On 2 February 1815, a young Irishwoman approached the Hythe Overseer of the Poor, George Scott. Her name, she said, was Jane Harris and she was the wife of George Harris, a soldier in the 95th Regiment, and the mother of his five children. George had been sent overseas, to America and had not left her any means of support. She showed him a document , which proved all she said and asked him for money to get her and the children to Dover, where she had friends who would help her.
George Scott had no reason to doubt her. Many soldiers left their families unsupported when they were posted and he knew that the 95th, the Green Jackets, were constantly on the move. He gave her six shillings and sixpence.
Shortly afterwards, however, he was told that a party of ‘vagrants’ was in town and using false documents and that his ‘Jane Harris’ was one of them. He found her at the Duke’s Head inn, in company with two other women, Mary Welch and Mary Davis, and several children.
The Duke’s Head in Hythe, empty now for some years…
Scott then went and searched the yard of another public house in Hythe, the King’s Head, and found a quantity of stolen printed forms for emergency passes, mostly issued by the City of Canterbury.
and the King’s Head, still thriving
He said later he had been ‘acting on information.’ The information came from Mary Davis. She really was the wife of a soldier, but had fallen in with the group and subsequently fallen out with them and was now getting her revenge. She also told Scott that it was Mary Welch who was the organiser of the scam. It was she who supplied the documents but not the one presenting -‘uttering’ – them, so she was at one remove from the offence. Presumably she also got a cut of the ‘takings’.
‘Jane Harris’, whose real name was Mary Supple, was arrested, along with Mary Welch, who had been wanted for some time by Bow Street police in London. Both women were committed to Hythe Town gaol. In fact the fraud had been going on across the county. Only weeks before the Hythe arrests, another woman was detained in Rochester for exactly the same trick, but using the name of Easterwood. She was sentenced to seven years transportation, and that was the sentence Mary Supple received, too, from the Hythe magistrates. Mary Davis gave evidence for the prosecution. Of the organiser, Mary Welch, there is no further trace after she was sent to London for trial.
Mary Supple had been born in County Cork in about 1791 and had married Patrick Beehan, though whether he was at this stage alive or dead we do not know. They had a child together, another Patrick, born in 1813 in Ireland. Little Patrick was with Mary when she was arrested and was transported with her in July 1815. They sailed on board the ship Mary Anne along with ninety-nine other women convicts for New South Wales, arriving on 19 January 1816 – this was an unusually long voyage.
Between 1788 and1852, about twenty-four thousand women were transported to Australia. Some of these, until about 1820, were given their ticket of leave on arrival – if they had either money or a recommendation from the ship’s captain. The others were sent to The Female Factory at Parramatta, a squalid loft above a gaol.
We don’t know which of these happened to Mary, but she had the very good sense to find herself protection early on. She married, or perhaps co-habited with, James Nugent, another convict who had been sentenced to twenty-one years in 1811 for highway robbery. A single convict woman in New South Wales was incredibly vulnerable and regarded by the authorities, other convicts and free settlers alike as fair game for abuse and exploitation.
Mary worked as a launderess and she and James had three children: James, Mary and Thomas.
She died in 1830, but all her children, including her first, Patrick, survived childhood and married and had children of their own and lived long lives. Their descendants still live in Australia.