Name Variations Elizabeth O'BRINE
Father Cornelius O'BRIEN b.c. 1797 m. (1) abt. 1835 (2) 18541 d. 18712
Mother Elizabeth McMAHON b.c. 1818 m. abt. 1835 d. 18533
Step-mother Mary MOLONEY b. m. 1854 d. aft. 1871
Brother Michael O'BRIEN b. 18344 m. d. alive 18695
Brother Cornelius O'BRIEN b. 18376 m. d.
Brother John O'BRIEN b. 18397 m. d.
Brother Thomas O'BRIEN b. 18418 m. d. 19089
Sister Mary O'BRIEN b. 184310 m. d.
Sister Johanna O'BRIEN b. 184711 m. d.
Inmate Elizabeth aka Eliza O'BRIEN b. 185112 m. (see below) d. 187613
Half-brother Joseph O'BRIEN b. 185514 m. d. aft. 1871
Half-sister Amy O'BRIEN b. 185715 m. d.
Half-brother James O'BRIEN b. 186216 m. d.
Half-brother William H. O'BRIEN b. 186517 m. none - d. 186618
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Brother Thomas19 20 5’ 5" light brown/sandy dark hazel fresh stout several moles on back, one in centre; mark of burn on right elbow; wart under left eye; read and write
Inmate Eliza20 17 5’ 0½” brown brown dark

On 26 October 1867, Eliza was brought before the Court by constable LARKINS who stated that early that morning he was at a house in Cohen's Court, frequented by prostitutes. He found Eliza in bed with a woman and took her into custody. Eliza's brother, Michael O'BRIEN, attended court and stated that Eliza was fifteen years and two months old and had been away from her father's house for the last two years. Eliza confirmed that she had lived at the House of the Good Shepherd for the last two years.21 Eliza was admitted to Newcastle on 31 October 1867, where she was recorded as Catholic and her level of education was described as 'sequel no. 2 large hand.'22 Her age of seventeen was recorded in pencil probably suggesting that this age was questionable. In August 1870, CLARKE stated that her age was unknown.23 Eliza’s medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was not a virgin.24

Eliza, Mary Ann DEVENEY and Mary Ann HOPKINS escaped from the school on 22 December 1867, between 11 and 12 pm. They were recaptured and returned to the school the following day at 11 am and placed in the cells on a bread and water diet.25 KING released the girls the following day and reported that they were 'sorry for their reckless conduct. On the Christmas day they were united and happy.' King further investigated the method of escape and reported to the Colonial Secretary.

Eliza O'Brien got out of bed (after all the lights were extinguished, and everyone asleep) dressed and came out through the window on to the verandah, unfastened the window in the next dormitory called the others up, went back through the window again, thence down the stairs through the door, and climbed over the large Gate in front.26

Eliza's behaviour continued to be refractory and in her report attached to KING's report to the Colonial Secretary on 18 May 1868, KELLY indicated that she behaved in class one afternoon in a very insubordinate manner.27 Eliza was one of the eleven inmates interviewed by CANE after the riot in July 1868. Her statement runs for four foolscap pages which are transcribed below in their entirety.

Eliza OBrien age 17. I was one of those who joined in the disturbance I am now confined in the Cell for that My[?] was on for so doing is because Mrs King since the arrival of Miss Ravenhill treated us differently to what she did before. She speaks unkindly to us and throws up our past life telling us we are the sweepings of Sydney streets and we don't like to be told what we have been. I recollect on one occasion there was a black man and a man who keeps an apple cart on the Hill Mrs King because we were laughing at them said. She thought it would be a great treat to bring the Black fellow into the big girls in No 3 Dormitory to stop all night and also the apple man to the middle Sized Dormitory. I have nothing to say against Miss Ravenhill only that she is too harsh to all the girls. I did when Mrs King requested me to go into Muster say that I would rather be torn limb from limb and go to hell than go to school. I did this because I was agreived at being removed from where I was walking at Mr Canes before my week was out I recollect on Saturday night on the 4th Inst a disturbance being occasioned in consequence of a fire being lit in the room I was one who assisted to light the fire. Elizabeth Sampson brought in the coals but I do not know who brought the wood Sarah Wildgust gave me the matches I dont know what the object of lighting the Fire in the Dormitory was. The servant was in the room at the time we would not stop lighting the Fire for her I struck a match and handed it to one of the girls to light the Fire. Mrs King came in and told us to get away from the fire we refused to do so and tried to prevent the Cook from putting the Fire out. When we would not get up Mrs ing caught Eliza Macdonald by the hair of her head to make her get up not in a violent[?] manner She then got up and used some violent words to Mrs King. Sarah Jane Wildgust was singing in a loud manner and Mrs King desired her to desist but she would not Mrs King then said that sh?? you bringing up Mrs King then left the room when Charlotte Perry lit some straw and carried it round the room she did it because the light was taken away but I know she had no intention to set fire to the Building I was never refused to write to my Friends when I was here I did not get up the chimney nor did I see anyone else but Charlotte Perry, Sarah Jane Wildgust and myself blackened our faces Mrs King asked why they had behaved in this manner. I answered with 3 others Charlotte Parry Sarah Wildgust and Eliza Neil that we would only asnwer to Mr Parkes or someone from him. If I heard some of the other girls say that Miss Ravenhill was the cause of it and I [unclear] on saying so I recollect the words being said. She was too much of a bounce I [unclear] with them [unclear] saying before Miss Ravenhill came here we were glad to obey all Mrs King wanted[?]. I called to Sarah Wildgust as she was taken to the Cell don't go without me. It was immediately after I was taken away to the Cell as I was going out I called Miss Ravenhill a monkey Faced bitch. When we went into the Cell there were no beds we screeched out and behaved in an improper manner late Sunday at about 3 oclock Mrs King then came in we got bed and bedding I am not [unclear] that Sarah Jane Wildgust had a knife in there We proposed to break out of the cell when Elizabeth Samson came in Tuesday July 7th on the morning Thursday July 9th were were removed (7 of us) to another Room While in the room a proposition was made to take lock off some of the girls threw up a knife [unclear] my face to do so I opened the door with the knife we had no intention at this time of doing any mischief We had no plan to do any mischief We all ran down into the Yard Eliza Neil was seized by one of the constables and went up to the window of the Dining Room to show him where the other girls were but instead of this she struck the window with her fist and broke it She told me this herself I did not see her do it. Sarah Wildgust was taken into the Room used as the Hospital by the Constable and because she screamed out we thought she was being beaten and we then commenced breaking the windows. When we were in the dormitories I heard Mrs King say because we were making a loud noise that we were like the cows and bulls in a field She did not make any other remark but [unclear] said we were [unclear] like them. I heard distinctly what she said and I am sure of the words. I was told she made use of other words but did not hear them altho' I was close to her.
By Mrs King
You have changed in your manner since Miss Ravenhill came and have been more harsh in your words I recollect on one occasion in the dormitory I cannot give the date you stated to the Girls in the Dormitory because some had laid later in Bed. That you supposed that is what we have been brought up to Street Walking all night and laying in bed late in the day.28

About two weeks after the riot Eliza was again reported as outstanding in her disobedience. KING indicated that Eliza, Eliza McDONALD, Charlotte PERRY, Elizabeth SAMPSON and Eliza O'NEILL were noisy and refractory. A fortnight after this, on 1 August, Eliza and Mary Ann HOPKINS were reported as 'most rebellious [and they had] made several attempts to break the new bell by throwing stones at it, and by inciting the younger girls to follow their example.' They were also absent from muster and evening prayers so KING placed them in solitary confinement on a 'low diet'.29 In her report of 15 September 1868, KING reported that Eliza, Grace CRAWFORD and Julia CUNNINGHAM were again very insubordinate.30 Two days later, on 17 September, Eliza escaped in company with Grace by crawling under the fence. The pair were quickly recaptured and placed in the guard house cells31 where they remained for four days.32 In her report included with KING's report of 6 October 1868, KELLY indicated that on Thursday, 2 October, Eliza had been forced to attend school and as a result she 'manifested great reluctance and when there refused to attend to any duties.'33 The following day, 3 October, Eliza and Sarah Ann PARSONS escaped the school and her subsequent punishment and behaviour were reported to the Colonial Secretary by Agnes KING on 13 October 1868.

They were safe in their dormitories at 11 o'clock p.m. They made their escape by thrusting out the fastening of a window facing the verandah and broke open the Clothes Store Room by pushing a pole through one of the windows, from which they extracted some of the clothing they escaped in. They piled up some stones on a Bucket and climbed over the Fence next (to) the residence of the Police Magistrate. They were brought back by the Police at 3 o'clock a.m. and placed in the Cells at the Guard House where they will remain until the decision of the Honble. the Colonial Secretary. (Eliza O'Brien) has absconded from Institution on three several occasions, she had frequently thrown stones with violence at the new bell, injuring the paint work, and rang it contrary to all discipline. She has gone into the pond against the most positive rules, was one of the most violent in the disturbance of the 9th of July and most active in breaking windows and otherwise injuring the property of the institution. Her language is usually of the most revolting and disgusting description, sometimes very blasphemous. She has taken my keys and robbed my private apartments. On one occasion, in the Muster Room, when correcting other girls for being in the pond and destroying their clothing, she rushed at and struck me before the rest. In the dining room throwing pannikins to destroy them and has several times threatened to take my life. She is constantly instigating other girls to acts of mischief and inciting them to insubordination. Her whole conduct has been such, and her violence of temper so ungovernable, I have no hope of any reformation on her whatever. I would earnestly recommend her removal to another Institution where the means of separation from others is complete and where there are no younger children to be vitiated by her pernicious example.

The response from the Colonial Secretary stated:

This girl seems to be incorrigible and beyond reformation. It appears to me that the best method of dealing with her would be to prefer a charge against her for the felony described as occurring on the night of the 3rd inst provided sufficient evidence for conviction could be furnished. In the meantime she will remain in the cells.34

As a result of the theft of clothing from the Matron Superintendent, Mrs KING, undertaken during this escape attempt, a warrant was subsequently issued for Eliza’s arrest and she was taken from the school by senior constable CONWAY of Newcastle police.35 Eliza was tried at Newcastle Court on 13 October 1868, and received a sentence of six months in Maitland Gaol.36 Even at Maitland Eliza was not compliant especially during the first two months. She was committed to two days in the cells for disobeying orders in October37 and six days in the cells for using obscene and threatening language to a female warder in November.38 In a letter written to the gaoler at Maitland, on 30 December 1868, CLARKE, after taking over the superintendency of the school, confirmed that he had on:

this day forwarded to your address, all the clothes in the store of this Institution belonging to Eliza OBRINE.39


Maitland Gaol
Photograph Jane ISON, 2014

On Eliza's release from Maitland on 12 April 1869, she was described as a tailoress who was born in NSW in 1851. She was returned to the school and on 10 June 1869, CLARKE, endeavoured to get permission to discharge her and four other girls. He wrote to the Colonial Secretary, repeated Eliza's admission date and stated that as far as he

could ascertain [Eliza] has attained the age of eighteen years. I cannot however furnish the documentary evidence required as to their age as some of the girls do not know that they were ever baptized. They are all full grown young women.40

The Colonial Secretary approved the discharges as requested by CLARKE.41 and one month later, on 10 July, Eliza was discharged from the school to her father by order of the Colonial Secretary. She therefore never transferred to Biloela in May 1871. In his report on 13 July 1869, CLARKE confirmed her discharge.42 He paid her fare and that of Mary Ann HOPKINS on the steamer to Sydney, an act which the government then requested that he explain. CLARKE's explanation outlined that he had already, either with government permission or at their request, paid for fares to Sydney for Bridget DOWNS and the sisters, Ann and Marian SMITH, so rather than keep Eliza and Mary illegally after their discharge, he provided their fare.43 The government retrospectively approved his actions.44

A month after her discharge, on 11 August 1869, Eliza almost without any doubt appeared in court claiming damages for slander against Robert and Mary Ann WHAN. She was awarded five pounds damages and was defended by her brother, Michael, acting as 'her next friend.'45 On 1 August 1870, in a follow-up letter to the Colonial Secretary reporting on the behaviour of girls he had discharged, CLARKE confirmed that Eliza

… had been in gaol several times and her character was such that I could not send her to any respectable family, I am informed that this girl left her friends and is on the streets.

No further trace of Eliza aka Elizabeth can had been confirmed after her court appearance on 11 August and CLARKE's report of her activities a year later. It is therefore considered very likely that the death of twenty-four-year-old Elizabeth O'BRIEN, a native of Sydney, on 31 August 1876, was that of the girl admitted to Newcastle and this death has been attributed to her. As Elizabeth O'BRIEN she died of consumption a disease from which she had suffered for the previous five months. A Funeral Notice appeared in the newspapers, placed by Elizabeth's unnamed friend in whose house in Randwick Road she had died.46 The actual death registration identified that the informant was Joseph BOOTH, a grocer of Randwick. As it was the law at the time for the owner of the residence where a death had occurred to register the death, it is believed that Joseph was Elizabeth's unnamed friend but it is unknown whether there was any relationship between the two. Nothing further appeared on the death registration to identify Elizabeth but it was known from her gaol records that she believed that she had been born in NSW. Eliza aka Elizabeth O'BRIEN was buried at the Long Bay Cemetery on 1 September 1876.


Identifying Eliza's family is complicated but there is no doubt that the correct family has been found. The Entrance Book identified Eliza’s parents as Cornelius and Mary O'BRIEN and listed that Cornelius was a labourer. They were recorded at the time of Eliza's admission to Newcastle in October 1867 as residents of Gloucester Street, Sydney. Although gaol records in 1868 indicated that Eliza had been born in Botany Road, NSW, this was likely to be either a fabrication or a faulty memory as she was quite young at the time of her arrival in NSW. She was also recorded as a native of NSW on her death registration but she had in fact arrived in Sydney with her parents and siblings from Ireland in 1853. Eliza had been born in Shanagolden, Limerick, in about 1851. It isn’t indicated in the Entrance Book, but subsequent research has proved that Mary was the step-mother of Cornelius’s children and that Eliza was a child of his first relationship with Elizabeth McMAHON.

Sands Directory and the Sands Street Index indicated that two men named Cornelius O'BRIEN lived in Sydney during the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s. Cornelius O'BRIEN was living at 13 Gloucester Street in 1865, 1866 and 1867. Only one man appeared in the index before this time so it is considered likely that before this date, Eliza's father, Cornelius, was a boot or shoemaker residing in 1859 at 182 Sussex Street; in 1861 on the north side of Globe Street; in 1863 at 3 Seale's Street and in 1865 he was probably at 4 Woolloomooloo Lane. The man living in Gloucester Street had very likely moved to 200 Cumberland Street by 1870 and was at 211 Cumberland Street in 1871. The other man of this name consistently remained at Wentworth Place during this same period. The locations for the addresses for both men named Cornelius O'BRIEN were in the 'Rocks' area of Sydney. After the 1879 date a Cornelius O'BRIEN doesn't reappear in Sands Directory until 1886. Based on these addresses it is therefore almost certain that Eliza’s father died in Sydney in 1871, a year after Eliza had been returned to his care. He therefore could not be the Cornelius O'BRIEN who died in Yass in 1869. Cornelius's Funeral Notice stated:

On the 21st instant,47 at his residence, 211, Cumberland-street, CORNELIUS O'BRIEN, aged 74 years, native of the county Limerick, Ireland, leaving an affectionate wife and a large family, and a circle of friends to mourn their loss.48

While the NSW BDM Index recorded Cornelius's age at the time of his death as 40 years-of-age, the date of death identified on the index exactly matched the date of the death specified on the Funeral Notice, so the two records must refer to the same man. The Funeral Notice suggested that Cornelius was born in about 1797 and it is believed that this age is most likely the most accurate age as it is known that Eliza had at least one older sibling. The actual death registration for this man confirmed his address of 211 Cumberland Street and identified his first wife as Elizabeth McMAHON. The informant was his son, Michael O'BRIEN, who lived in Queen Street, off Essex Street, Sydney. The record indicated that he and his family had arrived in NSW 18 years before his death and this then confirmed his arrival as an assisted immigrant aboard the Blundell in 1853 where he and his family were identified on the indent. Cornelius had a sister, Bridget ADAMS, who was his relative in the colony. It is almost entirely certain that Cornelius had lied about his age in order to be accepted as an assisted immigrant as he was only recorded as 40 on the indent and he was in reality nearly 60 at the time of his arrival. The indent confirmed that his parents were Cornelius and Johanna and that Elizabeth, his wife, had parents named James and Alice McMAHON. Elizabeth was recorded on the Blundell indent as in hospital. She died in the Sydney infirmary and was buried on 9 May 1853 at the reported age of 35.49 Eliza was one and a half at the time of the death of her mother. While the NSW BDM Index suggests that the child of Cornelius and Elizabeth died in 1860,50 this record cannot refer to this child. Cornelius's death record indicated that there were four males and three females from his first marriage alive at the time he died and these numbers and sexes exactly matched those family members identified on the Blundell indent.

The marriage between Cornelius (X) O’BRIEN and Mary (X) MOLONEY that had occurred in St Mary’s, Sydney, on 24 April 1854, was confirmed as Cornelius's second marriage on his death record. The couple were residents of Sydney when they married at St Mary's Cathedral. The witnesses were Edmond (X) O'DONNELL and Mary (X) O'DONNELL.51 The couple was living in Queen's Place when their son, Joseph, was baptised on 9 February 1855, by R. A. DOWNEY of St James Catholic Church, county Cumberland.52 By 1866, a daughter, Amy, and two more sons, James and William H., had been born. These births were further confirmed at the time of his death as Cornelius was recorded as having two male and one female children from his second marriage who were living and one son who had died.

Cornelius was possibly the man who appeared in the Central Police Court on 23 September 1857, where he received a month in prison for being an idle and disorderly person but a gaol admission for this man has not been located. A Michael O’BRIEN appeared in the CPC and may have gone to gaol if the fine wasn’t paid on the 30 August 1869. A Mary O’BRIEN was often in court for drunkenness and on one occasion for assault (SMH: 23 Nov 1869) and theft (22 Dec 1969) but the name is too common to attribute any particular event to Mary. The boy, Joseph Cornelius O'BRIEN who was buried in early October 187353, whose father was Michael has no death registration that can be identified. This may be a connection of Eliza's brother. The Thomas O'BRIEN born in 1844 and who had arrived on the Blundell was Eliza's brother.54 He appeared in court between 1867 and 1870 and received twelve months hard labour in Parramatta gaol in 1867.55 No trace has yet been confirmed for Eliza's other siblings or for her father's sister, Bridget ADAMS.

Eliza's brother, Michael O'BRIEN, was the informant for Cornelius's death and in 1871 he lived in Aueen Street, off Essex Street, Sydney.56 The man, a carter or collector living at either 5 or 8 Wentworth Place may be her brother. He lived at 5 Wentworth Place approximately during the 1860s and 1870s. He was at 5 Wentworth Place in 1866 and 8 Wentworth Place in 1867, 1870, 1873, 1877 and 1879. The intestate estate of Michael O'BRIEN who died in 1884 may be interesting to read57 because the death of this man58 simply recorded his age as 58. This does make him possibly too old but as it is known that his father lied about ages, it may have been necessary to adjust the ages of the children on the Blundell indent, making him appear older than in reality. The Intestate estate papers index indicated that he died in Sydney on 21 May 1884, and the duty was paid on 12 August 1884.59

Mary O'BRIEN who appeared in Darlinghurst records born in about 1830 is a possible woman who may be Eliza's step-mother. She was an Irish-born Catholic who reportedly arrived on the Aliquis in variously 1861 or 1840. The arrival date is likely to be 16 March 1839, carrying immigrants from Ireland.60 There are many single and married women on board named Mary but no woman named Mary O'BRIEN was recorded on the indent. Investigations into Mary are ongoing.

Where has She Gone?

While it is believed that the death in 1876 refers to Eliza, it cannot be confirmed. If Eliza was still alive after this date it is unlikely that she was the woman who was admitted to the Benevolent Asylum as any admissions there were for a woman born in about 1855. This woman, who was younger than the Newcastle admission, was admitted to the asylum on 27 May 1879. She left on 30 July 1879, and her possible illegitimate child, Josephine O’BRIEN, left the following day. This may suggest that she chose not to keep her child but it may also be a clerical or transcription error. Josephine died three weeks later. A second illegitimate daughter was born to a woman of this name and age two years later, but this child also died as an infant. A further illegitimate son, Arthur, was born in 1891 but there has been no evidence found that any of these admissions refer to the Newcastle woman and no registrations have been viewed but they are included here to avoid investigating them again.

Updated December 2015

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