Ellen was thirteen when she first appeared in court on 15 December 1866. She had been arrested by constable FAIRLEY, at Newtown, for throwing stones. She was sentenced to pay a penalty of twenty shillings or to be imprisoned with hard labour for one month.36 Eighteen months later, on 3 June 1869, at the age of fifteen, Ellen again appeared before the Court at the instance of her mother, Mary PHILBEN, of Waterloo, who complained that for two years Ellen had been in the habit of keeping company with prostitutes.37 She appears in the Empire as Ellen PHILBIN.38 Ellen's brother also gave evidence against her so she was sent to Newcastle. This is possibly a reference to Thomas.39
The Entrance Book records that Ellen was a Catholic who was only able to read. Her mother, Mary, was named but her father was recorded only as E. PHILBEN, cabman. Mary was a hawker40 of vegetables.41 At the end of 1870, CLARKE, responding to a request for Ellen's release to her mother, reported to the Colonial Secretary that at the time of her admission, Ellen's parents didn't live together and Ellen
… came here with a very bad character which no doubt was the force of example she is very much improved in every way since she came here and will I hope do well if I am allowed to apprentice her to service but to send her back to Sydney would be certain ruin.42
The request for release to her mother was denied by the Colonial Secretary.
On 13 March 1871, in Newcastle Court, as Ellen PHIBBEN, she was tried as part of a group of girls charged under the Injuries to Property Act with wilfully destroying Government property during the riot at the school earlier in the month.43 Ellen was fined five pounds or was sentenced to go to Maitland Gaol for two month's labour.44 She went to gaol where she was recorded as a Catholic born in Sydney.45 She was listed in the gaol punishment records for refusing to work at which time she was sentenced to seven days in the cells by the visiting justice. This punishment was remitted and she served only four of these days.46 On 12 April 1871, she was released from gaol and returned to the school.47 Ellen transferred to Biloela in May 1871, and LUCAS's list, compiled in April 1872, indicates that she was returned to her parents.48
The actual circumstances of her return are not as straight-forward as this statement suggests. On 17 July 1871, Rev. M. J. DWYER from St. Benedict's wrote to the Colonial Secretary on behalf of Edward PHILBAR, requesting that Ellen be returned to him. He wrote:
I am satisfied from enquires I have made concerning him (Edward) that she (Ellen) may safely be given up to him. Her married sister will take special charge of her. She is now eighteen years of age.
LUCAS recommended the release49 and Ellen was returned to her father on 17 August 1871.50 The married sister was almost certainly a reference to Jane, who had married William BUNKER. Notification of Ellen's release was made by LUCAS in his report on 22 August 1872.51 Three years later Ellen was assaulted by Michael LAHIFF who appeared in court in March 1874.52
Ellen was living in Queen's Place at the time she was assaulted by an Edward LEWIS when she was dancing in a dance hall in May 1875.53 Ellen married Mark LEWIS in Sydney in 1876. The couple were living in the notorious Sydney location, Baldock's Lane, in October 1876,54 as in early 1877, a warrant was issued by the Sydney Bench for Ellen LEWIS alias TILBURN for keeping a bawdy house at this location.55 This spelling of her surname is almost without doubt a variation of the name PHILBURN and this reference suggested that all charges against Ellen LEWIS for keeping a bawdy house to this point, refer to this particular woman. Ellen was found guilty and received three months in Darlinghurst.56 Less than two years later, in May 1878, Ellen LEWIS married John SHEIN or SHEEN, stating that she was a widow and that her husband, Mark LEWIS, was dead. In 1880, Ellen was taken to court by John SHEEN.
A case of bigamy came before the Central Police Court, yesterday, in which John Sheen summoned his wife, formerly Ellen Lewis. The prosecutor stated he married defendant in May 1878, believing her to be a widow, she stating that her former husband (Mark Lewis) was dead. They were married at Mount Carmel Church, Waterloo, by the Rev. John Carroll, and lived together until about a fortnight ago. There being no evidence to prove the alleged first marriage of defendant, the case was dismissed.57
It is unlikely that the couple reconciled after this appearance as in September 1883, Michael LAHIFF was taken to court by his wife, Ellen LAHIFF alias SHEHAN, for cutting and wounding her.58 The police court appearance for LAHIFF indicates that he and Ellen had been living together as husband and wife 'for some years.'59 LAHIFF was sentenced to eighteen months in Darlinghurst gaol as a result of this incident. Michael had threatened Ellen with death if she were to prosecute him but after his release, the couple appear to have reconciled. Two years later Michael was admitted to Darlinghurst for a period of five years for an assault and robbery in 1885 in which he garrotted the women he robbed. An image of Michael may be viewed in the Darlinghurst records.60 With her husband in gaol and no income, Ellen LAHIFF appears in the Sydney courts often for vagrancy and a woman of this name was admitted to Goulburn for six months for vagrancy. Only her eye colour on her description at this time doesn't match the known description of Ellen in 1871 but this is considered to be her. Ellen was released on 14 September 1887.61 Ellen was fined or imprisoned for bad language in March 1891. At this time she was recorded as 33 years old.62 Michael and Ellen continued to live together as in 1891 Michael severely beat Ellen and broke her arm. Ellen went to the police and the matter was taken to court but Ellen was unable to remember anything that had occurred so Michael was discharged.63 In May 1892 Michael and Ellen were living in a locality known as the Puzzle, near Liverpool Street, Sydney, when they were both assaulted by Adolphus GAFNER when he broke into their room.64 Other appearances during the 1890s were for vagrancy, drunkenness and riotous behaviour. Ellen was badly assaulted by Michael again in February 1894, and this time Michael was imprisoned for three months.65 In April 1895, Ellen appeared in court charged with vagrancy.66
Ellen had suffered dreadfully as a battered wife and had been badly hurt in the 1894 assault by Michael. She became vagrant whenever Michael LAHIFFE was imprisoned. On 16 August 1895, a short time after her last court appearance, Ellen was admitted to the Sydney Hospital. She was suffering from chronic Bright's Disease.67 Ellen died on 29 September at the registered age of 38. She was closer to forty. Her death was registered by H. D. RUSSELL, the secretary of Sydney Hospital. Her father was recorded on the registration as Thomas PHILBEN who was a labourer but no mother was named. There were no children recorded in the register. Her husband was identified as Michael LAHIFF and they were recorded to have married when Ellen was seventeen.68 No other husbands were recorded. Ellen had no known family alive apart, possibly, from her brother, Thomas, who has not been traced after 1884. It is conceivable that because only Ellen's brother, Thomas PHILBEN, was known to the informant, H. D. RUSSELL, he erroneously recorded this as her father's name. Ellen was buried at the Catholic Cemetery at Rookwood on 2 October 1895.69 No location for her burial has been located but Michael LAHIFF was buried with a seven-year-old Kate LAHIFF who died in November 1885, a Thomas LAHIFF who died in July 1886 and a Hannah LAHIFF who was 78 and died in May 1927.70 The NSW BDM Index indicates that Kate and Thomas were Michael's children by Hannah so this death is unlikely to be the man who was Ellen's partner. More investigation is needed to clarify Michael's death.
Ellen's baptism record indicated that she was the daughter of Edward PHILBEN and Rachel FINNEGAN aka Mary CUNNINGHAM. Her baptism was recorded in the Catholic register of the parish of St James, Cumberland, by the Rev. John E. GOURBEILLON on 19 February 1854. She had been born a fortnight earlier on 31 January. Because it is a Catholic record her mother’s maiden name was recorded. An investigation of all available baptism records for Ellen's siblings from the NSW BDM Index almost without any doubt indicate that Mary CUNNINGHAM and Rachel FINNEGAN indicate the same woman and CUNNINGHAM was a transcription of the misheard surname, FINNEGAN. Because these baptisms are Catholic records, Mary and Rachael's surnames are always recorded and Ellen's baptism represents the only time that the surname CUNNINGHAM appears. Edward PHILBEN and Rachel (X) FINIGAN were married by Francis MURPHY on 4 November 1839, at St Mary's, Sydney. The witnesses were William and Catherine BARRETT. Both witnesses made their mark.71
In November 1870, Mary petitioned the Colonial Secretary for Ellen's release and the constables of Sydney wrote
Mrs Philburn … is living in a state of the utmost squalor and wretchedness in a small house at Waterloo. She is most addicted to intemperance and is cohabiting with a carpenter named Peter Hunter. She has a son residing with her who is also addicted to drunkenness.
In reports provided by the constables for other girls, they were specific if a woman was not married to her partner, and in this case no such reference is recorded. The lack of this police statement strongly suggests that the police accepted or knew that Mary and Edward were married, albeit separated, further supporting that Rachael and Mary were the same person. The son referred to is not identified, but was likely to be Thomas as many children of the couple did not survive childhood. Mary died as Mary PHILBIN on 18 May 1873, at the age of sixty and a Funeral Notice was place in the SMH.72 Her parents were recorded on her death registration as Abraham and Mary.
Edward PHILBIN had been transported from Ireland for seven years aboard the Waterloo for house robbery. He appeared on the indent as Edward FILBY alias FILBEN but SRNSW attributed the surname FILBY as the alias. Edward had been born in county Mayo but had been tried at Westmeath. It is possible that Edward was related to the convict John PHILBIN, also from County Mayo, who had been transported for life aboard the Earl Grey.73 Edward was free when he married Rachael FINIGAN in 1839. She was on a bond and had been transported for fourteen years on the Elizabeth (5). Her mother was identified on the indent as No. 36-440, the woman named before her on the indent, Mary TOWNSHEND. Rachael was twenty-three at the time she married. Permission for this marriage had been granted by F. MURPHY in Sydney on 25 October 1837.74 The consent of Rachael’s assignee was given. She was transported at the age of twenty for fourteen years after having been tried with her mother in London. She had been born in Lincolnshire and had arrived with an unidentified four month old child.75 Baptisms of seven children are recorded in NSW BDM under a wide range of spellings. Many baptisms appear in inaccessible registers so are unable to be read. Edward's death was recorded in 1877. The last confirmation of Edward prior to his death was when he appeared in court for drunkenness in 1876.76 No funeral notices have yet been found for Edward.
Ellen's brother, Thomas, appears on occasion in the courts of NSW until about 1884 and then he also disappears from NSW records. On at least one instance he was recorded with an alias of SMITH.77 It is possible that the family left NSW but no searches have been undertaken in any other state. Jane PHILBEN's husband was a mariner which may have enabled easy movement from NSW.78
It must be considered that the Edith PHILBEEN, the victim of an attempted rape by William McGUIRE in 1880,79 is another reference to Ellen. An Hanorah aka Norah PHILBEAN, born in about 1843, was discharged twice from Darlinghurst in 187880 and for whom a warrant was issued in 1888. She may be a sister of Ellen.81 An Edward FALLON, who had parents Edward and Mary was baptised in 1842 and may be a further child of Edward.82
Updated October 2014