Mary Ann Whitfield was born in Hull in 1840, and by the age of 11 was living in Prince Street, Bridlington Quay, with her parents and four siblings. Aged 18, she married Samuel Hebden, a joiner, at Scarborough. The couple had six surviving children.
On 17 April, 1872, the Sheffield Evening Telegraph reports Mary Ann as pleading guilty to three charges of ‘stealing various articles of wearing apparel cloth, etc.’ from three separate drapers’ shops in Scarborough between January and March. She received six months’ in prison with hard labour.
In 1873 charwoman Mary Ann was found guilty of obtaining a watch by false pretences and was imprisoned for nine months.
In December 1874, Mary Ann and her accomplice, Mary Pennack went on ‘extensive’ shoplifting spree in Scarborough. This time oilcloth, a lady’s jacket, six skirts, a black alpaca quilted petticoat and various lengths of cloths were taken from various shops. The York Herald described the ‘large number of pawn tickets’ discovered on the women, suggesting that she was pawning goods for money. By now a habitual criminal, Mary Ann received eighteen months’ imprisonment and three years’ police supervision and was released in June 1976.
Mary Ann did not wait long to offend again. In August 1876, by now a charwoman at the Castle Hotel, she stole a parcel of clothes-making materials from a draper’s shop on Market Street. This time she was sentenced to another eighteen month prison term and five years’ police supervision.
It appears that Mary Ann and Samuel’s relationship with this conviction, and by 1884 she was convicted again, this time for stealing clothing worth £5 from her employer, Reverend Richard Bulmer, Belleau, near Louth, Lincolnshire. Mary Ann was Bulmer’s cook and was living with Henry Dring, whom was described as her ‘husband’. Henry, Bulmer’s gardener, was also charged with ‘larceny as a servant’ and received three months’ imprisonment. Mary Ann received a sentence of five years’ penal servitude and was believed to have unduly influenced Henry into committing the crime.
Mary Ann spent short periods in Hull and Wakefield prisons, before being received into Millbank, where she undertook knitting and needlework.
In a letter, Scarborough police confirmed that after her release in 1878 she returned to Bridlington and disappeared from their radar. They wrote: ‘We were not sorry when she left Scarborough because she was a dangerous character to be at large’. In 1885 she was transferred to Woking and the following year was removed to Russell House refuge, Streatham, from where she was released on licence in August 1887.
Mary Ann then disappears from record, but a Mary Ann Hebden, aged 74, is documented as dying in Hull in 1916, and it is possible that this is the same woman.
Source: Victorian Convicts: 100 Criminal Lives, eds. Helen Johnston, Barry Godfrey & David J. Cox (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2016) pp.104-105.