Convict Histories

Michael Corbett (1837 – 1881) (Reg. No. 4781)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

Just imagine two small boys, their heads barely visible above the dock at the Central Criminal Court, facing a charge of burglary from a house and begging to be transported because there was no-one to care for them. Their names were Michael Corbett and James Ryan. Corbett, aged ten, already had two previous convictions and was pronounced a regular thief. He was probably one of the many orphaned or abandoned children roaming the city streets, begging or stealing in order to survive.

The Court was told that Ryan lived with his uncle in ‘that receptacle of vice known as Rosemary Lane’. He had previously been in prison at Bridewell where he was whipped. Both boys assured His Lordship that they were never so happy or comfortable than when they were in prison. They were then ordered to be transported for seven years. They both bowed most deferentially to the bench and said, ‘Thank ye, we are obliged to you.’[1]

What happened to James Ryan is not known. Michael Corbett, however, eventually got his wish to be transported, landing in Western Australia onboard the Lord Raglan in 1858. Following his sentence in 1849 of seven years, most likely spent in a British prison, young Corbett may have been released early on ticket-of-leave, back onto the streets of London, more worldly-wise than before.

In 1856 he was arrested again, after being found illegally on premises at Brereton [most likely Brereton Cum Smethwick in Cheshire]. Corbett told conflicting stories about why he had been found on the premises of tailor William Jepson at three o’clock in the morning, lying under a shelf in the milk-house with his shoes off, and a candle and matches in his pocket. Jepson stood sentinel over the intruder with a hay-fork while his wife went to fetch the constable. One reason given by Corbett for being on the premises was that he was on the tramp to Liverpool in the hope of going to America, and that Jephson’s nephew had given him permission to sleep there. When told that there was no nephew, Corbett confessed that he had hoped that it was a gentleman’s house and that he might find some gold or silver items to sell along the road.[2]

At the Chester Assizes on 3 December 1856, Michael Corbett was convicted of burglary, and with three previous convictions, including the one for burglary in 1849 which earned him a seven-year term, he was sentenced to transportation for life.[3] He spent 10 months and 10 days in Separate Confinement at Wakefield Prison in Yorkshire, where his behaviour was described as Very Good, and at Public Works was also Very Good. He was received onboard the convict ship Lord Raglan from Chatham Prison, described as a labourer, single, aged 20, and his religion RC.

Corbett was 21 by the time he arrived at Fremantle on the Lord Raglan on 1 June 1858, described as 5’10½”, with light brown hair, grey eyes, an oval face, fresh complexion, stout, and pockmarked.[4]

His Record in WA

1858 – Petitioned.

1859 – Not accommodated for any further remission.

1/2/59 – Class suspended, three months.

20/4/59 – No tobacco – one month.

31/5/59 – Bread and water three days.

31/6/59 – Ditto, four days. Constable status disrated.

34/1/61 – To Ry Bay.

10/2/61 – CE. (Convict Establishment?)

2/11/61 – Toodyay.

6/11/61 – In reply to his petition His Excellency can see no grounds for any interference – from his bad conduct he may reasonably await his discharge on ticket of leave before he selects a new form of religious practice. (E1/470)

17/4/62 – CE.

1/5/62 – His Ticket of Leave to be suspended.

17/7/62 – Cannot be granted any indulgence until specially ….. by the Superintendent for Industry and good conduct, when he will return to the p…. class. He ought not to have been sent to the out-station in a responsible position.

6/10/62 – This man may return to the Prott (?) Class. If he again misconducts himself he will be put back again.

14/11/62 – Seven days’ bread and water.

6/2/63 – To Rottnest.

19/4/63 – On Ticket of Leave.

28/4/63 – Convict Establishment.[5]

19/5/63 – Discharged to Ticket of Leave.[6] CE to Perth.

22/4/63 – Ticket of Leave.

31/12/63 – Vasse.

10/2/65 – Perth to Champion Bay cancelled.

22/2/65 – Perth to Bunbury.

7/3/65 – At Bunbury, reprimanded for committing a nuisance.

1/4/65 – Bunbury to Toodyay.

20/7/65 – Toodyay to ……(?)

20/9/65 – Perth to Victoria District.

Offences in WA

11/12/67 – Assaulting J Connors and using threatening language.

7/3/65 – By RM at Bunbury – Committing a nuisance – reprimanded.

2/6/66 – RM Champion Bay – Breach of regulations – fined 20/-.

6/11/66 – RM Champion Bay – Insubordination – one month’s hard labour.

6/2/67 – M Brown, RM – out after hours – fined 10/-

18/10/67 – C/P at Champion Bay.

10/12/68 – Michael Corbett, c.p., suspected of having in his possession property stolen at

Geraldton, was remanded.


Although Michael Corbett’s behaviour left a lot to be desired, he appears to have been an industrious worker, employed by prominent people, mostly in the Victoria District.

9/6/63 – Bricklayer, 4/- per day, J Ascoine, Perth.

30/6/63 – Ditto.

25/1/64 – Bricklayer, own account, Perth, self.

30/6/64 – Ditto, 6/- per day.

15/3/65 – Bricklayer, own account, Bunbury.

15/4/65 – Labourer, piece work N Garrido, Toodyay.

27/7/65 – Labourer, own account, Perth.

26/9/65 – Labourer, piece work, W Phelps, Geraldton.

31/12/65 – Stonemason, own account, self.

30/6/66 – Bricklayer, self.

5/12/66 – Builder, contract, H Gray, (Greenough) Flats.

31/12/66 – Stonemason, ditto.

8/1/67 – Stonemason, piece work, G Baston, Geraldton.

16/3/67 – Ditto, WP Lennon, Geraldton.

22/4/67 – Stonemason, Jas Daucher (?), Greenough.

17/6/67 – Ditto, Mrs Allender, Greenough.

30/6/67 – Mason, £9/16/- per month, J Perejuan, Geraldton.[7]

15/7/67 – Labourer, contract, Victoria District, William King, at Greenough.

14/9/67 – Labourer, 7/- per day, William Forrest (Jnr), Greenough.

Michael Corbett married a widow Ellen Bayes, née Godfrey, on 14 January 1867, at the Roman Catholic Church in Dongara. She had arrived in WA in 1859 onboard the Hamilla Mitchell. Her first husband George Bayes, expiree, had died in York WA in 1866.

Michael Corbett took up land in 1867 at Dongara in the Irwin District, and employed eight ticket-of-leave men between 1866 and 1870.[8] The three Corbett children were Kitty (b1865), Michael (b1866) and Thomas (1874).[9]

Corbett was listed variously in the WA and Herald Almanacks as a bootmaker, stock owner and farmer in the Irwin District from 1877.[10]

He died in 1881, aged 56.[11] Following his death, Ellen Corbett married for a third time, to Philip Leary at Dongara in 1882.[12] [P. Leary was advertising in the Herald Almanack as a licensed victualler in the Irwin/Dongara District in 1885.[13]]

Problems arose when a merchant at Dongara, F Pearce, laid claim to her former husband’s estate, due to debts owed by him. Michael Corbett had died intestate and Pearce claimed that Ellen had not paid the debt of £97 18s. and it had increased it further, with the plaintiff continuing to supply goods for the benefit of the widow and her children. He was concerned that Mrs Corbett (later Leary), had failed to take out Letters of Administration over her husband’s estate, and took action because of his concern that the Statute of Limitation would soon expire –


(Before His Honor the Chief Justice.)



The plaintiff, Mr. F. Pearse, a merchant at Dongarra, sought for letters of administration to be granted to him, in the estate of Michael Corbett, late of Dongarra, as a creditor of the deceased, who died intestate. The application was opposed by the widow and children of the deceased.

Mr. Burt, Q.C., instructed by Mr. F. M. Stone, appeared for the plaintiff; and Mr. Hensman, instructed by Mr. Horgan, for the defendants.

The statement of claim alleged that the deceased at the time of his death, in 1881, was indebted to the plaintiff in the sum of £97 18s., for goods sold and delivered and cash advanced, and that since the death of the husband the plaintiff had continued to supply the widow, for the benefit of herself and children, with goods, on account of the estate, increasing the claim to £138 8s. 4d. The widow, it was alleged, had refused or neglected to take out letters of administration herself, and the plaintiff now applied to have a decree made to enable him to do so, in order to satisfy his claim against the estate. It appeared that since the death of Corbett, the widow had married a man named Leary, who had not yet entered an appearance to the action, but, who it was said, had delivered certain produce to the plaintiff in part payment of his claim against the estate. The plaintiff, however, had given credit to Leary himself, and not to Corbett’s estate, for all the produce supplied.

Mr. Hensman submitted that the plaintiff ‘s proper course was to cite the widow to take out letters of administration. The widow was absolutely entitled to letters of administration, and until she refused to take out such letters, after citation, she could not be ousted.

Mr. Burt said he had no objection to the widow administering, or to the Court administering. All the plaintiff wanted was to have somebody he could sue, so as to recover his claim. As yet the widow had refused to administer, and, as her late husband, Corbet, had died nearly six years ago, the statute of limitation might soon debar the plaintiff from prosecuting his claim against the widow.

His Honor decreed that letters of administration be granted to the widow, as soon as she obtained the necessary bond, any delay in her obtaining it not to prejudice the plaintiff’s claim as regards the statute of limitation. In the event of her not obtaining the necessary security within two months, letters of administration to be granted to the Curator of Intestate Estates.[14]

In November the following year Ellen applied to have Michael Corbett’s land registered in her name –


TAKE NOTICE that Ellen Leary the wife of Phillip Leary of Dongarra administrator of the estate and effects of Michael Corbett late of Dongarra aforesaid farmer deceased has made application to be registered as the proprietor of an estate in fee simple in possession in the following parcels of land in the Victoria District, and being

Victoria Location 1192, of 100 acres,

vol. V., fol. 336.

Victoria Location 1671, of 100 acres,

vol. XX., fol. 223.

Victoria Location 1789, of 100 acres,

vol. XXVI., fol. 299.

and Further Take Notice that all persons other than the applicant claiming to have any estate right title or interest in the above parcel of land are hereby required to lodge in this Office on or before the 24th day of November next a caveat forbidding the sums from being registered accordingly.


Deputy Registrar of Titles.

Land Titles’ Office, Perth,

26th October, 1888.

John Horgan, Perth, applicant’s Solicitor.[15]

Ellen Leary, respected as a hard-working mother and wife, died in Perth in 1911.[16]

The funeral of the late Mrs. Ellen O’Leary, wife of Mr. Philip O’Leary and mother of Messrs. John Bays, Michael, Patrick and Edward Corbett, took place on Thursday afternoon, and was attended by a large number of relations and friends. The deceased lady, who was 73 years of age, was born in Ireland, and came to this State 53 years ago. The cortege moved from the residence in Barnfield road, Claremont, and proceeded to the Roman Catholic Cemetery, at Karrakatta, where the remains were interred, the Rev. Father Griffin conducting the burial service. The chief mourners were Mr. P. O’Leary (husband), Messrs. John Bays, Michael, Edward and Patrick Corbett (sons), and Mrs. E. Corbett (daughter-in-law).[17]

Ellen’s estate went to her third husband, Phillip Leary –


Ellen Leary, late of Claremont, married woman, to Phillip Leary, £1465/ 0/9.[18]

Phillip Leary died in Northam registration area in 1922.[19]


LEARY.— The Friends of the late Mr. PHILLIP LEARY, of Barnfield-road, Claremont, are respectfully invited to follow his remains to the place of interment, the Roman Catholic Cemetery, Karrakatta ….[20]


[1] Reading Mercury, 23 June 1849.

[2] Chester Chronicle, 6 December 1856.

[3] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[4] Convict Department Estimates & Convict Lists (128/1-32)

[5] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[6] Convict Establishment Receipts and Discharges (RD3-RD4)

[7] Convict Department, General Register (R1)

[8] Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press. 1987, p.665)

[9] WA Department of Justice, Birth Index, Nos. 8438, 9370, 15468.

[10] People of Western Australia, Carnamah Historical Society,

[11] WA Department of Justice, Death Index, No. 11081.

[12] WA Department of Justice, Marriage Index, Reg. No. 5293.

[13] People of Western Australia, Carnamah Historical Society,

[14] Western Mail, 17 September 1887.

[15] Victorian Express, 3 November 1888.

[16] Ibid, Reg. No. 216.

[17] West Australian, 11 April 1911.

[18] West Australian, 9 June 1911.

[19] WA Department of Justice, Reg. No. 88.

[20] Daily News, 16 May 1922.