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Alice Leith

Don Congregational Cemetery

LEITH – On 29th November, at the residence of Mrs. Allen, Don, Alice Leith, aged 92

The Examiner 3rd December 1889

Headstone reads 29 Nov 1903

ALICE LEITH (aka Blackstone)

by Lesley M McCoull

Alice, a former convict, was the defacto wife of William Elliot Leith, free settler, and former Principal Superintendent of Convicts and Inspector of Public Works at George Town until 1819. William and Alice were the first European settlers at Westbury in the early 1820s.

Born Alice Robson in the English county of Northumberland, about 1797, she first came to public attention as a feisty sixteen year old servant girl, not afraid to use ‘force and arms’ to obtain her objective – a large quantity of fabric, some stockings, handkerchiefs, an apron, and a shawl. Tried at Newcastle in April 1813, and sentenced to seven years transportation, she finally arrived in NSW on the Broxbornebury in July 1814, after a five month voyage.

She married fellow convict Richard Blackstone at Port Jackson on 3 December 1815, and their son Charles was born the following year. The family arrived in Van Diemen's Land on the Brig Elizabeth Henrietta in April 1818, Richard being one of fourteen male convicts transported from Sydney as additional labour for the Public Works at George Town.

In February 1820 she was at the center of a magisterial enquiry into the Commandant’s handling of her petition concerning Richard’s alleged violence towards her. The enquiry vindicated the Commandant’s actions, and brought Leith strong condemnation from Governor Macquarie for accusing the commandant of failing to do his duty, and for exaggerating the cruelties suffered by Alice.

Alice’s quite open love affair with W.E. Leith had begun shortly after her arrival in George Town, and resulted in the birth of their daughter Jane in May 1819. She was banished to Launceston shortly afterwards, but in September 1819, in stubborn defiance of clear orders forbidding her return to George Town, Alice obtained a pass and walked from Launceston with her four month old child, rejoining Leith at about 11.30 p.m. Despite her obvious exhaustion she was arrested and ordered back to Launceston under the guard of a constable. The thirty-five mile/fifty-six kilometre return journey began after a break of little more than twenty-four hours, and as additional punishment she wore around her neck an iron collar weighing about 6� lbs/2.8 kg, the collar being worn ‘as a badge of her Infamy and disgrace.’ Her child, still breast fed, was with her on the return journey.

William and Alice never married. They had seven children altogether, six of them born at Westbury: Harriet (m. John Atmore Winkfield), John (m. Elizabeth McDonald), Thomas (m. Catherine Gillam), Annie (m. Edward Allen), Elizabeth (m. Moore Simmons), and Alice (m. William Morton). All were known by the Leith surname.

Alice’s fearless behaviour continued at Westbury, where she was known by both surnames. In 1825 she risked her life to defend W.E. Leith from the bushrangers Brady and McCabe, grabbing at Brady’s double barrelled gun as it was pointed from close range at Leith. Brady exclaimed ‘damn you I never met with such a Woman in my life time’, and later threatened to break her neck.

When her future son-in-law Moore Simmons’ permission to marry daughter Elizabeth was revoked in January 1849 Alice responded promptly with a petition to the Lieutenant-Governor. (It appears to have been unsuccessful, since they did not marry until the following year, after he’d been granted a Conditional Pardon.)

In May 1852, several weeks after W.E. Leith’s death (30 March 1852), Alice appeared in court as Alice Blackstone, charged with unlawfully beating and assaulting Mary Godfrey at Westbury. Provoked by an argument over a cask (of wine), and Mary’s insulting behaviour, Alice took action, urged on by her daughters. She was found guilty and fined a farthing, with costs of 16/6.

Her strong hand was again evident in an 1861 insolvency case involving her son-in-law William Morton’s failure to disclose certain items of jewellery which had been given to his wife by her mother before her marriage. Alice obviously did not support a law which made a wife's possessions the property of her husband, and threatened to take the jewellery back if it was admitted.

Morton was sentenced to three months gaol in Launceston, with the Commissioner stating ‘Yours is a bad case, but I suppose your mother-in-law has been the main cause of the concealment.’

By 1868, 71 year old Alice was co-licensee of the Glenore Hotel with her widowed daughter Alice Morton.

She eventually outlived several of her children, including her daughter Jane, who as a tiny baby accompanied her mother on the long walks to and from George Town. Jane (Mrs John Sturzaker, snr.) died at Westbury in July 1888, and Alice Morton, the youngest of the Leiths, died at Launceston in June 1889.

Alice was living at Don with her daughter Annie Allen when she died. Her death certificate, and the simple death notice in the Launceston Examiner suggest that she was best known by the Leith surname. She was buried in the same grave as her son-in-law John Atmore Winkfield, and her great grandson John Edward Pryme (Jack) Hays.