Friday 21 June 2019

The Myths and Truths of Margaret Farley

The story of John Farley is well-known, as the man who reputedly saw Fred Fisher’s ghost. His wife Margaret also has an interesting story.
An article in a Sydney newspaper of 1892 by the Hon. James Norton relates a tale his father, an early colonial solicitor, told of a young country girl who obtained a position in London, was wrongfully accused of stealing a silk ribbon from her employer, and sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to transportation for life after the intervention of some “humane persons”.  After arriving in the colony, this young woman continued her domestic duties in the service of James Norton Snr. Mr Norton had a client, one John Farley who had become a prosperous and respectable man. Norton claims that “it is obvious that Mr Norton (Snr) must have acted as friendly mediator, and thus started on its course one of the most beautiful romances of the early colonial days”!!!
This got me started on some research about Margaret Farley, which rather debunked these romantic assertions!
Margaret Shuttleborough (also written as Chittleborough) stood 5’ 3 ½ in. tall, had a dark complexion, dark hair and hazel eyes. She had been tried in the Old Bailey in October 1810. Her theft was not of a silk ribbon, but rather she had stolen quite a number of items from her then employer Samuel Ballin and his wife Hannah of Great Prescott Street, London. Margaret stole and pawned a watch, a shawl handkerchief, a silk cloak, two gold brooches, two handkerchiefs, a pair of gold bracelets, two shawls, four caps, a pair of stockings, three gowns, eight yards of lace, and a pair of bracelet snaps! Samuel spoke to both his servants about the missing items, after which Margaret absconded from the house. Samuel found Margaret at Bishopgate Street, and made her return with him to his home. Police were called for and after some enquiries she was taken into custody. She was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.  Her sentence was commuted to 21 years.
Margaret arrived in Sydney aged 19 on board the Minstrel, on October 25th, 1812, 10 months after John Farley’s arrival.
Somewhat problematic is the claim that James Norton may have been instrumental in the marriage of Margaret Shuttleborough and John Farley. Their marriage took place in Sydney on February 2nd, 1814, and James Norton Snr did not arrive in Sydney until 1818. The tale told by James Norton is a pretty one, if not factual! Margaret and John married at St Philip’s Church of England, which stood where Lang Park is in Sydney today.
St Philips Church of England 1817 (

The Farleys did not have any known children. John died in 1841, and Margaret received an absolute pardon in 1842.  She stayed on in Campbelltown and became the licensee of the King’s Arms in 1843. It was reported that after her husband John’s death, she claimed that he had invented the sighting of Fred Fisher’s ghost because he had been drinking with Fisher and Worrall the night Fisher disappeared, had seen them walk home together and suspected that Worrall had something to do with Fisher’s disappearance. The ghost story was put about to provoke some action.
 It is here that Margaret’s trail disappears. I could find no death record, no re-marriage. I would love to know what happened to Margaret, as she came into quite a bit of money and property after John died. 

Written by Claire Lynch


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