A cargo of Women
A Cargo of Women: The Novel traces the chequered story of one hundred women transported together as convicts in 1829 on the ship Princess Royal. Caught in an England convulsed by industrial change, they became the unwitting and unwilling pioneers of a new land.
Framing them all is the story of the indomitable Susannah Watson who, trapped in the crowded filthy slums of Nottingham, stole because she "could not bear to see her children starving". Separated forever from her husband and four children, Susannah was transported for 14 years but served 16. She endured the convict system at its worst, yet emerged triumphant to die in her bed aged 83 singing Rock of Ages.
First published by Macmillan in 1991, Babette Smith's timeless classic has been hailed as the greatest recounting of an extraordinary chapter in our colonial history.
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This novel about convict women is the first piece of literature I have ever read which, for me, really ignited interest in Australia's history.
This book is so richly written, incorporating the lives of multiple women as they struggle to win their freedom in a young new country. For some it is a matter of dignity, for others its about beating the system but all the women share a similar heritage, no matter how different their temperaments or reasons for being convicted. The hardships; mental, physical, emotional and social; that these women endured were incredible, although not the lives of all the women ended happily ever after.
'Earthy but honest...streets ahead of what normally passes for historical fiction.' is the recommendation on the back cover by Judith White from ITA magazine, and really summarises what can be expected from this book. This novel hardly glorifies convict life. Abusive language, alcoholism, prostitution, death and sex are all themes to be expected from this novel, and from this particular period and place in history, but it is the love and perserverance of the characters which really shines through.
I had a hard time while reading this book remembering that I was reading historical fiction, and Australian historical fiction at that. I must admit that, despite living my entire life in Australia, much of our convict past I have never heard in any great detail. This book will forever shape the way I view the beginning of white Australia's history.
Regardless of the readers heritage, you will be taken on a journey of desperation and triumph in a novel as well researched and written as it is enjoyable.