Who was Dirty Jane?

Jane Dumphrey was born in a two room stone cottage in Northern Ireland. As she came screaming into the world and the chickens pecked the kitchen’s rammed earth floor, her father, the local “rag & bone” man was miles from home in his pony cart.

By the age of five Jane had joined her father on his run, taking over by the age of nine. She learnt to charm the housewives into parting with precious china in exchange for hard to find clothing and to spot a valuable item that could turn a profit.

By her fifteenth birthday both Jane’s parents had been buried, the squire had claimed her home and she had walked to Belfast with a bundle under her arm and a wad of pounds sewn into the lining of her petticoat.

She found a place in a poor house where the stout English owner expected equal quantities of cleanliness and godliness in every new boarder. Jane’s quick aptitude found favour with Mrs Farney, and a position as a scullery maid in a good doctor’s house.

The doctor’s house was grand. Jane spent months blacking the hearths and polishing the silver, until she met Bill, a man from the wrong side of the track. Bill persuaded Jane to steal some of the more precious items in the doctor’s collections. To cut a long story short, Jane was caught by the doctor’s butler, presented to the bailiff and “hung out to dry”.

Jane was found guilty of stealing a carved ostrich egg and transported to Australia on the Surrey 1 with 27 other female convicts, arriving 13 July 1840. On the voyage to Sydney Jane endeared herself to the captain and his wife. George Sinclair sensed a quiet determination in Jane and sent her, with a letter of introduction to his cousin, Tom Gully who owned the local “general store” at the trading outpost of Gundagai. When the young orphan arrived on his doorstep she was caked in so much mud from her 240 mile journey he immediately christened her “Dirty Jane”. Over the next decade Jane worked for Mr Gully. She learnt to order stock and keep shop and help Mr Gully identify the valuable nick-knacks customers bought in to trade for basic commodities. Tom Gully died in the 1852 flood when the Murrumbidgee River broke its banks. He left Jane the business in his will. “Dirty Jane” as she was known throughout NSW continued to run a prosperous emporium buying and selling items that were bought to her from the local and outlying community.

On 13th May 1883 “Dirty Jane” died of old age.