The tale of Eliza Davis

From Cronelea to Emu Bay, to Timaru and Back – Uncovering the Convict Story

Cronelea is a townland in the parish of Mullinacuffe, south Wicklow. Emu Bay is on the north coast of Tasmania. Timaru is on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  What connects these three locations is Eliza Davis, a 22 year old orphan apprenticed as a servant to a family in Cronelea House, south Wicklow. In July 1845 she was charged, tried and found guilty of the crime of infanticide. The sentence was death which was later commuted to transportation for life to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land.

Eliza’s life can be followed through the convict and civil records, both in Ireland and in Tasmania, from her arrest for the alleged murder of her baby son in 1845 to her death in Burnie in 1898. During the intervening 53 years Eliza Davis epitomised the convict story in that she, along with her second husband and her nine children, took on the mantle of the much sought after cover of respectability, and like so many of her fellow convicts, became the backbone of the nation.

And what of her descendants? Was the fact of her past convict stain shielded, re-invented and minimised? Was it this convict stain which made four of her grandsons emigrate to New Zealand? How was it that future descendants there, descendants of the second family, were not aware that there was a first family? Why was her crime of infanticide unknown to some descendants who thought she had been transported for a petty crime such as stealing bread? Did some descendants know of the real crime or was it uncovered through research?