Mary O'Brien, ex Inchinnan
Mary O’Brien, aged 16, reported to the Immigration Agent on arrival in Sydney on the Inchinnan in 1849 that she was from Ballina and that her parents’ names were Martin and Nancy.
Baptism records were found for an Anne O'Brian born in 1832, and a sister, Catherine O’Brian, born in 1835, to Martin O'Brian and Nancy O'Boyle of Crossmolina. There is a possibility that Anne and Mary are the same person, but this has not been confirmed.
What is known is that Mary did not fare well in service in Sydney.
On 21 December 1849 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Mary O’Brien, “one of the Irish orphan girls” was in court after being apprehended by warrant, after absconding several days previously from the service of Mr and Mrs Hillas of ‘Toongabbee’ (Toongabbie, now a suburb of Sydney). The newspaper reports that this was Mary’s second service since being in the colony, though no details are known of her first service.
The court acknowledged the apparent kindness of Mrs Hillas, “who seemed a motherly nice woman, [and] came and advised her to return and be a good girl”. However Mary wanted her indentures cancelled and to be enabled to return to the Immigration Depot, making no defence following a lecture from the bench “on the impropriety of her conduct informing her that she would be sent into the interior, where the temptation for running away would not be so great”. No record of Mary O’Brien has been found following this event.
This newspaper article raises questions about what the girls thought of their indentures and situations. The fact that Mary was already on a second service within her first year, had subsequently absconded from the service with Mr and Mrs Hillas, was arrested on a warrant after a few days, and received a threat of being “sent into the interior”, conveys a heavy-handed control by the authorities and a real sense of a lack of freedom and power of the girls over their own destinies. We do not get to hear the girls in their own voices, but Mary’s actions appear to convey an unhappiness and desperation to change her situation.
© Barbara Barclay (2015)