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The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an 18th-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts [Paperback]

Sian Rees
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Jan 2002
In July 1789, 237 women convicts left England for Botany Bay in Australia on board a ship called The Lady Julian, destined to provide sexual services and a breeding bank for the men already there. This is the enthralling story of the women and their voyage. Based on painstaking research into contemporary sources such as letters, trial records and the first-hand account of the voyage written by the ship's steward, John Nicol, this is a riveting work of recovered history. The Floating Brothel brilliantly conjures up the sights, sounds and particularly the smells of life on board ship at the time and is populated by a cast of larger-than-life characters you will never forget.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; New Ed edition (7 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747266328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747266327
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 49,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

"Winter 1788, London. Outside the royal stables, at the bottom of the Mall ... a 26-year-old Scottish prostitute staked out her space and began her night's work": so begins Sian Rees's fascinating history of the 200-odd women convicts--"disorderly girls"--who, at the very end of the 1780s, found themselves condemned to Transportation to Parts Beyond the Seas. The Floating Brothel is a compelling and readable account of that moment in penal history when transportation from England to the colonies (in this case, New South Wales) was a commonplace alternative to the death sentence. Taking her readers into the squalor of Newgate Prison, and the arcane injustices of the Old Bailey, Rees follows the traces of these women's lives--lives marked by obscurity, loneliness and exploitation as well as the shoddy glamour of 18th-century London. In particular, Rees's account of life on board the Lady Julian--the ship that takes this band of convicts and crew across the world--paints a vivid picture of the complex relations between women destined to become colony "wives" (sexual comforters, breeding banks) and the men charged with delivering this special cargo. "As soon as they were at sea", Rees quotes one of her primary sources, John Nicol, "every man on board took a wife from among the convicts, they nothing loath". One of the strengths of Rees's approach is her refusal to evaluate 18th-century sex and sensibility in terms of modern consciousness. Nevertheless, the everyday trials and passions of her protagonists--notably, the experience of pregnancy and labour on board a convict vessel--comes through this remarkable testimony to forgotten lives. --Vicky Lebeau --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


'history at its most engaging' (Daily Telegraph 2002-01-12)

'Rees's lively, closely researched account of life in London's underworld and on board ship is a testimony to the spirit and resilience of women...' (The Sunday Times 2002-02-24)

'highly accomplished debut...comparable in power to Golding's Rites Of Passage' (Independent 2002-01-12)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All A Bawd! 17 May 2007
I apologise in advance, I am sure my review will undoubtedly fall short of the style of many a more experienced literary critic.

Wow! This book is truly a work of art, it has been so carefully written.

I bought this book on a whim, I liked the title and it sounded 'ok', since it arrived I have only had my head out of it to carry out my daily job, any other time has been dedicated to reading and in some places rereading certain passages.

Have you ever experienced seasickness? I have and I can imagine all too well how sick many of the woman on that voyage must have felt, the rank smell of the animals and other humans aboard the ship must have been horrendous. Sian Rees shows us all of this and paints a story that will, I am sure endure and show the world how Australia and other colonies came to be populated by English convicts.

How I wish history had been taught like this at school, I am sure I would have become interested a lot sooner - I like to read about the ordinary folk, the people who did amazing things and travelled great distances to new continents.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating insight 18 Mar 2003
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 misdemeanors.
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is the little known story of 240 women who were sentenced at the Old Bailey in London to transportation to Australia in the summer of 1789. The idea was to provide the new colony with breeding stock. These "disorderly" women were convicted pickpockets, prostitutes, thieves and muggers ranging in age from 11 to 68. They had one thing in common - they were all streetwise.
Despite the reasons for their journey and the risks involved in travel over such vast distances in the 18th Century most of the "cargo" arrived in Sydney after 11 months at sea fitter and healthier than when they set out.
The description of life aboard the "Lady Julian" is excellent displaying the author's knowledge of all things maritime.
I found the whole book authoritative, well researched with plenty of attention to detail. It made easy reading and with my interest in 18th Century crime and punishment an excellent addition to my library.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old Style Crime and Punishment 1 Oct 2006
The story begins on the streets of London in the winter of 1788. The author then tells us the stories of a number of 'common women' and how they end up being in Newgate prison. We are then given a description of how the poor people were forced into stealing,begging and prostitution in order to live.Part of the problem was due to the large increase in population brought about by the number of men discharged from the army. This army surplus was due to the defeat of the Kings army in America. When these men came home they took over jobs women had been doing and thereby forcing women onto the streets. These social conditions led to a huge number of homeless people wandering the streets which in turn led to shop lifting,robbery and prostitution. The streets were overcrowded as were the prisons and a solution had to be found. The colony Beyond the Seas (Australia) offered the magistrates a solution. People in high places had agreed that if the new colony was to be a success it would need a constant supply of new blood and eventually non-convict blood. It was decided that a percentage of people sent Beyond the Seas must be female.This book covers all the above social problems and takes us right through the courts and the sentence to Seven Years to Parts Beyond the Seas.It then describes all the arrangments of getting the ship ready to sail and describes the living conditions of those aboard.We then have a great detailed passage of the actual voyage which covers the battle against the elements and the friendships that were allowed to develop between captive and captor. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with who is in love with who but apart from that this is a good story which describes a part of our history where,what would be described today as a trivial petty crime,carried a seven year sentence to Parts Beyond the Seas.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars readable, interesting, tragic. 11 Jan 2001
This is the story of a sailing ship used to transport about 250 convicted women to Australia in 1789, basically to empty the jails in England of petty criminals, and to provide the new colony with "breeding stock"
For those who have not previously read the subject, they will be surprised at the cruelty of the English legal system in the 18th Century. Prisoners were sent to the colonies not just for serious crimes, but for minor offences - petty theft, shoplifting and prostitution. The heart ache at being separated from your family, and being sent to the other side of the world, just after it had been discovered, with virtually no chance of return, can only be imagined. Sion Rees describes their fate in a common sense way, not trying to apply modern day standards to 18th century justice, but the horror of the fate of these woman, many of whom left children in England, speaks for itself. It is not only a book about the English legal system, but is a fascinating insight into the social history of the time, and graghically describes a sea voyage from England to Australia via South America under sail, and with 250 women convicts in the hold.
It is not just a horror story - there is kindness and humour - but overall it is a story of human tragedy almost beyond belief.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good accurate and well researched history.
Published 1 month ago by MRS J L SMITH
5.0 out of 5 stars Historically accurate and a good yarn
This book was recommended to me and I was unsure if I would like it. However, it gripped me from the start and was a real eye-opener as to the lives and situations of those poor... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Seebass
5.0 out of 5 stars The Floating Brothel
A brilliant read, for someone who is keen on genealogy it was perfect. It goes a long way into explaining the hardships for these poor souls.
Published 12 months ago by K. Middlecoate
1.0 out of 5 stars Pants
This book has took me so long to read as i find it so boring. I have had to continue reading this book as I am part of a bookclub and it has been my requirement to do, so... Read more
Published 12 months ago by abi
5.0 out of 5 stars great
im not qualified to judge as anything but a layman but i love hornblower. aubrey maturin and anything describing historic naval times. Read more
Published 13 months ago by simon
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
Very good account of the early explorers, puts some background into The Muntiny of The Bounty.
Used this book for research teaching year 9 about Australia.
Published 16 months ago by Jon Stevens
4.0 out of 5 stars Bought as follow up to a television programme
This book was bought as a gift for an Australian friend who had never heard the story and was intrigued when we talked of the TV film of the same name. Read more
Published 19 months ago by goldiechick
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing piece of Pleb history!
I have réad this book 3 times. I was thinking of writing a book myself, based on some of the characters, then I lost it in a car crash. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Bronagh
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Service
It was obviously a second hand book because of the yellowed pages but the price I paid was appropriate. The servie from the company was excellent and I would use them again.
Published 23 months ago by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic detail, I felt as though I had made the journey on ship with...
What a fantastic book! Amazing research coupled with Sian Rees's great talent for bringing people and facts to life, I felt at the end of reading this book that I had been one of... Read more
Published on 20 Jan 2012 by Cathy Harrison
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