Who Is 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.

Jane had joined her father on his run by the age of five. Buying old rags to resell as clothing and bones to sell onto glue manufacturers. Jane held onto the matted mane of the pony and chattered endlessly to her father as they walked from one house to the next. Jane’s father always had a soft spot for his daughter …and for the sharp brew that warmed his belly each night. Sadly it was his love for the bottle and the growing gout in his legs that made it harder for him to walk the miles each day to earn their keep.

By the time Jane was nine she was making the run herself. 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 she could make a good profit from.

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 to learn manners and dispense flattery found favour with Mrs Farney, the lady of the house and when a position became available as a scullery maid in a good doctor’s house Jane’s name was put forward.

The doctor’s house was grand. He spent months travelling, lecturing at universities and hospitals. Jane would spend the months blacking the hearths and polishing the silver. Jane then met Bill, a man from the wrong side of the track. Bill persuaded Jane that they could make a life for themselves if Jane helped herself to 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. By the time Jane arrived in Sydney she had endeared herself to the captain and his wife and was granted a full pardon from the Govenor of NSW, Sir Charles FitzRoy. The Capitain of the Surrey 1, 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 12 years Jane worked for Mr Gully. She learnt to order stock and keep shop. In return she helped 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 and 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.