The PRICE Sisters
Father unknown b. m. d. bef. 1867
Mother Ann PRICE b.c. 18401 m. d. aft. 1869
Inmate Margaret PRICE b.c. 1861 m. none (see below) d. 18892
Inmate Mary Ann PRICE b.c. 1863 m. (see below) d. aft. 1875

In July 1867, two sisters, five-year-old Margaret, and three-and-a-half-year-old, Mary Ann, appeared on the list of at risk children compiled by the constables of Sydney. The constables stated in their report

Catholic: Father dead: mother keeps a disreputable house in Clarence Street which is the only means she has of maintaining her children.3

Details of Margaret's arrest in September 1867, indicated that she and her mother, Ann, and probably also her sister, Mary Ann, were living in the same house in Clarence Street as the McGILL family. Margaret PRICE and Hannah McGILL were arrested together and sent to Newcastle together. Mary Ann wasn't mentioned at this time but she was almost without any doubt arrested nearly two years later in August 1869 at the age of six and also sent to Newcastle. Both Margaret and Mary Ann transferred with the school to Biloela on Cockatoo Island in May 1871. On the transfer lists Margaret was recorded as eight years old and Mary Ann was seven. Both were confirmed as Catholic. These lists erroneously indicated that both girls were received in 18694 and this administrative error further supported the very strong indication that they were sisters. It is almost certain that they were recorded as sisters in the Entrance Book as this had been the procedure used when other sets of sisters were admitted to Newcastle.5 This notation, which unfortunately no longer exists as it would have appeared in the missing section of the Entrance Book, almost certainly once appeared beside Mary Ann's name as she had been admitted last.


In 1867 Margaret’s mother was identified in her Entrance Book admission details as Ann PRICE, a widow, living in Clarence Street, Sydney. The entry further indicated that Margaret's father was dead and that her mother was a washerwoman.6 Ann PRICE and her husband haven't been identified but it is still thought likely that both sisters were legitimate because the constables of Sydney were very specific if they were aware of any illegitimacy when they compiled the names on their July 1867 list.7

If she married there is a very strong likelihood that Ann had married in Australia, and probably in NSW. No assisted arrivals of an Ann/e/ie PRICE occurred before the arrest of her first daughter in 1867. It must also be considered that Ann had never married and that both the sisters actually were illegitimate. A search of all children named Margaret and Mary Ann born between 1860 and 1865 with a mother named Ann, Anne or Annie having any surname, identified no potential births or possible families.

Newspaper reports of Margaret's court proceedings indicated that Annie had been the keeper of a brothel for two years before Margaret's arrest. Senior-sergeant WATERS deposed about the character of the house and Margaret’s mother, when questioned about keeping the house, stated that she had no other way of obtaining a living. This would suggest that Ann had operated a brothel since about 1865. It is very interesting to note that appearances for Ann/e/ie PRICE begin to appear in Sand's Directory from about this date. The Ann PRICE recorded, as a laundress, was living in 306 Kent Street in 1867. She may have been living in Susan Street, Newtown, in 1866; was possibly in Richard Street, Newtown, in 1868 and in 1870; was possibly operating a boarding house in New John Street in 1870 and may have been living in Ann Street, Balmain in 1871. From 1871 there are no clear entries in Sand's Directory for an Ann/e/ie PRICE until 1905. The occupation of laundress and the itinerant lifestyle would not be unusual in a woman who was in straightened circumstances and operating a house of ill-fame. If this is a reference to Ann it would confirm the statements made by Senior-sergeant WATERS and again suggest an approximate year of death for her unknown husband of about 1865.

Ann PRICE's age cannot be accurately identified and no references that may refer to her or her daughters have been located on the NSW BDM Index. Neither Margaret or Mary Ann has a registration in the name PRICE with a mother named Ann/e/ie. The only reference yet located that may indicate an age occurred after an arrest in 1875 that indicated that Ann PRICE was 35.8 If this age does refer to Ann she would have been about fifteen when Margaret was born. This possible age does make it more likely that Margaret and Mary Ann were illegitimate but no reference has been found to confirm that this is their mother. The year of birth of about 1840 has tentatively been attributed to Ann PRICE.

By the time of Mary Ann's arrest in 1869, it is considered likely that Ann, although she wasn't identified in court, was using the name Ann ROOKE. Mary Ann had been admitted with the alias of ROOKE and it is likely that this alias had been acquired from the man with whom her mother was living. It is also possible that the surname ROOKE may have been a similar or mistranscribed surname. A 51-year-old Ann ROACH appeared in Sydney courts during the early 1870s so it may be that this surname was a mistranscription of ROACH.9 The Police Gazette identified in 1871 that Ann A. ROACH had been born in London in about 1829. She had arrived on the Planter. There is no suggestion that this is the mother of the inmates.10 It is unknown how long the use of this surname continued.

It was more than likely that Ann had appeared often in court both before and after her daughters' admissions to the school. Appearances for obscene language and minor assaults have been identified for an Ann PRICE although no reports have been found for prostitution. Records for the name Ann/e/ie PRICE are rare. None have been located in either the Police Gazette or in Darlinghurst Gaol, that provide an age, description, ship of arrival or place of birth. Only reports from the newspapers can be used to identify her and none can then be confirmed. Ann may have been the woman appearing in court charged with false pretences and sentenced to fourteen days in gaol, on 23 March 1863,11 as she was described in this appearance as Mrs Ann PRICE.12 She may also have appeared in February 1865,13 and May 1871.14

Gaol admissions for women named Ann PRICE have been identified only after 1875. The Sydney Court recorded appearances in May 187615 and during December 1876.16 A further likely appearance then occurred in May 187717 when Ann probably appeared with a man recorded in the newspaper as Henry PRICE. In July 1877 an Ann PRICE was living in Brougham Place when she was attacked by another resident of the property, Susan EGAN. Ann took EGAN to court charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm.18

It is possible, but cannot be confirmed, that the Ann PRICE who in July 1860, had resided with Mrs C. PRICE at 138 Cumberland Street,19 may be this woman.

No appropriate assisted immigrants named Ann/i/e PRICE or either of her daughters have been found and it has not been possible to identify Margaret’s father from either the NSW BDM Index or Trove. It is not considered likely that he was the man named William PRICE who died in 1866. It may be that Ann was the woman referred to in the advertisement placed by Mrs C. PRICE in the SMH in 1860.20

Ann cannot be the woman who married Thomas PRICE in 1851 in Yass because there are no registrations for children named Mary Ann or Margaret and there is little chance that their births occurred but were unregistered. Online trees confirm birth registrations and indicate that Thomas was still alive and the family was still together when the sisters were arrested. Ann cannot be the woman who married Edward PRICE aka PRYCE in 1860 because there are no registrations for children named Mary Ann or Margaret and there is little chance that their births occurred but were unregistered and online trees indicate that Edward outlived Ann.

The last reference yet located in the Sydney courts for Ann PRICE was in December 1876.21 It is possible that one of the following deaths may refer to her:

Ann E daughter of Samuel and Martha in Glebe (2286/1877)
Annie daughter of John, mother unknown in Sydney (2375/1885)
Annie C. daughter of John A. H. and Frances in Paddington (5043/1885)
Anne parents unknown, maiden name NEWTON, died in Sydney (958/1891)

Margaret and Mary Ann's father is unidentified. It is thought that he had died in about 1865. A potential father was the man named William PRICE who had died in 1866 although this man held a position and had two Funeral Notices so may not be correct.22 His parents were identified as William and Caroline.23

Margaret PRICE

Husband unknown b. m. d.
Daughter Ethel A. PRICE b. 188924 m. none - d. 189025

Margaret was apprehended in Sydney by constable THOMPSON and appeared in court on 2 September 1867, and was reported to be either five26 or six.27 The Empire newspaper report indicated that one of the arrested girls’ mothers was crying bitterly when her daughter was sent to Newcastle and it is thought that this was probably Margaret's mother, Ann, as she was known to be in court. On her arrival in Newcastle on 5 September 1867, the Entrance Book recorded that Margaret was seven. She was a Catholic and her educational level was described as 'alphabet on slate.'28 Margaret’s medical assessment by Dr HARRIS showed that she was a virgin.29

The Entrance Book and in his report from December 1872, LUCAS30 recorded that Margaret had been apprenticed for six years to Mr Thomas WALDIC or WALDIE, Manager, of the Victorian Gold Mining Company, Trunkley, on 29 November 1872. In the letter requesting permission to arrange the apprenticeship, LUCAS recorded that Margaret was about twelve years old.31 The apprenticeship to WALDIC aka WALDEY proved to be a problem for the government because LUCAS had made a poor match with Margaret's and WALDIC's religions. The WALDIC family were Protestant and according to a complaint made by the Rev. John COOKE on Margaret's behalf in July 1875, 'she has been interfered with in regard to her religion.' Mr WALDIC had reportedly denied Margaret the opportunity to attend Catholic worship and Mrs WALDIC was reported to have destroyed Margaret's prayer book so COOKE threatened to take this mistreatment before Parliament 'if satisfaction be not given.' He demanded that Margaret be moved to a Catholic family and stated that the Sisters of Charity would care for Margaret in the interim. He was also concerned that:

now Mrs Waldic is gone to England and will be away at least twelve months. I don't think it prudent to leave the girl there. There is no grown female in the house.

WALDIC's response to this accusation was to deny the allegation. He stated that Margaret had opted to attend the Protestant Sabbath School and attributed this choice to the fact that they had a library and allowed borrowing of books. He was adamant that she didn't wish to change her religion and that the accusation that the Prayer Book had been destroyed was 'quite a mistake' and that COOKE should have had the courtesy of speaking to him before going to the Colonial Secretary. He assured the Colonial Secretary that

every one beneath my roof has free Religious Liberty but I will not allow any Priest or Parson to dictate or in any way interfere with any member of my household holding such views it would certainly be most inconsistent for me to dictate to any one what particular creed they should profess, but I am afraid that Mr Cooke's ideas are not in keeping with the progress of this colony.32

It is unknown how this situation was resolved as further communications were not recorded in this bundle of letters. It is also unknown whether Margaret continued to attend the Protestant church, returned to worshiping at the Catholic church or whether the Sisters of Charity took care of her until a new apprenticeship had been arranged. It also must be questioned why Margaret was sent to a non-Catholic household and this was a further indication of the lack of care exhibited by LUCAS.

Twelve years after this event it is considered almost certain that Margaret was the twenty-eight-year-old Margaret PRICE, the mother of the illegitimate daughter, Ethel A. PRICE, in Blayney in 1889. Ethel lived for only a few months and Margaret died of puerperal inflammation on 6 November 1889, almost certainly shortly after this birth. Margaret was recorded as a domestic servant of Blayney but nothing more was known of her by the informant, E. M. REED, the undertaker. She was buried in the Church of England Cemetery, Blayney. While this religion doesn't match Margaret's known religion, it does reflect the reported difficulties supposedly experienced by her during her first apprenticeship. This birth and death have been attributed to Margaret as Blayney is very close to Trunkley and the death was for a woman the correct age working in an occupation that would be expected to have been completed by Margaret.33

Mary Ann PRICE

Name Variations alias ROOKE
Husband b. m. d.
Son b. m. d.
Daughter b. m. d.

Mary Ann was six years old when she appeared in court charged with living with prostitutes on 10 August 1869.34 Her court appearance attributed to her the alias ROOKE,35 Mary Ann’s admission to the school occurred on 12 August 1869.36 The page containing her family, religious, educational and discharge information is the first page of the missing section of the Entrance Book so has not survived. All her details have been attributed to her based on the statements made on the list of at risk children compiled in July 1867 and the admission details of Margaret, who was almost certainly her sister.

On 31 March 1875, Mrs Mary FLYNN of Randwick, applied for an apprentice to assist in domestic duties and specifically requested Mary PRICE.37 Selina WALKER, the superintendent replacing LUCAS, in her report on 26 April 1875, confirmed that Mary Ann had been apprenticed on 20 April.38 No details of her apprenticeship term or payment was included in the correspondence indicating her location. It is unknown how FLYNN came to request Mary as an apprentice but it must be considered that Mary Ann's mother, Ann, had played a role by seeking assistance from someone that she knew to have Mary Ann returned to a location near her.

No indication of Mary Ann's time after beginning this apprenticeship in 1875 has yet been located. It is unknown whether she completed the apprenticeship.

Where has She Gone?

No record can be found that may suggest any gaol admissions for Mary Ann PRICE.

There are some illegitimate births that also may refer to Mary Ann but her name is so common that no record can confidently be attributed to her without proof of her age.

It is possible that she was involved in court appearances39 after her release but none of these have yet been confirmed and another woman of this name, who was a protestant born in about 1855 and for whom a gaol photo remains, also appeared in the Sydney courts.

Mary Ann may possibly have married William Thomas HARRIS in Sydney in 1878.40 When this woman died in 1909,41 only her surname was recorded on theNSW BDM Index. Some online trees identified that this woman was twenty-one when she married and had been born in Sydney in about 1857. Other trees indicate that she was nineteen and married at St David's Church, Surry Hills, on 6 September 1878.42 She was too old to be the Newcastle admission and while it is possible that she lied about her age when she married because she was under the age of twenty-one, because trees have identified her parents as Edward PRICE and Jane JORDAN who had married in 1856.43 Because a birth registration does exist for 1857 with these parents, this woman is considered unlikely. It is unlikely that Ann PRICE was Jane JORDAN when she married as these are no births for any other siblings.

Updated March 2016

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