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The Floating Brothel


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About the Author

Sian Rees was born and brought up in Cornwall, England, in a family of boatbuilders and designers. After receiving her degree in history, she spent several years abroad, and it was while living in Melbourne, Australia, that she first became interested in the Lady Julian. This is her first book.


A Cornish Oxford graduate from a boat designer/builder family, Rees grants us a witty, learned, fun read. This work of nautical history recounts the 1789-90 voyage from England to Australia of a ship full of female convicts. The book covers the women's crimes, trials, and appalling jails back home, which for many put a more favorable cast on the prison ship and the near-starving colony receiving them in Sydney Cove. Using primary sources (including court, colonial, and ships records; the ship's cooper's memoirs; and other convict transport accounts), Rees weaves her spell. Following custom, officers and sailors took shipboard "wives," leading to enforced separations of lovers and of parents and infants. Given the alternatives, these unions were apparently not coerced. In exchange, the select gained comforts, privileges, and protection from convict gangs. The Lady Julian was the first Second Fleet vessel to reach the despairing, fledgling colony. Rees fills gaps with judicious speculation and corrects modern assumptions by providing historical context. Aimed at a wide audience, this history is highly recommended for public and academic libraries. Nigel Tappin, Huntsville, Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

In July 1789, the Lady Julian set sail from England, bound for the penal colony at Sydney Bay, New South Wales, and bearing some 240 women sentenced, mostly for petty crimes, to "transportation to parts beyond the seas." The intention of this voyage was twofold: to relieve overcrowding in British jails and t0 provide sexual comfort and eventually children to the male prisoners, from whom nothing had been heard in more than a year. One year later, the ship arrived, its cargo augmented by a number of infants born along the route to the "wives" of her officers and crew. But when it finally dropped anchor, the Lady Julian proved something of a disappointment to the half-starved colonists, who had been hoping more for food than for recreation. The colony was eventually resupplied with food, and these women, salvaged from jails and saved from the gallows, survived and occasionally prospered. Rees descends from a Cornish shipbuilding family and, in her first book, marvelously evokes the sounds and sights of a ship under sail. She is just as good ashore, where her meticulous scholarship vividly re-creates the social conditions of late-18th-century England that produced both the criminal activities of her subjects and the terms of their punishment. Despite the title, relatively little space is given to sexual hi-jinks on the high seas. Instead, Rees uses every scrap of information she can muster to produce a lively, vibrant sense of these women as they must have lived their lives. 17 illus. (Mar.) Forecast: This outstanding debut sheds light on a fascinating, dark corner of history and will appeal to readers of women's studies; good reviews should also help it reach a wider audience. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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