Mary Kearns

Mary Kearns
(1768 -1826)


Mary Kearns was 23 years old when arrested in Dublin and charged with theft.  She had been born in Dublin about 1868 and appears to have lived her life there.  Mary was charged with and found guilty of stealing a cloak.  She was sentenced to transportation for seven years.  For eleven months she was held in a gaol in Cork before boarding the Sugar Cane, along with 110 male convicts and 49 other female convicts.  The Sugar Cane sailed from Cork on April 13th, 1793 bound for Port Jackson via Rio de Janeiro.  It was an uneventful journey until some person revealed that a mutiny was planned and that some convicts had sawn through their irons.  The Surgeon found one convict out of his irons and had him taken to the yardarm and immediately executed.  The following morning several more convicts were punished and from that time on there was no trouble aboard the ship.  The Sugar Cane arrived in Port Jackson on Tuesday, September 17th, 1793 and the passage had taken 157 days, with only one death apart from the convict who had been hung.

The female convicts who arrived in the early years of the colony were not generally given huts to live in.  Some were assigned to domestic service but most were encouraged to co-habit with the male convicts.  Most female convicts became “Hut Keepers” and formed relationships with the occupiers of the hut.  It was this role which Mary Kearns undertook when she teamed up with Jonas Archer, who had arrived in 1791.  On December 15th, 1794, Mary gave birth to their first child, named James Archer, who was baptised at St John’s Church, Parramatta on January 25th, 1795 by Samuel Marsden.  The register notes that he was the son of Jonas Archer and Mary Kans (sic).

By 1796, Jonas Archer and Mary appear to be living at Mulgrave Place when Mary reported the murder of two young aborigines and named those who had committed the crime.  On the evidence provided by Mary the five men were arrested and charged. By 1798, Jonas Archer had completed his sentence and sought a grant of land at Mulgrave Place.  He received a grant of 40 acres, which was to be known as Archers Farm, on January 1st, 1800.

But misfortune fell on the family when on January 2nd, 1800, their son James Archer died.  He was buried in St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, but his death is not recorded in the church register.  In March 1802, the area where Jonas and Mary lived was heavily flooded, leaving the inexperienced farmers facing financial ruin.  Despite Jonas Archer’s losses, he persevered and was able to sell crops to the government later that year.  But repeated floodings incurred further losses and Archer faced bankruptcy.  He decided to leave the colony but before doing so, he privately sold his farm and contents to Mary for a nominal sum.  So, Mary Kearns became the sole owner of 65 acres of land and became the overseer to the government assigned convicts, who at that time would have included William Chalker.

When William Chalker and Mary Kearns married is not known, but in April 1803 Father Dixon was given permission to perform his clerical functions once in 3 weeks at the settlements of Sydney, Parramatta and Hawkesbury.

The Sydney Gazette of November 11th, 1804 reported a bush fire which raged out of control at Green Hills.  “The fire was perceived to have reached the skirts of Chalker’s Farm, where Mrs Chalker, in a resolute attempt to resist the ravages was herself severely burnt, but by the aid timely afforded, the damage done to the wheat was inconsiderable”.  It is a reflection on the values of the time when greater emphasis is placed on saving the crops than Mary Chalker being severely burnt.

In March 1806 Chalker’s Hut, where people were sheltering, was completely swamped by flood waters.  Five persons who were at the farm lost their lives, four of them when they attempted to flee the flood waters in a boat with William Chalker.

On July 4th, 1807 “An Article of Separation” was published in the Sydney Gazette, followed by a public notice in which William declared he would not be responsible for any debts incurred by his wife Mary Chalker. Prior to their separation, William had leased much of their land to others to farm; in 1806, 4 acres to William Shaw for 3 years and in 1807, 70 acres to Clark and Pendergast for 3 years.  This meant, although William had agreed to give everything apart from his horse to Mary when they separated, she was unable to farm her land and therefore unable to receive a reasonable income.  In 1809 floods once again ravaged the farms at Green Hills.  The lessees of Mary’s land were unable to pay their lease agreements and Mary became destitute.  On December 11th, 1809, Mary placed a notice in the Sydney Gazette “Notice is hereby given…….and that in future no receipts or acquittances for monies or other properties will be valid unless the same are paid or rendered into the hands of the said Mary Chalker and acknowledged by her accordingly”.  Signed Mary Chalker X her mark.  Mary lost her farm and in the Sydney Gazette of April 2nd, 1812, traders were cautioned against allowing Mary Chalker credit.

On November 14th, 1812, Mary Kearns (Sugar Cane) appeared before a Magistrate, charged with having fraudulently obtained goods to the value of £6 from the warehouse of Messrs Lord and Williams.  Found guilty, she was committed to spend six months at the Female Factory in Parramatta.

On her release from the Female Factory in May 1813, Mary turned to James Meehan (a friend from her time at Green Hills) and with his help obtained a live-in situation with John Oxley.  It was during this time that William Senior, a 33 years old Irish tailor and convict, became a valet for John Oxley.  In 1816, Oxley sold his George Street residence and moved to a two storey residence on the corner of King and Macquarie Streets, Sydney with his staff, Mary Chalker and William Senior.    In February 1821, John Oxley paid Mary Chalker £600 by a promissory note to settle an unexplained debt.

William Senior’s convicted term ended in 1820 and records locate him living with Mary Chalker in Hunter Street on October 3rd, 1822 with an assigned convict, John Harrington.

After the death of William Chalker in 1823, Mary, a Roman Catholic, was now legally free to marry.  In 1824 the names of Mary Chalker and William Senior were listed for permission to marry.

On September 24th, 1825 Mary, suffering from ill-health, had a will drawn up leaving all her worldly goods to William Senior, including the promissory note from John Oxley for £600.  She also requested that her body be interred in the same tomb as her son James in Parramatta.

Mary died in November 1826, aged 56, years after a long illness.  Her remains were taken to Parramatta and on November 17th, Samuel Marsden conducted the burial service.  She was laid to rest in the grave of her son, James Archer, Plot 11, Row N of Section 2.  Unfortunately, her name was never added to the standing headstone.