In July 1789, 237 women convicts left England for Sydney, Australia, destined to provide the men in Britain's newest colony with sexual favours and domesticity. This is the extraordinary story of those 'disorderly girls' and their 13-month voyage, in which the sights, smells and sounds of an 18th century sailing ship are brought vividly to life.
The Lady Juliana both held her convicts prisoner and offered them an escape from a life of destitution. Far from being cowed victims, the women showed resourcefulness and courage. Used to living off their wits, they used the skills they had learnt on Britain's streets to set themselves up in their new lives.
At the heart of this story is the ambiguous relationship between the female convicts and the male crew. Among the many shipboard couples were Sarah Whitelam and ship's cooper John Nicol, whose memoir provides much of the material for this book. That relationship produced a baby, a broken heart and an ending which subverts all expectations.
Author: Sian Rees
Title: The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth Century Ship and its Cargo of Female Convicts
First Published by: Headline
Date: 11 January 2001