Mary Edwards Harvey Pearson

This is the story of Mary Edwards, her life and times. She is not a relative of mine, or of anyone I know. I chose to study her at random, part of a course in family history I have been studying. You could say that it was luck that caused me to choose her, good luck or bad luck.

Mary married a sailor, William Harvey and it was by his name that she eventually became known as convict 643 Mary Harvey. Were nineteenth century sailors paid on any regular basis, or were they paid at the beginning or end of their voyage. How did the sailor’s family survive? Is this the reason why Mary came into contact with the law? Or perhaps he died or deserted her.

You will find, as you read this story, that, as luck would have it, the idea of a civil police force was new to this era and was, in fact, only two years old in Devon at the time of Mary’s first appearance. She was acquitted twice in 1838 and it would be another three years before she would be found guilty. Could it be that it took the police time to learn how to present a good case before a magistrate? Could it be that before the police arrived, petty theft was considered more of an inconvenience than a terrible crime? Mary was transported for stealing bedding, a crime she recounted as ‘pledging’ – Victorian vernacular for pawning. It was common practice in nineteenth century England, for the poor to pawn items of clothing or bedding in order to buy food or pay rent until the next payday. Was Mary just caught up in the changing attitudes of her times, transported for something that until recently had not been considered to be a crime? Could it have been just luck that she was caught, good luck or bad luck?

Transported to the opposite end of the world, Mary eventually married a George Pearson, another transportee. Was it luck that she met and married this man? Perhaps he just turned up at the Female Factory, reference in hand, looking for someone to marry, which was considered a perfectly reasonable way to acquire a wife. At that time Mary had just lost a child and served four months of hard labour, did she decide to change her luck by marrying this man? It is by this name, Mary Pearson, that she disappears from our view, left in the charge of a husband, no longer a drain on the colonial purse. Did her luck change, good luck or bad luck?

There is one thing I can guarantee you, if you indulge yourself and read this story. You will come away with more questions than you had to begin with. That could be good luck or bad luck.

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