Convict women in Port Jackson
In 1788 the First Fleet landed at Camp Cove in Port Jackson with the 'cargo' of convicts helped establish the penal colony of New South Wales. One in five of the convicts to arrive in the penal colony (1788-1823) was female and they made up the largest group of female colonists in Port Jackson.
The typical convict woman was in her twenties. She was from England or Ireland and had been convicted of robbery - sentenced for seven years as punishment for her crime. She was single and could read but not write. Many convict women were first offenders and given sentences of transportation for crimes that were quite minor, such as pick pocketing, shoplifting or prostitution.
Stories of three very different convict women who lived in colonial Sydney or Port Jackson between 1788 and 1850 follow: Mary Bryant, Mary Reibey and Esther Abrahams.
A daring escape - Mary Bryant
Among the arrivals with the First Fleet was Mary Bryant (also known as Mary Broad).
The Charlotte. Image courtesy of The First Fleet Home Page
In 1786 at age 21, Mary was found guilty of stealing a cloak and was sentenced to death. Luckily for Mary, her sentence was later changed to seven years transportation. On the way to Australia, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter whom she named Charlotte, after the ship they sailed on. On board was another convict named William Bryant. Mary and William were married on 10 February 1788, just after arrival in the colony. They later had a son together, Emmanuel.
In just a few months, the food the First Fleet had brought with it had run out or was rotten. The convicts were almost starving and many people died. Desperate and hungry, Mary, William and several other men decided that they would try to escape from the settlement of Port Jackson.
They left at night on 28 March 1791, stealing the Governor's tiny boat for their use. They headed for Timor, north of Australia, where many Dutch colonial settlements were....