The following story, Survival, was short-listed and then awarded a certificate in the 2020 E. M. Fletcher Writing Award… sponsored by the Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc. (HAGSOC).

On behalf of the judges, Professor Peter Stanley, UNSW Canberra, said:

‘I’m delighted to say how impressed we were with the standard of entries: just to make the short list was a considerable achievement in such a field.’

The judges’ comments on Survival were: ‘Appealing and well-written, vividly imagining a story of a Scottish convict girl. Although verging on historical fiction, Survival evokes a young girl’s experience and is based on extensive research.’ 




Ann huddled in the doorway: watching, waiting… and shivering, as much from dread as from the icy wind teasing her inadequate clothing.

She covered the shoulders of her ragged dress with the soft wrap a kind woman – a true lady she was – deliberately let slip from her grip with an ever-so-slight tilt of her head and a catch of Ann’s eye, as she passed one afternoon in the mists of dusk. Ann had whispered ‘Thank you’ to the disappearing image of her benefactor’s back, and scurried away to find an overnight hide-out.

‘Wha yer lookin’ at?’ a sharp voice cut through Ann’s recollections.

‘Nothin’, Ann mumbled. She steadily returned the other girl’s gaze, despite her fear. She had not yet learned to quell the internal hysteria.

The girl swiped a bag of apples from the stall in front of her and vanished.

Ann was hungry, very hungry…

She waited until the marketeer was distracted, then swiftly filled her shawl with food and ran for her life. She was soon lost in the jostling crowd; swallowed by the noise of traders, shoppers and starving urchins rummaging around the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.

She steadied to a walk along Canongate, crouched behind some stairs to stash her haul down the front of her dress – held in place by the waistband and disguised by her wrap – and to gorge on a chunk of bread.

At night she slipped into the foyer of a church and hid among the stacked pews, covering herself with discarded newspapers. This shelter was the best she’d had for some time, and she managed a few hours’ sleep before dawn.

When she emerged, the apple-girl was waiting for her. They eyed each other in silence, then the apple-girl asked, ‘Der ye live ’ere?’

‘I live nowhere and anywhere’, was Ann’s considered reply.


‘No… you?’

The apple-girl shook her head. ‘I’m Margaret’, she said. ‘Der ye want to stay with me and m’ friends? We have a room in a widow’s house in Halkerston’s Wynd.’

Ann took a gamble. She nodded, thinking that staying with anyone would be better than the gut-wrenching aloneness she’d carried since her father died, her mother already having gone to God.

Margaret’s friends were her boyfriend and his mate. Ann kept herself separate from the lads to protect her privacy. If she turned towards the wall and covered her ears at night, she could almost pretend there was no huffing and puffing and moans of pleasure in the room. If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist, she thought.

Danial and Danny had a friend, William. He lived with his family in Cowgate and worked at the brass foundry. He was closer to Ann’s age and she felt safer when he visited.

Widow Marshall expected the fee for the room on time, and Ann didn’t dare ask how Daniel and Danny met this responsibility. Food was Margaret and Ann’s domain. Stealing produce was easier working in pairs and Ann felt less conspicuous in the clothes Margaret gave her.

She settled into the routine. She had a place to belong, shelter, and the feeling that life was improving.

One afternoon, less than a week after Ann moved in with her new friends, she and Margaret burst into their room giggling… and stopped in their tracks. Two policemen stood between them and the three boys. Silence bounced off the walls.

One of the officers held a pair of trousers and William groped for his own to cover himself. He’d been trying on a ‘new’ pair his friends had offered him, when the police arrived. Ann was acutely aware the white dress and petticoat she wore had come from the same place as the garment in the officer’s hand.


Ann stood, head bent forward, eyes cast down. The courtroom felt heavy, burdened with the weight of the thick dark wood that seemed to turn itself in on her… smothering her with dread. She focussed on the fall of her tattered skirt, fingered a hole, was pleased her clothes told of a tough life, lived rough. This, and giving her age as twelve, might help when it was her turn for judgement.

Sir William Rae, Lord Justice Advocate, addressed the Jury for the Crown, Mr Melville appeared for William and Mr Ferguson for Ann and her room-mates. Lord Boyle, Lord Justice Clerk, summed up the evidence for the Jury, who retired and took just thirty-five minutes to reach their verdict.

Ann listened as ‘habitual and reputed thieves’ Daniel and Margaret were sentenced to ‘life beyond the seas’… and Danny to ‘fourteen years’. William nudged Ann gently when the case against him was dismissed, there being no evidence he’d entered the Howard Place home of James Smith Mack, solicitor-at-law, and pilfered his family’s possessions. William was of good character, the court was told, and his family and neighbours insisted he was at home when the crime was committed.

Ann playfully nudged William back, then stiffened as her name burst forth into the Justiciary. ‘You have been found guilty of ‘reset of theft’, and will be transported for fourteen years…’ The Lord Justice Clerk’s words faded into the cheers and jeers of the unconstrained crowd.

William’s hand gently squeezed Ann’s and brought her back from the brink of collapse. Her eyes flooded and he whispered, ‘Stay strong’, as officers of the court dragged her from the dock and into a cell behind the courtroom.

She felt a pull in her chest drawing her back to William, but knew she would never see him again. She sobbed uncontrollably for this loss, and in terror of what lay ahead.


After five months in Edinburgh’s overcrowded jail, Ann and Margaret, and twenty-five other women endured the journey to London in chains.

Calton Jail, Edinburgh, where Ann was held before transportation.

There they were bundled onto the Princess Charlotte and ushered through the hatches and down to the prison deck; where they joined sixty-five English women and four children, all in caged enclosures. Ann clung to Margaret and moved quickly to avoid reprimand.

The prisoners were locked below for days while final preparations were made for the voyage to Australia, their only relief being exercise sessions between the rows of cages.

Boredom, frustration and testy moods caused rifts characterised by hair-pulling, squeals and threats. Between outbreaks, the atmosphere was thick with tension and stale air.

Terror kept Ann riveted on the spot, as far as possible from anyone but Margaret. An English woman, withdrawn like Ann, began to fit each time there were altercations.

Finally, the ship glided down the Thames until it reached The Downs, where the anchor was dropped.

The woman who’d been fitting was taken off the ship and returned to Durham Prison, and the body of a baby boy who’d died the previous day was taken away for burial. Ann begged the guards’ permission to read the bible to comfort the mother through the separation from her bairn. Many on the prison deck cried to the background of Ann’s words and the mother’s violent sobs.

With the newly-installed marine chronometer set to Greenwich Mean Time, the Princess Charlotte was at last clear to ride the seas. The creaking and groaning as the wooden sailing ship thrashed on the ocean was terrifying.

Ann clung to the bars and prayed they wouldn’t be dragged to the depths. Without warning, she threw up into a nearby bucket, her moans only softened by those of the other women. She rolled with the waves… and her sickness… for days, then gradually found her sea legs and assisted other sufferers.

A piercing scream cut through the prison when a tub of soup just out of the coppers fell down the hatchway onto the neck and back of an unfortunate woman.

Ann rushed to help and Doctor Cameron put her to work immediately. Alcohol and oil of turpentine were alternately applied, then cold vinegar and water kept the burn constantly wet to aid healing.

Ann sat with the patient while the doctor and nurse attended cases of dehydration. ‘We could use you in here every day’, the doctor said.

‘Could I?’ she asked, her face alive.

He smiled. ‘I’ll request it.’

Ann was blessed with little sea-sickness, and Margaret helped in the hospital too when she wasn’t herself a patient.

The Isle Of Wight slipped past, followed a week later by Cape Finisterre in heavy rain, driven by strong south-westerlies. Ann and Margaret prayed in the darkness with a desperately ill woman as she passed to a more peaceful place.

Days rolled by, swallowed by long hours in the hospital with grateful patients. Those prisoners well enough were allowed on deck for exercise and air when the weather was good enough for the scuttles to be open.

The prisoners who’d been constantly ill began to show signs of scurvy, a discovery that made everyone anxious to reach land.


Word quickly spread that Port Jackson was in view.

Ann and Margaret listened to the First Mate call instructions, the responses from crew members, and the slosh of the ocean as the ship rocked about steadying a course towards the shore. Sails clunked into position, flapped with the changing angle of the wind. Soon the top sails were lowered, and the anchor sliced through the water with an horrendous lurch.

The women wanted to rush from the ship. After 128 days in a floating prison, they were ready for whatever was to follow. They waited patiently – this being no time to make a fuss.

Hours passed. They ate their rations in silence, except for occasional whimpers from the weakest among them.

The smell of wet sand teased from afar…

When the hatches were opened the following morning, the women huddled around in anticipation.

The First Lieutenant took muster and announced cleaning duties for the coming days. The shocked women protested. Some cried openly. Disappointment pushed tears through Ann’s eyes and she struggled to contain them.

Dr Cameron offered to take the women on deck in small groups, so they could see land, smell the eucalypts, and quell their sense of urgency.

Ann filled her lungs and breathed deeply. She was taken by the brightness of the sky and the dark green trees framing the docks.

‘Won’t be long now’, Margaret whispered.

Ann nodded.


Although not travelling, the ship was busy. Frustration drove everyone to do their chores quickly and properly.

Five days after the Princess Charlotte dropped anchor, she was boarded by Australia’s Colonial Secretary, Alexander McLeay. He assessed the condition of every inch of the ship, interviewed the Master and crew, took a report from the Surgeon Superintendent on the condition and nutrition of the convicts, and completed a Convict Indent entry for each woman.

Ann was nervous, but pleased she could say she’d gained some nursing experience on the voyage.

‘That will help us place you’, he said and smiled at her.

Ten days later, the ship eased towards the shore. Ropes were lobbed from deck to wharf and the gangplank secured. The dock pulsed with activity, the screech of pullies and winches, and officials and workers bustling to and fro.

Anticipation and trepidation overwhelmed Ann.

Margaret put her arm through hers reassuringly, ‘We’ll ’ave each other.’

They stepped forward and bent to touch the earth, careful not to soil their newly-supplied convict clothing. A guard urged them into the dock-yard behind its new twelve-foot high sandstone wall, and into groups by alphabet. Ann clung to Margaret as she had to William in the Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh.

They were forcibly separated, and Ann was soon assigned as housemaid to Mr John Connor Esq. of South Creek. She was grateful not to be behind bars, but something had shifted in her with the shock of losing Margaret so suddenly.

‘Stay strong’, William had said.

Ann straightened her back, lifted her shoulders and pushed her chin forward. She was sixteen, alone, and obligated to a master in a strange land: she would have to rely on herself to survive. Staying strong was her only option.


Edinburgh 1826, showing locations significant to Ann _see map key.

c. Kathryn Coughran, 2020




The New Jail From Calton Hill ~ drawn by Thomas H Shepherd and engraved by W. Tombleson, in Modern Athens: a Series of Views of Edinburgh (p91), published by Jones & Co Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square 1829 – (Public Domain – British Library:


Hand-drawn (by the author) map of Edinburgh in 1826 showing:

  1. Street Markets ~ Canongate
  2. Relief Presbyterian Church ~ Fountain Close
  3. Room where Ann stayed with friends ~ Halkerston’s Wynd
  4. William’s family home ~ Campbell’s Close, Cowgate
  5. Home robbed by Ann’s friends, incl. her ‘new’ clothes ~ Howard’s Place
  6. Court of Justiciary ~ Parliament House, Parliament Square
  7. Calton Jail ~ Regent Street



  • Crown Office Precognition against Daniel Wheler, Daniel MacLaren, William Law, Margaret Desley, Ann Westwater for the crime of theft by housebreaking at Howard Place, near Edinburgh – 1826. (National Records of Scotland… Ref. AD14/26)
  • Newspaper Article in The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland) Thursday 14th December 1826, p3. – (
  • 1826 In Scotland – (Wikipedia –
  • Modern Athens: a Series of Views of Edinburgh, published by Jones & Co Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square 1829 – (Public Domain – British Library:
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868, p139 – 27th March 1827 from National Archives Microfilm Publication HO11. (The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surry, England [])
  • Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1790-1849 in New South Wales Government, Musters and other Papers relating to Convict Ships. Series CGS 115. Reels 2417-2428. (NSW State Records, Kingswood, NSW [])
  • Ann Westwater Transported on the Princess Charlotte, 27th March 1827 – (Australian Joint Copying Project, entered in the British Convict Transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Qld from British Home Office records)
  • Margaret Desley Transported on the Princess Charlotte, 27th March 1827 – (Australian Joint Copying Project, entered in the British Convict Transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Qld from British Home Office records)
  • Free Settler or Felon? Convict Ship Princess Charlotte 1827 – Jen Willetts;
  • New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842 for Ann Westwater in State Archives NSW; Series NRS 12188. Item [4/4012]. Microfiche 665. (NSW State Records, Kingswood, NSW [])
  • NSW Convict Arrivals – Ann Westwater – (Genealogy Society of Victoria [Find My Past Record Transcription –])
  • Sydney and British Intelligence, in Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser (Hobart, Tasmania: 1825-1827, Friday 24th August 1827, p2)
  • Plan of Edinburgh 1826 ~ Drawn and engraved for the GPO directory, by John Bartholomew – (Public Domain – National Library of Scotland)

All At Sea

The following story, All At Sea, won the 2019 E. M. Fletcher Writing Award. I was honoured to subsequently meet Eunice Fletcher’s daughter, Robyn, who presented the Award at the 55th Anniversary Celebrations of the Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra (HAGSOC).

When announcing the winners, Cora Num – one of the three judges – said;

‘Choosing the short list was very difficult given the calibre of entries. The creative and evocative stories covered a wide range of emotions and topics…

‘This story [All At Sea] is a great example of family history research that has gone beyond the collection of names, dates and places. You can sense the connection to the sea and landscape, and there is a real sense of place and family.’

Cora Num is a fellow of HAGSOC with over thirty years’ experience as a professional family history researcher and lecturer. Her website, CoraWeb, is internationally recognised as a leading resource for genealogists.


All At Sea


There was an air of quiet anticipation inside the cottage facing out onto Cattleyard Bay – not because it was Christmas Eve, but because the boys were expected home from Montague Island.

They took two weeks’ supplies with them when they rowed out on Tuesday 11th December, calling back against the wind that they’d be home for Christmas.

There was a crew of five in the clinker-built whaleboat: brothers, David and George Kilgour; an ex-officer of the Shenandoah; a local man, William Shaw; and an American known as ‘Jonathan’. They were loaded up for an expedition to their recently commenced fishing and curing speculation on the island, some fifty miles from Eden.

Around 8 o’clock that evening, dense and heavy cloud descended on the Kilgour cottage in Twofold Bay. The air was stifling and uncomfortable. The sky became alive with shards of lightning, which gained strength and ferocity. Margaret and her daughter held on to each other, terrified their home would be split in two.

Ellen felt her mother begin to shake and knew of the fear she lived. She stroked her hair, ‘They’ll be okay’, she said soothingly. ‘The boys are far away from here by now.’

Margaret forced herself to stop shaking, straightened, and said, ‘Better here than where they are…’

They busied themselves closing window shutters, bolting the doors and stowing anything that might be destroyed if the wind picked up.

Ellen was sure Margaret’s mind would be conjuring images of her remaining boys struggling against the elements. Seven of her children had already gone… among them, two sons were lost to this very stretch of ocean and Jessie, her step-daughter, had drowned trying to escape a burning vessel further up the coast, which also claimed the life of Jessie’s husband.

Margaret’s eyes told Ellen everything she needed to know. They were dull with sadness, yet alert with imaginings.

Ellen touched her mother’s arm and said gently, ‘If the wind does pick-up, they’ll drop the sail’.

‘The sail…?’ Margaret’s voice trailed off, as though she was trying to make sense of Ellen’s words.

‘Yes, they’ll have hoisted the sail once they were out of the bay… to carry them along the coast.’

Margaret nodded, and silently returned to settling the house for the long night ahead.

Kilgour Cottage in Cattle Bay – photograph believed to have been taken late 1890s

National Library Of Australia –


When ice crashed from the sky in the early hours of the morning, Ellen slipped into bed beside her mother. With just two of them in the house, Ellen saw it as her responsibility to protect Margaret. Since her father, Alexander, died of severe bronchitis four years earlier, she and eighteen-year-old George were the only ones living with their mother. Now in his thirties, David lived up the hill, older sister Margaret had married an American in 1860 and left for the goldfields and step-son John had long-since lived with another family.

The two women huddled together and covered their ears to dull the noise of the hail and sharp cracks of thunder that accompanied the dancing spikes of lightning.

The noise subsided around three-thirty in the morning, making way to total darkness followed by a still dawn, allowing space for Margaret and Ellen to fall into exhausted oblivion for a few hours.

Ellen woke first and left the cottage to examine the aftermath. Trees and gardens had been slashed to pieces by huge hailstones of different sizes and shapes. It seemed nobody had ever seen such an act of nature, so violent that everything appeared to be stripped bare.

Ellen asked questions of everyone she saw to try to find out if David and George would have been safe.

‘It started in the south-east’, some people said.

‘…and came through to the north-west’, another said.

She contemplated those two areas in relation to where the boys would have been. When she looked up, one of the fishermen was watching her closely.

‘They should be safe’, he said, having read her mind. ‘The storm was quite localised, and they’d have been further north of it by the time it hit.’

Ellen rushed home to tell Margaret the good news. They both knew the dangers of the sea too well, but they’d also been around mariners, whalers and fishermen all their lives… and had learnt to trust their interpretations of the weather.

The boys would be home for Christmas, and that’s all there was to think about…


The clean up after the ice storm kept Margaret and Ellen busy over the following days. There were things to sort inside the cottage and in the yard. The garden had been flattened and needed attention before new seeds could be sown.

Ellen cared for the children of a woman who lived nearby while she was in labour and nursing the newborn. In return she received a few plants that had survived the onslaught of the hailstorm because they were in a sheltered position.

The routine of village life soon took up its usual pattern. Days passed without incident, and with the focus on Christmas and the return of the boys… who, they were sure, would return triumphant from their growing venture.

Finally, the twenty-fourth of the month dawned. The house was clean and decorated with paper angels, stars and bells. Home-made presents were wrapped and stacked in the middle of the table, with candles ready to be lit. Prepared food filled the meat-safe.

Margaret donned her best black dress – the one she’d worn for special occasions ever since Alexander had gone to heaven. Her best mourning dress, the one she didn’t want to stop wearing because it would feel like she’d stopped missing him… and she hadn’t. She didn’t believe in half-mourning dresses like others wore once they’d been bereaved for two years. She would mourn her Alexander until the day she joined him in the afterlife.

Today was a special day – her boys would be home from the Island – and she would wear the most special dress… the one with fitted waistline, lace frills around the high neck and around the wrists, buttons down the bodice and frills on the bottom half of the full skirt. She would put her hair up with a braid of black ribbon.

Ellen wore her favourite dress too, to welcome her brothers and to celebrate the Holy day. Her floor-length gown was dark navy, trimmed down the front to the fitted waist with cream satin drawn together with a lace like a shoe and topped with a stand-up collar edged with pearls. She parted her hair in the middle above her forehead and swept it around and up onto the top of her head. Not a hair out of place, like her mother.

Everything was ready. The waiting would have to be acknowledged. The passage of time slowed with rising anticipation.

Ellen watched her mother walk to the door to look across the bay. The time-gap between these excursions was closing a little more each time. She knew her mother would be relieved with the first sight of the boat bobbing on the waves and the shouts of their approach. The set of her mouth and tightening of her cheeks always betrayed her anxiety when kith or kin were on the water.

As the afternoon wore on, Margaret’s quiet anxiety turned to light pleading. ‘Look out for me, Ellen’, she said. ‘Your eyes are younger than mine.’

The sky began to turn rough with an angry red sun, and distant rolling thunder. The waves were frothing white. Light pleading became more urgent. ‘Look out again, before night sets in. Is there going to be a storm?’

Ellen pushed back her own fears and pacified her mother. She set a fire in readiness for wet fishermen home from the sea and tried to convince her mother… and herself… that the boys would shelter in a cove and continue on in the morning when the storm cleared.

She had answers ready for Margaret’s desperate pleas; explaining that it wasn’t the flapping of the sails they could hear, but the woodbine rattling on the porch. Neither was the light she saw flickering between waves, really there.

The storm got wilder, the night darker and the anxiety explosive. Mother and daughter watched, prayed and bargained with God all night… to no avail.

David and George didn’t arrive home for Christmas.


The sea calmed, Kilgour Cottage was still with disbelief and grief. Even though Margaret and Ellen had feared the worst, they couldn’t take in that it had happened.

The village was on high alert, trying to fathom the loss of five experienced and adept fishermen. Five young men were gone from their surrounds all at once. Devastation and sadness were everywhere.

Anxious enquiries revealed that a Mr Day, gardener and resident of North Head area, had found the thwart of a boat near Aslings Beach within two days of the hailstorm of 11th-12th December. The thwart had the name ‘Ellen’ scratched into it.

Three days after the men had been expected, a search party including the sub-inspector of police went to Lennard’s Island, some seven miles from Twofold Bay, and recovered the gunwale and other parts of a whaleboat which corresponded exactly with the paint and general description of the boat owned by the Kilgour brothers. Local whalers who were familiar with the Kilgours and their boat positively identified it as theirs.

The sub-inspector of police confirmed the sad news that Margaret and Ellen already knew in their hearts. All five men aboard the whaleboat had perished.

Ellen handed her mother a handkerchief and put her arm around her.

Margaret blew her nose, and whispered, ‘That wild night on Christmas Eve – I knew they’d be on their way home for Christmas…’

The police officer explained that the boys hadn’t made it to Montague Island. ‘Wreckage from their boat was found at Aslings Beach two or three days after they set sail’, he said, watching for their response.

‘The hailstorm? No, it couldn’t be… They were that close all the time?’ Ellen asked.

‘Afraid so, Miss. It seems they only travelled about a quarter of their intended journey… not far after Lennard’s Island, we think…’

Route from Cattleyard Bay to Montague Island:

  1. Cattleyard Bay (later Cattle Bay, part of Twofold Bay)
  2. Aslings Beach – Thwart with ‘Ellen’ scratched into it found here
  3. Lennard’s Island – Gunwale and other boat debris found here (7 miles from Eden)
  4. To Montague Island – (50 miles from Eden)

Margaret, who had been listening intently, said, ‘Better that they’re closer to home, and in the same waters where their brothers went down. They’re together now… and will be with their father and brothers and sisters in that glorious place beyond.’

‘Just you and me now, Mother’, Ellen managed between her gasps to hold down her grief.

‘Yes, and the officer’, Margaret said in a clear voice. ‘Cup of tea, Officer?’

c.  Kathryn Coughran 2019





Kilgour Cottage in Cattle Bay – photograph believed to have been taken late 1890s

National Library Of Australia –


Route from Cattleyard Bay to Montague Island:

  1. Cattleyard Bay (later Cattle Bay, part of Twofold Bay)
  2. Aslings Beach – Thwart with ‘Ellen’ scratched into it found here
  3. Lennard’s Island – Gunwale and other boat debris found here (7 miles from Eden)
  4. To Montague Island – (50 miles from Eden)



 Newspaper Articles sourced from Trove:

Eden, Twofold Bay, Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 17th December 1866

Twofold Bay, Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 3rd January 1867 (Written 27th Dec 1866)

A Boat’s Crew Lost, The Argus Melbourne, Tuesday 8th Jan 1867 (Written 27th Dec 1866)


Christmas Day, Printed by Propeller N/paper, Eden. (Unclear if published) Author Unknown

Google Maps page showing:

Twofold Bay area and north towards Montague Island