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Catherine Connelly (c. 1805–1856)

Ian Leader-Elliott believes that Catherine Connelly is probably the daughter of George Clarke and Mary Brown, although no records of her birth or baptism have been found. She was born in Sydney, probably in 1805 and arrived at Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) on the Governor Brisbane in September 1822, probably as a servant or protege of Mary Reibey, who returned to Sydney leaving Catherine in Launceston.

Catherine married Peter Fowlser on 13 July 1823 at the Catholic Church in Hobart. Their son Frederick was born in 1824. Following Fowlser's death in 1826 Catherine married John Connelly on 22 October 1829 at St John's Church, Launceston; they had three children. The couple ran a hotel at Launceston.

In 1836 Catherine was arrested for receiving stolen goods; John was already being held in custody for the same offence. Both were convicted and sentenced to seven years transportation. Catherine was pardoned and John was assigned to a road gang to serve his sentence working as a labourer in rural VDL. Catherine continued to manage the Currency Lass at Launceston (though George Best held the licence) until 1939 when she and John sold the freehold; John later claimed that she did not pay him all the proceeds of the sale. Catherine then left for South Australia at the end of May 1939 with her two youngest children and seems to have worked as a housekeeper until she returned to VDL in 1848.

After regaining his freedom in 1843, John worked as a publican at Hobart and, describing himself as a widower, bigamously married Mary Ann Fox, in 1846. In 1850 he left for Melbourne and operated a hotel at Flemington, and later bought shops, cottages and another hotel in the town.

Catherine Connelly also left for Melbourne and, in 1852, secured a maintenance order against her husband for 30 shillings a week from the Victoria Police. John Connelly at first paid the maintenance but increasing debts, and various lawsuits, led to him withdrawing payment in December 1853. Catherine took him to court. He argued that he could not afford to maintain two wives and that Catherine had not given him all the money from the sale of his hotel in 1839. He lost his case and was ordered to pay her maintenance or face gaol. By September 1854 he was in arrears again and the court ordered him to be imprisoned until the outstanding debt was paid.

John Connelly offer to pay Catherine a substantial cash settlement to settle the claim for good provided she return to Van Diemen's Land but in the end offered her only £2. Catherine again sought redress and John fled to the Victorian goldfields; he was also being pursued by creditors. He was arrested in Ballarat in early 1855 on a charge of failing to pay maintenance. He failed to appear in court and in June 1855 was committed to gaol after he claimed that he would sweat it out and suffer to be hanged before he would pay maintenance to Catherine. Catherine returned to VDL. She died at Hobart on 13 January 1856; her age was given as 51 and cause of death as dropsy. It is believed that she did receive some maintenance payments before her death.

information from

  • Bourchier, Steve and Leader-Elliott, Ian, 'The metamorphoses of John Eddington Jr', Papers and Proceedings: Tasmanian Historical Research Association, vol 43, no 4, Dec 1996, pp 201-16
  • Ian Leader-Elliott, 'Catherine Connelly: Convict, Innkeeper and Litigant', Female Convicts Research Centre Seminar: Succeeding in the regular economy: the aftermath of convict sentences, Saturday 9 May 2015, Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Hobart — accessed 18 November 2020

Citation details

'Connelly, Catherine (c. 1805–1856)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fowlser, Catherine
  • Clarke, Catherine
  • Clark, Catherine
  • Fowler, Catherine

c. 1805
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


13 January, 1856 (aged ~ 51)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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