A female escape artist

Susan Courtney is an interesting example of an intrepid female convict – ‘an escape artist’ who managed to board a ship and sail back to England before her original sentence had expired.

She was originally tried and convicted for forgery on 16 April 1817 at Middlesex and sentenced to 14 years transportation. She arrived in Sydney on the ‘Friendship’ in January 1818. She was then sent with other prisoners on the ‘Duke of Wellington’ to Van Diemen’s Land. There she married John Peck and subsequently managed to escape back to England.
Perhaps unwisely, Susan returned to her old haunts, and was recognised in the street by William Nicols ‘one of the conductors of the Bow Street Night Patrol’. She was apprehended (despite giving the false name of Elizabeth Jones), and was tried on 10 September 1823 for returning from transportation, and found guilty. She was re-transported to New South Wales on the ‘Grenada’ in 1825 with a life sentence.
Susan Courtney continued to cause problems for the authorities. On 13 June 1826 she was sentenced to the Female Factory for 3 months for being at large without legal authority. In 1827 she appears on a list of prisoners who recently escaped from the Female Factory. By 1833 she appears to have been sentenced to further time in the Female Factory as there is a letter in the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence from her husband, John Peck, praying for her release CSIL 33/4733 [4/2191.5], Reel 2196.
Whether by guile or good fortune, Susan managed to obtain her freedom somewhat earlier than she should have. In early June 1831 she obtained a Certificate of Freedom as Susan Courtney per ‘Friendship’. Granting her a certificate of freedom was a major administrative error on the part of the authorities, as the life sentence imposed in 1823 should have superseded the original 14 year term, and she should have remained a convict for many years beyond 1831.

The first image below is a cropped version of the indent – see first entry. The second image is the full page of the indent.

Source: NRS 12188 Principal Superintendent of Convicts: Indents, 1788-1842 Indent for the Grenada, 1825 [4/4009A p.137], Reel 2662 Fiche 654


Grenada 3rd (1825) Anderson Master
No. 19
Name – Susan Courtney alias Elizabeth Jones
Trade or calling – Nursery maid Escaped from the Colony in the Emerald 1823
Tried Where/When – from VDL about 2½ years ago came in the Friendship husband John Peck lived at Nottingham; London Septr 16 came more than 14 years since
Sentence – Life
Age – 32
Native place – London
Height – 5 Feet 2 ½ Inches
Colour of Eyes – Hazel
Hair – light brown
Complexion – fresh
Remarks – Well
To whom assigned

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