Elizabeth O'NEILL
Name Variations Eliza, NEILL,1 NEIL, O'NEALE2 ONEIL
Father Thomas O'NEIL b.c. 18073 m. bef. 1840 d. 18674
Step-father unknown b. m. d.
Mother Winifred aka Mary A. RYAN alias GRACE b. 18165 m. bef. 1840 d. aft. 1867
Brother Patrick O'NEIL b. 18406 m. none - d. 1840
Brother John O'NEIL b. 18427 m. none - d. 18428
Sister Rebecca O'NEIL b. 18449 m. d.
Sister Maria O'NEIL b. 184810 m. 186311 Timothy O'BRIEN d.
Brother Thomas O'NEIL b. 184812 m. d. aft. 1867
Sister Maria13 b. bef. 1848 m. bef. 1867 unknown d. aft. 1867
Sister Rebecca14 b. bef. 1849 m. unknown unknown d. aft. 1867
Inmate Eliza aka Elizabeth NEILL aka O'NEILL b.c. 1850 m. (1) 1869 (2) 1871 (see below) d. 188115
Husband (1) Emile BUZINE aka BUSINE b. 183916 m. 186917 d. 188018
Husband (2) Claude John ELDRIDGE b. 184719 m. 187120 d. 190921
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Mother Winifred GRACE22 39 4' 10" brown brown
Inmate Eliza23 15 low stature dark brown blue fair medium round face; dressed in a black ‘stuff’ dress and an old black straw hat trimmed with crape

Note: Although Elizabeth was admitted to Newcastle under the name Eliza NEIL and in all correspondence concerning her time at the school she was recorded with that name, because she and her parents used the surname O'NEIL and because she used the given name Elizabeth after her discharge, she has been recorded on this database and in this biography as Elizabeth O'NEILL.

As Eliza NEILL, Elizabeth was listed by the constables of Sydney in their report of at risk children compiled on 31 July 1867, a month before the school opened. She was described on that list as fifteen-and-a-half-year-old Protestant of robust health. It was recorded that she had worked as a prostitute and that she already had one conviction.24 This conviction hasn't yet been confirmed. It is not believed that it was either of the instances outlined below.

It is only remotely possible that Elizabeth was the Eliza NEILL or NEAL who was charged with obtaining goods with false pretences three years before the admission to Newcastle.25 This offender was a girl who had been in service and who was sentenced to six months in Sydney Gaol on the 23 March 1864,26 after appearing in court on Friday 26 February.27 She had been represented by a Mr CARROLL28 who tendered documents that may still exist but the witnesses who spoke for her were a John NEILL from Manly and a Michael KANE from Sydney. As this was a Quarter Sessions case their depositions may still exist and the relationship between Eliza and John NEILL may be explained.29 The Police Gazette identified that her ship of arrival was 'not known' when it reported her imprisonment30 and it is known that the Newcastle admission had been, and stated that she had been, born in NSW. The Newcastle admission would have been about fourteen at this date but no age has been recorded in the gaol records for this prisoner.31 While it is uncertain that this is the Newcastle admission it is believed that this was the appearance referred to in Elizabeth's later trial as this girl was described as being of 'respectable appearance'32 and was able to have an attorney represent her.33 As this was a Quarter Sessions case these records may still survive in Kingswood and may be worth retrieving.

There was at least one other woman appearing in the Sydney courts from about 1865 who had been born in Brisbane in about 1845 and used the alias Elizabeth NOISE34 but who had been arrested aboard a ship so was likely not to have been the woman on trial in 1864. From 1865 there is difficulty in distinguishing between the two as gaol records rarely contain descriptions or years of birth so no admission can be found that clearly identified the Newcastle girl.

Shortly after the constables' survey was completed in July 1867, a warrant35 was issued for Elizabeth's arrest and on 4 September 1867, police sergeant DWYER detained her and brought her to court36 where she was charged under the Industrial Schools Act with associating with and living with common prostitutes.37 There is a very strong indication that the prostitute was her mother but this cannot be absolutely verified although the Sydney Mail in its report stated that:

Her mother was stated to be cohabiting with a man not her husband, and prisoner was associating and living with prostitutes.38

On Elizabeth's admission to Newcastle on 5 September, she was recorded in the Entrance Book as Eliza NEIL. The alternate age of eighteen, which differed from the age that was provided at the time of her arrest, was pencilled in beside her name. It is believed that the age of 18 was a correct statement provided by Elizabeth at the time of her admission and that she had been illegally admitted under the act. Beneath her mother's name, in the place of the name of her father, are the words 'Private Sydney.' The meaning of this notation is uncertain but it is thought to refer to a private residence in Sydney. It is thought that this statement was less likely to indicate that Elizabeth refused to contribute any information at any time concerning her family although this may have been the case. The Entrance Book clearly recorded that Elizabeth was a Catholic and this statement is considered a more accurate reflection of her religion than that provided by constables in their list from July 1867. Elizabeth's level of education was recorded as 'sequel number 2 large hand.'39 The report by HARRIS, where Elizabeth was recorded as Eliza, showed that not only was she not a virgin but she was suffering from syphilis.40

Elizabeth's behaviour was often refractory at Newcastle and in her class report attached to KING's weekly report to the Colonial Secretary on 18 May 1868, KELLY indicated that Elizabeth's behaviour in class on one afternoon was very insubordinate.41 In her weekly report on 23 June 1868, KING informed the Colonial Secretary that:

… [o]ne of the elder girls, Eliza O'Neale has behaved in a very insubordinate manner of late, so much so, that I was under the necessity of placing her in confinement on bread and water for 2 two days and nights.42

This incident occurred about a fortnight before the first riot at the school occurred and in that riot on 9 July, Elizabeth was one of the eleven girls who were classified as its ringleaders. Her statement describing her involvement was recorded by Frederic CANE. She signed this statement as Eliza O'NEILL and it is transcribed here in full.

Age 19. I know that I am 19. My Father told me my age when he was dying. I was baptised at St Mary's. I was one of those who assisted in the disturbance. The reason why I joined in it is since about the time of the visit of the Colonial Secretary there has been a change in Mrs King's manner she has not been so kind to us as before, calling us Street Walkers and saying This place was never made for such characters as us. We were like the Bull & Cow we were too hot we wanted ducking down the well this has been said to us more than once, it was said in the muster Room, and in the Yard. On one occasion when we refused to come out from the pond we were paddling in, she said we were reared on Dung Hills and Hollows. I admit having disobeyed Miss Ravenhill's orders and also Mrs Kings because I considered I would be doing other Girls work there being Girls told off to do certain work each week and I had done my work when Mrs King spoke to me about disobeying orders. I said I would eat a certain party (meaning Miss Ravenhill) without a grain of salt. This is only a word I have without any meaning in it. On Tuesday July 7, some of the small Girls were blamed for coming to breakfast without being washed for which their breakfast was stopped. Some of the other Girls were going to give them their Breakfast when Miss Ravenhill stopped them. I then offered her my empty plate and told her to take mine as I understood Elizabeth Morgan was put in the cell [?] for doing this. I wished therefore to be placed in also. I have now been confined in the cell nine days. I was one of those who broke out of the room where we were confined after being removed from the cell. I ran towards the Gate a constable came after me to take me back to the Room. He asked me where the other Girls were. I said I think they are here pointing to the Dining Hall windows. I then broke one of the panes of Glass with my fist. I did this because I considered I was getting too much punishment for what I had done. On more than one occasion Mrs King cart [?] up to me, the cause of my coming here and told me when I asked for some medicine that I was not worth it. There was no arrangement to break the windows but Elizabeth Sampson while we were in the room so proposed to break the windows if we were not let out. I was present when Charlotte Perry lit the straw in the Room. I don't think she had any intention to set fire to the Building it was only done because the lamp was put out. I saw Eliza O'Brien with the lamp in her hand, and heard her say she would break it on the Floor rather than any one should take it from her. Mrs King asked us the reason why we behaved in this way. She got no answer at the time but when she was going out some of the Girls and myself, said we saw no reason why all the Girls should be punished for two or three – this was because we were not let out of the building after tea time. The only reason the fire was lighted was because we were told the lamp was going to be removed – it is usual for the lamp to be left until 9 o'clock each night – no mischief was intended by the fire being lighted I did not hear any of the Girls say they would take Mrs Kings life. While in the cell I saw Elizabeth Sampson throw some sand at Mrs King. On one occasion some time back when at dinner Mrs King called our attention to a Black Fellow, and an Apple Man on the Hill, she said as a great treat, she would bring the Black Fellow into the Big Girls dormitory and the Apple Man in the next one and let them stay all night. I have no means of bringing to my recollection the exact date of this.43

About two weeks after the riot KING reported that Elizabeth, Eliza McDONALD, Charlotte PERRY, Elizabeth SAMPSON and Eliza O'BRIEN were noisy and refractory.44 By 19 December 1868, Elizabeth had been at the school for fifteen months and the new superintendent, CLARKE, wrote to the Colonial Secretary stating that she and six others were eligible for service. He requested permission to find situations for them all and he had already negotiated positions for five of them.45 Elizabeth was too old to be apprenticed and in a reply to CLARKE on 4 January 1869, after he queried apprenticeship expectations, the response from the Colonial Secretary stated that:

If it can be shown that Eliza Neil is really over 18 years of age then she should be discharged.46

No proof has been found anywhere regarding Elizabeth's age other than her statements in the Colonial Secretary's correspondence. On 9 March 1869, almost immediately after this communication and by order of the Colonial Secretary, CLARKE discharged Elizabeth into the service of Mr Charles ATKINSON, a butcher of Maitland. CLARKE noted that ATKINSON was a Protestant and that she was to be paid six shillings a week. In a further letter to the Colonial Secretary, CLARKE again acknowledged the difference in religion between Elizabeth and ATKINSON and reiterated that Elizabeth was 'one of those that the Colonial Secretary ordered to be discharged.'47 No reference other than the word ‘apprenticed’ was recorded on the April 1872 list compiled by LUCAS.48 On 1 August 1870, when informing the Colonial Secretary of the progress of those whom he had apprenticed, CLARKE stated that Eliza:

… remained for six months … [and] … left through ill-health. The teacher here has had a letter from this girl and has heard from others that she is respectably married.

Based on this statement there is very little doubt that, as Elizabeth O'NEILL, Elizabeth was married to Emile BUZINE in the Scots Church, Sydney, on 22 July 1869, by J. D. LANG. Proof of a respectable marriage and ongoing good behaviour were desirable for Elizabeth under the terms of her father's will49 and this marriage would almost certainly have been viewed as a respectable marriage as Emile was employed in a responsible occupation and had indicated on the registration that his father was a doctor. No other marriage can be identified that agreed with CLARKE's statement so while this marriage occurred very soon after her service had commenced and within the six months that CLARKE had stated that she had remained with ATKINSON, subsequent records confirm its accuracy. On the marriage record Elizabeth O'NEILL confirmed that her father was Thomas O'NEILL and that her mother was Mary RYAN. She gave her address as Cambridge Street, Sydney, and stated that she was a domestic servant. This address corresponded with the address of Elizabeth's unnamed sister provided by the constables in July 1867.50 Elizabeth identified that her father was a storekeeper. The witnesses were Jane MASON and Alice LEE who were servants of Dr LANG and not family members.51 Elizabeth stated on the marriage record that she was 22 but she had lied and was actually only 19, the same age as she was when she went into service. This lie was exposed three months later when, on 12 October 1870, Elizabeth took Emile to court. She stated at his trial for bigamy that:

… on the 22nd July last I was married to the prisoner by the Rev. Dr. Lang, at his residence in Jamison-street; I found in prisoner's box last Saturday, after he had been arrested for threatening to take my life, the marriage lines produced, which bear his signature, and by which it appears that he was married to Sarah Ann Poland on the 25th April, 1859, at Greymouth. I believe she is alive still; the letter produced, I believe, is from her; the envelope bears the New Zealand post-mark, August 25, 1869; prisoner told me that he lived with another woman, but was not married to her, I am only 19 years of age, but I represented that I was 21 when I was married.52

Online trees researched by Emile's descendants indicated that after this court appearance and acquittal he returned to Sarah Ann and the couple had more children, with their first child born after their reconciliation registered in 1871. Emile died in Sydney in 1880 and his father, Prosper BUZINE, identified on his 1869 marriage registration, was confirmed on the NSW BDM Index. Emile's mother was identified by him in 1870 as Clotilda MAHEN. Emile's first wife, Sarah Ann, remained in NSW and died in Sydney in 1905.53

On 17 June 1871, at Burton Street, Sydney, and again as Elizabeth O'NEILL, Elizabeth went on to marry Claude John ELDRIDGE. All indications are that this marriage was short-lived as the NSW BDM Index recorded that Claude married again in 1874. Claude's second marriage has been confirmed in online trees.54 On this subsequent marriage Claude identified himself as a widower55 however Elizabeth was still living so Clause had married bigamously. It is possible that Elizabeth was unaware of Claude's second marriage. Elizabeth was the Elizabeth ELDRIDGE and occasionally BUSINE who was admitted frequently to Darlinghurst Gaol between 1874 and 1880 and whose life and circumstances can be seen declining over the next decade as she began to appear more frequently in the Sydney courts. After being the victim of a bigamous marriage in 1870, it is considered likely that she felt entitled to keep and to use the surname ELDRIDGE. On 14 July, about a month after Claude's second marriage, the first appearance for Elizabeth ELDRIDGE yet found was reported in Sydney court reports.56 Her appearances identified that she was the 22-year-old woman sentenced to a five-shilling fine or two days in gaol for drunkenness on 14 July 1874,57 and she was fined for riotous behaviour in October 1874.58 She was the 24-year-old married woman who was sentenced to two months in gaol for being idle and disorderly on 2 August 1875.

The apprehending constable said he had not known her to do any work for the last two or three years, and she was drunk when arrested. She denied the soft impeachment of her "guardian", but the bench was satisfied that the charge was sustained, and sent Elizabeth (much against her inclination) to gaol for two months.59

Although he was not identified, the identity of this unidentified 'guardian' is considered without any doubt to have been the court magistrate, Owen Joseph CARAHER, the executor for Elizabeth's father, Thomas. She was a witness at the inquest into the death of Flora EVANS alias Sarah HARDWICK in November 1875. At this time she was a resident of 49 Washington Street where she stated that she worked as a laundress.60 Elizabeth, Annie CHAPMAN and Flora EVANS had been in company in the house where EVANS died. Annie described both herself and Flora as women 'of the town' so it is very hard to imagine that Elizabeth was not employed in the same pursuits.61 In December 1880 she was seriously assaulted by an Edward McDONALD and she was sent to gaol, on this occasion for protection.62 The link between Elizabeth's two marriages was confirmed when in 1880, Elizabeth BURZENE alias Elizabeth ELDRIDGE, appeared in Darlinghurst Gaol records after being admitted for drunkenness on 31 December 1880.63

Because gaol appearances for Elizabeth ELDRIDGE cease in 1881, there is very little doubt that the death of the 30-year-old Elizabeth ELDRIDGE in Sydney on 7 December 1881, was the death of the Newcastle admission. This death has been also attributed by the ELDRIDGE one-name researcher to the first wife of Claude John ELDRIDGE.64 Elizabeth had died of phthisis at the Sydney Infirmary. The registration identified that she had been born in NSW and was a servant. There was no indication on the registration that she had ever been married. Neither of her parents were identified and they were recorded as unknown.65 Elizabeth was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Rookwood on 8 December 1881.


Elizabeth's mother was identified by name in the Entrance Book as the widow, Mary A. NEIL66 and newspaper reports of Elizabeth's trial indicated that her father had died about six weeks earlier.67 In Elizabeth's statement recorded by CANE during her interview concerning the riots in July 1868, Eliza identified herself as a native of the colony, and was specific that she had been baptised at St Mary's, Sydney.68 No baptism has yet been identified on the NSW BDM Index.69 It is however almost entirely certain that Elizabeth's parents were married as no identification of illegitimacy was made by the constables on their July 1867 list70 and the constables were precise concerning the illegitimacy of others on the list. Based on these scant records Elizabeth's parents have been indirectly but positively identified as Thomas and Mary Ann aka Winifred O'NEILL or NEILL. Even knowing these names, searches of the NSW BDM Index disclose no girls named Eliza or Elizabeth with any similar surname baptised between 1848 and 1852 with a father named Thomas and a mother named either Winifred or Mary. This difficulty in identification in itself is an indication that the correct parents have been located.

The constables' list identified that Eliza had at least two sisters and this number was confirmed on Thomas' death registration. They reported in July 1867 that Eliza's mother was cohabiting with a man who wasn't her husband71 and that Eliza had:

… no home, father dead, one married sister living in Cambridge Street, another sister lives with her mother who keeps a Brothel in Woolloomooloo.72

Circumstantial evidence, since confirmed, further suggested that Elizabeth's father was Thomas O'NEIL. The death of the sixty-year-old Thomas O'NEIL was the only death for a man named NEAL, NEALE, NEIL, NEILL or O’NEILL or any possible spelling variation of this surname registered between July 1867 and 4 September 1867.73 Thomas had died on 21 July 1867,74 ten days before the constables compiled their list and six weeks before Eliza was arrested. This death date exactly matched the statement made at Eliza's court appearance on 4 September that he had died six weeks earlier. Thomas O'NEIL's residence when he died was in Gloucester Street, Sydney. He had been a resident of 76 Gloucester Street in 1865 and 1866 and of 86 Gloucester Street in 1867 but has not been identified in Sands Directory before 1865 or after 1867.75

Probate of Thomas's will76 was granted to the Sydney court magistrate, Owen Joseph CARAHER, of Gloucester Street.77 His will was written about 25 September 1867, the year before his death. At this time Elizabeth was only about 17. It read:

I Thomas ONeil of Gloucester Street Sydney being of sound mind do make this my last will and Testament I will and bequeath to my son Thomas ONeil all the cash and Effects that I possess, the same to be held in trust by Mr. Owen J. Caraher untill my son (aforesaid) comes of age My daughter Eliza ONeil I allow the aforesaid Mr Caraher to give her £20 should he consider her worthy – not otherwise.78

This will identified only the two beneficiaries – his children, Thomas and Eliza.79 No other children were recorded. No mention was made of any wife and, if Thomas and his wife had separated, as suggested by newspaper reports,80 Thomas would almost certainly have wanted to ensure that she was not a beneficiary. It is believed that the two sisters, also known to be his children, did not inherit as they were married and it may be that his other sons had died. The will made it clear that Elizabeth's behaviour even by 1867 was not acceptable to him. Thomas's death registration confirmed that he had was a storeman and had been in the colony of NSW for 27 years - or since about 1840. He had three living daughters and had been the father to six sons, of whom only one was alive. That son was the informant Thomas who was the beneficiary in the will. He had been born in Tipperary and had married in Ireland. His wife's maiden surname, RYAN, was the only information recorded about her.81

Even though at the time of Elizabeth's first marriage, she identified that her father was a storekeeper, Thomas was not the man who ran the confectionery business in George Street who was selling 'a snug little business – grocery and confectionery – in George Street, near the Railway Station'.82 This man's son, Austin, died in 186383 and the NSW BDM Index identified that his wife was Catherine.84

Thomas O'NEILL's death registration has confirmed that he and his wife, Winifred, and their son, Patrick, had arrived in NSW as assisted immigrants on 31 January 1841, aboard the Conrad. The family was from Tipperary, Ireland.85 The indent recorded that Thomas's parents were Timothy and Rebecca O'NEIL. His age on the indent is difficult to read and may be either 21 or a poorly written 31 but the second copy of the record is clearer and suggested that he had been born in about 1810. This indicated a very similar date of birth to that of the man who had died in 1871. Patrick's baptism cannot be read but it is expected that the record would indicate that his mother was Winifred RYAN and confirm that this was the family who had arrived on the Conrad. The age recorded on the Conrad indent is the same as the year of birth of 1840 indicated on the baptism on the NSW BDM Index for Patrick O'NEILL.86 Although the mother doesn't match what was recorded in the Newcastle Entrance Book, Thomas and Winifred O'NEILL (and variations) baptised five children in Sydney and these baptisms and this family have been identified as Elizabeth's family. It is believed that these baptisms represented Elizabeth's actual siblings and not her step-siblings. Of all the children of the couple, only Elizabeth's baptism was not recorded. It is not believed that she was the child of an extra-marital relationship because firstly, the constables did not record that she was illegitimate, and secondly, she was identified in her father's will as a beneficiary.

At the time of the birth of Maria O'NEILL, the family was living in Essex Lane. In March 1862, fifteen-year-old Maria O'NEIL ran away from her home in Gloucester Street and her father Thomas informed the papers.87 This address matched Eliza's father's known location and the correct year for Maria's baptism on the NSW BDM Index. Maria's mother on this baptism record was confirmed as Winifred RYAN,88 proving that this was the same couple who had arrived on the Conrad. Thomas and Winifred O'NEIL were residents of Gloucester Street – the same street where Eliza's father had his residence – in February 1852, when Winifred was charged with using obscene language.89 It is believed that they separated shortly after this time but no proof of this separation has yet been located.

No evidence of the identity of the woman, Mary NEIL, has been found, with the exception of the appearance of her name in the Entrance Book. It is believed but cannot be proven that Eliza's mother adopted the name Mary after she had formerly been known as Winifred. Both women shared the same maiden name of RYAN. The Conrad indent provided Winifred's surname, baptism records confirmed this surname and Elizabeth identified that her mother was Mary RYAN when she married. Winifred's parents were identified as John and Catherine RYAN. It may be that Mary and her unnamed partner were the witnesses in an embezzlement case in April 1867. No death can be located for Winifred as NEIL or O'NEILL or any of their variations. While it is unknown what happened to Winifred aka Mary, Darlinghurst Gaol records do identify admissions of a Winifred GRACE to about 1861, Mary GRACE to about 1866 and Mary RYAN from 1867. All these women stated that they had arrived on the Conrad and been born in Ireland in about 1823. The first appearance found to date occurred in September 185990 and resulted in a six month term in Parramatta Gaol91 where her ship and place of birth of Tipperary were identified in the records.92 The Conrad indent identified only one woman named Mary who was the wife of Peter HAWKE and was ten years older than the wife of Thomas O'NEILL and there were no other women named Winifred aboard. This is very strong circumstantial evidence that these gaol references refer to Winifred so these admissions and names have been attributed to Elizabeth's mother.

Winifred was unlikely to have died as Mary in early March 1888. This woman's Funeral Notice identified her residence as Bowman Street, Pyrmont, near the Sugar Works93 but her parents were identified on the NSW BDM Index as John and Eliza and she was reported to have been forty-seven.

Tracing members of the O'NEILL family is complicated by the various spellings of the surname. Perhaps Elizabeth's sisters were the Margaret O'NEIL who married John APPLETON in 1878 and the Sarah O'NEIL who married Frederick MAPSTONE in 1887. A Mary Ann O'NEILL died in 1892 and no death registration has yet been identified. These two women are currently being investigated. In May 1858 four women with the surname O'NEIL, Winifred, Bridget, Mary Ann and Catherine, were signatories of residents of the parish of St Benedict in Sydney who were protesting at the attacks made on the Reverend M. A. CORISH.94

Updated February 2020

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License