Phoebe Anderson was sentenced to transportation following her second conviction for coining offences. Initially, her behaviour failed to improve in Tasmania, however her marriage to a fellow convict and subsequent pregnancy appear to have reformed her criminal behaviour, enabling her to break free from her previous cycle of criminal behaviour.
Little is known of Phoebe’s childhood, except that she was born in Islington in 1822, and that at the time of her first Old Bailey trial at the age of 16 in 1838 she was apparently living in Westminster. Her court documents record her occupation as a spinster. During her second trial, it is also noted that she used the alias of "Mary Smith", but given this alias does not appear during her first trial, it is likely that Phoebe adopted this alias either during or immediately after her prison sentence.
Phoebe’s first appearance at the Old Bailey was in 1838 when she was 16 years of age. She was accused of purchasing groceries with a counterfeit coin, and after testimony from a witness and an inspector from the royal mint, she was found guilty and sentenced to six months' imprisonment in Newgate.
Just a few months after being released from Newgate, Phoebe found herself once again at the Old Bailey in 1839, charged, just as before, with coining offences. During this trial, her previous conviction for the same offence was brought to everybody’s attention before the witnesses were questioned, thus demonstrating the importance of the fact that she was a recidivist. She was again found guilty, only this time she was sentenced to ten years' transportation to Tasmania.
Phoebe’s first sentence of six months' imprisonment does not seem to have deterred her from using counterfeit money, as she was found guilty of the same offence mere months after she had been released from prison. The fact that she received six months, rather than twelve months as other criminals who committed coining offences often did, may have something to do with both her gender and her young age at the time of her sentence, which may have resulted in the court applying a degree of leniency.
Leniency was not applied, however, during her second trial, and the reason for this surely lies in the fact that she had previous convictions and had at this point become a repeat offender. As such, despite her gender and despite the fact that she was still only 18 years old, she was transported to Tasmania aboard the Gilbert Henderson for a period of ten years. Her conduct record whilst she was in Tasmania shows that her criminal behaviour did not change, at least in the short term. For example, in 1841 she was punished for absconding, being disobedient to orders, for larceny and misconduct. In 1843, she had her sentence extended by two years. There are no notes in her conduct record beyond 1845, but given her original ten year sentence and her two year extension, it is likely that she remained in Tasmania until at least around 1852. As such, it would appear that after a few years of continuing her criminal and disorderly behaviour following her transportation, she eventually desisted and settled in to life in Australia.
We learn from her convict records that while in Tasmania she worked as a nursemaid, and appears to have dropped her old alias of "Mary Smith". Her convict description notes that she was 4' 10" tall, had hazel-coloured eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion.
A major life event occurred for Phoebe in 1845, when she married fellow convict Edwin Beckett (who was 30 years old). Edwin had arrived in Tasmania a year before Phoebe, after having been found guilty of desertion at a court martial, and whilst in Tasmania he worked as a gardener. We also know from his transportation reports that whilst on route to Australia, he sustained a burn injury due to an accident aboard the transportation ship.
It is likely no coincidence that the year Phoebe’s behaviour seems to have improved was also the year in which she got married. A year after her marriage, on 27 July 1846, she gave birth to a son while in Australia, whose name was unrecorded. Sadly, Phoebe’s son died on the day of his birth, the cause of death being marked as "natural causes". There are no other records indicating that Phoebe had any more children following the loss of her son, however it is likely that the stability and purpose provided to her by her marriage, and the traumatic experience of losing her first-born son (at the still relatively young age of 24) broke her previous cycle of criminal behaviour and thus she was able to live the rest of her life away from the attention of the criminal justice system.
It is unknown what happened to Phoebe beyond the death of her son in 1846. Her transportation sentence would have only expired in 1852, and so it is likely that she remained in Tasmania until at least that date. There are no later convictions or records of misconduct either in Britain or Australia for her, suggesting that she never again returned to crime. In Tasmania there is a likely death record for her husband Edwin in 1851, when he was aged 35. In this record, the name, age and occupation (gardener) match that of Phoebe’s husband, but his wife is recorded as Mary Beckett, not Phoebe. However, this may be because before Phoebe’s transportation, she used the name Mary as an alias, and given that all of the other details of her husband match with this record exactly, it is very likely that her husband did in fact die in Tasmania in 1851. At this point, Phoebe had lost both her son and her husband by the age of just 29. There is a death record for a Phoebe Beckett in London in 1864, and it is possible that she returned to London following the loss of her son and her husband, however there is nothing else to link this record definitively with Phoebe. There are no records of departure in Tasmania, making it a possibility that she could have instead remained there for the rest of her life, although there are also no death records for her there, making it difficult to identify exactly when and where she might have died or where she may have spent the final years of her life.
By the nineteenth century, women only made up around 22 per cent of defendants in court, which was part of a wider pattern of decline in the prosecution of women over time, so much so that by the early twentieth century this figure had fallen to just 9 per cent. However, one of the crimes where women did make up a significant portion of the defendants was coining offences, and so although women in general were much less likely to be tried for crimes, in this way Phoebe’s crimes were fairly typical of the types of offences women at the time were convicted for when they were put on trial. In this context, it is likely that Phoebe’s gender would have also played a role in the lenient sentence she was given for her first offence, as female crime was generally perceived to be less serious and threatening by the courts than male crime. However, the fact that she was sentenced to transportation after her second trial rather than a longer prison sentence may be considered slightly unusual, as women were less likely than men to be selected for transportation to Australia, due to the perception that men would aid the economic growth of the colony much more than women would.
Coining, larceny, transportation, imprisonment, recidivism, alias, juvenile, female
This page was written by Alex Traves with additional contributions by other members of the Digital Panopticon project team.