The novel I’m currently working on is the first in a series of four based around four main characters, loosely inspired by several of my own convict ancestors, one of whom was transported to Australia on the Lady Julian(a). For a very lively and fascinating account of that voyage, read The Floating Brothel by Sian Rees. My characters are named Friday Woolfe, aged 18 and a prostitute (and, no, she doesn’t have a heart of gold); Sarah Morgan, 17, an unemployed apprentice jeweller and semi-professional thief; Harriet Clarke, 17, a skilled sempstress; and Rachel Winter, 15, daughter of small landowners in Guildford. The first book – working title Behind the Sun – begins in 1828 in London where the girls are all arrested for various crimes and incarcerated in ghastly Newgate prison before being transported to New South Wales.
They voyage to Australia on a fictional convict ship I’ve called the Isla, which I’ve based on descriptions of real convict transports and the Endeavour replica whose home base is the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour in Sydney. The Endeavour of course wasn’t a convict ship, but going aboard gave me a good idea of how crowded everything is above deck on a tall ship and the claustrophobic conditions below deck, though I understand Cook’s ship was even more cramped than normal, because of his large crew. Imagine living like that for months on end!
On the voyage my girls meet Bella Jackson, another convict – wealthy, charismatic and extremely powerful – who becomes Friday’s arch-enemy throughout the series. They also meet Gabriel Keegan, a fee-paying gentleman passenger travelling to New South Wales to take up a government position, who will have a devastating impact on all their lives.
So far the girls have just arrived in Sydney, and I’ve been doing loads of research into the Parramatta Female Factory, where virtually all female convicts transported to New South Wales stayed before they were sent out on assigned service.
|Deck of Endeavour replica,|
Australian National Maritime Museum.