A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal
WHO WERE AUSTRALIA'S women convicts? Were they drunks and whores, 'genetic' criminals and moral degenerates as many observers believed? Or victims of circumstances almost unimaginable in the twentieth century, as others claim? A Cargo of Women traces the chequered story of one hundred women transported together in 1829 on the ship Princess Royal. Caught in an England convulsed by change, they became the unwitting and unwilling pioneers of a new land. Through imaginative use of detailed research, Babette Smith presents a personalised view of this group of women. She traces their stories, presenting us with a patchwork image of individual lives that are both rich and varied, and often poignantly tragic. We encounter their despair at being parted from their families and particular concern for the children left behind, their experiences of assigned service in the colony, the marriages that could provide salvation or the final degradation, the opportunities that existed for a new life in a society more socially mobile. Framing them all is the story of the indomitable Susannah Watson who, trapped in the crowded filthy slums of Nottingham, stole because she 'could not bear to see her children starving'. Separated forever from her husband and four children; she was transported for 14 years, but served 16. She endured the convict system at its worst, yet emerged triumphant to die in her bed aged 83 singing 'Rock of Ages'.
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