WARNING: Details of the life of the McNEICE sisters may cause distress to descendants.
The sisters, Mary Jane, Eliza and Sarah McNEICE, were all inmates of the Newcastle Industrial School. The eldest, Mary Jane, was admitted first and arrived in Newcastle in November 1868 after being arrested under the Act. She had been tried in Berrima court. Her two younger sisters, Eliza and Sarah, were admitted together in November 1869, after their arrest by senior constables FOLEY and WALKER of Goulburn Police.26 They appeared together in Goulburn court on 3 November27 and 5 November but because the bench was unable to agree, the girls were remanded.28 Finally, on Monday, 8 November 1869, in a final appearance in Goulburn court, a majority of three magistrates ruled that they were to be sent to Newcastle.29
There are many variations on the surname McNEICE and Mary Jane was arrested with this surname however, Eliza and Sarah appear in the Goulburn papers and in the Police Gazette with the surname McNEISH and, apart from the spelling on their birth registrations, no record has been found for them using the surname McNEICE. The three sisters spent about eighteen months together in Newcastle before the school transferred to Biloela in May 1871. On the day of the transfer Mary Jane was released from the Industrial School onto the streets of Newcastle and Sarah and Eliza were transferred together to Cockatoo Island. The letter written by Mary Jane from Newcastle to her mother, who subsequently sent it to the Colonial Secretary, is one of only existing pieces of contemporary correspondence written by inmates from the school.
Mary, Eliza and Sarah were the children of William McNEICE and Margaret (X) LOGUE or LOUGE.30 The couple was married by J. P. ROCHE at St. John’s, Campelltown, on 9 September 1851.31 Both were residents of Menangle. The witnesses were William (X) LOUGE and Mary (X) LOUGE who were almost certainly Margaret's parents. When William and Margaret's daughter, Ann, was baptised on 31 July 1853, William was a labourer at Camden and Margaret's middle name was also recorded as Ann.32 The Entrance Book indicated that Mary Jane's family was destitute when she was admitted to Newcastle.33 By 1869, at the time of the arrest of Eliza and Sarah, the family was living in Towrang, east of Goulburn, after probably moving to this area after Mary Jane's trial in Berrima. Newspaper reports suggested that by this date, William and Margaret had separated.34 Goulburn was likely to be the area where the family eventually settled.
William, a shepherd, was imprisoned in Goulburn gaol for fourteen days on 28 May 1869, but in earlier years had been admitted to various gaols in the Camden and Goulburn area. He was recorded as Church of England but had been born in County Antrim, Ireland. One later gaol admission recorded that he was Scottish. On his admission in 1869, his ship and year of arrival were recorded as 'not known' suggesting either that he didn't want it recorded or that it was sufficiently long ago for him not to remember. In 1844, twenty-five years earlier, a convict of this name was admitted to Berrima gaol. His ship of arrival was recorded as the Royal Admiral which had arrived in 1833.35 While this was almost without doubt an earlier appearance of the same man, his age fluctuates from record to record. William and Margaret probably separated well before 1872.36 and William was a resident of Mummell when he was robbed in August 1875.37 William's death was registered in Liverpool in 1881 at the reported age of 85. He had died in the Liverpool Asylum and had been admitted there in 1877 where his ship of arrival was confirmed as the Royal Admiral.38
There is little doubt that the witnesses at Margaret's marriage, William and Mary LOUGE, were her parents. Assisted immigration records for the Anglia in 1850 identify that Mary and Margaret LOUGE, arrived as the wife and daughter of the convict, William LOUGE. Mary was 47 and Margaret was 22. William's ship was not identified on the Anglia indent but it recorded that he had been tried at Londonderry in 1831.39 William LOUGE had been transported for seven years for stealing hide aboard the Bussorah Merchant (2) in 1831. He was recorded as a married man with two sons and a daughter.40 It is likely that the deaths of Margaret's parents were recorded in Camden as William LOGUE and Mary LOGUE in 1876 and 1879 respectively. By 1872, Margaret and William McNEICE had separated and Margaret was reported to be working as a housekeeper for John McDONALD aka McDONNELL41 at Towrang. This however was an incomplete story as the police assessment after Margaret applied to have Eliza and Sarah returned to her stated:
This is a most impudent application. The mother of the girls is not living with her husband but cohabiting with McDONALD alias Parramatta Jack who signs the petition – he is a wood carter living in a bark hut. The mother is a most depraved character and rearing her other girls to prostitution with Chinese – Mary McNEISH recently discharged I believe from Biloela is one of them.42
Margaret McNEICE can be found living alone in Common Street, Goulburn, in 189143 and it is unknown whether John McDONALD was still alive at this point in time or whether they too had separated. Margaret was very likely to be one of the women named Margaret McDONALD whose death is registered in the Goulburn area after this date but no appropriate death for her has been identified.
Annie McNEICE, Margaret and William's second daughter, was a witness in the trial of her two younger sisters although she was not identified in the newspapers as their sister. Annie gave evidence that she lived with her mother in Towrang, had been in service and that her brother was in service at Mummell.44 Annie was the mother to three illegitimate children in Goulburn and eventually married James BRENNAN in or near Goulburn in 1881. The couple was recorded as having seven children in Goulburn between 1881 and 1895. One of these illegitimate children, Emily McNEICE, was sent to the Shaftesbury Reformatory in 1886. She married and moved back to Goulburn and Annie was caring for at least one of her children while she resided in Wickham, near Newcastle.45 Online trees46 have identified that Emily died in Wickham in 1909.47 Annie was almost without doubt imprisoned in Sydney in March 1897 and at this time she was living at 70 Hill Street, Leichhardt.48 It is thought that Annie died in 1934 in Auburn as Annie BRENNAN where her parents were recorded as William and Margaret on the registration.49
John McNEICE, Mary's brother, was also living in Towrang in early 187350 but was also recorded as living in Mummell. John and his mother appeared in Goulburn court on 18 January 1876, charged with stealing from John McDONNELL but were discharged.51
The William, Peter and Thomas McNEISH who died in Wagga Wagga may be connected but this is unconfirmed.
Eliza J. McNEICE
Eliza’s birth was registered in 1859 in Berrima and while the age on this record and that of the girl arrested and sent to Newcastle differs by two years, the letter written by Mary Jane and signed on behalf of the three sisters, confirmed their relationship.53 Eliza was recorded as Eliza McNEISH and was reported to be an eight-year-old when she was arrested under the Industrial School Act.54 She was admitted to Newcastle with her sister, Sarah, on 27 November 1869. Her name appeared in the missing section of the Entrance Book so no confirmation of family, religion or educational levels can be confirmed from this source. Sarah and Eliza transferred with the school to Biloela in May 1871. Margaret applied to have Eliza and Sarah released on 22 January 1872, and LUCAS stated that he had no objection providing police reports of the family were acceptable. He described the pair of sisters as 'well-conducted'.55 The release to Margaret was rejected and the girls were recorded by LUCAS as ‘In the Institution’ in his list compiled in April 1872.56 In April Eliza was also mentioned in the teacher's report as 'having been very attentive to school duties and [is] much improved in education and manners.'57 After LUCAS and his wife were discharged as Superintendent and Matron, DALE took over the Superintendency and KELLY was made Matron. In her letter reporting on the school at Biloela on 12 December 1873, KELLY indicated that since she had been involved in the Matron's duties, Eliza and Mary Ann BATHGATE as school monitors, had operated the school for a week and they reported that everything had worked well during that time.58 No record has yet been found for any apprenticeship for Eliza but she was almost without doubt in Goulburn by 1880 where she was the mother of an illegitimate daughter, Rose.
Where has She Gone?
It is believed that either Eliza has married and the marriage has not been registered or she has begun a relationship and never married. Only her descendants will have access to the registrations unable to be identified on the NSW BDM Index that may be connected to her. There are birth registrations in Goulburn where the father's surname may indicate Chinese ancestry. It may be that Eliza, like her sister Mary Jane, frequented the Chinese camps on the fringes of Goulburn. This possibility is still being investigated. She may have left the state although this is considered unlikely. Eliza can't be confirmed in any gaol records under any surname. She is not the woman named Elizabeth McNEISH who appeared in courts in Sydney in 1875 as this woman had arrived on the Switzerland in 1859.59 The Eliza McNISH who died 1908 in Paddington was reported to have had a father named George.
Mary Jane McNEICE
Mary Jane was recorded in the Entrance Book as thirteen when she was admitted to the school after appearing in Berrima court on 27 November 1868. She was a Catholic and could neither read nor write. The Entrance Book named her parents as William and Mary McNIECE63 but letters from the CSIL prove that both her age and her mother's name were wrong and that her mother had been incorrectly recorded as Mary rather than Margaret. The 1871 letter further noted Mary Jane was
over twenty-one years of age: When admitted in 1868 she represented herself to be 13 years of age.64
These references confirm that Mary Jane was baptised as Mary Jane MACNISS on 31 October 1851, at St. John's, Camden, by Edward V. ROGERS. She was born on 4 January. Her father, William, was a labourer at Camden. Gaol records are inconclusive as they document that she was a native of the colony, born in either Camden or Picton, anywhere between 1849 and 1856.65 While the location of Camden contradicts her stated birth location of Londonderry, Ireland, on her marriage registration, Camden was almost certainly correct, and these details on her marriage statement were either deliberately or inadvertently wrong. She specifically stated in most admissions to Goulburn Gaol that she had been born in Picton.66
Within two months of her arrival at Newcastle, Mary acquired matches and informed the other girls in her dormitory that she was going to light a fire. When they began to object, she locked them in the school hospital ward so she could continue uninterrupted. Mary was subsequently arrested from the school by senior-sergeant CONWAY of Newcastle Police and CLARKE, in a letter to the Colonial Secretary concerning the fire, stated that he had only handed Mary over to the police on the advice of Helenus SCOTT, the Newcastle Police Magistrate. Mary was tried the following day in Newcastle Court where she was charged with wilfully destroying and burning bedding, government property, at the school on 19 January 1869.67 She was erroneously named in the Maitland Mercury on 28 January 1869, in connection to this incident as Mary Ann PELLISS.68 The Newcastle Chronicle recorded CLARKE's opinion 'that the girl is not quite right in the head'69 and he elaborated in a further letter to the Colonial Secretary on 21 January where he wrote that
although she is only thirteen (13) years of age has brought with her the character of a prostitute and has been since her arrival here for a loathsome disease and general debility – from observation of the girl since she came here I am impressed with the notion that her mind is impaired from excessive dissipation so much so that I think her unaccountable for her acts and this opinion is shared by all who know her in this place.70
Mary did not pay the four pound fine so was imprisoned in Maitland gaol for two months. She returned to the school on 19 March 1869, and was possibly placed in the Reformatory – as this strategy had been a request made by CLARKE of the Colonial Secretary in a letter on 21 January.
In his report concerning the illness at the school and his concerns about the medical attendant, HARRIS, CLARKE indicated that Mary Jane had almost certainly spread the disease she carried to others. He wrote:
I have now the honor to report … [that on her admission] … it was discovered that she had venereal disease, in order to prevent contagion this girl was placed in a small room by herself, and under medical treatment was kept there until she was discharged by the doctor as cured, from the 4th Dec. 68 to the 13 Jan. 69 – there are sixteen entries of medicine for this girl amt. L3-6-0 but it would now appear that a cure was not effected and although to my knowledge she has been several times in hospital since January complaining of pains in her stomach – she states there has been nothing whatever done for her although she has been brought under the Doctor’s notice there is not any medicine entered to her from the 15th January to the 4th October when she was in Hospital with other girls having skin disease and while there on the 26th Inst she was found to be still (ill?) with gonnorhorea [sic] and it was further discovered that she had infected two delicate girls that were with her, with this disorder, and I fear very much that other girls that were in the same ward have also got it from her.71
CLARKE then wrote a further letter to the warden at Maitland gaol enquiring whether Mary had complained of illness during the two months that she was imprisoned. The Maitland Gaol Correspondence Book (1869 - 1873) contained the reply from the warden who stated:
I beg to inform you that on reference to the books of the G. Surgeon I find McNeice was suffering from ghonorrha on 22 Jany 1869 and was under treatment for this complaint during her Impt. and further I am informed that McNeice was suffering from the above disease when she was returned to the Industrial School for Girls Newcastle on 19th March last.72
Mary Jane wrote one of the only letters remaining that was composed by an inmate while an inmate in Newcastle. It has been saved because her mother forwarded it to the Colonial Secretary in efforts to have her children released. Mary Jane wrote to her mother requesting that Margaret seek her release from Newcastle.73
My dear mother, I write you these few lines to you hoping to find you all in good health Dear mother we are all very happy here the matrons are all very kind to me and indulge me very much My sisters and I are all quite well Dear mother I wrote to you once before and [?] [?] [?] from [?] Dear mother give my kind [?] to my sister Annie and also to my dear brother and receive the same yourself Dear mother I long to see you once again I would like you to go to the Colonial Secretary to aply for my release to go home Dear mother the matrons have all left the place and we have all strange [?] I have not been in any of these outbreaks that have been here Dear mother I have been here over two years and I think it very hard of you not to come and see me I would like you to come down at Easter to see me Dear mother give my kind love to Alis Berges74 and [?] and to all [?] [?] Dear mother they are going to remove the school to some island and I would like to go home before they remove it
We remain your ever affectionate daughters
Mary Jane, Eliza and Sarah McNEICE.75
A series of letters are included with Mary's initial letter of 23 (or 13) March 1871. A report from the Goulburn police indicated that Margaret, recorded as Ann, 'has now means … and does reside near a small settler at Towrang.'76 An order for Mary Jane’s discharge was made by the Colonial Secretary on 1 June 1871, shortly after the school arrived at Biloela as she was over eighteen. Newspaper reports however, indicated that LUCAS did not wait for this required permission to discharge Mary even though his decision seemed to have been justified by the letters. His April 1872 list recorded that Mary Jane was discharged on 1 June 1871,77 but this was not the case and his actions were seemingly not made with Mary Jane's best interest in mind. The local Newcastle newspaper reported that Mary McNEICL [sic] was released and had been left in Newcastle around the 26 May, after the transfer of the school to Biloela, and she was brought before the Newcastle Bench on 1 June for protection. The Newcastle Chronicle stated that
… her story was a singular one. It appears that her age exceeding eighteen years, she had been discharged from the Industrial School — whether at her own request or not we have been unable to ascertain — and finding herself thus thrown adrift on the world at large, not knowing what to do or where to go, she very wisely gave herself up to the police. She has stated that her friends reside at Goulburn, and that she has others in Sydney who will send her on there ; so, it is to be trusted that she will not only succeed in reaching her home, but will continue to act during the rest of her life as sensibly as she has done in the present instance.78
Mary Jane was subsequently put on board the steamer and taken to Sydney. The surname error initiated in the initial newspaper report was perpetuated in other newspapers and Mary Ann was erroneously referred to as Mary McNEIL79 or McNEILL.80 No girl named Mary McNEILL had ever been admitted to Newcastle. By early August Mary Jane had made her way to Wollongong where she was arrested for vagrancy and was sent to Wollongong gaol for seven days.81
Mary was married to Boy LOON,82 a Chinese gardener from Rushcutters Bay, by John Dunmore LANG, in Scott’s Church, Sydney, on 20 October 1873. She stated on the record that she was a spinster and that she had been born in Londonderry, Ireland. Her marriage registration identified her father as William McNEICE and her mother as Margaret Ann LOW. The witnesses were Buck (X) FAY and Jane Bush FAY. No children have been identified. The marriage does not appear to have lasted and it may be that Mary Jane was one of the unnamed girls from Biloela who was interviewed in the 'Chinese in the City' articles in the Sydney newspapers.83
From 1876, Mary Jane appeared often in the records of the Police Gazette and Goulburn gaol. On 4 October 1876, she was charged with vagrancy. Constable SMITH, the arresting officer stated:
I have seen her wandering about the streets during the past few weeks, and she has not to my knowledge any lawful, visible means of support; I am aware that she frequents the Chinamen’s lodging house; I have frequently found her cohabiting with the Chinese in a house in Clinton Street; several complaints have been made against her.
Mary Jane was found guilty and was sentenced to two months in gaol with hard labour. Further admissions to gaol follow in 1880, for being idle and disorderly, in 1884, for drunkenness and in March 1885, for vagrancy. It is likely that Mary Jane was the Mary Ann McNIECE arrested at Marulan for vagrancy in May 1884 and in this report she also was recorded with the alias of JOBSON.84 The March 1885 record documented the use of the alias of McLOUGHLAN85 so it is possible that she was the Mary Jane McLOUGHLIN who was imprisoned in Darlinghurst gaol in 1874. While this court case86 recorded that she was twenty-six, the gaol record documented her age as twenty-three.87 The admissions to Darlinghurst gaol of Mary Jane McLOUGHLAN commencing in 1870 are unlikely to refer to her as the first admission of this name occurred when Mary Jane was still in Newcastle but it may be that some of these early records refer to this girl. At one stage in 1880 Mary Jane was probably also recorded as Margaret McNEICE and was charged with drunkenness and sentenced to 48 hours in Goulburn gaol.88 Gaol records for Mary Jane in July 1885 noted that she had been certified as a lunatic and she was transferred to the 'Reception House' on 24 July 1885. Mary Jane almost without any doubt died in the Parramatta Asylum in 1895. Her death was registered at Parramatta as Mary J. McNEICE. There was no identification of either parent on the registration further suggesting an institutional death. She had never had children.
It is likely but unproven that Sarah was the child of William and Margaret McNEICE whose birth was registered as Susannah McNEICE as the parents and ages of these two girls match. This birth registration made in 186389 has been attributed to her. Sarah was recorded as six years old when she was arrested by senior constables FOLEY and WALKER of Goulburn Police together with her older sister, Eliza.90 Sarah appeared in court on 8 November 1869,91 under the Industrial School Act. The sisters arrived in Newcastle on 27 November 1869, after at least two earlier appearances in Goulburn Court. Sarah's name appeared in the missing section of the Entrance Book so no confirmation of family, religion or educational levels can be confirmed from this source. Her ancestry was confirmed when her sister, Mary Jane, wrote to her mother in 1871 and identified her two sisters who were also at the school.92
Sarah transferred with only her sister, Eliza, when the school moved to Biloela in May 1871. On 22 January 1872, their mother, Margaret, applied to have both girls released, and while LUCAS had no objection and described the girls as 'well-conducted', police reported that the family circumstances were unacceptable for their return93 so Margaret's petition was rejected. Sarah was recorded by LUCAS as ‘In the Institution’ in his list compiled in April 1872.94 He reported on 7 September 1874, that Sarah had been placed in the hospital suffering from gastric fever.95 She was still in hospital on the 9th,96 14th,97 21st,98 28th September99 and he reported that she still there on 5th, 12th,100 19th,101 and 26 October.102 She was still in the hospital on 2 November.103
Sarah was first apprenticed to Mr John104 LAWRENCE of Woollahra on 21 January 1875,105 after LAWRENCE had applied for an apprentice. She was apprenticed for six years and was to be paid a shilling a week for the first two years, two shillings a week for the second two years and three shillings a week for the final two years.106 On 9 December 1876, Sarah was readmitted after these indentures were cancelled.107 Further letters may exist explaining why this cancellation occurred and whether Sarah was at fault or whether the family's circumstances changed but none have yet been found. On 7 February 1880, a specific request was made to apprentice Sarah as a general servant by K. C. A. CUMMINGS of Woodlands, Darlington, on the Murrumbidgee River. CUMMINGS had been informed of Sarah's availability by his sister, Sister Mary Beatrice, when he had recently been in Sydney. He promised that Sarah would be 'away from all temptation there and no person would know where she came from'. Sarah was to be paid three shillings a week until she attained the age of 18.108 On 16 March 1880, Sarah was apprenticed to CUMMINGS for one year and nine months and she was recorded in the Biloela Discharge Book as having completed her indenture favourably.109
At the end of Sarah's apprenticeship at about the end of 1881, she had turned eighteen so would not have returned to the school. It is unknown whether she was re-engaged by the same or a nearby family as a servant. It is questionable whether after 11 years in the industrial schools and from the age of six, Sarah would have been able to remember much about her parents so may not have known many details of her ancestry.
Where has She Gone?
No trace of Sarah has been found with any surname from 1880. She may possibly have begun a relationship and assumed his surname or her marriage may not have been registered. Only her descendants, if any exist, will be able to identify the registrations that identify the name of any spouse.
Updated March 2016