Convict Histories

John Costello (c1828 – 1892) (Reg. No. 4527)

By Irma Walter, 2020.

A Terrible Crime

Irish soldier John Costello was a jealous husband, who in 1854 killed his young wife Mary at what is now known as Rawalpindi in Pakistan, in a violent act of domestic violence. On 10 July 1854 John Costello, aged 30, was convicted at a General Court Martial at Murree of murdering his wife.[1] His sentence was commuted to a term of life imprisonment.[2]

After news of the horrific murder reached England, several articles were published giving gruesome details of the event, summarised here –

Private John Costello married Mary Welsh during the April Quarter of 1852 at Medway in Kent.[3] He was said to be a Connaught man and Mary, aged 19, was a young woman from Buts in Dublin. She had a brother who was also in the 87th Regiment[4] and through him became acquainted with Costello while both men were stationed at the depot at Chatham in Kent. John Costello and Mary Welsh were married there prior to John being sent out to join his Regiment at Rawul Pindee in India (now known as Rawalpindi, Pakistan). Mary followed her husband to India at a later date and was enjoying life there, catching up with her brother and his friends from Kilkenny on a regular basis, and though her behaviour was said to be quite proper, her husband became jealous and began mistreating her. In May 1854 the couple were transferred to the Murree Hills outpost, but their marriage was in a downward spiral by that time, with Mary subjected to regular beatings. After a particularly severe attack she reported her husband to a higher authority, which resulted in him being locked up for a short time. On his release he attacked her again and she ran from the bungalow onto the street, crying out that he had tried to choke her. A group of soldiers witnessed the attack but did not interfere immediately, not realising that Costello had a razor in his hand. It was not until Mary dropped to the ground with her throat cut from ear to ear that he was seized by his comrades.[5]


John Costello (Reg. No. 4527) was received on 12 March 1857 from Millbank Prison and transferred to Portland Prison for removal to Western Australia. His conduct in Solitary Confinement was recorded as Good, and on Public Works, Very Good.[6] He was taken onboard the Nile, leaving Plymouth on 23 September 1857 and arriving at Fremantle on 1 January 1858. He was described as aged 30, single, a widower and shoemaker (latterly a soldier). His physical description was – height 5’7½”, with dark brown hair, dark hazel eyes, an oval face, a dark complexion, middling stout, with tattoos – two women on right arm and a crucifix and coat of arms on the left.[7]

Record in WA

29/1/1858 – Sent to Mt Eliza Depot.[8]

3/12/1859 – Granted Ticket of Leave.[9]

24/10/1861 – Guilty of Trespass, T. Yule, Perth, fined 10/-.[10]

10/9/1864 – Conditional Pardon sent to RM at Champion Bay.[11]


In 1860 John Costello was briefly employed by Marshall Waller Clifton at Australind. Clifton recorded in his journal on 29 July 1860 that he had agreed to employ Costello for a month at 3/- per day, provided that he works well, and sent him out to work in the field. However on 10 September Clifton discharged him, paying him ‘£2.15.6 on balance by Cheque’.[12]

It seems that Costello spent most of his working life in the Champion Bay District, at the port of Geraldton. One morning in August 1892 a man found a body lying on the beach at the back of his house in ‘Bottle Row’.

The local newspaper described the scene as follows:

About eight o’clock yesterday morning a body of a man, who had evidently been drowned, was observed by the residents of “Bottle Row” in the surf at the rear of their houses. Mr. Whitaker, one of the inhabitants, reported the matter to the police, and in company with Constables Watson and Campbell returned to the spot, and there found the body of a man apparently about 70 years of age lying on the sea beach. The corpse bore the appearance of having been in the water for some time, the right ear and nose having been eaten off by the fish. A silver watch and chain, together with some silver and a few other articles, were found on the body, which was, after some difficulty, identified as that of John Costello, lately in the employ of Mr. Wells, surveyor, of this town. Costello had been missing since Tuesday last.

The remains were removed to the morgue and was buried later on during the day. Costello is well known in the district, being an old resident and he was an inoffensive, harmless old man.[13]

A Perth paper reported that Costello had been involved in a similar incident some years earlier:

The man John Costello who was found drowned on the beach at the rear of “Bottle Row” some few weeks back was rescued from drowning on the very same part of the Bay some 14 years ago by Mr. H. Grimshaw.[14]


[1] Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791 – 1868, 1853-1863)

[2] Convict Department Registers (128/38-39)

[3] UK Marriages, Family Search,

[4] Note: Another source has John Costello in the 91st Regiment- See Midwest Convict Database.

[5] Cornish Telegraph, 30 August 1854.

[6] Convict Department Registers, Convicts Transported per Nile (R32)

[7] Convict Department, General Registers (R24-R25)]

[8] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1-RD2)

[9] Convict Department, General Register (R21B)

[10] Convict Department, General Registers (R24-R25)

[11] Convict Department, General Register (R21B)

[12] P Barnes, JM Cameron, HA Willis, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Carlyle, WA, 2010, pps.630, 634.

[13] Victorian Express, 19 August 1892.

[14] Record, 22 September 1892.