Monday, 23 November 2015

Unusual Postal Stationery - Update

Category - Sight
Subcategory - Unusual Covers, Envelopes, Folders and Postcards 

Australia 2009 Letter to Mary First Day Cover with letter attached

Issue date 26 June 2009

Australia Post along with An Post (Ireland) and the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery has issued a special first day cover with a copy of a love letter from heart broken husband, James Walsh, to his wife Mary - banished in 1841 to serve seven years in the harsh prison colony of Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) in Australia, for allegedly stealing from a local shop in Ireland. After 200 years this issue is an international plea for more information to assist in resolving, what has come to be called, ‘The Mary Walsh mystery’. This letter is exhibited in the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery.

Mary Walsh lived in Tipperary county, Ireland with her husband James and their three children, baby daughter Mary and sons Jonny Hays and Maurice, Mary was charged in December 1841 with stealing cashmere from a local Clonmel shop, a crime she vehemently denied. Police claimed that Mary distracted the shopkeeper, while two other women made off with the fabric. Despite Mary’s protestations that she did not even know the other women, she was, together with her two co-accused, Mary Halfpenny and Catherine Baldwin, condemned to be transported to serve seven years in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). In mitigation, James organized a petition which was signed by 27 local dignitaries including the Clonmel mayor, and the two parish priests. James also paid the local tailor to write to the Lord Lieutenant begging that Mary be allowed to serve her sentence in an Irish jail. But all his efforts proved fruitless, and Mary was consigned to deportation.

Accompanied by little Mary, her one year old daughter, Mary Walsh sailed from Ireland on 10 April 1842 in the prison ship Hope, and arrived in Hobart Town, the capital of Van Diemen’s Land on 17 August 1842. Mary’s VDL convict records depict her as being 5’ 6” (168cm) - relatively tall for a woman at that time – with an oval face, fresh complexion, hazel eyes, a pointed nose, rounded chin, and dark brown hair. She was recorded as being “a housemaid who could wash”. The record also stated that Mary could read but not write.

On arrival at Hobart, mother and daughter were parted, as was the custom. Offenders were not permitted to keep their babies, and the child was placed in the Hobart Queen’s Orphan School. In May 1844, it is recorded that little Mary passed away from “inflamation [sic] of the lungs”. It is unlikely that, during the 18 months before her death, her mother ever saw or held her baby daughter again.

As part of her ‘rehabilitation’, Mary (police number 484) was assigned as a maid to the Brooks family in Hobart and it was to the Brooks residence that in July 1843, James addressed his passionate letter. Unfortunately, by the time it arrived, Mary had moved to another (undetermined) position. Given the excellent condition of the envelope when it was purchased from an American collector by Australia Post in 2003 (and subsequently donated to the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery), it seems unlikely that the letter was ever delivered. According to Elspeth Wishart, Senior Curator of History at the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, “James’ letter probably ended up in a dead letter office in Hobart”.

In the light of her general good conduct record, Mary was recommended for an unconditional pardon in February 1846, and by January 1849 she was a free woman. However, after leaving her position in the Brooks household, Mary’s trail effectively goes cold and she completely drops out of sight, leaving many intriguing questions left unanswered.

As a free person, did Mary Walsh manage to return to her native Ireland to be reunited with her family? However, passage back to Ireland was an expensive option and, given her employment status in the Colony, it seems unlikely that Mary could have saved enough to afford the return voyage. Nor would it seem possible she could have paid for James to make the trip from Ireland to join her despite this being uppermost in her husband’s mind.

As James’ letter seemingly remained undelivered, Mary may have assumed that her husband had given up on their marriage, and perhaps remarried and remained in Van Diemen’s Land. She had, after all, been previously betrothed to William Hays, who died 12 months prior to her union with James, with Jonny being the child of her marriage to William, while the two younger children, Maurice and Mary were James’ children.

While there is evidence of a Mary Walsh marrying Henry Geddes at Brown’s River Church, on 6 September 1843, it was not ‘our’ Mary, but another Mary Walsh who had, by chance, also arrived in VDL on 17 August 1842 from Ireland in ‘The Hope’

James Walsh's trail also goes cold following the dispatch of the letter. He may have died during the famine. While the local graveyard at Clonmel boasts no tombstone to him, not all the graves of those who perished during those dark days bore the names of the deceased. It is possible that James decamped from Tipperary to be with son Maurice who was then apparently working in Cork.

The fates of both Mary and James remain a mystery despite great interest and extensive research.

This is the complete letter from James to Mary

Clonmel July 16th, 1843

My dear Wife, I have received your kind and welcome letter of the 20th of March which is the greatest happiness I have enjoyed ever since the day I have parted my dearest Mary. It gives consolation to my troubled mind to know that you are comfortably situated in your exile and that you have the great pleasure of seeing your sweet child at times. It would be the only wish of my heart, Dear Mary, to go to you even on my knees, but I have not the means at present for I have to pay so much a year for Maurice out of my wages, and as there is no Emigration nor any provision made by Government for that country renders my state unable to go out to my lovely and dearest Mary.- Therefore if you could by any means make interest to bring me out would be the only happiness in this life which I would desire. So if you can learn any way let me know of it in your next Letter for you are my thoughts by day and night.

When you left Dublin I sent Maurice to the County Cork, to my sister Mary and I have not seen him those 12 months past, but I intend on tomorrow the 17th July to go to see him, he is in good health as I receive letters from him. I have a new suit of clothes for him.- Jonny Hays is in good health, along with the Prendergasts (near your Uncle Jack) in Service. I see him oftener than Maurice, for I do not leave Jonny Hays out of my memory at all, but give him every little thing that he wants. I am employed ever since you left home at Thomas Kennedys at Pass and at Thomas Rourks. My dear Mary there is not a moment but I am thinking of you day and night and will be always so 'til it pleases God to restore you once more to my arms for you are my only thoughts by day and my dreams at night.

I am sorry my dear wife that I did not leave my children go out with you for I could be able to follow you in a short time if people were carried out free as they were before. I would go out to you when I received your Letter but they are not without a great deal of money if a lived for 100 years you would be as fresh in my heart, as you were the day you left me. I expect a letter from you at every opportunity as it is the only pleasure I can enjoy, since my loving wife is so far far away from me, it is my prayer morning and night to bring you safe to my bosom. I am glad to hear that my sweet little Mary is so well.- My dear Mary this is a broken hearted letter I am sending you as I cannot bring it myself.- Send me word in you next letter if you intend to come home to me, when your time is out for I could not live at home without being in this place where my poor Mary used to be.- I would send you another letter in a short time after this but fearing that you would remove from the place you are in at present, let me know how long you are to remain where you are at present.

Think of your broken hearted husband and children as long as you live. I am very well in health, as also are your children, all your friends are well.- All the neighbours are well, and very sorry for you but I hope God will restore you once more to me and be happy together for ever together again. I will keep you Letter next to my heart until I receive another from you my darling wife. My dear Mary when I used to go to work every Monday morning from you I would feel the week a year long until I would see you on Saturday evening but what must my heart feel now when I cannot see you at all.- For when I am at work, my labour cannot give me any concern, but thinking of you. My brother Jack and Maurice and families are well in health.

My brother Jack lives now in the County Cork, in Mucroom, it troubles me very much to have my child so far from me, as it would be great comfort to my mind to see him once a week. I received your kind letter on the 11th July which removed a mountain from my heart.- Whenever you write direct your letter to Thomas Kennedy. [ . . .] all your friends and neighbours send you [..] blessing.
I know my dear loving Mary that you will deserve the love and esteem of those with whom you live, as you have meritted the good will of all who knew you at home.- Now my dear wife as I am at the point of finishing my letter , farewell, farewell and may receive as much consolation at reading of this as I have the reading of yours. May your rest be calm and your dreams sweet always thinking of him, who always thinks of you.- again farewell until I can shake hands with my darling Mary, until death do us part.

I remain your ever loving and Affectionate husband, 

James Walsh
I have offered a pound to Hennessey the writer if he
Could do anything for me by Writing to the Lord Lieutenant

Hope this post finds somebody who is related and knows about these persons and bring the story of a happy ending to all concerned. Here's wishing for the best..

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Unusual Postal Stationery

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