From Publishers Weekly
In July 1789, the Lady Julian set sail from England, bound for the penal colony at Sydney Bay, New South Wales, and bearing some 240 women sentenced, mostly for petty crimes, to "transportation to parts beyond the seas." The intention of this voyage was twofold: to relieve overcrowding in British jails and t0 provide sexual comfort and eventually children to the male prisoners, from whom nothing had been heard in more than a year. One year later, the ship arrived, its cargo augmented by a number of infants born along the route to the "wives" of her officers and crew. But when it finally dropped anchor, the Lady Julian proved something of a disappointment to the half-starved colonists, who had been hoping more for food than for recreation. The colony was eventually resupplied with food, and these women, salvaged from jails and saved from the gallows, survived and occasionally prospered. Rees descends from a Cornish shipbuilding family and, in her first book, marvelously evokes the sounds and sights of a ship under sail. She is just as good ashore, where her meticulous scholarship vividly re-creates the social conditions of late-18th-century England that produced both the criminal activities of her subjects and the terms of their punishment. Despite the title, relatively little space is given to sexual hi-jinks on the high seas. Instead, Rees uses every scrap of information she can muster to produce a lively, vibrant sense of these women as they must have lived their lives. 17 illus. (Mar.)Forecast: This outstanding debut sheds light on a fascinating, dark corner of history and will appeal to readers of women's studies; good reviews should also help it reach a wider audience.