- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Headline Review; New Ed edition (7 Jan. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0747266328
- ISBN-13: 978-0747266327
- Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 122 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 143,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Floating Brothel: The extraordinary true story of an 18th-century ship and its cargo of female convicts Paperback – 7 Jan 2002
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'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)
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.See all Product description
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The author starts by giving us an impression of the treatment of women prisoners at the time as well as of the crimes for which they were committed. Because records are available she can give us actual accounts of individuals and what they did. She helpfully fills in context so that we can see why many women turned to crime and how their offences were viewed at the time. With so many women convicts filling the prisons in England there was seen to be a need to transport them as their punishment to the new colonies, especially as so many of those already there were men and they needed to have children to prosper.
The book tells the story of the voyage touching on the lives of the sailors, life on board, and what happened when they came into various ports. The title refers not only to how some women made temporary attachments to the sailors for protection on the trip but also to the fact that they sold themselves for luxuries when they touched land - almost certainly having been pimped out by the crew who took a cut. The author is clear about the realities of the situation and makes no moral judgement about the decisions made by anyone in these transactions. The story finishes with the arrival in Australia and the circumstances which faced the women, most of whom never saw their homeland again.
The story is told in an easy to read fashion with lots of social history context and reference to primary source documents. Where the author makes assumptions she is clear about this and they all seemed to make sense to me. I didn't know much about this appalling event in history and found this book fascinating.
‘The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth Century Ship and its Cargo of Female Convicts’ is a well-researched account of the lives of the poor in 18th century England and how girls as young as eleven could end up in Newgate Prison for the most minor of crimes – like stealing bread to prevent starvation. The prison ship was the only alternative to hanging and the 240 women who set out on the ‘Lady Julian’ appeared largely to have accepted their lot and made the most of it.
This is a masterful, ambitious, extremely well-written story that reads like a novel and is all the more astonishing that it’s true.
My only criticism would be that there were - if anything - too many characters mentioned in the narrative. Some of which, I felt, added nothing whatsoever to the story and appeared to be included simply because the author had noted them down in her research, so felt the need to list them in her recounting of individual's experiences. This detracted from the main characters and broke the narrative up somewhat, but overall I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
It was curious to realise how personal justice can be, and how reliant upon individuals' performance of their tasks. Also revealing of 18th century thinking in what details were or were not recorded.
Despite the choice of title and of cover illustration this is not a particularly salacious work, and treats both the commercial aspects of the voyage and the sex-trade of which it was a part in a fairly neutral manner. Facts are given where available, or their unavailability noted, but without excessive hand-wringing or attempts to impose a 21st century morality. Not a work for the in-depth researcher, but informative and pleasantly written for the general reader.
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