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The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts

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A seafaring story with a twist -- the incredible voyage of a shipload of "disorderly girls" and the men who transported them, fell for them, and sold them.This riveting work of rediscovered history tells for the first time the plight of the female convicts aboard the Lady Julian, which set sail from England in 1789 and arrived in Australia's Botany Bay a year later. The wo A seafaring story with a twist -- the incredible voyage of a shipload of "disorderly girls" and the men who transported them, fell for them, and sold them.This riveting work of rediscovered history tells for the first time the plight of the female convicts aboard the Lady Julian, which set sail from England in 1789 and arrived in Australia's Botany Bay a year later. The women, most of them petty criminals, were destined for New South Wales to provide its hordes of lonely men with sexual favors as well as progeny. But the story of their voyage is even more incredible, and here it is expertly told by a historian with roots in the boatbuilding business and a true love of the sea. Siân Rees delved into court documents and firsthand accounts to extract the stories of these women's experiences on board a ship that both held them prisoner and offered them refuge from their oppressive existence in London. At the heart of the story is the passionate relationship between Sarah Whitelam, a convict, and the ship's steward, John Nicol, whose personal journals provided much of the material for this book. Along the way, Rees brings the vibrant, bawdy world of London -- and the sights, smells, and sounds of an eighteenth-century ship -- vividly to life. In the tradition of Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea, this is a winning combination of dramatic high seas adventure and untold history.


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A seafaring story with a twist -- the incredible voyage of a shipload of "disorderly girls" and the men who transported them, fell for them, and sold them.This riveting work of rediscovered history tells for the first time the plight of the female convicts aboard the Lady Julian, which set sail from England in 1789 and arrived in Australia's Botany Bay a year later. The wo A seafaring story with a twist -- the incredible voyage of a shipload of "disorderly girls" and the men who transported them, fell for them, and sold them.This riveting work of rediscovered history tells for the first time the plight of the female convicts aboard the Lady Julian, which set sail from England in 1789 and arrived in Australia's Botany Bay a year later. The women, most of them petty criminals, were destined for New South Wales to provide its hordes of lonely men with sexual favors as well as progeny. But the story of their voyage is even more incredible, and here it is expertly told by a historian with roots in the boatbuilding business and a true love of the sea. Siân Rees delved into court documents and firsthand accounts to extract the stories of these women's experiences on board a ship that both held them prisoner and offered them refuge from their oppressive existence in London. At the heart of the story is the passionate relationship between Sarah Whitelam, a convict, and the ship's steward, John Nicol, whose personal journals provided much of the material for this book. Along the way, Rees brings the vibrant, bawdy world of London -- and the sights, smells, and sounds of an eighteenth-century ship -- vividly to life. In the tradition of Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea, this is a winning combination of dramatic high seas adventure and untold history.

30 review for The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts

  1. 4 out of 5

    Daenerys

    If you make it past the first 10-20 pages which list in a quite boring way the names of convicts and some details of their crimes, this is an absolutely brilliant book. Extensive and painstaking research is evident throughout the book and this covers all aspects of the story of the convicts, from an explanation of 18th-century British law to life on board the ship to the creation of new colonies. All is presented in an enjoyable and captivating way. Where details are the result of research regar If you make it past the first 10-20 pages which list in a quite boring way the names of convicts and some details of their crimes, this is an absolutely brilliant book. Extensive and painstaking research is evident throughout the book and this covers all aspects of the story of the convicts, from an explanation of 18th-century British law to life on board the ship to the creation of new colonies. All is presented in an enjoyable and captivating way. Where details are the result of research regarding records that do not directly relate to the voyage of the Lady Julian this is pointed out in advance; anyway, I found them all to be very relevant to the story and describing situations that were probably very similar to that of the female convicts on that particular ship, chosen because it is one of the few convict ships whose adventure is described in a first-hand account of one of the officials on board. Personally I found his story quite moving, and together with the accurate research and the detailed and entertaining accounts of life on board and of the lives of some of the women where these are available I consider them the strong points of this book. Once I got past those first few pages, I couldn't put it down. Really recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    The book isn't as bawdy as the description would lead one to believe. I'd say the book is evenly divided between the convicts and sea faring information. I learned quite a bit about bilges, tar, shipwrecks, and the history of sea travel in the 1700s. I bought the book for the stories of the convicts, so I was a bit disappointed, but learned so much about a topic I knew absolutely nothing about, sailing the high seas, it evened the score. Great book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Robards

    This is the story of women convicts who were transported ‘beyond the seas’ on the Lady Juliana – so called ‘Julian’ by the author due to the memoir The Life And Adventures Of John Nicol, Mariner, who fell madly in love with convict Sarah Whitlam on board the ship, only to be forced at gunpoint to leave her and their child born on the ship, in what was still a muddy convict settlement. John Nicol recounted his memoir 30 or 40 years after the trip, and still his heart pined for a woman he would sp This is the story of women convicts who were transported ‘beyond the seas’ on the Lady Juliana – so called ‘Julian’ by the author due to the memoir The Life And Adventures Of John Nicol, Mariner, who fell madly in love with convict Sarah Whitlam on board the ship, only to be forced at gunpoint to leave her and their child born on the ship, in what was still a muddy convict settlement. John Nicol recounted his memoir 30 or 40 years after the trip, and still his heart pined for a woman he would spend a decade trying to return to, before he gave up. Sadly, John never had the hindsight or the knowledge that this book reveals. Sarah Whitlam married another man the day after John Nicols was forced at gunpoint to leave her. Sian Rees does an excellent job of recounting the story of many of the women who would board the ship, including a woman named Mary Rose. A country girl from a well to do family, who eloped with a soldier, only to be falsely accused of theft by a greedy landlord. The Lady Juliana was the first ship to arrive in Botany Bay after the first fleet, and the British Governments intention was that these women (200 plus women) would provide the sexual relief to both convict men and the soldiers and inturn a stabilising environment. When the ship arrived the convict settlement was near starvation. The last thing the colonial government needed was a shipload of ‘mouths and wombs’ to feed. Shortly after the ship’s arrival, the now infamous second fleet arrived. This is a brilliant read for anyone interested in our early history and a refreshing look at some of the women who helped build the early foundations of our country.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey May

    Maybe because I’ve read so much excellent narrative nonfiction recently (Unbroken, Brutal Journey, A Voyage for Madmen, The Lost City of Z, Born to Run) it has negatively skewed my view of The Floating Brothel. On the other hand, it may just mean that I’m more attuned to good nonfiction. In any case, I don’t think anyone is fond of giving bad reviews, and that includes me. Perhaps, as a writer, I know that, regardless of success or failure, writing any book is a lot of hard work. (That’s why I r Maybe because I’ve read so much excellent narrative nonfiction recently (Unbroken, Brutal Journey, A Voyage for Madmen, The Lost City of Z, Born to Run) it has negatively skewed my view of The Floating Brothel. On the other hand, it may just mean that I’m more attuned to good nonfiction. In any case, I don’t think anyone is fond of giving bad reviews, and that includes me. Perhaps, as a writer, I know that, regardless of success or failure, writing any book is a lot of hard work. (That’s why I revise and rewrite a lot and seek input from others.) The Floating Brothel should have been a great read about the personal travails of English women, unfairly imprisoned in fifthly over-crowded jails, then shipped away on the Lady Julian to Australia where they become the underpinning of colonial society. The research material is loaded with potential for great stories. Unfortunately, Sian Rees proves to be a better historian than she does writer. She falls woefully short of the writing ability that the rich history deserves. Her style is passive and distant, seemingly every other sentence starting with “there were” and followed by banal statements such as “there was lots of disease” or “the day was wild and stormy.” The “narrative” often descends into nothing more than a list of people and places. On one page I counted no less than twenty references to various people and places. New characters were introduced in the last chapters as if they had equal weight to those introduced in the first chapter. The Floating Brothel lacks narrative flow. Its repetition is more egregious than readers may be used to, repeating bits of information as if cutting and pasting a thesis statement. The Floating Brothel resembles a unimaginative college term paper, a chore to read. You may want to use this book as a reference as the information appears to be reliable if you want to float your own brothel book. Aside from that, avoid it. Two Stars for the redeeming historical research. Jeffrey Penn May, author of Where the River Splits and others. My website - http://www.askwritefish.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    A sort of Bad Girls at sea, this was a history book about an all-female convict ship that sailed to Australia at the end of the 18th century. It was fascinating to read about the lives of convicts and seamen - the kind of people history usually overlooks - and the realities of life at sea, in 18th-century England, and in the colonies. It's only a three-star as the historical detail can sometimes be a bit plodding and the prose isn't the sparkliest. Still very interesting, though.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karin

    2.5 stars This is the story, as best as it could be pieced together from journals and accounts, of 237 women who were sentenced to spend either 7 years or the rest of their natural lives in Sidney Cove, Australia, who were shipped out aboard the Lady Julian. They went from the horrors of overcrowded prisons to life on board this ship, which was no picnic, although they were fed and cared for better on that ship than convicts were on many others. I nearly liked it, and some parts were better than 2.5 stars This is the story, as best as it could be pieced together from journals and accounts, of 237 women who were sentenced to spend either 7 years or the rest of their natural lives in Sidney Cove, Australia, who were shipped out aboard the Lady Julian. They went from the horrors of overcrowded prisons to life on board this ship, which was no picnic, although they were fed and cared for better on that ship than convicts were on many others. I nearly liked it, and some parts were better than others, but over all it was rather dry. Perhaps I have been spoiled by some of the more recent nonfiction books I've read, perhaps it just wasn't my style of writing, since overall those who finished this book and rated it gave higher ratings.

  7. 5 out of 5

    saranimals

    Well-researched, for sure. That said research was haphazardly cobbled together does show through in the writing. I had a hard time getting through this book and, reading the other reviews, I'm not the only one. The story just didn't "flow." Part of this can't be put onto the writer- on a ship of 200 women, a hundred or so all seemed to be named Sarah and the rest, Mary or Elizabeth. What was irredeemable was the author's casual dismissal of the sexual slavery these women endured. A 14-year-old-gi Well-researched, for sure. That said research was haphazardly cobbled together does show through in the writing. I had a hard time getting through this book and, reading the other reviews, I'm not the only one. The story just didn't "flow." Part of this can't be put onto the writer- on a ship of 200 women, a hundred or so all seemed to be named Sarah and the rest, Mary or Elizabeth. What was irredeemable was the author's casual dismissal of the sexual slavery these women endured. A 14-year-old-girl was repeatedly raped by a crewman on the ship, and the author described the situation as a "mutually beneficial" arrangement. Some of the women on board the Lady Julian(a) had been imprisoned for prostitution, and then were shipped across the world to be used as breeding chattel. The book is filled with heartbreaking stories of daughters ripped from parents, mothers from children, wives from husbands, etc. Yet the author repeatedly defends the practice. This book is good for a hate-read but not much else, as the actual history is presented in such a jumbled-up manner that a better version could surely be found elsewhere.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    This is just the sort of history I can cope with: anecdotal, but with some continuity of characters; acknowledging sources, but not full of footnotes; including background information, but not tediously detailed. A Previous reviewer on BookCrossing said you could almost smell the ship, and I would agree that the descriptions of the smells are vivid enough to justify that comment. This is just the sort of history I can cope with: anecdotal, but with some continuity of characters; acknowledging sources, but not full of footnotes; including background information, but not tediously detailed. A Previous reviewer on BookCrossing said you could almost smell the ship, and I would agree that the descriptions of the smells are vivid enough to justify that comment.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane Morter

    I started this book several years ago and could not get into it. On my second attempt, I enjoyed it, after persevering with the first few chapters. Well researched, it tells of how the British Justice system treated its female law breakers in 18th century England. I was shocked to hear that for certain crimes male offenders were hung but females were burnt at the stake! About a year after the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove, the next ship was the Lady Julian carrying over 200 convict women se I started this book several years ago and could not get into it. On my second attempt, I enjoyed it, after persevering with the first few chapters. Well researched, it tells of how the British Justice system treated its female law breakers in 18th century England. I was shocked to hear that for certain crimes male offenders were hung but females were burnt at the stake! About a year after the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove, the next ship was the Lady Julian carrying over 200 convict women sent to satisfy the men's sexual desires and also to breed in the new colony. Much of the book tells of the voyage out.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pete daPixie

    In less than a decade after Captain James Cook's rather unfortunate contretemps with the natives of Hawaii, began the convict ships' voyages to his newly discovered land mass on the other side of the globe, or to use the vernacular,"Transportation to parts beyond the seas." Just three months after the mutiny aboard H.M.S Bounty in 1789, the Lady Julian (official records name her Lady Juliana) sailed from England with 237 female felons on board, bound for Sydney Cove. (Some records list 226) Sian In less than a decade after Captain James Cook's rather unfortunate contretemps with the natives of Hawaii, began the convict ships' voyages to his newly discovered land mass on the other side of the globe, or to use the vernacular,"Transportation to parts beyond the seas." Just three months after the mutiny aboard H.M.S Bounty in 1789, the Lady Julian (official records name her Lady Juliana) sailed from England with 237 female felons on board, bound for Sydney Cove. (Some records list 226) Sian Rees has delved deep into the historical archives to bring vivid human shape to the blank lists and statistics behind the first convict fleet of 1787-88. A process that continued through to 1850. She has clearly researched the primary sources of court records of many of the female prisoners, as well as a first hand account from the memoirs of the ship's cooper John Nicol. 'The Floating Brothel', published in 2001, provides a very interesting read into this most unusual ship, it's voyage and the stories behind it's human cargo. More than once, Rees advises the 21st century readers against moral judgements aimed at historical figures. "A modern view may incline more towards that of the bleeding heart than the practical man-less because of the moral pollution of unlicensed sex than because of the degradation the system forced on many females. But modern critics are as far removed in time from the world of seamen, convicts and marines in the 1790's as contemporary critics were in class and circumstance." One thing I feel is that these were the days when men and women were made of steel and ships were made of wood. Now it seems things are the other way round.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ambar Sahil Chatterjee

    ’The only thing that would have saved her from scandal was immediate capture or immediate marriage, and neither of these happened...’ 📚 In July 1789, a ship called the ‘Lady Julian’ was dispatched from England to Australia with a special cargo of female convicts, most of them London prostitutes. The purpose was two-fold: to ease the burden on British prisons, which were already full to bursting; and to provide a ‘breeding bank’, as it were, for lonely English officers posted far away from home in ’The only thing that would have saved her from scandal was immediate capture or immediate marriage, and neither of these happened...’ 📚 In July 1789, a ship called the ‘Lady Julian’ was dispatched from England to Australia with a special cargo of female convicts, most of them London prostitutes. The purpose was two-fold: to ease the burden on British prisons, which were already full to bursting; and to provide a ‘breeding bank’, as it were, for lonely English officers posted far away from home in the new Australian settlements. The story of that extraordinary voyage and its aftermath forms the basis of this brilliantly researched and utterly gripping book. 🌊 This was one of the first books to treat me to the dazzling possibilities of narrative non-fiction, written as it is with novelistic flair and distilling painstaking archival research into a thrilling narrative. What makes this excellent book all the more compelling is just how remarkably concise it is considering the vast ground it covers: from details of the lives and troubles of individual women to the shenanigans aboard the ‘Lady Julian’. Furthermore, it also efficiently conjures a vivid portrait of 18th-century England and the socio-political reasons that drove so many women at the time to a life of crime. That’s no mean feat, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nimue Brown

    This is an interesting subject - a ship full of women convicts sent to be breeders for the new Sydney colony. The book itself gives insight into period crime, prison conditions, politics, the slave trade and all sorts of other things, along with quotes from the time. It is short though, and not as in depth as I would have liked. There's some speculation about what experiences would have been like, and there could have been a lot more context material, and a lot more explanation of terms. I know This is an interesting subject - a ship full of women convicts sent to be breeders for the new Sydney colony. The book itself gives insight into period crime, prison conditions, politics, the slave trade and all sorts of other things, along with quotes from the time. It is short though, and not as in depth as I would have liked. There's some speculation about what experiences would have been like, and there could have been a lot more context material, and a lot more explanation of terms. I know what 'careening' means, but would bet plenty of people don't, and there were terms unfamiliar to me. Most women in history are spectres, they left no written record, they have no voice. Recreating the history of women, along with the history of the poor, the illiterate and everyone else who has spent most of the last centuries pushed out to the margins, is a big job. A history dominated by wealthy men is a history that misses out most human experience, but those are the books that have dominated. So, all kudos to Sian Rees for tackling this subect, and for writing a nuanced account of the women of the floating brothel - it could have been a lurid, tabloid style creation, and it isn't.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    I thoroughly enjoyed this account of one particular ship load of convicts sent to Botany Bay in 1789 with its focus on real stories, general accounts and descriptions of what occurred during the voyage. Sian Rees investigated the mitigating factors behind the rise in prostitution and thievery in 18th century London, which was illuminating and quite disturbing. Life on board ship, both for the women and the crew sounds horrendous in the extreme, especially given Sian Rees description of the stenc I thoroughly enjoyed this account of one particular ship load of convicts sent to Botany Bay in 1789 with its focus on real stories, general accounts and descriptions of what occurred during the voyage. Sian Rees investigated the mitigating factors behind the rise in prostitution and thievery in 18th century London, which was illuminating and quite disturbing. Life on board ship, both for the women and the crew sounds horrendous in the extreme, especially given Sian Rees description of the stench emanating from the Ballast. It made me quite nauseous to imagine. The treatment of women in the 18th century, especially if they were deemed 'disorderly', was beyond the pail. They were pimped, used and seemed to have very little say over their own bodies or futures. Gone is my romantic notions of what it would have been like sailing for months on end to the far seas! All in all, a well written and interesting account of an 18th century convict ship and the pre-history and outcome of convict life for 240 or so women who made up the 'cargo' of the Lady Julian.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Hirsche

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Five stars is high praise for a book, but this one deserves the rating. A true story of how the British justice system contrived to deal with an excess of miserable criminals is laid out in considerable detail. The astounding stories of life in the disgusting prisons of England and the incredible shipboard life of convicts are absolutely fascinating. In addition, I now have a deeper understanding of the infant colony of Sydney Australia. The author is skilled at description and gives us so much Five stars is high praise for a book, but this one deserves the rating. A true story of how the British justice system contrived to deal with an excess of miserable criminals is laid out in considerable detail. The astounding stories of life in the disgusting prisons of England and the incredible shipboard life of convicts are absolutely fascinating. In addition, I now have a deeper understanding of the infant colony of Sydney Australia. The author is skilled at description and gives us so much background on simple things like what the ship holds would have smelled like. She outlines the shocking treatment of women convicts, whose crimes amounted to what today would be almost ignored. The brutality of punishment for crimes is monstrous by our standards and was very hard to read about. There are everyday heroes that the author uncovered in her research as well as decent people who allowed the ill treatment of fellow human beings that the reader can condemn or condone as they read on in fascination.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Henri Moreaux

    The Floating Brothel is a great non fiction history book mainly focused on the lives of female convicts who came to be aboard the Lady Julian for transportation to the new British settlement of New South Wales. It starts with their background and crimes, the initial trials & journey to the shores. What was involved in the preparation of departure, the journey, romances, port calls and adaptation once landed. There's also the shocking landing of Neptune, Surprise & Scarborough where bodies are to The Floating Brothel is a great non fiction history book mainly focused on the lives of female convicts who came to be aboard the Lady Julian for transportation to the new British settlement of New South Wales. It starts with their background and crimes, the initial trials & journey to the shores. What was involved in the preparation of departure, the journey, romances, port calls and adaptation once landed. There's also the shocking landing of Neptune, Surprise & Scarborough where bodies are tossed overboard as the slavers care not for their human cargo, kept locked below deck, over 250 were dead, over 500 too weak and sickly to care for themselves and get to shore. The book rounds out with the tale of John Nicol who pines for his convict wife whom he was forced to leave in New South Wales at gunpoint and can't find passage back, you can't help but feel sorrow for the turn his life takes. Very much worth a read for a glimpse into this interesting chapter of Australian & British history.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ellsworth

    I kept doubting this book's accuracy. For example, "By night, when 200 women were shut into the orlop hold, it was all rather less hygienic. The orlop was equipped with 'easing-chairs' or commodes. The most prized berths were furthest from these and closest to the hatches, which gave some ventilation. The majority of women had now been living together in an all-female environment for months, even years, and their menstrual cycles would have started to synchronise. One week each month, the distinc I kept doubting this book's accuracy. For example, "By night, when 200 women were shut into the orlop hold, it was all rather less hygienic. The orlop was equipped with 'easing-chairs' or commodes. The most prized berths were furthest from these and closest to the hatches, which gave some ventilation. The majority of women had now been living together in an all-female environment for months, even years, and their menstrual cycles would have started to synchronise. One week each month, the distinctive odour of menstrual blood was added to the smell of the easing-chairs." It was fascinating to read about the women of the Lady Julian. An easy and entertaining read, however, I would recommend finding a different book on female convicts in place of reading this one, as I feel that her research and claims should have been proof-read and validated before publication.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Although I found myself losing interest at points, it is a decent recounting of how Imperial Britain disposed of some of the criminal riff-raff from the overcrowded jails and streets while furthering colonial interests. This book follows the plight of a ship populated by female miscreants on their journey to New South Wales. I wouldn't say it was compelling reading, but for people interested in social history, maritime history, it is not bad. I enjoyed the description of the stop in Rio.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Phoebebb

    An interesting topic turned tedious. I had to put it down because it dragged so much that my interest faded. Too much time was spent on an endless list of women and their petty crimes without any real direction; like reading a list of records. You also need to have previous knowledge of the history during that era in order to know certain locations and terms that aren't defined for you; which I found frustrating.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Despite its rather salubrious title this book is an excellent, well researched history of a women's transport ship to the then penal colony of Australia. The women could be transported for as little as stealing a handkerchief. The book centers on several real women and shows the hardships they had to endure during the long voyage. A must for anyone interested in history.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Camille

    This was such an interesting book. I found the title very misleading, though. While there is some mention of sexual services, it's more about the first convict fleets to Australia, life on board ships in the 18th century and the first years of the Australian settlement. Don't be put off by the title!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    It's odd to read a non-fiction book that doesn't weave facts into a narrative, and it took a few chapters for me to get into this. Once Rees started to create atmosphere - smells, tastes, textures - I was hooked. If you can get past the rather dry beginning, it's worth it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Linda Callahan

    I enjoyed the book. I am a history lover and the details were clear. It is a story that brought compassion for the difficulty women and men faced at the time. My only disappointment was that the author did not give more follow up on what happened to the women after the journey.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Daren

    Well written, well told story.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    Well told account of what it must have been like to sail from the UK to Australia in the late 18th century.1

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bettina Partridge

    Absolutely loved it. A joy to read. Interesting women who pioneered early Australia as convict women. Even worth watching the doco created on the book on You Tube.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    Despite the somewhat tawdry aspect of the book's title, this is a book that seeks to and generally succeeds at presenting a detailed view of the penology of the late 18th century as it relates to the women who served as Australia's first female colonists.  The author's interest in writing with a certain feminist approach turns up being somewhat undercut by the nature of the sources available--as there were very few women who were able to speak with their own voice and the source material include Despite the somewhat tawdry aspect of the book's title, this is a book that seeks to and generally succeeds at presenting a detailed view of the penology of the late 18th century as it relates to the women who served as Australia's first female colonists.  The author's interest in writing with a certain feminist approach turns up being somewhat undercut by the nature of the sources available--as there were very few women who were able to speak with their own voice and the source material included here, especially the memoir of one unfortunate John Nichol, about whom the author has much to say, much of it deeply tragic, were written by men.  To be sure, the author is not alone in having this difficulty--anyone who wanted to write a history of the late 18th century that focused on women would have a struggle with the source material, but at least the author makes the best of it by titling her work in such a way that she is likely to sell some copies of the book simply because people want to read about sex, even if most of this book is about more subtle questions of power and how it operates even in less than ideal circumstances. This particular book is about 200 pages long and is divided into fifteen chapters that are organized in a chronological fashion.  The author begins by talking about the state of disorderly women and the economic problems that they faced that drove quite a few to theft and prostitution (1, 2).  After that the author talks about the difficulties faced by these women in jail (3) and the way that many of them were transferred to ships to be transported out of the country (4), spending some time on the river before leaving England (5).  The author talks about the mercy shown to some of the criminals who had been guilty of capital offenses (6) and the way that the ship Lady Julian finally left London (7) with more than 200 women bound for Australia.  The author discusses the couplings that soon developed and the way that this affected morale on the ship (8) and also the ship's stops in ports of call like Tenerife (9) and the crossing of the equator and the hijinks that happened there (10).  The author spends some time talking about the birth of John Nicol Junior and other children when the ship stopped in Rio de Janiero (11) and then discusses the wreck of the Guardian (12) as well as the ship's travels from Cape Town to Sydney (13).  Finally, the author ends with a discussion about the way that women sought to settle (or not) in Australia (14) and the journeys related to love and marriage that followed the settlement of the convict women in Australia (15), after which there is a discussion of the book's principal characters, a select bibliography, index, and map of the voyage of the Lady Julian from 1789 to 1790. Although many of the crimes that led the women to imprisonment and transportation were related either to sex crimes or theft (or both), the author is far more interested in examining the fate of these women convicts, to the extent that they can be known from the records available, as it relates to the questions of power.  After all, the question of power was a very subtle and complicated one for these women in these situations.  The fact that these people were women gave them some mercy in a criminal system that killed men far more readily for the same level of criminal offense, but also made them vulnerable in prison to rape by trusties and induced them into relationships with crew and officers en route to Australia as a way of providing safety and a better life even with the chances of pregnancy.  A great many women were also in a position of some power because they were very desirable to the mostly single male population of Australia that had been originally settled there, and men and women tended to marry those who reminded them in some sense of home or who were previously acquaintances.  And even with the shortage of women in Australia, some women remained single and a few managed to escape back to England.  The author demonstrates therefore that even though these women were in vulnerable positions, that at least a few were able to make the best of it and create good lives for themselves in very trying circumstances, which may be inspirational to some readers.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Tollemache

    The middle 1780s were a tumultuos time in England. The end of the American Revolution saw a demobilised army of Brits and Hessian mercenaries fill the streets of English towns creating much displacement, poverty and crime. It was also the eve of the colonization of Australia at the nascent settlement of Sydney Cove. The settlers had sent ships back to England asking for supplies, skilled laboring men and women to balance out the gender mix (early stage colonization could be a bit of a sausage f The middle 1780s were a tumultuos time in England. The end of the American Revolution saw a demobilised army of Brits and Hessian mercenaries fill the streets of English towns creating much displacement, poverty and crime. It was also the eve of the colonization of Australia at the nascent settlement of Sydney Cove. The settlers had sent ships back to England asking for supplies, skilled laboring men and women to balance out the gender mix (early stage colonization could be a bit of a sausage fest). The English authorities must have read the letter backwards because they immediately started filling ships of convicts and in the tale in "The Floating Brothel" a ship of mostly women convicts. So beings a tale where scores of women were sentenced to "being sent away beyond the seas" for a litany of meaningless petty crimes like stealing loose change, bolts of cloth and in one case a hand mirror. To our ears this spunds mindlessly cruel, to exile people to the end of the world for petty crimes, but in those times it was considered the height of enlightened reform....they could have been hung or burnt at the stake (penalty for making bootleg coins). What happened next is what one would expect if you put a bunch of downtrodden women and sailors/soliders on a boat for 6-9 months. A very eye opening and enjoyable account that gives illuminating insight into the rhythyms of sea life and daily life in the late 18th century. When travelling around the world was extremely risky and the odds of ever seeing home again were almost nil.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bee

    This book was (almost) everything I want from a microhistory (or is it a case study?), my one criticism being that I would have liked to have seen some sources cited. Nothing the author wrote struck me as particularly suspect or dubious - in fact, I thought she took a careful and diligent approach to complex issues the story threw up, and the particular difficulties of looking at them through modern eyes - but still. At least a bibliography at the end would have been nice! Apart from that, I love This book was (almost) everything I want from a microhistory (or is it a case study?), my one criticism being that I would have liked to have seen some sources cited. Nothing the author wrote struck me as particularly suspect or dubious - in fact, I thought she took a careful and diligent approach to complex issues the story threw up, and the particular difficulties of looking at them through modern eyes - but still. At least a bibliography at the end would have been nice! Apart from that, I loved it. The book chronicles the journey of the Lady Julian(a), a ship that transported over 200 female convicts to the newly established British outpost of Sydney Cove in Australia in 1789. Some brief digressions give additional information on 18th century seafaring, female criminality, and colonialism, but overall the narrative stays focused and compact. It's admirable how much information Rees managed to pull from occasionally scant documentation, and she walks the line between respectable historical research and fun and readability well. The end point she sets makes sense for the story she wants to tell, but she painted the wider picture intriguing enough that I'm tempted to seek out more on the early days of the Australian settlements - and that's really all you can ask from history writing!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Kayt

    I thoroughly enjoyed this little book. It has a bit of a slow start as several of the women who would eventually be transported on the Lady Julian (or Lady Juliana, depending on whose spelling you use) are introduced. However, it soon picks up. This is quite a short book, so we do not get a great deal of detail; what we do get is a broad-brush painting of the women who were transported, the crew of the ship, and the events preceding, during, and following the voyage. The voyage lasted a year, and I thoroughly enjoyed this little book. It has a bit of a slow start as several of the women who would eventually be transported on the Lady Julian (or Lady Juliana, depending on whose spelling you use) are introduced. However, it soon picks up. This is quite a short book, so we do not get a great deal of detail; what we do get is a broad-brush painting of the women who were transported, the crew of the ship, and the events preceding, during, and following the voyage. The voyage lasted a year, and it's interesting to contrast the condition and survival percentage of the Lady Julian women on arrival at Sydney Cove with that of convicts on other ships. Although this book takes the voyage of the Lady Julian as its central point, it also includes information on, and discussion of, the types of crimes women committed and why, and the sentences given. For example, for some crimes women were burned at the stake whereas a man would be hanged - which contributed to women often being officially tried for a lesser crime than the one they had actually committed, allowing them to be sentenced to transport rather than execution. All in all, an interesting book, and - partly because it focuses on the individual personalities - an easy read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca-Amy Jackson

    First off, I think the concept is brilliant. It's provocative and unapologetic and well researched. There are certainly points that I thought had potential to be excellent, and had they been narrated better then perhaps would have made for a good novel. However, the synopsis fails to mention how you may as well read a historical essay or dissertation because of how little characterisation there is. You feel little empathy or attachment because the narrator is so confused: it isn't clearly explai First off, I think the concept is brilliant. It's provocative and unapologetic and well researched. There are certainly points that I thought had potential to be excellent, and had they been narrated better then perhaps would have made for a good novel. However, the synopsis fails to mention how you may as well read a historical essay or dissertation because of how little characterisation there is. You feel little empathy or attachment because the narrator is so confused: it isn't clearly explained what the whole purpose of it is because it's halfway between historical fiction and a leaflet you would be likely to find on a boat museum. Absolutely no linguistic style beyond what you would expect of an academic essay; there isn't a shred of poeticism. This would be fine had it not been marketed as almost a non fiction, realistic swashbuckling adventure by the artwork. This is subject matter that needs more emotional weight that what the book gives it! Perhaps interesting if you're super into your maritime history or prostitution in the 1790s? But I won't be recommending anytime soon.

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