Allender Harlequin Bob Convicts Cowburn Davis

Harlequin Bob

Aliases: Cobourn, Coburn, Coborn, Cowburn, Cockburn, Harlequin Bob

I first came across Robert Cowburn while researching my 3rd Great Grandmother, Catherine Allender whom he married in 1869, the more I found about about Robert, the more I became intrigued and decided to take a deeper look into his colourful history.

Although Robert is not a direct ancestor, he is however connected by marriage on my mother’s side of the family and therefore part of my Tasmanian heritage.


Height: 5/8 and ¼

Hair: Brown

Eyes: Light grey 

Tattoos: RC EC TL & Woman on right arm, Sailor & Crucifix left arm



Robert first appeared in 1819 when he and his accomplice Richard Jones were charged and sentenced to 7 years transportation for robbing a farmer of his money2;

“Robert Cowburn and Richard Jones were convicted of having robbed a drunken and silly farmer of a bundle Bank notes under rather aggravated circumstances.

The old man had taken shelter from the rain in the Dog Tavern, in Deansgate, and having taken rather more liquor than his head could well bear, was induced to pull his money out of his pocket by the two prisoners, who pretended to lay a wager with him. Immediately the money was produced, a woman connected with the prisoner began to kiss and fondle the old man and induced him to go out with her. The two prisoners followed, and in the door, entry knocked the farmer down and robbed him of his money. In his hurry to escape, the prisoner Jones had taken the wrong hat, and that circumstance tended in a great measure to detect the robbers. Both the prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation.”

At the time of his conviction, Robert, employed as a Cotton Spinner, stated that his native place was Samlesbury in Lancashire, England and that his age was 20 years; this would have made his birth year c1799. However, Robert’s birth and baptism records were located on Ancestry, giving his actual birth date as the 21st Jan 1801, which made him 18 when convicted.

After his conviction, much of Roberts’s life in Tasmania came to light in an article written about Paupers to The Mercury [Tasmania] in 1873. Much of Roberts’s life on the island was recorded in detail and can be found in his Convict records, newspaper articles, and the trial of Charles Routley, the infamous Bushranger of the outlying Eastern Shore districts in Tasmania.


Departing Portsmouth, England, on the 10th Aug 1820 aboard the convict transport ship “Maria,” Robert and 156 fellow convicts disembarked at Hobart on the 1st Dec 1820.

The years after his arrival and 1824 are blank, but after 1824 Robert became very active. The following accounts of Robert during his years in Hobart provide an insight to his character;

10 May 1824: Prisoners barracks3

Crime: Absconded for the prisoner’s barracks on the 9th Feb and remained absent until his apprehension last night.
Punishment: 100 lashes and confined to prisoner’s barracks for 3 days

14 Jun 1824: Prisoners barracks4

Crime: Absconded for the prisoner’s barracks on the 26th of May and remained absent until apprehended
Punishment: 50 lashes and to be transported to Macquarie Harbour for the remainder of his sentence.

1827: Marriage to Ann Carnes5

A marriage record dated the 14th Apr 1827 clearly states that Robert Cowburn and Ann Carnes were married at Kangaroo Point in Clarence Plains, Tasmania. It appears as though the marriage was not actually consummated.

19 Nov 1828: To be bound over to keep the peace towards Robert Batkins for 6 months6, 7

“Robert Cowburn, and Robert Batkins, finding no other way of adjusting their accounts at Kangaroo Point but by breaking each other’s heads, were induced to come to a settlement by giving security to the King for their future good behavior.”

10 Dec 1828: To be bound over to keep the peace towards Robert Bailey for 6 months8

This charge is in connection to Bailey harboring the infamous sadist and serial killer Charles Routley. Robert Cowburn informed the police that Routley was at Baileys’ place, but Routley’s accomplice was aware of Roberts’s actions, and Routley slipped away.

Cowburn lived together with Bailey at Kangaroo point and had met Routley when he called to speak with Bailey one night.

In the end, it was due to Cowburn’s and another witness Richard Green whose evidence helped bring a guilty verdict to Routley’s trial9, 10

04 Feb 1829: Charged with beating a […] convict, charge dismissed11

04 Feb 1829: Drunk and disorderly on the street, fined 2/- 12

29 Apr 1829: Drunk and disorderly, fined 5/- 13

12 Oct 1829: Assaulted and beat Thomas Christian last night at the female house of correction, fined 50/ and […]14

28 Apr 1830: Free from Servitude and taking up a position in the field police15

04 Sep 1830: Constable being drunk last night, fined 20/ 16

5th Aug 1829: Application for the indulgence to marry Mary Davis17

Robert made an application to marry convict Mary Davis of the Providence 2. As Mary was still under sentence this may have contributed to why the application was not sent to the Secretary.

29th Dec 1829: Application for marriage to Mary Davis18

A second application was made to marry Mary, again no action was taken, and no comments written to say why.

22nd Sep 1830: Application for marriage to Mary Davis19

Robert made a third application to marry Mary on the 22nd Sep; this was received by the police on the 28th Sep and forwarded on to the Secretary on the 1st of Oct 1830. This time, however, the Governor approved the request on the 3rd of Oct. It was then forwarded on to the Rev. W. Bedford.

24th Aug 1830: Robert marries Mary20

It took just over 12 months since Robert first applied to marry Mary for their union to be official.

The pair were married by the Rev. Gerrard in Sorell, Tasmania and witnessed by William Sorell and Judith Doherty

Their nuptials’ location was not recorded, but it was likely held in the original St. Georges Church in Sorell.

22 Feb 1831: Assaulting and beating Thomas Laing, […] to bail in £10 with a surety of £10 /10 21

04 Jun 1831: Gaoled for Murder22

Robert Cowburn, alias ‘Harlequin Bob’, and another, are in Richmond Gaol, charged with the murder of a poor old man named Morris, cruelly beating him with bludgeons.

25 Jun 1831: Acquitted of murder charge23

07 Oct 1831: Birth of Daughter Mary24

Mary was baptized the following year in Richmond by W. Garrard on the 5th Feb 1832; Robert stated that he was a Constable.

04 Apr 1832: Appeared to answer the charge of W. Jarrett for assault, case dismissed and the complainant to pay the costs25

23 May 1832: Assaulting and beating James Wheatley, charges dismissed26

29 May 1832: Overseer of the chain gang, assaulting and beating Joseph Robinson and threatening to shoot him, case dismissed.27

16 Nov 1832: Constable stealing 20 shingles the property of J. Gordon, case dismissed28

22 Nov 1855: The sad and avoidable death of Mary29

Living in a squalid hut unsuitable for habitation, Mary, whose name was incorrectly recorded as Elizabeth, died on the 22nd Nov 1855, neglected and alone.

Knowing the area location that Mary died, Mary would have been without running water or any means of obtaining such. Local research uncovered that the Cowburn’s hut was located somewhere near the convergence of Five and Seven mile beaches, Lauderdale, Tasmania. The closest transport method other than walking towards Lauderdale was a ferry that ran between Forcett and the spit of land on which the hut was located.

Coroner’s Inquest into Mary’s Death

On the 26th instant, a jury of seven was impaneled at the Sand Spit, Lower Ferry, near Sorell, before Charles Eardley-Wilmot, Esquire, Coroner, to inquire. into the circumstances attending the death of Elizabeth Cowburn, wife of Robert Cowburn, better known as “Harlequin Bob.” The jurors having been sworn, with the coroner, viewed the body in a miserable hut near the water’s edge. Still, the effluvia were so insufferable that part of their duty was only for an instant. The first witness was Robert Cowburn, who deposed that he was the deceased’s husband, who was 48 years old. On Tuesday morning, he left home, the 20th instant, for Sorell, about 8 miles distant, when the deceased complained of a pain in the back part of her head. Witness told her he should return in the evening of the same day, or the next morning. Deceased begged to do, saying, “I hope you will, as I do not feel well.”

Coroner: When did you return home?
Witness: On Sunday morning, the 26th of this month.
Coroner: Was the deceased all alone?
Witness: Yes, sir
Coroner: Where did you spend the time?
Witness: I spent part of the time in public-houses and part at my son-in-law’s.

Witness then stated that he knocked at the door on reaching home, but receiving no answer, he got into the hut when he found his wife dead, and from her position had been attempting to get out of bed.

Thomas Purton stated that he saw the deceased on Wednesday night in her hut, when she appeared in her usual health and complained of having neither tea nor sugar, adding ‘if my husband comes home, I’ll bolt.”

Dr. Westbrook said he had made a post-mortem examination of the body of the deceased woman. On opening the head, he discovered about three tablespoonsful of fluid between the brain’s hemispheres, which might be produced from frequent intoxication, debility, or an over-enervated state of the system. He believed that the cause of death was serous apoplexy.

The coroner then proceeded to sum up the evidence. He said it was pretty notorious in the district that both the husband and the unfortunate woman, the cause of whose melancholy death they (the jury) had assembled to ascertain, had been for a long series of years given to habitual habits of intemperance, that great curse of the colony, but although the evidence did not inculpate the husband as having been the cause of his wife’s death by violent means. Yet, at any rate, he had been guilty of the most heartless neglect in leaving a sick wife in a lonely hut without a friend to minister to her necessities, for five whole days, while he was indulging in sottish drunkenness. For aught, he (the coroner) knew, debauchery, in the township. Even that circumstance of itself was truly shocking, and such brutality as he (the coroner) was sorry there was no human law to punish. He would take that opportunity of calling most earnestly upon the jury as employers of labour to do all in their power to discourage the frightful source all the miseries of the labouring classes, he meant drunkenness, and one means which he (the coroner), thought calculated most materially to diminish that vice, was to encourage the labourer to save his earnings and invest them in the Savings Bank. About a year ago, he (the coroner) had started a scheme of that kind, as the police magistrate at Sorell. He had the pleasure to state that up to the present time no less than 800 pounds had been sent to him in small sums from the labourers, to invest for them in the Savings Bank. It was a gratifying fact to make known that of all the depositors not one had been charged with any offence at the police office since they became depositors. His (the coroner’s) plan had met the approval of the Governor, and now similar schemes had been established by His Excellency’s direction in all the police districts of the island. By employers promoting the practice, he (the coroner) had adverted to, the employed would feel that they had an interest in the land in which they live, and they would shun drunkenness. But to return to the melancholy occasions which had pulled them together, he (the coroner) could not but feel that drunkenness had led to the early death of the deceased. The evidence, however, of the medical gentleman was what they, the jury, had merely to consider. The jury at once returned a verdict “That deceased died from natural causes, namely, serous apoplexy.30, 31

1st Jul 1866: Birth of Daughters Elizabeth and Margaret32

Both Elizabeth and Margaret were born on the same day in the Sorell district. Their births were from the partnership of Robert and Catherine Bloomfield [nee Allender], both widows.

Robert stated his profession as a Fisherman.

9 Jul 1868: Birth of Son Aaron33

As with his sisters Aaron was born to Robert and Catherine who were still not married at this stage. Aaron was baptised on the 11 Jul 1868 in the Sorell district.

8 Mar 1869: Marriage to widower Catherine Bloomfield [nee Allender]34

This is when Robert joins my family, widower Catherine Bloomfield [nee Allender] is my 3rd Great Grandmother on my mother’s side.

Robert and Catherine, who were both widowers, became known to each other sometime around 1865 as their first child Elizabeth was born the following year in 1866. Whether they knew each other previously is unknown, but it is highly possible as both were living in Sorell district at the time.

Catherine, the daughter of Convict Uriah Allender and Elizabeth Early, had previously been married to my 3rd Great Grandfather and Convict George Bloomfield, George had died in 1864.

26th Apr 1873: Birth of Son Henry35

Henry was the first and only child born in wedlock; the witness to his birth was his step-sister Sarah Bloomfield who stated that she was of Lewisham.

3rd Aug 1873: The death of Harlequin Bob36

When Robert, a fisherman, eventually died of old age at 75, he left behind a wife and six children, the youngest of which; Henry at 3 months and 9 days old. Both he and Catherine were living as paupers with Robert and receiving 10s a week in financial support.

Our Paupers

Another name has dropped from the Sorell pauper list: Robert “Cockburn,” who died on Sunday last in his 75th year, will no longer require the aid of a charitable Government. However, the death of a pauper does not invariably lessen the draft on the public purse but, on the contrary, very frequently increases it. Of this fact too often overlooked by frothy political declaimers, Cockburn’s death affords it a striking illustration. He leaves behind him six children, of age varying from ten years to three months, entirely dependent upon their mother, who can scarcely keep herself. The result most probably will be that, whilst with the death of Cockburn, his weekly allowance of 10s will cease, these six children will be for some time a burden on the State, in the Queen’s Asylum, at an annual cost of £15 0s, 6d per annum each. Thus pauperism, upas-like, overspreads the country and, like the Californian thistle, cannot be rooted out. “It is strong in death” and does not die without issue. Cockburn’s history, better known as “Harlequin Bob,” was a chequered and eventful one. He was a soldier in the 6th Regiment of Foot in the Army of Paris after Waterloo. He was one of three who, together with the “Pieman” made their escape from Macquarie Harbour, and, after subsisting on grass, &c, &c, surrendered themselves at Port Davey in 1823. He was constable to Governor Arthur when the “Black Line” was out, and present with him at the end of the line, in this district. He subsequently served in various detective capacities, and, where his life written, as he himself has frequently said, it would “a tale unfold.” However, he has now passed it is to be hoped to that place, “where the wicked ceases from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”37

Burial 38

Robert’s burial record does not state where he was interred, but it mentions that he lived at Forcett. He was likely either buried at the local Forcett Cemetery or at the St. Georges Cemetery in Sorell, where both he and Catherine were married.

Why the moniker “Harlequin Bob”?

Nowhere in all the written articles I read did I find how, why, or when Robert Cowburn received the moniker “Harlequin Bob.” Looking back over his life, I’m leaning towards the fact that he was a person who changed to suit the situation and, as a Harlequin, had many different colours.


  1. Tasmanian Archives: CON23/1/1, Film No: Z2544, 318
  2. Morning Advertiser: Friday 29 October 1819
  3. Tasmanian Archives: CON31/1/6, Film No: Z2547, 318
  4. ibid
  5. Tasmanian Archives: RGD36/1/1, Film No: Z2451, 1094
  6. ibid
  7. The Tasmanian: (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1827 – 1839) 21 November 1828: 3
  8. Tasmanian Archives: CON31/1/6, Film No: Z2547, 318
  9. UTAS: R.V. Routley case
  10. A Compulsion to Kill: The Surprising Story of Australia’s First Serial Killers, Robert Cox
  11. Tasmanian Archives: CON31/1/6, Film No: Z2547, 318
  12. ibid
  13. ibid
  14. ibid
  15. The Hobart Town Courier: (Tas. : 1827 – 1839) 1 May 1830
  16. Tasmanian Archives: CON31/1/6, Film No: Z2547, 318
  17. Tasmanian Archives: CON45/1/1, P25
  18. Tasmanian Archives: CON45/1/1, P27
  19. Tasmanian Archives: CON45/1/1, P30
  20. Tasmanian Archives: RGD36/1/1, Film No: Z2451, 1539
  21. Tasmanian Archives: CON31/1/6, Film No: Z2547, 318
  22. The Hobart Town Courier: (Tas. : 1827 – 1839) 4 June 1831: 2
  23. The Hobart Town Courier: (Tas. : 1827 – 1839) 25 June 1831: 2
  24. Tasmanian Archives: RGD32/1/1, 4624
  25. Tasmanian Archives: CON31/1/6, Film No: Z2547, 318
  26. ibid
  27. ibid
  28. ibid
  29. Tasmanian Archives: RGD35/1/24, Film No: Z2438, 163
  30. The Courier: (Hobart, Tas.: 1840 – 1859) 1 December 1855: 3
  31. Tasmanian Archives: SC195/1/37, 3629, Film No: Z2129, Z2128
  32. Tasmanian Archives: RGD33/1/44, Film No: Z2414, 1445/1446
  33. Tasmanian Archives: RGD33/1/46, Film No: Z2415, 1552
  34. Tasmanian Archives: RGD37/1/28, Film No: Z2465, 615
  35. Tasmanian Archives: RGD33/1/51, Film No: Z2417, 1653
  36. Tasmania Archives, RGD35/1/42, Film No: Z2442, 528
  37. The Mercury: (Hobart, Tas.: 1860 – 1954)12 August 1873: 3
  38. Tasmanian Archives, NS432/1/17, Film No: Z2274

5 thoughts on “Harlequin Bob

  1. Hi I have been researching my relationship to Mary Davis. In your blog, you say that Mary and Elizabeth are the same person. However, Mary Davis abandoned her child Mary Cowburn and went to South Australia with Joseph “Black Joe” Hatfield. I would like to quote your research into Harlequin Bob – could you please give me your name and some citation references.
    Mary was married to Robert – and had Mary Cowburn – she disappears in and has a child in South Australia in 1837.
    I think the Elizabeth referred to in the coroner’s report may be a common-law wife.
    Mary Rachel Davis 1806-1895
    Daughter of John Davis
    Jane Balhannah Hatfield 1849-1938
    Daughter of Mary Rachel Davis
    Nathaniel James Finn 1870-1930
    Son of Jane Balhannah Hatfield
    Adelaide Edith Finn 1909-1987
    Daughter of Nathaniel James Finn
    Dorothy Lucille Morris 1932-2009
    Daughter of Adelaide Edith Finn
    Catherine Leung

  2. Hi Catherine,

    Mary arrived in Tasmania as a Convict in 1826 aboard the Providence. She married Robert Cowburn in 1830 and later died at Sorell in 1855. Mary’s name was incorrectly recorded as Elizabeth on her death record; however, Mary and Elizabeth are definitely the same person. The circumstance of her death was published in The Courier (Hobart), and again, her name was given as Elizabeth.

    Robert and Mary only had the one child, Mary, born 1831, in 1846 Mary, at the age of 15 married Frederick Phipps.

    Sources for Mary;

    Conviction record:

    Convict records:

    Marriage records:$init=CON45-1-1P017,$init=CON45-1-1P019,$init=RGD36-1-1P267

    Daughter Mary’s birth record:$init=RGD32-1-1-P248

    Death record:$init=RGD35-1-24P94

    Coroner’s report:

    I hope this helps,

  3. Hi Mark
    Thanks for your reply. I am checking with my cousin Terry. He and his father John, have been instrumental in helping me find Mary Davis as our relation. We have both taken the Ancestry DNA test which links us to Mary Davis through her Agombar lineage. (Silk weavers from Bethnal Green).
    I have the same references as you – however, my main difference is that Elizabeth is not Mary. Mary Davis was born Mary Rachel Davis in Bethnal Green. The name Elizabeth was never a pseudonym she used. I think she ran off because of domestic violence. I will let you know what Terry says when I hear back from him.
    I am writing a book about Mary and her life, so I want to make sure I have my facts correct. Otherwise, my historical story will become historical fiction.
    Cheers Cath

  4. Hi Mark,
    I have conferred with Terry, and he and I agree. Our DNA connects us to Mary Cowburn’s daughter Mary and her second daughter Sarah Cowburn (b 1834). Terry is in conversation with Sarah’s descendent and is awaiting her DNA results.
    Terry says, “The facts are … through DNA we are definitely linked to Mary Davis by at least three positive DNA connections that Dad and I variously have (one being her younger brother George, another being her mother Sarah’s Agombar connection through her grandfather, and a third through an uncle.”
    I have still to complete some of my own links through DNA, but I am certain that Elizabeth is NOT Mary. It is a bit murky looking backwards. Though when it comes down to it, I suppose it does not matter. Your research is following the Allender line and mine the Davis so that I won’t cross swords with you. Ha Ha.
    Keep up your interesting work – I would never have found the newspaper articles but for you.

  5. Hi Mark (and Catherine)

    I am the Terry that Catherine Leung refers to in previous emails.

    I just came across your generally entertaining summation of Robert Cowburn, well done. I includes a couple of things I have previously been unable to find, especially the report of his original crime. I however have the Salford Quarter Sessions court sentencing outcome from 25 October 1819 which in itself is relatively humorous in its language, being:

    Whereas Robert Cowburn, late of the township of Manchester, in the said County, laborer, hath at this Session been convicted of Felony: this Court hath therefore order and adjudge that the said Robert Cowburn shall be sent and TRANSPORTED to some Port beyond the seas for the space of Seven Years next, pursuant to the Statute in such case made and provided.

    Just to confirm the situation :

    – I have indeed been in contact with descendants of Sarah Cowburn (the younger daughter of two) and Robert John Harrod (her husband), however have not yet been able to confirm DNA matches with them (although there is one individual that appears in both our Trees that could well be the missing link, however have not yet had response);

    – I do however have positive DNA matching with antecedents and siblings of Mary Davis through both myself and my father that confirm that we are definitely related, so “Elizabeth” is not “Mary”.

    Rgds, Terry

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