SUSANNA THEOFF: Arrived in Australia in 1855 and is buried in the Ballina Pioneer Cemetery.
SUSANNA THEOFF: Arrived in Australia in 1855 and is buried in the Ballina Pioneer Cemetery. Contributed

How an English woman met and married an ex-convict

WHAT would make a young woman travel across the globe to an unknown destination?

Susanna Theoff was not alone when she embarked on her big journey from England to the South Australian colony in 1855.

When she started on her journey on the emigrant ship The Punjab, Susanna was only 21 years old and accompanied by her older sister Sarah and younger brother James.

Susan Ambrose, her brother's fiancee, also accompanied them on the 82 day trip.

Born in 1832 in Kent, England, to James Theoff and Sarah Spain, Susanna and her siblings' decision to move to Australia was assisted by the South Australian government, which made available the emigrant ship that left London in February and arrived in Adelaide in May.

Between 1848 and 1886, The Punjab made 323 voyages to South Australia under the auspices of the government.

Assisted emigration was mainly financed from the sale of Crown land and was administered by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission in London.

When South Australia gained representative government under the SA Constitutional Act of 1855/56, the government became responsible for the administration of the land fund. The government also took over the immigrant selection and transport arrangements.

Documentation showed that nominations for emigrants were made by purchasers of land in South Australia "for passages to that Colony, towards whose passage ... small contributions have been made”.

The nominee for Susanna was a man named William Giles, with a relative, William Theoff, putting down the deposit.

After her arrival Susanna made her way across Australia, ending up on the Northern Rivers where she met ex-convict, widower and father of 13, Mathias Lewis, and finally settled at Ballina.

They married in 1878 but their life together was short-lived, when Susanna died of natural causes at the age of 44 in 1881.

She is buried in the Ballina Pioneer Cemetery.

References: South Australia, www.nla.gov.au/research-guides/australian-ship-and-passenger-records/south- australia; Official assisted passage passenger lists, State Records of South Australia, ancestry.com; NSW Register of Coroner's Inquest 1821- 1937, ancestry.com; Immigration State Records of SA, https://www.archives.sa.gov. au/content/immigration



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