In March 1814, Maria Roberts of Liverpool was convicted and sentenced to hang for the crime of stealing a skein of lace and a spool of ribbon. She was 27 years of age. In May her sentence was commuted to transportation for life. She was parted from her husband Robert Roberts and their two children, Robert and Ann, and sailed from England on the Northampton to the colony of New South Wales on the 1st of January 1815.
Arriving at Port Jackson in June, Maria was transferred to the Female Factory at Parramatta, from where she was assigned to the emancipist Simeon Lord. Within a short while she met James Briley, who was also assigned to Lord. James and Maria formed a de facto marriage, producing five 'native-born' children.
Details of the lives of James and Maria are in the official records of the colony: James applied for and was granted small holdings of land; children were baptised at St Philip's.
Curiously, a few months before his death, James petitioned the Governor to place the pregnant Maria back in the Female Factory because she was not 'sober and industrious'. He did, however, nominate her as the sole benefactor of his will. She subsequently owned two houses and land in Clarence Street, Sydney. Two years after James' death, Maria lost her ticket-of-leave for assaulting a female neighbour. Her youngest daughter, Ezella, died, and her eldest daughter and two of her sons were enrolled in orphan schools. The youngest son, Thomas, was fostered by Anne Downes (also of the Northampton).
In 1827 Maria formed a liaison with Irish convict Thomas O'Brien, and they conceived a daughter, Zillah Eliza. This union was disrupted shortly after by the arrival of O'Brien's wife and three children.
Maria's life changed significantly at the age of 46, when she was reunited with her first husband. Robert Roberts had stolen a cheese, for which he was transported to New South Wales. He had served his term in Bathurst and was by then a free man. In 1837, Robert, Maria and Zillah travelled to Braidwood. In 1842, at the recommendation of Thomas Braidwood Wilson, Maria was granted a pardon.
Janet Goodchild-Cuffley is the great-great-great granddaughter of Maria Roberts and James Briley, descended through their eldest son, Joseph.