Intrigued to discover a convict ancestor in her family tree, Babette Smith decided to investigate her life and the lives of the 99 women who were transported with her on the ship Princess Royal in 1829.
Piece by piece she reveals the story of her ancestor 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 to Australia for 14 years. She endured the convict system at its worst, yet emerged triumphant to die in her bed aged 83 singing Rock of Ages.
Babette Smith reconstructs the lives of the women from the Princess Royal from fragments of information in shipping lists, official records, newspapers and court transcripts. Her research overturns stereotypes of women convicts as drunken whores and criminals. Caught in an England convulsed by change, they become the unwitting and unwilling pioneers of a new land. Many proved to be resourceful and resilient, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a new society.
First published two decades ago, A Cargo of Women became a bestseller and remains one of the most valuable accounts of convict life in Australia. This new edition includes further information about the women from the Princess Royal and new illustrations.
'Smith comes as close as any historian has come to reconstructing the complex experience of a convict woman an absorbing story.' - Kay Daniels, Australian Historical Studies