In researching Catherine Prendergast and the role she played in the establishment of the Prendergast family in Australia, I needed to “time travel” back to an era in our history where married women, by law were considered part of the goods and chattels that were OWNED by their husbands. This doctrine was a rule of law associated with the common law doctrine of coverture outlined in this paper written by Andrew Cowie, School of Law, Murdoch University. http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AUJlGendLaw/2009/6.pdf
Cowie goes on to explain that Coverture is “the state of being under the protection of one’s husband. The term can also mean marriage. Marriage can then be categorized as a contract between a wife and husband where the wife gives up certain legal powers to the husband in return for being under his protections. Until the late 19th century, the marriage contract was the last contract a woman would ever enter”. Women lost their legal identity when they married.
This law, which I found quite shocking, was further explained to me by a volunteer at the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG) during my visit to their Library in Sydney, Australia on 16 December, 2017. This law changed in 1918 allowing women to own land in their own right.
When we opened the ‘’Mutch’s” Muster book of 1800-1802 and viewed the entry recording the details of John Prendergast and James Clark leasing property at Mulgrave place in 1800 whilst still convicts, “that can’t be right!”, exclaimed Alan. “A convict with a 7 year term could not lease land until he had been granted his freedom”. “Could his wife Catherine, the unnamed female on the land have leased the land”, I asked? “Yes and no”, replied Alan. He then went on to explain that if a wife had a guarantor, she could lease land but usually that guarantor was her husband. In this case her husband was still a prisoner so no, she could not own land.
So, how did John Prendergast and James Clark lease land at Mulgrave place in 1800?
I decided to delve deeper and googled the the New South Wales Government State records and Archives site. Here I made a discovery. Continue reading “Catherine Prendergast – One of the first female Land owners in Australia.”