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Eric Shackle Writes: Tough Times In The Floating Brothel

...."About 225 female thieves, prostitutes and con artists were rounded up from prisons in London and the British countryside to the failing Sydney Cove colony aboard the Lady Juliana," wrote one historian. "The females were to serve two purposes -- to prevent the starving and isolated male colonists from engaging in "gross irregularities," and to act as a breeding stock for the troubled settlement."...

Eric Shackle tells of the 10-month voyage of the Lady Juliana which carried those women to Australia. The story of the voyage is recorded in a novel by Sian Rees.

Mary Wade was only 11 years old, but on Jan. 14, 1789, an English judge sentenced her to death for assaulting an eight-year-old girl and stealing her clothes, which she pawned for 18 pence. Two months later the sentence was commuted to seven years' jail and transportation to Britain's new colony of New South Wales, in far-off Australia.

The First Fleet http://home.vicnet.net.au/~firstff/story.htm of six transport ships and three store ships had sailed into Sydney Harbor the previous year. About 1,530 people -- officials, soldiers, marines and male convicts -- had left England on May 13, 1787, and about 1,483 had safely reached Sydney Cove. The settlers were already facing disaster. They were short of food, knew little about farming, and lacked female companions.

So the British government took prompt action, sending a Second Fleet http://members.pcug.org.au/~pdownes/dps/2ndflt.htm with urgently needed supplies.

"About 225 female thieves, prostitutes and con artists were rounded up from prisons in London and the British countryside to the failing Sydney Cove colony aboard the Lady Juliana," wrote one historian. "The females were to serve two purposes -- to prevent the starving and isolated male colonists from engaging in "gross irregularities," and to act as a breeding stock for the troubled settlement."

Lady Juliana's action-packed 10-month voyage from Plymouth to Sydney has been recorded in a lively novel by a British author, Sian Rees. Her book, published in 2001, is titled "The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story Of An Eighteenth-Century Ship And Its Cargo Of Female Convicts."

"It just caught my imagination," Rees said in an interview. "The idea of this enclosed world of 230 women and a few chaps bouncing around across the ocean for a year."

The Lady Juliana's steward John Nicol's memoirs, "The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner," first published in 1822 and recently reprinted in Australia, recalled the ship's journey:
Nicol describes life onboard the ship and the ways in which the women were pressured to use sex to improve their situation and status. He details the difficult conditions the women were forced to endure during the long journey and the extreme seasickness that overtook the female passengers as they left England's shores.

But Nicol also notes that some luxuries were afforded to the women, even if they were primarily little more than efforts to safeguard the ship's human cargo. The women were provided with clothes, the services of a doctor, and guaranteed food and drink.

Nicol also writes of how many sailors and officers took a "wife" on the journey and records the birth of seven babies aboard the Lady Juliana, including one to him and his own "wife," Sarah Whitelam.

A story about the Lady Juliana on a PBS Web http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/courtesans-voyage/the-lady-juliana-and-the-new-world site says:
Some women, like Elizabeth Barnsley -- a wealthy and successful shoplifter convicted of theft -- used their money and influence to procure better lodging and even to create business opportunities on the ship. Prostitution was not unusual in Georgian England or within the shipping industry, and the Lady Juliana soon became something of a "floating brothel." Crew members and, possibly, some of the ship's female cargo profited from the sex trade in various ports of call, and money earned from prostitution could in turn be used to gain influence on the ship or upon arrival at Sydney Cove.

After 10 months at sea, the Lady Juliana arrived at the desperate, starving Sydney Cove colony. They did not receive a warm reception. The colonists had expected food and supplies -- not a cargo of over 200 women and as many as seven newborn infants -- and they made their disappointment clear to the women of the Lady Juliana. However, the colonists' ire eased after the supply ships Justinian, Surprize, Neptune, and Scarborough arrived in Sydney Cove just three weeks after the Lady Juliana.

For their part, many of the women convicts experienced a newfound sense of freedom at Sydney Cove. Freed from the strictures of traditional society and class, these women saw their new home as a chance to create a new life for themselves -- a life filled with unprecedented opportunities.
Mary Wade spent the rest of her life Down Under, first in the brutal penal colony of Norfolk Island, and later on the NSW South Coast. According to a well researched biography she had two children on Norfolk Island - Sarah in 1793 (when Mary was 15) and William in 1795 (believed to be Jonathan Brooker's son).

When they came back to Australia, Mary lived with Teague Harrigan and they had a son, Edward, in their tent on the banks of the Tank Stream in Sydney in 1803. Teague left to go on a whaling expedition in 1806 and never returned.

Mary later lived with Jonathan Brooker, having more children. They were given their Certificates of Emancipation in 1811 and 1812 and eventually settled in Airds with their family. Life on the land was difficult and their property and crops were lost in 1823 in a bushfire.

The family became destitute and pleaded to Governor Brisbane for aid. They eventually resettled in the Corrimal area of Illawarra. Jonathan died in 1833. Mary lived in the Illawarra area for another 26 years.

When she died at 87, at the home of one of her sons, the Illawarra Mercury reported that she had one of the largest families in the world. Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren numbered more than 300. Today her descendants number many thousands.

Many present-day Australians first learned of this little-known chapter of their country's colonial heritage when they watched a soul-stirring 54-minite dramatized documentary film http://www.abc.net.au/abccontentsales/s1580197.htm on ABC national television last week. A detailed synopsis is available on the Internet.
Photos from the film are available here http://www.filmaust.com.au/programs/teachers_notes/8857floatingbrothnotes.pdf

Writer-director Mark Lewis, 40, "an Englishman who specialises in historical documentaries in a semi-dramatised form," found this subject particularly satisfying.

"I've always been interested in good storytelling, and I've found that the best way to communicate a bigger story to an audience is to find the personal tales and the emotional stories that people can genuinely engage with," he says.

"In this film we had even more of an opportunity to do that. Not only did we have incredible personal stories of the convict women and little girls who end up becoming great matriarchs, prostitutes who end up as pub owners and landowners in Hobart -- but we also had the opportunity to match them up with descendants who could effectively empathise with them from a much more heartfelt position as family members."


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