Between 1788 and 1868, approximately 25,000 female convicts were transported to Australia. For nearly 200 years, there has been a chorus of outrage at their vulgarity, their depravity and their promiscuity, yet their stories have rarely been told with humanity. Until now.
In the new book, Defiant Voices: How Australia's Female Convicts Challenged Authority (NLA Publishing, 1 April $49.99), author Babette Smith takes the reader beyond this traditional casting of convict women, looking for evidence of their resilience, humanity and individuality.
We are introduced to women who stole, set fires, rioted, committed fraud, murdered; mothers of young girls; women who refused to show deference to the Court, and deliberately resisted authority at every step. This resistance, Smith argues, has contributed significantly to broader Australian culture.
Interspersed within the narrative are profiles of individual convict women who challenged authorities by living in perpetual disobedience, which was often flagrant, sometimes sexual and always loud. The women fought like tigers and drove men to breaking point with their collective voices, lewd songs and 'disorderly shouting', but the book also explores another side - the female camaraderie, the fun and their intrepid spirit.
Richly illustrated with paintings, newspaper articles, sketches, letters, portraits and photographs, Defiant Voices tells the fascinating story of the Crown trying - and failing - to make its prisoners subservient to a harsh penal system.