Nine Stories Nine Women -3- Sarah Ann Somerville

Nine Stories Nine Women -3- Sarah Ann Somerville

In keeping with the theme of Queensland Women’s Week 2019 – Invest in Women, Invest in the future.  Talking about financial insecurity and literacy.    The stories of the women of Boggo Road Gaol directly represent what goes wrong when women are faced with financial insecurity and other difficult circumstances.
This year, in honour of these women we have produced Nine Stories Nine Women a series of short stories representative of the different circumstances that women found themselves in.  Sarah Ann Somerville is the third of our nine stories.

Name (with aliases): Sarah Ann Somerville; alias Sarah Ann Stewart, alias Sarah Ann Forsdike, alias Joan McDonald, alias Sarah McEntire.

Native Place:  England

Year of Birth: 1882

Trade or Calling: Cook

Religion: Church of England

Education: R & W

Height (without boots): 5 Feet 3 Inches

Weight: 10 Stone

Hair: Brown

Eyes: Grey

Complexion: Fair

Build: Stout

Marks and Special Features: Three vaccination marks left bicep


Sarah Ann Somerville is another woman who has experienced great loss and desperate circumstances.  Three times married, Sarah found herself Bigamously married and charged, she lost her home all while attempting to care for her infant daughter.  When all refuge was refused to her, she turned to selling her body and to cope with the pain – Alcohol.

Born Sarah Ann Seeds in Maryport, Cumberland, England she was raised in a working class family. At the age of 27 she departed England to work in Australia as a domestic. Arriving in Melbourne in 1910 and travelling by coastal ship to Brisbane.  Her Brother was a seaman in the Customs Department.   As a nominated emigrant it is presumed that he sponsored her travel.

Just a year later she married Benjamin Charles Somerville, a successful butcher in Fortitude Valley at the Salvation Army mission house, located in Leichardt street; Sadly just eight months later, Benjamin died when he fell from his horse, fracturing his skull.  Sarah was expecting their first child at the time.  Sarah was fortunate, she had the family assets to help her get by and she was able to reside with her brother in law and his wife.

Here she met Frank Edward Forsdike, also a widower with three children. He worked as a dairy farmer, residing at Toowong. It is understood that their marriage was unhappy.  The birth of the baby from the first marriage caused immediate tension. They married just five months after the baby was born.  They separated shortly after.

Sarah Ann moved to Wynnum to operate a boarding house.  Here she met a man named Ulick Thomas Burke on a train ride to the city.  He had placed an advertisement for a housekeeper. He spotted the young mother on the train and somehow managed to “persuade her” to marry him.  They married the next day.  The trouble with this was…. She was still legally married to Frank Forsdike!  She was charged with Bigamy.

It seems that even though she was convicted she stayed with Frank Forsdike.  They had another child together in 1920.  However everything seems to have spiraled out of control from there. By 1925 she was working as a cook at a boarding house when she was charged with haven stolen food from the pantry.

It seems it was as late as 1926 that she started to consume Alcohol, probably sooner, it was this that pushed Sarah Ann Somerville into Boggo Road Gaol.  She would be in so many times for theft in the coming years that the Judges, growing more and more exasperated eventually began sentencing Sarah to longer and longer periods of time inside. In all of her cases before the court, she always used the fact that she had been drinking as an excuse. It seems that she would get blind drunk and do silly things. Once even having stolen two gallons of wine!  (7.5L) Perhaps these longer sentences brought with it the hope of saving her from herself.   However, all to no avail, her lifestyle had taken its toll.  Sarah would pass away in the Brisbane Hospital in 1938 from Pneumonia aged just 56.

Come and get locked up in Boggo Road Gaol for Queensland Women’s Week! Experience what life was like for the women from the earliest times of the female division in our fully immersive tour experience Join us for a History Tour on the 3rd, 6th or 8th of March to be a part of our very special Queensland Women’s Week events.

Tickets for Queensland Women’s Week are strictly limited so get in quickly to secure your spot.  You do not want to miss this! Click here to book now! 

Boggo Road Gaol
Boggo Road Gaol