The Story of Alice Julian
By Christina Henri
On Friday 3rd March 2017 an event will take place in Grangegorman to honour the thousands of women and children who were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) from Ireland through the Grangegorman Female Depot during the 1800s. Below is the story of just one of those women who felt that the punishment of transportation to a land she would never return from was a better prospect than anything here in Ireland. This is the story of Alice Julian.
For full details on the event see our ‘Wear a Bonnet’ – A Living Art installation Webpage
Descendants of Alice Julian, Australian siblings Frank and Maree Holden, approached Tasmanian artist Christina Henri some years ago after hearing about her Roses from the Heart memorial project. Subsequently the brother and sister flew from Melbourne to Hobart to meet with Christina and so commenced a continuing friendship.
In 2013 Frank and Maree invited Christina to travel to Melbourne and accompany them to the Performing Arts Centre, to enjoy a personalised tour and see the memorabilia they had donated relating to their family’s Holden Circus history.
The Holden’s story is fascinating. Their female convict ancestor Alice Julian’s arrived in Australia in 1852. Alice was born in Kilkenny in 1833 and was one of six children whose parents were tenant farmers. Alice had worked as a dairy maid. She was 12 years old when the catastrophic disaster of the Great Famine exposed her to unparalleled misery in Ireland.
The Kilkenny Journal, 5 November 1851 published Kilkenny County Court, Quarter Sessions’ transcribed proceedings. They provide insight into the human tragedy of the times. Impoverished people, facing starvation, with no means to pay emigration costs, may well have viewed transportation as their only gateway to a better existence.
Transcripts infer Alice determined to escape her dire situation. In 1851 she was accused of setting fire to a house at Ruheenduff, however prosecutions were suspended as the dwelling’s former ‘inhabitant’ had moved to America. The building had in fact been scheduled to be ‘thrown down’ the day after Alice set it alight.
After spending a night in gaol the Governor of Bridewell Gaol went to discharge Alice however she begged for further consideration. Magistrates asked Alice would she agree to return home to her mother. Having originally stated that if discharged she would burn the first house she came across, Alice responded with the following: ‘I now know better what I ought to do. It was because I did not know the difference that I did what I did’. These words appeared to persuade the assistant barrister to direct the prisoner to be discharged and she was freed on November 1, 1851.
It would appear that Alice continued to speak about intending to secure a passage to Van Diemen’s Land. As history shows she was successful in this as she was sentenced to transportation. Although the charge of Arson had been dismissed in 1851 it appears on the Tasmanian Archives Convict Prison Record documented as ‘Transported for Arson’. It also mentions a second offence of stealing a cloak, gown and handkerchief. It is obvious Alice was intent on escaping the Great Famine most likely deliberately stealing to achieve this. She was sentenced to seven years transportation, however once in Australia very few convicts were able to return to their homeland.
Alice would have been held in the Grangegorman Female Depot, Dublin, prior to being taken aboard the Martin Luther along with 225 other women and their children to set sail June 8, 1852. As Alice prepared to board the Martin Luther her brother, who had travelled to Dublin to see his sister, threatened to shoot her. One can only presume his anger stemmed from believing Alice had brought ‘shame’ on their family.
The ship arrived in Hobart Town on September 1, 1852. Alice never returned to Ireland and there is no evidence of any contact between her and her mother or her siblings.
Within a week of her arrival Alice was placed in the Female House of Corrections (also known as the Cascades Female Factory). This was normal procedure at the time. Between September 1852 and February 1855, Alice worked as an assigned servant for a number of colonists in Hobart Town, Launceston, Westbury and New Norfolk.
These placings were interspersed with periods of time spent at the Female House of Correction generally for the crime of ‘being absent without leave’. On March 13, 1855 Alice received her Ticket of Leave. That same day she applied to marry Alfred Walker and that request was approved. Alice would have been 21 when she and Alfred married on 2 April 1855 at St Georges Church, Battery Point, Hobart.
A Conditional Pardon was issued to Alice on 6 November 1855 and approved on 16 September 1856.
Over the following eleven years the couple had five children. All seemed to be fine until an allegation of fraud was brought against Alice. She was arrested under the name of Ellen Walker and was charged, on information by Sub-Inspector Dorsett, with having ‘feloniously uttered a counterfeit coin of the realm, with intent to defraud one Mr Thomas Hill, licensed victualler keeping the Caledonian Inn, located in Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town, Tasmania’ (The Mercury, 3 April 1867).
The jury retired to consider the case following a trial and returned with a verdict of guilty, with commendation to mercy. Chief Justice Fleming took into account the accused previous good character. He imposed an eight month gaol sentence.
Shortly after Alice’s incarceration in the Cascades Female Factory her youngest daughter Rosaline became seriously ill. She was placed in the Prison Hospital where she died of a strumous abscess on July 15, 1867. It was around this time Alice Walker was noted as ‘expecting’ a child, her sixth. Three months after Rosaline’s death Alice gave birth to a daughter whom she named Amelia after one of her husband’s sisters.
The staff at the Cascades Female Factory appear to have shown compassion towards Alice. She was assigned light duties. These tasks gave Alice the opportunity to work within the prison hospital system and nursery and this fostered an interest in nursing and midwifery, which later became a profession she excelled in.
All in all Alice and Thomas had eight children. Maria Mary was born in Launceston, Tasmania and after moving to live in Victoria, the family’s last child, Beatrice Victoria was born in Collingwood in 1872.
Alice became the main provider for the family. She established her privately owned and operated Maternity Lying-in-Hospital in a number of locations throughout metropolitan Melbourne between 1888 and 1906. During that time Alice worked in various capacities as nurse, midwife and superintendent (verified by Sands and McDougall directories).
Some of the couple’s daughters also entered the nursing profession as fully trained and qualified registered midwives.
Alice’s husband Alfred died in the family home in Collingwood, Melbourne on May 22 1902 aged 78 years. He was nursed by Alice and the couple’s daughter Catherine (Limbom nee Walker).
Over the years Alfred had worked as constable with the Tasmanian Police Force, as a carpenter and later as a publican (hotel keeper), Adam and Eve Hotel, 119 Little Collins Street, Melbourne,
In her later life Alice Walker was cared for and nursed by her daughter Catherine in the family home in Melbourne until her death at the age of 86, on December 3, 1920. Her granddaughter, Lydia Catherine Lewis provided the information on her death certificate.
Alice was buried on December 4, 1920 at the Melbourne Cemetery. The bodies of her daughter Maria Mary and her son Thomas Alfred lie with her.
Three direct male descendants, grandsons of Alice and Alfred, served in World War 1. Private Rudolph Hugo Limbom; Lance Corporal Peter Henry Limbom and Private Samuel Englebert Limbom.
A great grandson, David Samuel Robert Lewis, served in World War 11 and great, great granddaughter Sergeant Maree Dawn Holden, served for twenty years in the Australian Regular Army.
Maree has enjoyed significant careers. Photographs of Maree and her brother Frank were included in the Victorian Arts Centre publication Performing Arts Collection on page seven, ‘An Australian Circus Dynasty’ May 12, 2006.
Adolphus ‘Pop’ Holden formed Holden Brothers Circus in Melbourne in 1892. Leading a nomadic life, the Holden family and additional artists would often perform in four towns a week, using horse drawn wagons for transport until the 1920s when motor vehicles were included. Adolphus, and seven of his eleven children, would perform a variety of acts. The Holden Brothers’ Circus would entertain audiences with shows including comedy, live music, contortion, flying trapeze and ‘talking’ ponies as well as bucking mules. After Adolphus’ death his sons took over the circus and toured with it up until 1952.
Travelling circus was particularly suited to the Australian life-style. It was an economical way to deliver popular entertainment to a small and widely-distributed population. As a way of life, circuses helped shape Australia’s cultural life across generations, from 1847 to 1918. For over half a century, tens of thousands of people flocked to the circus annually.
With the advent of television, Adolphus’ son Francis and their children – Barry, Frank and Maree, adapted their performance to TV audiences and to entertaining school children.
In the mid 1980s, Frank and Barry Holden donated a significant collection of material from the Holden Brothers Circus to the ‘Performing Arts Collection’ (Victorian Arts Centre), the official national archive to the Australian circus industry.
Francis Holden, known in character as Tex Gordon, along with his nephew Mark Holden are well known Australians in the Entertainment Industry. In the 1980s Mark worked overseas as a songwriter in Los Angeles providing material recorded by Meat Loaf, Joe Cocker, Gladys Knight, Bob Welch and Steve Jones. He was one of three original judges on the TV series Australian Idol (2003–07) and the first season (2005) of X Factor. The ‘flamboyant former pop star’ changed his career path later in life and he now practices as a successful barrister. In 2014 he reappeared on Australian TV taking part in Dancing With the Stars.
Among the convict women transported to Australia there were those who deliberately offended to escape starvation and death. Alice Julian was one of those women. Hoping for a better future Alice Julian achieved that.
Today her descendants proudly recognise her sacrifices and resilience that saw her rise from poverty to live a contented, successful and prosperous life surrounded by children and grandchildren. Her legacy lives on through her descendants who have enriched the Australian ‘way of life’.