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Margaret Henderson (c. 1770–1816)

Margaret Dawson, a house servant, was found guilty on 22 February 1786 at the Old Bailey, London, of stealing clothing, jewellery, and money from her place of her work. Her death sentence was commuted to 7 years transportation. Sent to the Newgate Gaol she arrived in Sydney in January 1788 aboard the Lady Penrhyn as part of the First Fleet.

Dawson began living with William Balmain, a surgeon, and went with him to Norfolk Island in November 1791 on the Atlantic. They returned together to Sydney in August 1795 on the Fancy. Their first child, Nancy, was born at Port Jackson on 29 March 1797; John William was born on 20 August 1800. Dawson and her children returned with Balmain to England on the Albion in August 1801. Their third child, a daughter, was born shortly after Balmain's death in London.

Balmain described Dawson as his 'dear friend Margaret Dawson alias Henderson' in his will. Henderson was his mother's maiden name and was most likely adopted by Margaret and their children to avoid any social disgrace in class conscious England. Balmain left Margaret a yearly annuity of £50 as well as providing for their children.

Margaret died on 16 February 1816 at London and was buried in the same churchyard where Balmain was buried; St-Giles-in-the-Fields.

* information from Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (1989), p 102

Citation details

'Henderson, Margaret (c. 1770–1816)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Dawson, Margaret

c. 1770
Lancashire, England


16 February, 1816 (aged ~ 46)
London, Middlesex, England

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Passenger Ship
Key Events
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Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 7 years