The Story of Mary Calvert

In April 2008 my attention was drawn to the following from The Birmingham Daily Post, Friday , May 18, 1860 :

The Crime

DREADFUL MURDER IN TASMANIA – A dreadful tragedy has been perpetrated in Hobart Town, Tasmania, by which an old man named George Tickner, and his paramour, Mary Calvert, several years his junior, met their death. Calvert formerly lived in service at the St. Leger Inn, King William Street, Blackburn, and is a native of Great Harwood, where several of her family now reside. Her father was a gamekeeper. Tickner was a native of Kent and was a singular[1] man and a dealer on a wharf, miserly disposed, and so careful of his money that he “planted” it in odd sort of places. He and Calvert lived together as man and wife. Both parties were convicts. The murder took place under circumstances of strange and appalling mystery on Saturday morning, 18thof February last. It was well known that Tickner had saved money, and on the night before the murder he was seen with a roll of notes, about £14. or £15. and some silver, in his possession. He rode home from the wharf as usual, with the drayman who generally gave him a ride, and had tea with Calvert, who was sober, and a neighbour named John Plummer, whom he was going to employ on jobs on the premises. On going away that night, John Plummer saw Tickner shut the outer gate, very carefully push down the latch, and satisfy himself that it was secure. Shortly before five o'clock the next morning, as Plummer was going to his work, he observed the gate wide open, and proceeding a little further saw Tickner lying in the yard, in a pool of blood, senseless, but not dead, bleeding from several frightful wounds to the head. He then entered the back room of the cottage , which was appropriated as a dormitory, and there he found, upon the floor, near the bed, Calvert, clothed only with a chemise and a light skirt. She was also alive , and bleeding from dreadful wounds on the head. The heads of both were literally beaten to pieces, apparently by a small axe or tomahawk. He alarmed the neighbours and ran for Dr. Bedford, who promptly attended. The old man expired just as the doctor was approaching him and Calvert expired an hour afterwards. Not the slightest trace of the murderer or weapon with which the foul crime was comitted have been found, and this is the more remarkable as the house of the victims is not isolated, but surrounded by other dwellings in Adelaide Street. No money was found on Tickner's person, but a gold watch, wrapped in old rags, was in one of his trouser pockets. Subsequently the police found upwards of £200. in sovereigns, and their tickets of freedom and other articles, in a shed near the house. A searching inquest was held on the bodies, and the Jury have returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against some person or persons unknown. - From Hobart Town papers.


The above was also reported in other papers in almost the same words and as a result myself and others have researched Mary Calvert from Great Harwood to put together a picture of who she was and how she came to be in Tasmania.

Mary's History

Tracing back using Ancestry.com we find :


Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868

Name:

Mary Calvert

Vessel:

Tasmania

Convicted Date:

23 May 1844

Voyage Date:

3 Sep 1844

Colony:

Van Dieman's Land

Piece:

HO 11/14

Place of Conviction:

Lancaster


New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849

Name:

Mary Calvert

Arrival Date:

1844

Vessel:

Tasmania

Piece:

HO 10/39

Province:

Tasmania

Title:

Ledger Returns S-Z

Year(s):

1846

Place of Conviction:

Lancaster


New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849

Name:

Mary Calvert

Arrival Date:

1844

Vessel:

Tasmania Pt

Piece:

HO 10/41

Province:

Tasmania

Title:

List of convicts (incomplete)

Year(s):

1808-1849

Place of Conviction:

Preston


So the records say she was convicted on 23 May 1844 at Lancaster, this, however is a bit of a red herring as Lancaster was used as the county name for Lancashire. She was, in fact convicted at Preston. This was reported simply in the Blackburn Standard dated Wed. 29 May 1844 (Preston Intermediate Sessions):


Mary Calvert, 29, was charged with stealing at Blackburn, on the 10th of May, one shawl, the property of Wm. Barton - Guilty. Sentenced to seven years' transportation.

When I examined the Bill for Prosecution from the Lancashire County Records Office associated with this conviction it became apparent that this was not her first offence, which is probably why she was transported for it. Further searches of the Bills of Prosecution showed that in April 1840 Philip Kershaw prosecuted a Mary Calvert at Preston Quarter sessions. This was reported at length in Preston ChronicleSaturday, April 11, 1840. She was charged with stealing, at Billington, four yards of calico and two yards of linen cloth, the property of Mr Philip Kershaw, and also other articles the property of Mary Moore. The jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict of guilty. She was sentenced to be imprisoned for three months. At the time of the offence she appears to have been working as a servant for Mr. Kershaw who was the Surgeon in charge of the “Licensed Madhouse” at Billington. A later examination of the Tasmanian records shows she was also convicted at some stage before transportation of “striking a girl” and received a sentence of 1 month.


In 1847 whilst a convict she was sentenced to 12 months hard labour for “Taking / feloniously stealing a china basin”. Mary obtained her Freedom Certificate in 1857, some 13 years after her transportation. During her sentence she had been employed in the Cascades female factory in Hobart.


Looking at my database of Calverts I was able to identify Mary as the daughter of Benjamin & Ellen Calvert, born in 1815 the eldest of seven children. Benjamin was a weaver living in Great Harwood between 1815 and 1825, but by 1841 he was a labourer and a widower his wife Ellen having died the year before. At that time he was living at Lowerfold. Mary was also living there with her illegitimate daughter Elizabeth who had been born in 1833. She and her two surviving sisters (one had died aged 2 in 1815) were hand-weavers and her brother Daniel (age only 15) was a coal miner. Her younger sister, Jane, also had an illegitimate child and was to have two more before she married John Heys in 1847, a fortnight after the death of their father, Benjamin. Jane had lived at Lowerfold with her father certainly up until March 1847 when one of her daughters, Catherine died. It is likely that her marriage was precipitated by the death of Benjamin, which could otherwise have left her homeless. Another sister, Maria (at one point this appeared to be an alternative name for Mary) had married an Edward Abbott in 1838. The name Abbott may be significant as in the Tasmanian records Mary declares “Titus Abbott is the father of my child”. The Tasmanian records also show that she had another brother, whose name appears to be “Ambrose” although the writing is unclear. I have, however, been unable to find any trace of an Ambrose Calvert in the various parish records and censuses.


By the time of his death Benjamin was an under gamekeeper for John Lomax of Clayton Hall. We know this because an inquest into his death “from excessive drinking” was reported in the "Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser" 8th May 1847 . His occupation of gamekeeper it the only one I have noted within the Calvert family and the reason that, from the report of Mary's murder, I am sure we have the right family. Philip Kershaw, the Surgeon who employed Mary, was a shooting partner of John Lomax in 1842 when Lomax shot himself in the hand (reported in The Times 5 Nov 1842). It was probably through the Lomax connection that Benjamin obtained employment for Mary at Kershaw's Billington Asylum.


Mary appears to have tried a number of occupations, as a servant in a Lunatic Asylum in 1840, a hand-weaver in 1841 following which she went into service at the St Leger Inn, King William St, Blackburn. It was probably while she was employed there that she stole the scarf that led to her transportation to the other side of the world, cutting her off from her family. Mary's daughter, Elizabeth, by 1851 was lodging with her aunt Jane in what appears to be the Heys family home at Bowley – Jane's husband's parents were living next door in one direction and his brother and family next door in the other. Whether Elizabeth moved there when Mary left for Blackburn or when she was transported is not clear.
Examining the original report of the murder suggests an irregular relationship between Mary and her fellow convict, George Tickner. They were, however, married. The wedding took place at St Georges C. of E. Church, Hobart Town on 21 July 1846. The marriage entry shows that George was a sawyer, aged 37 and Mary was a spinster, aged 21; the 21 was probably the conventional way of indicating she was of full age to marry and should not be taken as her real age . By their deaths in 1860 their relationship had lasted over 14 years.

George Tickner

George Tickner was transported on 26 April 1823 on the ship Commodore Hayes and arrived on 16 August in the same year so he had been in Van Dieman's Land 21 years before Mary arrived. Previous to his transportation he was held on the hulk Bellerophon and the following is a copy of the record from his time there. The "Character" tells us something about the man.

Prison ship (Hulk) registers 1811-1843

First name(s)

George

Last name

Tickner

Hulk

Bellerophon

Received From

Newhall 21 May 1822

Age

23

Status

Adult

Offence

Sheep Stealing C.R. (Capital respite)

Where And When Convicted

Newhall 22 April 1822

Sentence

Life

When Mitigated

-

How & When Disposed Of

Discharged 7 April 1823 pr the Commodore Hayes New South Wales

Character From Gaoler:

Behaved quiet & Orderly in prison. Temper & disposition good. Connexions & former course of life always worked as a Labourer nothing more has come to my knowledge

It appears from the following that George had been granted a pardon in 1843/4, just before Mary's arrival in Tasmania :


New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia, Convict Pardons and Tickets of Leave, 1834-1859

Name:

George Tickner

Vessel:

Comm Hayes

Piece:

HO 10/58

Province:

Tasmania

Title:

Pardons

Year(s):

1843-1844

The application to marry shows that this was a “conditional” pardon.

According to the 1823 Convict Muster records he had been sentenced to life in 1822. He had been convicted at Kent, Liberty of Romney Marsh, (Session of Peace and Gaol delivery) His conduct record (CON31/1/42, entry 243) shows that he had been a labourer and his crime was "sheep stealing". As sheep stealing was a capital offence until 1832 it explains why he was transported for life. On arrival he was assigned to John Wade as his master. He got into trouble again for stealing "five ewe sheep" in October 1838.

The Murderer:

It appears the original murderer was never brought to justice - A man named Charles Williams was apprehended immediately following the murders but was released following investigation.

In The Colonist, 16 September 1864 we read

The following "Return of the names, ages, and sexes of persons who have been murdered in Tasmania, from the 1st January, 1857, to 31st December, 1863, the places where such persons were murdered, and whose murderers are still undetected," has been laid before the Tasmanian Parliament in compliance with an order, on the motion of Mr. Balfe:—
City of Hobart Municipality.—Tickner, George, February 18, 1860, aged 60, male: Tickner, Mary, February 18, 1860, aged 50, female. Two men were severally charged on suspicion with this murder, but the evidence adduced did not warrant their committal for trial.

And in 1867 an Ex Hobart policeman living in New Zealand confessed to the crime:

Hobart Town Mercury January 29th 1876

....the victims of the almost unparalleled atrocities committed in the perpetration of the dreadful crimes being an old man named George Tickner and Mary Tickner, his wife......... Now, however, it, would appear that all that related to their perpetration is about to be cleared up, information having reached Hobart Town within the last few days, that a man named James Baxter, formerly constable in the Hobart Town police force, had delivered himself up to the police authorities at Lyttelton, New Zealand, confessing that he was the murderer of the above named unfortunate pair, adding that if the authorities at Hobart Town would send Detective Vickers over to Lyttelton he would make a full confession of the whole of the facts connected with the dreadful crimes......

Baxter was charged with the murders in Lyttleton on Feb 13 1876 and was remanded until Detective Constable Vickers arrived from Hobart.

Hobart Mercury - 14 March 1867

Report of proceedings which took place at the Magistrates Court, Lyttelton, on 22nd ult., in reference to the dreadful murders:-Magistrates' Court, Friday, February 22nd :- Before Wm. Donald, Esq., R.M. -Jas. Baxter, alias Allan M'Gregor, was brought up on remand, on the charge of murdering Mr. and Mrs. Tickner, at Hobart Town. Detective Constable Vickers was present in court, having arrived from Hobart Town. On being sworn, he said : He knew the prisoner at the bar. He was known to him twelve months before the murder occurred in Hobart Town. It happened on the 18th February, 1860. Witness said he recollected the circumstances of the murder ; it occurred on the morning of the 18th February. The victims appeared to have been murdered with a tomahawk; neither the weapon nor the murderer had ever been discovered.

He had every reason to believe the prisoner to be the person who committed the murder. He resided within a quarter of a mile from the scene. The signatures to the depositions were those of Mr. A. B. Jones, police magistrate at Hobart Town. They were the depositions of W. Vickers and Henry Brown, of Hobart Town. The prisoner, after receiving a caution, stated that the statement made before by him was all a delusion. He had no idea where he was on the night of the murder. He heard the account read at Mr. Doan's house, who is mentioned in the depositions. In the state of mind he was in when he made the confession, he believed that he had done the deed. He did not know any- thing about the tomahawk. He denied all knowledge of the murder, and did not wish to say any- thing more. Detective Vickers applied for the discharge of the prisoner. The Resident Magistrate then discharged the accused, and ordered that he should be conveyed to the hospital, in consequence of his illness. Accused appeared to be suffering from serious illness, and was conveyed to the hospital during the afternoon."

So it appears the ex-Policeman was probably mentally ill when he confessed.

Acknowledgements

This story has been pieced together using newspaper records, census information, immigration records from Ancestry Library edition, documents from the Lancashire County Records Office located using A2A (the Access to Archives website) and documents obtained from Tasmanian archives by Sonia Spencer.



[1]  - “single” in Leeds Mercury


Author : Bob Calvert 
Date :29 August 2012