other people and thought that on that night she had not been to bed. A warrant for her arrest had been applied for by, and on the information from, Ellen's cousin, Mary Jane STUART. Mary Jane deposed that Ellen had lived with her for fourteen years but for the last eight or nine months had been staying away from home all night. Ellen was admitted to Newcastle on 9 August.40 Her family, religious, educational and discharge details would have appeared in the missing section of the Entrance Book so these details can't be verified from this source and as she had not been living with her parents, it is considered very unlikely that they would have been recorded in the Entrance Book.

She was recorded as Ellen JOHNSON in reports outlining her involvement in the riot of March 1871. On 13 March, Ellen and the other ringleaders were tried in Newcastle Court41 charged under the Injuries to Property Act with wilfully destroying Government property. The other offenders were Jemima BURT, Winifred McDONALD, Ellen PHILBEN, Mary Jane WRIGHT, Bridget McELROY and Mary COUGHLAN. Each girl was fined five pounds or was to be sent to Maitland Gaol for one month's labour.42 All were sent to Maitland Gaol. At the time of her admission Ellen was recorded as a Protestant who had been born in Sydney.43 On 12 April 1871, she was released44 and was returned to the school at Newcastle. A month later Ellen moved with the school with the transfer to Biloela on Cockatoo Island. She appeared on the transfer lists as a fifteen-year-old Protestant.45

Ellen's rebellion continued on Biloela and in September 1871 she was involved in the first major disruption on the island. As Helen JOHNSON, she and seven other girls46 were convicted of throwing stones and damaging thirty windows on the island, that were valued at £1 10s. Reports of the incident elaborated on the arrest.

The conduct of the girls prior to their arrest was described by the police as outrageous. Stones and bricks were flying about in all directions, and about 100 panes of glass were destroyed. On being placed in the Water Police boat the prisoners commenced singing, and continued in the exercise of their vocal powers up to the Circular Quay.

At the subsequent trial Ellen initially denied the charges but eventually pleaded guilty and was sent to Darlinghurst Gaol for two months.47 The gaol records confirmed that Ellen was able to read and write, was a Protestant and had been born in Sydney in about 1854. Ellen was returned to the island after her gaol sentence had expired. In his report on 22 January 1872,48 LUCAS reported that Ellen had again been responsible for bad behaviour on 16 January 1872. He wrote to the Colonial Secretary on 18 January explaining that Ellen and Emily WARD were confined to the quadrangle for fourteen days as punishment for:

… being on the beach with the Intention of Bathing in the River contrary to express injunctions.49

On 8 March 1872, LUCAS sought permission from the Colonial Secretary to apprentice Helen [sic] JOHNSON for two years to Mr HOLLOWAY, Esq., of Wagga Wagga. She was to be paid two shillings a week for the first year and three shillings a week for her final year.50 In his report on 25 March, LUCAS confirmed that Ellen had been discharged as an apprentice.51 While his April 1872 list indicated that Ellen had been discharged on 9 March, further details were unclear on the record and the name of her master was possibly recorded as J. HALLORD, or HOLLAND, Esq.52 It cannot be certain if this was the same apprenticeship agreed to by the Colonial Secretary but it is accepted that this almost illegible writing could read HOLLOWAY. There is very little doubt that Ellen undertook this apprenticeship. It is therefore considered very unlikely that any further gaol records in Sydney after March 1872 refer to her and it is believed that Ellen was only admitted to gaol on the two occasions already described.

One further letter in the CSIL index for 1871 exists but was not found in the box at the time a retrieval was attempted so this letter must be tracked. This will be time consuming so it has not yet been done.

Descendants of the Ellen JOHNSTON who married Daniel BREASLEY in Wagga Wagga in 1875 believe that it is almost certain that their ancestor was the Ellen JOHNSTON admitted to Newcastle. This assumption is based on the matching age, Ellen's apprenticeship location and the extreme difficulty in attempts made to trace their ancestor. The marriage date of 1875 is also a very good match for the expected expiration of Ellen's apprenticeship. Knowing that she had been apprenticed to the Wagga area also provided very strong circumstantial evidence that these women were the same person. There was no indication made on the marriage registration that she was a 'Biloela Apprentice' but this marriage has been attributed to her. There was no indication of any parents on the registration.

Ellen and Daniel had a large family and for many years Ellen worked as the post mistress at Malebo,53 north-west of Wagga. Ellen BREASLEY died in Wagga Wagga on 2 January 1930,54 and one obituary read:


After a long illness, Mrs. Ellen Breasley, aged 73 years, wife of Mr. Daniel Breasley, died at her residence, Crampton-street, Wagga, yesterday. Mr. and Mrs Breasley were married in Wagga and had lived in the town and district ever since. For over 30 years Mr. Breasley was employed on Gobbagumbalin station. Mrs. Breasley was of a quiet and retiring disposition. She had a family of 12 children. The sons are Albert, Arthur, Sidney, Henry, Daniel and Alfred. One son, Leslie, was killed in the Great War. The daughters are Mesdames T. Howard (Howlong), W. Bruce (Junee), W. Land [sic] (Bourke), F. Harris (Illabo), and J. Donohue (Downside). The funeral will leave Crampton-street at 3 o'clock this afternoon. The interment will take place in the Church of England division of the Wagga cemetery.

There were no parents recorded on the registration and Ellen's age is a very good match for the birth year of the girl who was sent to Newcastle. A report of her burial that provided no clue to her ancestry, did contain the tantalising statement that:

… The cortege, which was large and representative, included relatives and friends from distant parts and prominent residents of Wagga and district.

To know who those relatives were would certainly help to locate Ellen's ancestry.

BREASLEY Daniel outlived Ellen by seven years and died in March 1937.55 The couple were both buried in the Wagga Church of England Cemetery.


Nothing certain has yet been confirmed for Ellen's family. All that is known of her is her age and that she had been born in Sydney in about 1854. Because Ellen had lived with her cousin, Mary Jane STUART, for many years of her early life, it may be that she didn't know the names of her parents. She had been in Mary Jane STUART's care for fourteen years (or from about the age of two).56 Mary Jane's identity is also uncertain. It is unknown whether she was connected to a sibling of Ellen's father or mother nor whether she was married or single. It should also be considered that Ellen may have been an illegitimate daughter of a member of the extended JOHNSTON family.

Who was Ellen?
Ellen is not the Eleanor JOHNSTON, the daughter of William and Margaret JOHNSTON from Liverpool, who had been born in and died in 1857.57

Ellen cannot be a member of the family who arrived on the Zemindar in 1857 because she had been born in Sydney.

Who was Mary Jane STUART?
While no clear identification has been found for Mary Jane STUART or STEWART and far more work needs to be completed in the following investigation, it may be that Mary Jane was the sister of Irwin and Margaret STEWART, making Ellen connected in some way to Margaret's family.

Irwin STEWART and Margaret JOHNSTON had married in 1873 after Ellen's arrest.58 The couple had three children: Edith Maud (2668/1876), William John (2875/1878) and Margaret Jane (228/1881). When Margaret died in 1888, Funeral Notices identified that her brothers were Hugh, Stephen and William JOHNSTON59 and that her mother was Mrs. C. JOHNSTON.60 Margaret's parents were then identified in the NSW BDM Index as William and Catherine.61

Mary Jane STUART who married George CHAPMAN in 188862 was identified in online trees as born in Sydney in 1849 and her parents were identified as John and Margaret. Mary's father's family had originated in Country Tyrone, Ireland. Online trees indicated that John had arrived in 1833 at the age of 2263 and had been transported aboard the Portland (2). No marriage for John and Margaret has yet been located and because the tree provided no maiden surname for Margaret, this suggested that the baptism of Mary J.64 may have occurred in a Church of England church where maiden names were not generally recorded. This is then consistent with Ellen's Protestant religion. Baptisms for only two of Mary's brothers have been identified in the NSW BDM Index. James had been baptised in 184565 and Irwin had been baptised as Irvine in 1846.66 All baptisms were recorded using the surname STEWART. None of the following records have yet been viewed. Mary Jane's death has been identified on the online tree as occurring in 1903.67

Catherine JOHNSTON died in January 1902 at the age of 8468 This death was confirmed by online trees69 that also identify that she arrived on the Star of Brunswick in 1865 with her children Stephen, Isabella, William, Margaret, Dora aka Dolly and Elizabeth. The second reel that would identify Catherine's relations in the colony has not survived but deposit journals indicated that Catherine was a widow and that she and her family had been sponsored by Hugh JOHNSTON, who was almost without doubt Margaret's brother, identified in her Funeral Notice in 1888. Hugh in turn had been sponsored by Edward GIBSON and had arrived on the Queen of England in 1858 where his parents were identified on the indent. The family was consistently recorded on the indents as Church of England. None of these children had been born in NSW as they had arrived in 1863 so Ellen cannot have lived with them for fourteen years but still may have been connected to the STEWART family. This family is considered the best potential match to identify Ellen's cousin as records link the surnames STUART or STEWART and JOHNSTON and the family were Protestant.

It is still being ascertained whether the death of the following woman in August 1885 is connected as it was before the potential marriage of Mary Jane.

KEYS.—August 15, at St. Mary's, Elizabeth McNair, the beloved wife of Andrew Keys, and mother of Thomas, Andrew, William, and Mary J. Stewart, aged 44 years.70

Elizabeth STEWART married Andrew KEYS in 1880.71 Andrew was almost certainly the son of Andrew KEYS and his wife, Ann RITCHIE, who had married in NSW in 1846.72 There is very little doubt that Andrew McNair STEWART who died in 1895 was the same Andrew referred to in this Funeral Notice. His parents were William and Elizabeth.73 Andrew had been born in Morpeth in 186174 and Mary Jane in 1865 in Sydney so this family is unlikely unless there was an older woman in the family who was also named Mary Jane.

Other possible links to the name, STEWART, occur in the family who arrived in 1856 aboard the James Fernie. These parents were Andrew and Margaret Stewart and their daughters were Anne and Mary J. The family stated that they had cousins in Sydney but these cousins weren't named. Andrew was the son of James and Anne STEWART and Margaret was the child of David and Eliza Ann HAMILTON. They were Church of England from Armagh, Ireland. Mary J. STEWART was only an infant in 1856 so she is considered unlikely to have been the person appearing in court at Ellen's trial as she was almost certainly older than Ellen. It would also not be possible for Ellen to have lived with this family for fourteen years if they had arrived in 1856.

Mary J. STUART may have married or remarried John A. BEESTON in 188575 but this is yet to be investigated.

Could this be Mary?76

It may very well be coincidence but the consecutive listing of Mary STEWART and Elizabeth JOHNSON in the Darlinghurst records in 1854 needs to be investigated. Mary had arrived on the General Hibbert and Elizabeth had arrived on the Margaret. An Elizabeth JOHNSON and an Ellen JOHNSON were described as sisters in at least one court case in November 185477 and this may refer to the same woman.

The Mary Jane JOHNSTON who had married Edward James STEWART on 20 April 1864,78 cannot be Ellen's cousin because this woman remarried in Tasmania in July 1867,79 so would not have been named STEWART or STUART at the time of Ellen's arrest even had she been in Sydney when Ellen appeared in court.

Where has She Gone?

In addition to the most likely marriage outlined above, other marriages have been considered but are believed to be unlikely. There were at least two or three women of this name and age in Sydney at this time.

The IGI indicated that the Ellen JOHNSTON who married John NIHILL had been born about 1853 as she was recorded as 21 when she married. No parents were recorded on the registration but a William (X) JOHNSTON was a witness. Ellen was a spinster who had been born in England and as the Newcastle girl was not living with her father before her admission and had been born in Sydney, this woman is unlikely to be the Newcastle admission. At the time of her death, this Ellen's parents were identified as William and Margaret.

A birth of Ellen JOHNSON to Peter JOHNSON and Ellen CHERRY of Sussex Street by the Rev. John KAVANAGH of the R.C. St James Church, County of Cumberland, has Ellen born on 11 November 1850, and baptized on 27 January 1851. While Peter possibly died in 1853, this information concerning Ellen doesn’t match the gaol records for the Newcastle girl in 1871 as this woman is too old and was Catholic.

The Darlinghurst Gaol records from 1872 identified an Ellen JOHNSTON who had been born in about 1854 and was a Protestant who was unable to read and write but who had been born in Melbourne. It seems unlikely that this is the Newcastle girl, firstly because of the difference in birth location but secondly, and more importantly, Ellen was likely to have still been on Biloela or in an apprenticeship at this stage. There was one birth in the Victorian BDM that matched a birth in 1853 in Melbourne and this Ellen JOHNSON had parents James and Eliza and she had been baptised in the St James Church of England, Melbourne, (Fiche 303 No 18217 Yr 1853).

Updated April 2020

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