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Steel, Elizabeth (Betty) (c. 1765–1795)

Elizabeth Steel headstone

Elizabeth Steel headstone

City of Sydney Archives, 682492

Elizabeth Steel (c.1765-1795) who claimed to be deaf, was found guilty on 24 October 1787 at the Old Bailey, London, of stealing a silver watch from a man with whom she had been sleeping. She first appeared at the May 1787 Old Bailey Sessions where the jury was asked to determine whether she was genuinely deaf — if she was she might not be able to comprehend the trial and defend herself.  The jury made a finding that she was 'mute by the visitation of God'.

Steel was remanded to Newgate Gaol and ordered back to the Old Bailey on 24 October 1787. When she again remarked that she could not hear, several witnesses were brought forward who claimed they had spoken to her during visits to Newgate Gaol. The jury again made a finding of 'mute by the visitation of God' but the judges decided the trial should go ahead. Steel was found guilty of stealing the watch and sentenced to 7 years transportation. She arrived at Sydney aboard the Lady Juliana in June 1790 as part of the Second Fleet.

Steel was sent to Norfolk Island on the Surprize, arriving in August 1790. She was probably living with James Mackey by June 1791. They were still together, and childless, in June 1794. Steel travelled alone to Sydney on the Francis in July 1794 (Mackey returned to Sydney in November 1794).

Elizabeth Steel was buried at Sydney Burial Ground (the site of today's Sydney's Town Hall) on 8 June 1795. She was described in St Philip's Church register as 'Elizabeth Mackey soldier's wife'.  Mackey erected a headstone in her honour which was uncovered in 1991 when Sydney Town Hall underwent major restoration works.

* information from Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790 (1993), pp 547-49 and HMS Sirius 1786-1790 https://hmssirius.com.au/james-mackey-convict-friendship-1788/ — accessed 10 August 2020

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Steel, Elizabeth (Betty) (c. 1765–1795)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/steel-elizabeth-betty-30829/text38178, accessed 11 May 2021.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Elizabeth Steel headstone

Elizabeth Steel headstone

City of Sydney Archives, 682492

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stel, Elizabeth
  • Mackey, Elizabeth
Birth

c. 1765

Death

7 June 1795
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

unknown

Passenger Ship
Occupation
Key Events
Key Places
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 7 years