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The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts Paperback – March 12, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; Reprint edition (March 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786886749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786886746
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

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 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

The most fascinating of this book is that it is a true story, based on written information from the past!
E. J. Urselmann
Sian Rees has drummed up a very readable and very interesting account of the transport ship Lady Julian (strange name!)
ilmk
Nonetheless this book still manages to convey the horror of this punishment and the harsh conditions of the day.
Ms. H. Sinton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the foreward to this engaging narrative, Ms. Rees informs us that "when the American colonies defeated British soldiers and tax collectors, they also stopped accepting British criminals. By 1783, therefore, Britain had to find somewhere else in the world to transport its criminals." Australia was the place. Just as Jamestown, the early colony in Virginia, needed an infusion of marriageable women to allow it to grow (one of the three events of the red-letter year, 1619, was the arrival of a shipload of unmarried women), so would the penal colony in Sydney Cove.
Beginning with a description of the "crimes" for which women were sentenced to capital punishment and proceeding through the trials, prison conditions, and alternate punishment of banishment, Ms. Rees traces the voyage of the first group of women convicts to Australia. From the onset, she admits that her primary sources are limited and one, the diary of one of the crew of the Lady Julian, is somewhat doubtful because it was written so long after the fact. Even so, she has pulled together court records, contemporary British accounts of prison conditions, accounts of later voyages and other sources into a very impressive piece of research, and a very readable story.
In particular, her accounts of ship-board births, the pecking order among the female prisoners, the rights the crew assumed (both for sexual favors and for selling them in the ports of call) are fascinating reading.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Hovious on August 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Sometimes, history is written by but a handful of individuals; that certainly was the case with the first British settlements in Australia. The term "Empire" is to some extent misleading, in that it gives an exaggerated idea of monolitihic power: the totality of the resources that the British Empire had committed to colonizing Australia in 1789 were a few decrepit ships laden with convict women and supplies, and a ragged band of half-starved colonists left on the Australian coast for over a year without any contact with the rest of the world. Sian Rees vividly evokes the vastness of the oceans separating these early settler ships from their homeland and from each other as they traveled the high seas, not encountering a soul for weeks or months at a time, and lets the reader feel the isolation of the early colonists - those on the second ship, wondering if there was even still a settlement in Australia to be reached, and those already on land, wondering if the promised relief from Great Britain would ever arrive, or if the authorities in London had forsaken them.
Unfortunately, while this book succeeds in giving one a better understanding of the general process surrounding British colonization of Australia, and the many hardships involved, this was not its primary goal and otherwise I found it lacking. It is not precisely, as the cover claims, "the true story" of the ship and its convict women, since none of the women left any written record at all of their experience.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Munro on February 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Sian Rees set herself up for a difficult task but she succeeded in flying colours. It is notoriously hard to find any information about the people who were transported to Australia as convicts let alone details about female convicts. Thanks to a little known memoir of one of the ship's officers, John Nicol, Sian Rees has been able to put a small amount flesh onto the bones of the women who were among the very first convicts to be sent to Australia. We learn about the offences of some of the women, how they supported themselves as prostitutes at ports of call (or by sleeping with the ship's company) in order to survive and, in some cases, their extraordinary life stories (both failures and successes) once they arrived in Sydney Cove. I very much enjoyed this book - it was a fascinating insight into late 18th century morals and the creation of the colony in New South Wales.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ms. H. Sinton on July 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Sian Rees has written an extremely readable book, which is not in the least 'dry' or 'dusty' although it is history.
The Floating Brothel of the title is the ship 'The Lady Julian' used to transport 250 female prisoners to Australia in the late 18th century. It is quite horrifying to see how these some of these women could be sentenced to seven years 'in land beyond the seas' for what today would be classed as minor misdemeanours.
However, the women aboard the Lady Julian were more fortunate than many being aboard a ship with a decent, honest agent and captain to ensure their welfare was taken care of. Many of them became 'wives' to the crew for the duration of the voyage, which of course gave them certain advantages. Nonetheless this book still manages to convey the horror of this punishment and the harsh conditions of the day.
Sian Rees manages to inject a little humour at times (such as the antics of some of the women in Tenerife) which provides a welcome relief and stops the book becoming too grim. She also adds some nice touches of history by recounting snippets about Captain Cook and Lieutenant Bligh and the Bounty.
This is a good account of crime, punishment and survival in Georgian England and well worth a read.
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