ELEANOR (McCABE) MAGEE

 

Eleanor McCabe was 22 when she was convicted in 1785. She had been tried at the Old Bailey for, with Ann George, feloniously assaulting John Harris in the home of William Calloway, on 1 May 1785, and putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life and feloniously taking from him, against his will, coins to the value of 3/3. Nor was the trial peaceful as McCabe was one of four women who physically attacked the prosecutor and almost tore him to pieces. She was sentenced to seven years transportation.

 

During the trial evidence was heard that McCabe was a "hawker". From the evidence this is clearly a euphemism for prostitution. She may also have been before the court on several previous occasions. On one occasion sentenced to death (but later pardoned) and on another sent to a House of Correction for six months.

McCabe voyaged to the Colony aboard Lady Penrhyn, and during this voyage gave birth to a still-born boy. The father is unknown. Together with Catherine Hart and two others she was apparently transferred from the Lady Penrhyn to Prince of Wales.

In the year of her arrival McCabe married fellow-convict Charles Williams (alias Charles Magee) on 21August 1788. He had arrived on Scarborough convicted at the Old Bailey in 1787 for theft of a bag from a wagon outside the Three Cups, Broad Street, Fleet Market. He had some knowledge of farming and indeed had earlier been a convict in America. In March 1791 Magee was granted 30 acres of land on the south side of the Parramatta River. Initially he worked hard on his grant and within six months had eight acres cleared and under crop. Watkin Tench wrote highly of his endeavours. This high opinion was not, however, maintained especially after a burglary case in 1792 when Collins records that he left the court "much degraded in the opinion of every man who heard him."

James, their first child, only lived for two months. A year later their second child, Mary, was born. Shortly after her birth the couple moved to Rose Hill to settle on Williams's land grant.

 

Their life style did not improve and the events of 18 January 1793 and their sequel are best related by Judge-Advocate David Collins: "On Friday the 18th, Eleanor McCabe, the wife of Charles Williams, the settler, was drowned, together with an infant child, and a woman of the name of Green. These unfortunate people had been drinking and revelling with Williams the husband and others at Sydney, and were proceeding to Parramatta in a small boat, in which was a bag of rice belonging to Green. The boat heeling considerably, and some water getting at the bag, by a movement of Green's to save her rice the boat overset near Breakfast Point, and the two women and the child were drowned. If assistance could have been obtained upon the spot, the child might have been saved; for it was forced from the wretched mother's grasp just before she finally sunk, and brought on shore by the father; but for want of medical aid it expired.

The parents of this child were noted in the Colony for the general immorality of their conduct; they had been rioting and fighting with each other the moment before they got into the boat; and it was said, that the woman had imprecated every evil to befall her, and the infant she carried about her (for she was six months gone with child) if she accompanied her husband to Parramatta. The bodies of these two unfortunate women were found a few days afterwards, when the wretched and rascally Williams buried his wife and child within a very few feet of his own door. The profligacy of this man indeed manifested itself in a strange manner: a short time after he had thus buried his wife, he was seen sitting at his door, with a bottle of rum in his hand, and actually drinking one glass and pouring another on her grave until it was emptied, prefacing every libation by declaring how well she had loved it during her life. He appeared to be in a state not far from insanity, as this anecdote certainly testifies; but the melancholy event had not had any other effect upon his mind."

 

The woman Green, who drowned with McCabe in 1793 has not yet been identified. She was not the Ann Green who travelled to the Colony aboard Lady Penrhyn with McCabe, for that Ann Green lies buried at St Matthew's, Windsor, but beyond this nothing in known. In October of that year Williams proceeded to sell his farm for less than 100 pounds. Although he expressed the intention of returning to England he in fact remained on the farm which he had just sold, as a labourer. In 1794 he moved to live at Mulgrave Place, and died 10 years later on 13 March 1815, having done manual jobs in the meantime.

In 1982 the Fellowship dedicated a memorial plaque to Eleanor, fixed to the foot of the masonry border of her grave plot. Curiously, the grave is located in unconsecrated land within the mainline railway easement at Camellia, Sydney.

 

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