Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Rees, Siân "The Floating Brothel"

Rees, Siân "The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an 18th-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts" - 2001

This book had been suggested to our book club a couple of years ago, otherwise I probably would  have dismissed it right away. Both the title and the cover didn't sound like a book I would want to read.

It turned out to be very interesting, though. It is the story of women convicts who leave England, well, have to leave England for Australia in the late 1700s. They are supposed to settle in and populate the new colony. The book gives a very good account of the lives of these women before, during and after their voyage to the new country. Great research written almost as a novel, gripping story.

From the back cover:
"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.

Other stories about convicts sent to Australia: "The Secret River" by Kate Grenville and "For the Term of His Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke.

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