People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Sims, Jane Hobbins (1761–1838)

by Lesley Potter

Jane Hobbins Sims was the daughter of Jane and John Wade. She was baptised on 5 April 1761 at St Olave, Hart Street, London[1] and grew up in the inner suburbs of London.  Little else is known about her childhood and adolescent years.

On the 10 January 1782 at St Andrews Holborn, London[2] she married, by banns, William Sims Collector of Customs in London.[3] Although six children were born between 1782 and 1793 their marriage was not harmonious: William later testifying in his will that he was ‘unfortunately’ married to Jane Wade. In September 1817, at the time of writing the will, William was living in Great Surry Street, in the Parish of Christ Church, Middlesex. By then, Jane had left him with four of their children, and had departed England for New South Wales taking with her the two youngest children Felicia and Alfred. An indication of the enmity existing between William and Jane is noted in William’s will: while leaving substantial amounts of money to the children and grandchildren who remained in England, he left just one shilling to Jane on the condition that on receiving it she gave a discharge to the executors.[4] Jane and William, it would seem were never officially divorced and their unhappy marital relations may have been a reason for Jane’s immigration to New South Wales at the age of about 50.[5] Jane never acknowledged the reason in any colonial document. Instead, she claimed she came to the colony with an official appointment as a midwife.[6] That claim is unlikely to be true as there is no evidence that the Colonial Office was sending midwives to New South Wales.

Jane arrived in Sydney on 10 October 1811 on the transport ship Friends as a free immigrant with her children, Felicia (c.1790–1821) and Alfred (1793–1852).[7] The Friends also carried 100 female convicts and provisions and stores for the government.[8] As the Friends sailed into Sydney Cove, there is no way of knowing Jane’s first impressions of Sydney. Twenty-three years after its founding, Sydney was still a small village emerging from the surrounding bush. There were few public buildings of note and roads were unpaved, consisting of rutted dirt tracks. It was a divided town with the better-quality houses and government premises on the east side of the Tank Stream. The simple dwellings of the lower classes were in the more unruly and unplanned Rocks area on the west side of the Cove. Officially, Sydney remained a penal settlement though rapid development of the town was taking place under the governorship of Lachlan Macquarie (1810–1821).  

On her arrival in Sydney, Jane lived with her children at 16 Pitt Street, where she advertised her services as a midwife.[9] This venture possibly proved unsuccessful as Jane soon commenced work at the General Hospital as a midwife. The prefabricated hospital, built in 1790, replaced the original tent hospital on the western shore of Sydney Cove. In urgent need of repair and enlargement, the hospital was filthy and disease ridden in its terminal days. Despite efforts by previous governors to structure an ordered tidy town, the site of the first hospital in The Rocks had become ‘a kind of diseased heart, as houses clustered around and above it’.[10] Its replacement, the new Sydney Dispensary and Infirmary in Macquarie Street, was not to open until 1814.[11] The advantage of the new hospital was its elevation on the edge of the Domain, capturing the sea breezes.

The purpose of the first hospital at The Rocks, Sydney Cove, was the care of sick convicts and marines. By default, this care extended to include maternity cases although most women preferred to deliver in their domestic environments and only desperate maternal cases were treated at the rudimentary General Hospital.[12] Although employed as the midwife, the exact role played by Jane Sims in maternity care is unknown; perhaps her work extended to providing nursing care to other patients as well. The surgeons in charge of the hospital would have welcomed Jane Sims’ nursing and midwifery skills, even if judged by modern standards they were limited.

Jane received her pay from the Police Fund, newly established in 1810 by Governor Macquarie. Her pay was £8.19s.8d for the quarter 10 October to 31 December 1811 and in March 1812, she received a quarterly salary of £10 as the midwife to the General Hospital. D’arcy Wentworth was the Principal Surgeon from 1811 to 1819 and Jane was employed under his authority.

Jane, however, only spent a short time as midwife at the hospital. It would have been difficult work providing nursing and maternity care in such primitive circumstances with inadequate resources. In particular, if the maternity cases were primarily of a complicated nature with poor outcomes, then the work would have been onerous, unpleasant and stressful. Jane seems to have left the General Hospital after 1812, as she appears in no further records. There is no further evidence that she continued to practise as a midwife in the colony. Perhaps her experiences had been so distasteful that they deterred her from furthering this career.  

It appears that after leaving the hospital Jane had some difficulty settling down and securing work that could sustain her with a viable income. In 1816, as a resident of Brickfield Hill, an unruly location south of Sydney on the outskirts of the town, Jane requested the Governor for the exchange of a lame convict for George Hancock, a convict in the town road gang. George Hancock was duly assigned to her as she could provide him off the stores, which suggests she was not entirely destitute.[13]

Due perhaps to her daughter’s success in teaching, in 1822 Jane is next seen in the official records pursuing the idea of commencing a girl’s school at Liverpool on the outskirts of Sydney. Despite her earlier disappointments, Jane hoped she would receive support from the Governor for her school project. In her petition, she stated she could provide a reference to her character and ability from the well-known colonial clergyman, Reverend Samuel Marsden.[14] The patronage system was an important channel for acquiring a desired position in colonial society. Jane is obviously an extraordinary woman, able to apply herself to teaching as well as midwifery despite the fact there is no evidence to indicate she was trained in either disciplines. Her efforts hint at a level of education above the general standard of the time. Her proposed school in Liverpool never came to fruition however.

A year later in 1823, Jane again requested official support, this time to obtain cattle from the government herd. She received 12 head of cattle, which suggests she was located on a small area of land or had access to pasture.[15] In her 1825 memorial to the Governor she requested a grant of land because to date she had not received any. The Governor refused her request as he considered it was not ‘customary to give land to females’.[16] It would seem that Jane had difficulty making economic progress in the colony as a woman on her own. Her contact with official authorities suggests a gendered bias towards her, reflecting a common nineteenth century colonial attitude towards women. 

Events in Jane’s life had deteriorated by late 1825. Tired of struggling to make her way in the colony her last memorial to the Governor was a desperate request for assistance to return to England. Jane’s family support had disintegrated. Alfred, her son, and his family were living some distance from her.[17] Her daughter, Felicia, and son-in-law Isaac Wood were both deceased, leaving behind four children. These children suffered the fate of many fractured families, separated from one another and placed in different residences in different localities. The two youngest were in orphan schools: Joseph (9) was in the orphanage for boys at Cabramatta and Louisa (6) was in the Parramatta girl’s orphanage. She died there in 1829.[18] The other two children were situated with guardians chosen by Isaac Wood: William Henry (15) was living at the residence of Francis Ewin Forbes in Liverpool and Eliza (11) resided with James Smith in Parramatta.[19] Jane Sims’ plight was indeed sad and desperate. As a grandmother, her desire to care for her four orphaned grandchildren was thwarted through many complex circumstances not of her own making. Even her request for assistance to return to England with her grandchildren was refused, which must have added to her disappointment. The Colonial Secretary, Frederick Goulburn[20] wrote, ‘Madame, it is not in the power of the governor to order you the free passage to England which your late memorial requested’.[21] Jane’s circumstances revealed the difficulties some women encountered even after many years in the colony to secure a passage back to England.

In the 1828 Census Jane was recorded as being in the employment of Mrs Ann Laws, housekeeper for William Charles Wentworth at his Homebush property, Sydney.[22] Laws was the defacto second wife of D’arcy Wentworth, who died in 1827 leaving substantial property to his son, William Charles.[23] It is not known what date Jane started work at Home Bush, the residence of D’arcy Wentworth and Ann Laws, but it is an interesting coincidence that Jane, having worked under Wentworth’s supervision as a midwife when she first came to the colony, should now be employed on his estate.

Jane’s burial was registered on 8 December 1838 in the Church of England Parish of St James in the County of Cumberland. Her age was given as 93. Her true age was about 78. She was at the time a resident of Liverpool Street, Sydney.[24] She had spent 27 years in New South Wales. Her numerous attempts as a midwife, a teacher and a landowner to secure a bright economic future for herself never seemed to eventuate. Finally, as a homesick immigrant, Jane never made the longed-for return journey to England, the place of her birth. 

Select Bibliography
Public Records Office, The National Archives, Kew, England
–Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence 1788 – 1825
–General Muster of NSW 1814, 1822.
Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol. 7
–1828 Census
Sydney Gazette, 2 November 1811, p 1, column 2
Sydney Monitor, 13 June 1829, p 1

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lesley Potter, 'Sims, Jane Hobbins (1761–1838)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/sims-jane-hobbins-27613/text35028, accessed 18 December 2017.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wade, Jane Hobbins
Birth

1761
London, Middlesex, England

Death

December 1838
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Passenger Ship
Occupation