Name Variations MEHAN, MEHEN1 alias HEWESTLER,2 alias Marion ALLSHORN, Emily Marion MAYNE, Emily Marion DICKISON, DICKINSON or DICKENSON
Father James MEEHAN or Robert MEEHAN b. unknown m. unknown d. unknown
Step-Father unknown CALLAGHAN or GALLAGHAN b. unknown m. unknown d. unknown
Step-Father Thomas HOLMES b. unknown m. 18533 d. unknown
Mother Ellen BRADY b. unknown m. (1) unknown (2) unknown (3) 1853 d. aft. 1871
Inmate Mary Ann MEEHAN b.c. 18534 m. (1) 1872 (2) 1882 (3) none (see below) d. 19275
Half-sister Ellen CALLAGHAN b.c. 18566 m. 18697 Robert HOY d. aft. 18998
Husband (1) George Henry Melville ALLSHORN b. 18299 m. 187210 d. 188211
Husband (2) John OLDHAM b.c. 184712 m. 188213 d. aft. 1902
Husband (3) Robert DICKISON b. unknown m. none d. 194314
Child unknown15 b. 1871 m. d. unknown
Son George Henry Melville ALLSHORN b. 1873 m. none - d. 1874
Son John Page OLDHAM b. 187916 m. none - d. 187917
Son Thomas Joseph (Joe) OLDHAM18 b. 188019 m. none - d. 190220
Son Charles Herbert Mason OLDHAM b. 188321 m. none - d. 188322
Son Edwin Charles Stratford OLDHAM b. 188623 m. 1929 Alice F. TILLACK d. 194624
Son Stanley John C. OLDHAM b. 188825 m. 1914 Emeline C. OLLEY d. 191926
Son Robert Bruce DICKISON b. 189227 m. 191028 Elizabeth Amy COTTER d. 191929
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Inmate Mary Ann 17 & 1830 4' 11" or 5' brown brown fair slight rather good-looking; thought to be dressed in a blue striped muslin skirt, black scarf, white petticoat, kid boots and a white bonnet trimmed with imitation pearls31
Half-Sister Ellen32 34 5' 4" brown blue fresh stout

Note Mary Ann MEEHAN was the most notorious girl admitted to the Newcastle institution and later to Biloela in Sydney. So many national newspaper reports concerning her and her exploits during the 1860s and 1870s exist that many have not been referenced. A verification of her ancestry has not yet been possible using either purchased registrations or online sources but there is no doubt as to her identity. It is hoped that one of the numerous letters concerning her located in the CSIL, will provide information that will positively identify or locate either her family or at least her mother, but to date none has been found. Attempts to contact Mary Ann's descendants have not been successful so if they read this it is hoped that they will contact the author.

Mary Ann MEEHAN was the second admission to the Newcastle Reformatory.33 She was arrested in May 1869 by Sub-inspector HARRISON of Newcastle police34 and was charged with theft. She appeared before the Police Magistrate, Helenus SCOTT in Newcastle on 29 May, charged with stealing a diamond ring worth ten pounds ten shillings from Herbert Edwin HOPKINSON, to whom she had been employed as a nursemaid for three or four days. Mary Ann was sentenced to three years in the Reformatory35 and she was probably admitted there immediately after her court appearance. The Newcastle Chronicle identified her surname as MEHEN and described her as a ‘young girl … thought to be under the age of fourteen years’. The paper attributed to her the alias of HEWESTLER and the report also suggested that she might have an aunt in the area.36 The Newcastle Reformatory Entrance Book has not survived so no family details can be identified from this record however, in the letter to the Colonial Secretary in August 1874, that identified the reformatory inmates admitted up to that date, Mary Ann's trial details were confirmed and the record further indicated that Mary Ann had been discharged from the Biloela Reformatory on 28 May 1872,37 after serving the full three years of her sentence.

Mary Ann's stay in the reformatories at Newcastle and later Biloela was turbulent. She challenged authorities almost constantly over her incarceration. Nearly three months after her admission, CLARKE, in his letter of 1 September 1869, reported to the Colonial Secretary that Mary Ann:

… was placed in solitary confinement and on a bread and water diet on Friday 27th and released on Sunday 29th August for insubordinate conduct towards the [Reformatory] Matron, Mrs King in having thrown a cup of water and a pound of bread at the door as Mrs King was retiring from the girls room.38

Five months later on the night of 14 February 1870, Mary Ann made her first escape from Newcastle disguised in clothing belonging to Agnes KING and her daughter, Mary Ann BARTON.39 The Maitland Mercury facetiously referred to Mary Ann as Miss MEHAN [sic]] when she was eventually captured by constable KING of the Newcastle Police. It is uncertain whether this was typical of the reporter or whether he had formerly reported on her exploits. Mary Ann was admitted to Maitland Gaol on 21 February to await her trial40 and subsequently again appeared in Newcastle Court41 charged with stealing KING's clothing where she was committed to appear at the next Quarter Sessions.42 The issue of the Maitland Mercury that would contain the report of the trial at the Quarter Sessions has not survived but the Maitland Gaol records indicate that she was found not guilty and she was returned to the reformatory on 12 May.43 The description books for Maitland Gaol in both 1870 and 1871 indicated that Mary Ann was a Protestant who had been born in Tamworth. The record further identified that she could read and write. The Maitland Gaol punishment records for May 1870 indicated that Mary Ann had been placed in the cells for three days for being noisy in her cell.44

Mary Ann was eventually returned to the Newcastle Reformatory where two months later, on 4 August 1870, she again absconded in company with the other reformatory inmates, Jane TAYLOR and Ellen YOUNGMAN. CLARKE's letter explained how their escape had been achieved.

I went to the Dormitory where the three girls should be and, found three forms made of blankets in the three beds, and the girls gone the forms were covered with quilts and looked like people in the beds. Upon further examination, the clothing that the girls had on was found in the paddock in front of the institution.
Mrs King stated that she locked up the girls in the dormitory about six o'clock but that she did not see Jane Taylor in the room, that the other two girls told Mrs King, Jane was under the bed, that it was only her fun, she would be out presently, Mrs King states that she locked the door and left the key in the lock – that she suspects that Jane Taylor was in another room and that she unlocked the door and let the other two out. I then went in search of them accompanied by two policemen we arrested them about two miles out of town and brought them back to the Institution about 12 o'clock on the same night from what the girls state Mrs King was right in suspecting Taylor but they all say that the door was not locked, that there was no key in it, it was only bolted …
Meehan is now undergoing punishment in solitary confinement and on bread and water diet … Meehan is sixteen she is not a bad hearted girl but very wild and easily led astray.

On the occasion of this escape, the three girls were assisted by George ALLSHORN an omnibus driver. CLARKE reported that: 'He took them out of town in an omnibus.' As a result ALLSHORN was brought before the Newcastle Court by CLARKE where he was charged with assisting in the escape of the trio and spent a month in Maitland Gaol as punishment.45 On 24 August, only a fortnight after this escape, Mary Ann made her third successful escape from the reformatory on an evening when Agnes KING was on leave and her daughter Mary Ann BARTON, was supervising the three reformatory girls. After this disappearance attempts were made by CLARKE to find Mary Ann and he rode to Maitland searching for her.46 She was described after this escape as being about sixteen of rather stout build with dark hair and was supposed to have been dressed in a Holland jacket and white straw mushroom hat. These clothes had again been stolen from employees of the school and probably belonged to either KING or BARTON as one of Mary Ann's responsibilities was to wash and iron the matron's clothing.47 CLARKE's letter, written on 14 September, confirmed that Mary Ann was still at large.48 The report of her arrest by constable SCULLY at Radfordsleigh,49 or Radfordslee50 north of Black Creek (now Branxton) and on the same side of the Hunter River, opposite the town of Elderslie, appeared in both the Maitland Mercury on 24 September 1870, and the Police Gazette.51

After her arrest Mary Ann declared that she had facilitated this latest escape by chopping through the wall with an axe. CLARKE's communications indicated that this was almost certainly the case as he reported to the Colonial Secretary that her escape 'was effected by cutting a hole in the iron fence that forms the back boundary wall of that Institution.' In a further report to the Colonial Secretary concerning the reformatory, written on 29 December 1870, CLARKE described Mary Ann as 'very troublesome'.52

A fourth escape53 on 14 April 1871, occurred in company with two industrial school girls, Lucy AH KIN and Annie HOWARD, who are thought to have been temporarily isolated in the reformatory buildings due to individual impending court appearances.54 The three girls remained at large for a week living in a deserted hut on the Minmi Creek between Minmi and Teralba.55 They were concealed by three men, only one of whom, Thomas HAFEY, has been identified. Constable LEONARD of Wallsend Police arrested HAFEY and the three girls.56 On 20 April 1871, Annie and Mary Ann were charged with destroying Government property57 but at their subsequent appearance on 22 April, this charge was withdrawn. Annie was returned to the school and Mary Ann was immediately charged with absconding. She was again imprisoned in Maitland Gaol for three months because she declared that she would escape again if she was returned to the school.58 HAFEY subsequently received one month in Maitland Gaol for concealing an absconder59 and he and MEEHAN are recorded together in the Maitland Gaol records for this period.60 None of the other girls appear to have received any punishment and none are recorded in the Maitland Gaol records.

When the Newcastle Reformatory closed in May 1871, it was intended that Mary Ann transfer to the Reformatory section of Biloela on Cockatoo Island but because she was still completing her sentence in Maitland Gaol she arrived, not with the girls who made the first transfer in May, but on 25 August, some weeks after the arrival of the other inmates.61 After her readmission and at KING's request, Mary Ann was assessed by the visiting school doctor, Owen Spencer EVANS. On Friday 1 September, about a week after her arrival Mary Ann threatened to drown herself in the harbour. She was again visited by EVANS who assessed her using phrenology, the then popular but now discredited and faulty science of character divination.62 EVANS stated that:

Mary Ann Meehan has a morose expression combined with cunning, a low degree of intelligence, a quick impulsive temper; when raised violent and almost maniacal – her head presents a low development of the intellectual and moral faculties – lack of early control or restraint has tended no doubt to make her temper more difficult to manage. I think she is able to distinguish right from wrong and responsible for her actions and that the eccentricities of demeanour are put on for effect. I do not consider Mary Ann Meehan a proper subject for treatment in a lunatic asylum.

On 16 September 1871,63 nearly a month after her readmission, and with escape opportunities severely restricted, Mary Ann attempted to burn down the door of the dormitory of the reformatory at Biloela.64 She shared the room with Elizabeth RANDALL, Jane TAYLOR, Louisa WINTER and one other unnamed girl who could only have been Louisa BELLINGHAM.65 RANDALL stated that between 1 and 2 o'clock on Saturday morning, using matches supplied by WINTER, Mary Ann set the fire using some straw and stringybark from her bed. During the court appearance Mary Ann further accused WINTER of bringing a saw and an axe into the dormitory and the paper did not report whether WINTER denied this accusation. TAYLOR stated that she was going to call out for assistance but didn’t because Mary Ann had threatened to gag her with an apron if she tried. TAYLOR also declared that Mary Ann and Louisa had intended to abscond and that both were already dressed when the fire was lit. Mary Ann denied that she was planning an escape, declaring instead that WINTER and RANDALL had made the plan. The reformatory matron KING and superintendent George LUCAS, attended Mary Ann's trial66 where KING gave evidence that Mary Ann had admitted setting the fire. LUCAS stated that when he had arrived in the dormitory Mary Ann was beating the charred door with the leg of a bedstead and WINTER67 was making a 'great noise.'

Mary Ann was charged with attempted arson but she denied the charge and pleaded not guilty. She was unrepresented in court and chose to defend herself. Her skill in questioning was commended by the Judge, directly contradicting the phrenological assessment of her intellect recorded by EVANS some weeks previously.68 Mary Ann's detailed statement made during her summing up in court recounted a harrowing story of her time in the reformatories of Newcastle and Biloela. The Empire contains the best summary of Mary Ann's trial and it is quoted here. It must be considered that Mary Ann's account is not chronological. It represents her perspective and presents a sanitised version of her admission to Newcastle.69 It makes poignant reading but it doesn’t accurately reflect the charges for which she was initially admitted to the Newcastle Reformatory and letters from CLARKE indicate that Mary Ann had been given many chances. It does however reflect the frustration she, and probably many others, felt with the system. Attempts to curb her rebelliousness must have been soul-destroying for her.

[Mary Ann who] is endowed with a remarkable degree of oratorical facility, cross-examined the witnesses with an astonishing display of forensic ability, and endeavoured to insinuate, by the course she adopted in regard to their testimony, that the attempted firing of the premises was the result of a conspiracy, in which all the girls participated, and therefore, they should share the penalty. In point of fact, this was the leading point of a very lengthened and plausible address to the Court, and which was artfully intermingled with a harrowing description of the treatment she had undergone at the old Reformatory at Newcastle, where, she alleged – even when she was over age, and therefore, in her opinion, could not be legally detained, although she had been sentenced to serve three years at the establishment – her hair had been violently cut by Captain Clarke and Mrs. Barton, under circumstances of great brutality. She also added that she had often been led to believe that if she conducted herself well for certain periods, she should have her liberty ; but these hopes had not been fulfilled, and hence she made up her mind to escape; for if she failed in the attempt, even the gaol was preferable to the reformatory. … She was willing and able to get her own living – as Mrs. King well knew, for she had done Mrs. King's washing and ironing for two years. She had been sent to gaol for six months by Judge Dowling, and she was willing to serve the remainder of her time in gaol. There was justice in the gaols, but none in the schools. She had been driven to do what was not good by being kept in the reformatory as the confinement there was more than she could bear. She hoped his Honor would take these circumstances into consideration, as she had nothing more to say.70

The Judge expressed pain concerning Mary Ann's statement and voiced his concerns about the reformatory system. The jury foreman, Mr B. COCKS, when pronouncing Mary Ann's guilt, recommended mercy as the entire jury:

… had felt the case most acutely, and … felt acutely for [her and] … [two members] were willing to find her some employment, whereby she might not only earn her living, but by the intelligence which she seemed to possess be enabled to make for herself a position which would be creditable to her and to those who took her under their charge.

Although the jury stated that they believed that all the reformatory girls had been involved in the incident, no newspaper reports of any trials for the other girls have been located. The judge stated that he wished to consider a point of law71 that may be in Mary Ann’s favour but added that he had inquired about her and 'what he had heard might modify the opinions of the jury. He considered that, if his inquiry proved correct and turned out as he anticipated, he should not feel the same compassion as he did now.' His final comment72 implied that Mary Ann had delivered a child prior to her court appearance and that her mother was caring for this baby. Mary Ann denied all knowledge of any child and no registrations or evidence have yet been found of any birth. This event may possibly have occurred while Mary Ann was in Maitland Gaol in April 1871 although no evidence of this child appears in any gaol record found to date. Hopefully more information will be found in the CSIL or in the Maitland Gaol letter book for this period which has not yet been read.

Eventually Mary Ann pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of attempting to burn down a dwelling house and was sentenced to six months with hard labour in Darlinghurst Gaol. The gaoler's report during her incarceration identified that she had been punished on two occasions – firstly for being noisy and in a further incident, for fighting with another inmate.73 On Mary Ann's release from Darlinghurst in May 1872, she was described as a native of Maitland and born in 1853, a contradiction to previous Maitland Gaol admission records which had identified Tamworth. Her sentence was to have expired on 22 May 1872,74 one week before the date that her three years in the Reformatory would also expire75 so it may be that the court took into account her objections to her treatment under the reformatory system and ensured that there was no return to Biloela.

Mary Ann was released from Darlinghurst Gaol two weeks early, on 6 May 1872. The remainder of her sentence of 14 days was remitted due to the intervention of Mr COCKS who had been the foreman on her jury. COCKS had arranged that she be released into the service of Madame DELSARTE in Sydney as he stressed to the Colonial Secretary that this opportunity was her 'best (or only) chance of an altered life'.76 The opportunity provided by COCKS was short-lived as Mary Ann didn't remain long in Sydney. About ten weeks later, on 24 July 1872, at the Registrar's Office in Newcastle, Mary Ann married George Henry Melville ALLSHORN – the man who had assisted her in her second escape from the Newcastle Reformatory. This registration was indexed again on the NSW BDM Index under the names Georgertt M. ALLSHORN and Mary Ann WEELAN so the handwriting on the original must be difficult to read. George gave his age as thirty-two and it is thought that this error was deliberate as he was actually 43, about 24 years older than Mary Ann. He had been described as a seaman in 1868 and was recorded as a mariner on the marriage registration. Mary Ann was recorded as nineteen and permission for her to marry had been provided by her guardian Ellen HOLMES. Mary Ann's parents were identified on the registration as James MEEHAN and Ellen BRADY. It is considered that Mary Ann had no reason to lie about her age or ancestry at this point in her life so this record is believed to be the most accurate information available for her. The witnesses to the marriage were Alex KIRKALDY and Ellen (X) HOY.

George ALLSHORN had probably first arrived in South Australia as the SA Register of 1854 recorded that an uncollected letter for G. H. ALLSHORN was available for collection.77 On 25 November 1868, the Hawkes Bay Weekly Times quoting from the Newcastle Pilot, reported an attempt by George to commit suicide. At this time he was living in Blane [now Hunter] Street and likely still had not met Mary Ann.78 Newcastle Court appearances also showed that George appeared there under the surnames ALLSHORN and ALSHORN.79

Mary Ann and George had one child, a son who was born in 1873 in Newcastle. This boy died in Newcastle the following year. It seems likely that it was from about 1873 that Mary Ann's marriage began to fail. Darlinghurst Gaol records almost certainly show that she was admitted there in 1873 as Mary MEEHAN. Although Mary Ann was married by this date and gaol records identified that this admission's year of birth was 1859, this is believed to be her as statements by Mary Ann had variable accuracy, Darlinghurst Gaol records for this period are sketchy and the provided birth location of Maitland was the most recently provided location of the two identified for her birth.80 In December 1874, sometime after this imprisonment, George appeared in court charged with using threatening language towards Mary Ann.81 George appeared in Newcastle court in June 187582 and April 187683 but it is not believed that Mary Ann was with him by these dates. She had moved to Sydney by at least 1879, as this was the year of the birth of her first child to John OLDHAM. George was the fifty-three-year-old Sydney resident who was being treated in the Sydney Infirmary in December 188084 and his death was recorded on the NSW BDM Index as George ALLSHOM in Sydney on 18 August 1882.85 In 1892, his brother, William,86 placed a lost relatives advertisement searching for him and his sisters, Emma GOUGH and Maria, so at least three members of the ALLSHORN family travelled to Australia.

Tracing Mary Ann after she left George ALLSHORN becomes very complex due to changes in both her given name and surname but there is little doubt about what happened to her. There is considerable evidence to suggest that Mary Ann would have been very keen to hide her past. The circumstances and results of her arson trial in 1871 had been reported in papers across the country and her earlier escapes from Newcastle had also produced sensational accounts. Her name was known and so she contrived to effectively disappear.

By about 1878, while she was still married to George ALLSHORN, Mary Ann commenced a relationship in Sydney with John OLDHAM. Birth registrations on the NSW BDM Index cannot easily identify her as Mary Ann because she assumed the given names Emily Marion. These first OLDHAM children were illegitimate as John and Mary Ann did not marry until after ALLSHORN died in 1882. Sufficient name inconsistencies appear in the various records connected to Emily Marion to show that the two names referred to the same woman. Mostly names were recorded as Emily M. or Emily Marion but some are recorded just as Marion or Marian. Later in her life Mary Ann adopted the use of just her initials. Whether her descendants ever knew the truth of her life cannot be discovered but it is thought that this was unlikely. It is however likely that John OLDHAM was aware that Mary Ann was already married when their relationship began and that he perhaps knew who she was.

It is significant that on 5 September 1882, just over a fortnight after George ALLSHORN died, the marriage87 of Marion ALLSHORN and John OLDHAM occurred in Sydney. Because this marriage was recorded under Mary Ann's married surname the connection to George ALLSHORN remains and she was doing what was appropriate. Details on this marriage registration are believed to be mostly fabrications but the marriage registration has not yet been viewed. Online queries identify that on the registration Mary Ann stated that her maiden surname was MAYNE,88 a similarly pronounced surname to MEEHAN with an adjustment of the spelling. This may not have been a deliberate deception. Other queries also suggest that no parents were written on the record as researchers have also found identifying John's parents problematic.89 Mary Ann identified her place of birth as Tamworth and it is likely that she correctly stated that she was a widow. Some online sources however inexplicably state that the OLDHAM marriage had occurred in Newcastle on 24 July 1872,90 even though this was the date identified on the NSW BDM Index as that of the MEEHAN/ALLSHORN marriage. It may be that this date was recorded on birth registrations for the OLDHAM children. Yet another descendant has identified that Mary Ann was the daughter of George and Mary Ann ALLSHORN so it is clear that there is some difficulty in accurately identifying her. A lack of identification may be a further clue to a change of identity.

From 1879, the NSW BDM Index recorded birth and death registrations for children of John and Emily Marion OLDHAM usually recorded as Emily M., in Paddington. In 1880 Sands Directory recorded that John was a warehouseman living in Lodge Street, Glebe. The NSW BDM Index for the death of (Edwin) Charles OLDHAM in 1946 recorded that his mother was Marion. Emily was almost certainly the woman who had been leasing the shop in Balmain in about 1886.91 Between 1886 and 1890 John was confirmed as the caretaker of the Balmain School of Arts at 148 Darling Street, Balmain,92 but at least as early as October 1887 the marriage to John OLDHAM began to fail and John left his family. Mary Ann, recorded as Marion, went to the police and charged him with desertion.

Balmain. A warrant has been issued by the Balmain Bench for the arrest of John Oldham, charged with unlawfully deserting his wife, Marion, at Balmain, leaving her without means of support. Offender is about 40 years of age, tall and thin, fair complexion, sunburnt, fair moustache, no whiskers; has been a seaman; recently employed as a salesman at Bloomfield's store in Sussex-street, Sydney. Complainant resides at School of Arts, Balmain.93

John was soon arrested94 but despite the births of other children, it cannot be verified that the couple reconciled. By the early 1890s John and Mary Ann had separated and it must be considered that John never returned to Mary Ann in 1897. The unusual given name of Stratford, given to Mary Ann's son Edwin Charles Stratford OLDHAM, known as Charles OLDHAM, who had been born in 1886 bears an uncanny resemblance to the middle name of Mary Ann's friend, the American, Alfred Sandford95 LEMAIRE. The In Memoriam notices for LEMAIRE which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1898 and 1899, were placed by Mary Ann, using the name E. M. DICKISON96 and describing herself as a friend.97 This connection is still being investigated.

No definite report of John OLDHAM has been confirmed after 1887 but it is believed that he was alive in 1902 when it was reported that he was a captain in the Salvation Army and that he had left Sydney for Tasmania.98 John was described as a seaman when Stanley OLDHAM married in 1914 and this record stated that he was dead.99 Some descendants suggest that John died in Parramatta in February 1926. This death registration recorded the death of an unmarried, seventy-eight-year-old man in the Parramatta Mental Hospital who was buried in the Church of England Cemetery, Rookwood. Most information on the registration was recorded as unknown.100 While it is possible that this was Mary Ann's husband as the age and religion are appropriate, this cannot be confirmed using just the death registration. Admission records to Parramatta Asylum may assist. Other descendants do not accept or confirm this death for this reason and it may be that John died outside the state of NSW or at sea.

At some time about 1890 Mary Ann began a relationship with Robert DICKISON. No marriage for the couple has been identified and it is believed that they never married. In about 1890 Robert and Mary Ann had a son who they named Robert Bruce DICKISON. No verification of his birth has been found. On 21 October 1894, they may also have been the parents to a still-born daughter.101 Robert's given name was confirmed in 1910 when Robert Bruce DICKISON married but he was also linked to Mary Ann in a court report from September 1892 when she was charged with not paying rent on the property Choriokepos. In this report Mary Ann was recorded only as Mrs E. DICKISON.102 It is from about this time that Mary Ann began to identify herself in newspapers as either E. M. OLDHAM or E. M. DICKISON or any of its variations, rather than with a specific given name. It is only in court appearances that given names appear.

As E. M. OLDHAM, Mary Ann was recorded in 1893 and 1895 in Sands Street Index and Sands Directory living at 338 Campbell Street, Sydney, which was a separate property to Choriokepos at 27 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Sands Directory recorded that Mary Ann was at this property in 1902, 1903 and 1904, but by 1905 she was recorded with this address as well as possibly at a property at 15 Foveaux Street as E. N. OLDHAM. In November 1897, Emily Marion DICKINSON appeared in the Sydney Quarter Sessions charged with keeping a brothel.103 Most reports identified her as DICKENSON.104 Her case was postponed until December and she was bailed. Mary Ann was tried at the Metropolitan Quarter Sessions on 10 December 1897,105 charged with keeping a common, ill-governed and disorderly house. At her trial many neighbours gave evidence that nothing untoward had occurred in the property.106 The jury could not agree and she spent one night in Darlinghurst before being released. This appearance seems to be the only time when Mary Ann fell foul of the law.

Robert DICKISON was a licensed horse trainer107 and was almost certainly the Robert Benjamin DICKISON who had both a brother and grandmother living in Balmain from at least 1893.108 As R. B. DICKISON he raced the successful race horse Kalingo and there is little doubt that as Mrs E. M. DICKISON, Mary Ann owned at least one race horse, a brown gelding named Little King which she raced from at least 1896.109 The relationship with Mary Ann did not last but when it ended is unknown. In 1909 Robert married Anne HAYTER, the widow of Sidney Felix KELLY. Robert and Anne moved to Leeton where she died in 1843. Robert returned to Manly where he died as Robert Benjamin DICKISON in April110 1943.111

Mary Ann retained the surname DICKISON at least until 1902 and this surname was confirmed in Family Notices when her son Thomas was killed in South Africa. The NSW BDM Index registered the death of Thomas Joseph aka Joe OLDHAM in Sydney with other casualties of the Boer War. Thomas was Private T. J. OLDHAM No. 2234 who served with the 3rd NSW Imperial Bushmen. The first Funeral Notice yet found appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 January 1902.

OLDHAM.—December 13, killed in action, at Vicanz (South Africa), Thomas Joseph (Joe) Oldham, of No. 3 N.S.W. Bushmen. Inserted by his grief-stricken mother, Mrs. E. M. Dickison, Elizabeth-street, city.112

Thomas is believed to also have been recorded as Orderly Thomas Joseph OLDHAM who served with the Imperial Hospital Corps113 as one of the sixteen In Memoriam notices that appear in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 December 1902, was from his 'comrade', Jack Ellis, from the Army Medical Corps. The most poignant was from his mother that in part stated:

Trooper T. J. Oldham (Joe), of the 3rd N. S. Wales Bushmen, Colonel Williams's fighting column; killed in action at De Witte Kranz, South Africa, December 13, 1901, after a night march, and while bravely capturing a large gun from the Boers. Buried with all military honours. Aged 21 years.114

In September 1902 as Marion OLDHAM, Mary Ann went to a solicitor to file for a divorce from John OLDHAM who she stated had left NSW for Tasmania around this time.115 Mary Ann declared that the papers were never served so she took the lawyer to court. She gave evidence that the decree was never presented to court but her former lawyer disagreed stating that he had refunded Mary Ann's money as he 'wanted no further trouble in the matter, preferring to lose what he was justly entitled to rather than be put to the bother of answering the wild charges Mrs. Oldham had threatened to bring against him.'116 This state of affairs was confirmed as no record of any divorce can be found on the SRNSW site. Court evidence given by Constable NUTLEY at this time confirmed that Mary Ann used the alias of DICKISON and its variations and he stated that had known her for years as Marion OLDHAM when she operated a 'house of evil repute' named Maybrook House, another name for Choriokepos at 27 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Advertisements for Maybrook House do suggest that it was a boarding house.117 A conversation between NUTLEY and Mary Ann recorded in the newspaper report was telling.

[Nutley] said, "You are foolish to stay, and will be starved out in the long run." [Mary Ann] then started to tell him her troubles, and said that the police ought not to be too hard on her, as her husband had not supported her for years.
"Do you know him?" she asked, and he replied, "I never knew you had one alive."

Not only does this appearance identify the difficulties of survival experienced by widowed or separated women but the exchange also alluded to the relationships that Mary Ann had had. It perhaps also confirmed that the relationship with Robert DICKISON had ended by 1902. By this stage Mary Ann was sufficiently well-off enough to employ servants and advertise extensively but at least one scandalous incident did occur at her property when one of her boarders attempted to kill himself. Of the incident it was stated that:

Emily Marian Dickson [sic], married woman, living at 27 Elizabeth-street, Sydney, who gave her evidence with a good deal of emotion, stated that the accused resided at her place for the past twelve months. This morning, about 1 o'clock, he had a dispute with her, and ran to the kitchen for a carving knife, he did not get it, and rushed up to her bedroom shouting that he was going to take his life — that he was about to cut his throat. She followed him, and heard some glass breaking, and then struggled with him while he was sawing at his throat with a broken glass. She screamed to her servants, but Johnson had locked the door on himself and her, and they could not get in. She shouted at them to smash the door, and they did so, but still could not get in. She screamed out that she was locked in with a madman, and called for the police, and after a time, that seemed to be for hours, the police came a little after 3 o'clock a.m. She added that Johnson was very violent when drinking.118

When Mary Ann's son Robert Bruce DICKISON married in 1910, as Emily Marion OLDHAM, Mary Ann gave permission for Robert to marry as he was recorded as only 20. As Emily Marion MAYNE, she was confirmed as his mother and his father was confirmed as Robert DICKISON.119 It may be that Robert was even younger than 20. Descendants have not identified a birth for him but it is considered very likely, although the registration has not been viewed, that his birth was registered in 1892 in Balmain as Robert L. DICKSON. His parents were recorded on the NSW BDM Index as Robert J. and Teresa E. O. DICKSON120 A set of twins were born to this couple the following year. There were many Funeral Notices for Robert Bruce DICKISON after he died in the Spanish 'Flu outbreak of 1919.121

Mary Ann was living at 58 Battery Road, Clovelly, between 1923 and 1927, the year of her death. She remained listed in Sands until 1929. It is unknown whether Mrs E. M. OLDHAM and Mrs. E. OLDHAM also shown in Sands Directory were the same person. Emily Marion OLDHAM died in Waverley on 22 June 1927, at the age of seventy-six. This age puts her birth as 1851 which is an extremely good match for what is known of Mary Ann MEEHAN. Her father was recorded on the registration as Hugh MAYNE, which was an interesting statement considering the as yet unidentified alias of HEWESTER attributed to her in 1869. The registration also recorded that she had been the mother to 12 sons and eleven of them had predeceased her. The informant was her surviving son Edwin.122 To date only seven of these boys have been identified. Mary Ann was buried with her son, Stanley,123 in the Catholic section of Waverley Cemetery on 24 June 1927.124 A headstone was erected for Stanley John C. OLDHAM, who died on 16 June 1919, at the age of 31125 but Mary Ann's name does not appear on the stone.

Note It is interesting but believed to be coincidence that a Mrs Mary Ann OLDHAM was a resident in Lambton, Newcastle, when she appeared as a witness in Lambton court on two occasions in 1892 and 1894.126 It is unknown whether these appearances refer to Mary Ann and although it is possible it is becoming increasingly unlikely.


Mary Ann MEEHAN's family has not been identified. She had been born in either Maitland or Tamworth in about 1853. There is no appropriate baptism for her under the name MEEHAN or MAYNE or any of the possible variations. There is no baptism for a Mary or a Marion with a surname beginning with 'M' that might match. There is little doubt about this year of birth because Mary Ann had required permission from her mother to marry in 1872 so she was not 21 then. Additionally Mary Ann stated in 1871 that her mother had lied about her age in 1869 when she had been admitted to the Newcastle Reformatory because she believed that admitting Mary Ann would be a good thing.

I was three months over sixteen when I was sentenced.

Where Mary Ann had been born cannot be identified. On her two marriage registrations she identified a different location and those locations were also consistently recorded in the NSW gaol records. Whether Tamworth or Maitland is correct may only be possible once her parents are located. It may be that her discovery of her actual birth location came after 1872 and this could therefore explain why there are different birth locations attributed to her. It is equally possible that a birth in Tamworth was contrived to deflect the publicity generated by her away from extended family so an association with the newspaper reports was more difficult to make.

What is relatively certain is that Mary Ann likely grew up in Maitland. Two escapes from the Newcastle Reformatory were made to the West Maitland area – specifically Rutherford and Branxton and more likely to the property called Radsfordlee127 north of Branxton. The escape in September 1870 resulted in an arrest by constable SCULLY at Radfordsleigh [sic].128 Radfordslee is north of Black Creek [now Branxton] and on the same side of the Hunter River opposite the town of Elderslie. The Empire on 27 July 1861, located Radfordslee.

Containing about 2000 ACRES, having about one mile frontage to the Hunter River, close to the township of Black Creek, about one mile from the Railway Station, on the Maitland and Singleton line, and about fifteen miles from West Maitland, together with all the valuable improvements.129

Mary Ann's 1872 marriage registration to George ALSHORN, which is considered to be the most accurate information about her, identified that her parents were James MEEHAN and Ellen BRADY. While these names are thought to be correct, the location of neither James nor Ellen has been confirmed in any other record yet found. Neither were recorded as dead on the registration and while it is uncertain whether her mother was present when she married, newspaper reports stated that Ellen was still alive. Consent for the marriage had been provided by Mary Ann's guardian, Ellen HOLMES and it is unusual that she was identified as a guardian rather than a mother, if that was what she was. The witnesses to the marriage were Alex KIRKALDY and Ellen HOY. There were two women named Ellen HOY in the Newcastle area around this time with vastly different ages. It is possible that one of these women may have been the witness and may be either Mary Ann's sister or perhaps her half-sister. Alex or Alexander KIRKALDY was from a well-known Newcastle family as he was the brother of Agnes KIRKALDY the wife of John WOOD, who owned the Newcastle Wood's Brewery. KIRKALDY was a publican with the licence for well-known Newcastle hotels, such as the Clarendon.130 The HVPRI has been searched for possible references to all the people named on the marriage but nothing yet located has been possible to accurately attributed to them.

No identification of Mary Ann's mother, Ellen BRADY, has yet been confirmed. In 1871 Mary Ann confirmed that her mother was a resident of Newcastle. If Ellen was present when Mary Ann married she cannot be identified as any of the women recorded there as Ellen. There is nothing yet found about Ellen in letters connected to Mary Ann in the CSIL.

Tracing Ellen BRADY, Ellen HOY and Ellen HOLMES is complex and ongoing. Whether Ellen HOY or Ellen HOLMES was Ellen BRADY is currently unknown. The only marriage of an Ellen to a HOLMES occurred in 1853 in Sydney but this record is yet to be viewed. It is unknown whether it is connected. All references to these names on the HVPRI have been recorded and there are not clear connections between them.

It may be that Ellen HOLMES was the wife of Henry HOLMES. Although no link to Newcastle as a residence for this couple has been found and the couple lived in Sydney, online trees record that their children were born across the state and that the couple were married on the property Oakendale on the Williams River on 19 September 1843.

It is believed that Ellen HOY was the widow who was living in Newcastle by at least as early as 1865.131 She was a resident of Watt Street, Newcastle in June 1869.132 It is considered very likely that this was the same woman who was giving evidence in a case involving land in Bolton Street, Newcastle, in October 1878. Ellen HOY had known the land for 'about twenty years'.133 It is likely that this woman died in Newcastle in 1887.134 The online index for Sandgate Cemetery for her burial recorded her only as Mrs HAY [sic]. She was buried in the Catholic 1 part of Sandgate Cemetery in section B.COMM Lot 133. Whether there are others buried in this location is yet to be discovered.

It is perhaps possible that the witness, Ellen HOY, was a sister or half-sister of Mary Ann. Gaol records from 1890 indicated that this Ellen HOY was a Catholic who had been born in Newcastle and who was three years younger than Mary Ann. She was reported to be thirty-four when she appeared in Newcastle Court charged with drunkenness on 17 March 1890.135 Ellen also appeared on at least one earlier occasion on 12 September 1894, also charged with drunkenness.136

Ellen CALLAGHAN married Robert HAY in Newcastle in 1869 and this woman has not yet been successfully traced before this date. It may be that she was the witness and the name HAY simply a transcription error for HOY.

Whether Ann HOY aka CUNNINGHAM, born in 1858137 is a half-sister is uncertain. Ann married William Francis CAREY in 1879138 and she died in 1938. Ann had been born in Newcastle in 1858 in Newcastle to the illegitimate child named Ann HOY.139 The HVPRI will be searched to see if there is any record of a baptism for Ann.

All that is known of James MEEHAN was that Mary Ann's 1872 marriage identified that he was a mariner. There is no indication that any of the following men were Mary Ann's father but they are listed here to avoid replicating the research.

1. A James MEEHAN with a wife named Bridget appeared as baptism sponsors in the HVPRI. Little is known of this man or whether he may be one of the men outlined here. A large number of MEEHANs lived around the Branxton area. It is possible that Bridget died and Mary Ann was the result of a relationship between James and an Ellen BRADY.

2. The James MEEHAN who was tried at Armidale when Mary Ann would have been about six years of age is still under investigation140 and further follow-up of people named MEEHAN in Armidale Gaol may also be valuable. The marriage of James MEEHAN and Fanny MARTIN in Tenterfield in 1859141 occurred north of Tamworth, an area identified as her place of birth by Mary Ann in some records. Only one child was registered to this couple.

3. Free Settler or Felon identified a convict named James MEEHAN who had been residing in Maitland in June 1832 and who had arrived on the Sir Godfrey Webster in 1826. An Application to Marry was refused. The actual application was under the name John MEEHAN so further investigations must be undertaken to see whether a transcription error has been made on Free Settler or Felon or a change of name was made by the applicant when he married.

4. James MEENAN was in the Singleton area of the Hunter Valley but is considered unlikely not only because of the spelling of his surname but because of his final location in Bathurst. James was admitted to Bathurst Gaol on 13 January 1864, after a trial at Hartley for cattle stealing. He was reported in the NSW Police Gazette as James MEEHAN probably because of the similarity of the pronunciation of the surnames. He had been sentenced to five years on the roads, had arrived on the St Vincent in 1837 and was on a bond. The St Vincent was a convict transport that had arrived in Sydney on 5 January 1837.142 James was shown on the indent as a blacksmith's apprentice from Londonderry. On arrival James had been sent to work for Colin McLEOD of Patrick's Plains.143 After his imprisonment in Bathurst, James was transferred to Darlinghurst Gaol for three years hard labour in May 1864.144 He had been born in Ireland in about 1818. James died in the gaol hospital at Darlinghurst on 12 June 1864145 and an inquest was held.146 Online trees identified that he married Mary SAUNDERS under the name of James MINAN.147 Children were registered to the couple as MEENAN near Bathurst from 1854.

5. James was not the James MEEHAN who was imprisoned in Newcastle Gaol in 1840. This man had been tried for assault in Windsor Quarter Sessions on 14 May 1840, and had been sentenced to twelve calendar months. He went by the name of 'one hand Jemmy'148 and had arrived on the Morley. He stated that he was free but he had actually been transported. James had returned to Windsor by December 1841 when he appeared as a witness when 'considerable merriment was occasioned in Court on the examination of James Meehan, better known in Windsor by the appellation (as he gave it himself) of "one arm'd Jemmie", and a lady named Eather [Esther], neither of whom were at all daunted by the examination of the learned gentleman, although it was of a most searching description.'149 There is little doubt that this man died in Windsor Gaol in September 1842150 but the Windsor Gaol records and associated descriptions for this period have not located this man's admission.

6. It is considered unlikely that the marriage of Ellen RYAN and James MEEHAN in Ipswich, Queensland, is connected to Mary Ann as online trees indicate that both James and Ellen died in Queensland.

To date one relative or close family friend of Mary Ann has been located but a connection had not yet been identified. Two intriguing notices appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and referred to the death of James WILSON in 1915. The Funeral Notice and the In Memoriam notices inserted by Mrs E. M. OLDHAM on 1 October 1915 and 29 September 1916, respectfully, will hopefully be a breakthrough into the identitfication of Mary Ann's family. The notices read:

WILSON. – The Friends of Mrs. E. M. OLDHAM and FAMILY, of The Abbey, Johnston-street, Annandale, are respectfully invited to attend the Funeral of JAMES WILSON, formerly of Newcastle; to leave our Mortuary Chapel, 810 George-street, city, THIS (FRIDAY) MORNING, at 9.15 o'clock for Catholic Cemetery, Rookwood.
WILSON. – A sacred tribute of affection to the memory of James Wilson (daddy), many years resident of Nobbys-road, Newcastle, who died at The Abbey, Johnston-street, Annandale, September 29, 1915. Inserted by his niece, E. M. Oldham and family.151

James WILSON is almost without any doubt Mary Ann's relative because of his original location of Newcastle. The likelihood of him being a connection to any of her husbands or partners who were either immigrants or based in Sydney is very remote. WILSON's death was registered in Annandale. He was 96 years old. He had been born in about 1820 and had been in NSW for over 70 years. He was a waterman who had formerly been a sailor. He had one son, James who was 60 and had married his wife Jane in Newcastle.152 WILSON was buried in the Catholic Cemetery Rookwood. No other person shares his grave.153

It is unknown how Mary Ann acquired the alias of HEWESTLER but, considering her age at the time of her admission to the reformatory, it is thought that this was an alias by association. It is therefore likely that HEWESTLER was the name of the man with whom her mother or perhaps guardian lived at the time, or who she had married. When Mary Ann died in 1927 her father was recorded as Hugh. Based on the 1869 alias of HEWESTLER, two potential deaths are being investigated.

The death of Hugh MACAMINSTER at the age of 70 at Tambaroora in 1865 (NSW Death: 5987/1865) and the death of Hugh ROSTERN at the age of 60 at Patrick's Plains, also in 1865 (NSW Death: 5422/1865) It is believed to be unlikely that this surname was Mary Ann's surname at birth. More connections may be found once all the Newcastle papers are scanned and corrected. Free Settler or Felon disclosed only Hugh BRESLAW who may be worth considering as the origin of Mary Ann's alias. BRESLAW died in 1856154 so it is considered highly unlikely that his name would still have been used as an alias in 1869.

It is probable that what follows is irrelevant but until Mary Ann's mother can be located it may be that these elimination records may be connected.

The only baptism of a Mary A. MEEHAN was on 4 November 1852. She had been baptized on 6 December 1852, by Rev. John E. GOURBEILLIAN at St James Roman Catholic church, county Cumberland. This girl's parents were recorded as William MEEHAN and Margaret GLANCEY. While the baptism matched Mary Ann's stated age well it is unlikely because Mary Ann MEEHAN was recorded in gaol records as a Protestant. Mary Ann stated that she had been born in either Maitland or Tamworth and this baptism occurred in Sydney making this record even less likely. There has been no marriage for these parents found in NSW nor any confirmation of a death for William. The William MEEHAN who died in 1857 was about 39 with a son named Patrick and a brother named Daniel and lived in Sydney but his wife was named Ellen. Margaret’s surname is unusual and it is possible that there was a connection between her and Bridget GLANCEY, the mother of Anna GREENFIELD. Margaret (X) MEEHAN of Maitland and John (X) GALLAGHER of the Williams River, both Catholic, were married in the Catholic Church at Maitland by J. LYNCH on 14 January 1856. The witnesses were Patrick and Bridget CLEARY.155 It is interesting to note the names of these witnesses and it is possible that the surname of Margaret in the baptism of Mary Ann MEEHAN has been mistranscribed and should ready CLANCY rather than GLANCY. It may be that the original record could be located to enable a check of the signatures.

A five-year-old Mary MEHAN and her brother, Patrick, were admitted to the Randwick Asylum in 1855. This girl was too old.

Daniel MEEHAN was a Hunter Valley settler.156

The marriage in West Maitland by J. LYNCH on 23 December 1852, of Mathew (X) BRADY and Ellen (X) McHENRY aka McKENDRY,157 is interesting and is still being investigated. Both were Catholic and were residents of Maitland. The witnesses were Matthew HUGHES and Mary (X) WALSH. The HVPRI recorded that Matthew's surname was BRAY. This couple had only one child, Mary Ann BRADY, who was baptised in 1853158 but whose baptism cannot be read. This girl was exactly the age of the Newcastle admission. Her place of birth is being investigated but it is thought to be Maitland. This child was probably a Catholic so this makes this couple less likely to be Mary Ann's parents.

The Matthew BRADY who was in Maitland in September 1844159 had arrived on the King William in 1840. He had spent time in Newcastle Gaol in 1840 and in 1841 and had been born between 1800 and 1805.160 He may have been the man who died in Goulburn in 1863161 who by 1860 was described in the Goulburn newspapers as a 'cripple who had lost both legs.'162

A Mary McCUSKER alias McHENRY was admitted to Maitland Gaol in 1874. She had been born in Newcastle in 1840.

Updated June 2019

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