Authors: Judith Silverthorne
Tags: #convict, #boats, #ships, #sailing, #slaves, #criminals, #women, #girls, #sailors, #Australia, #Britain, #Historical
© Judith Silverthorne, 2016
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Edited by Kathryn Cole
Book designed by Tania Craan
Typeset by Susan Buck
Printed and bound in Canada
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Silverthorne, Judith, author
Convictions / Judith Silverthorne.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-55050-652-5 (paperback).--ISBN 978-1-55050-653-2 (pdf).--
ISBN 978-1-55050-889-5 (html).--ISBN 978-1-55050-890-1 (html)
PS8587.I2763C65 2016 jC813'.54 C2015-908760-0
Library of Congress Control Number:
Available in Canada from:
Coteau Books gratefully acknowledges the financial support of its publishing program
by: the Saskatchewan Arts Board, The Canada Council for the Arts, the Government of
Saskatchewan through Creative Saskatchewan, the City of Regina. We further acknow-
the [financial] support of the Government of Canada. Nous reconnaissons l'appui [financier] du gouvernement du Canada.
To all the truly wonderful women in my life,
who stand strong in their convictions.
Ships carrying convicts destined for North America ceased in 1776 when the War of Independence broke out in the United States. However, the practice of transporting felons continued to the penal colonies in Australia and New Zealand for about another ninety years, the numbers totaling 162,000 men and women. Exclusively female convict ships were infrequent – 129 out of a total of 806 – but they did sail, especially after facts emerged about the particularly harsh and sordid conditions women suffered on co-gendered transport ships.
One such exclusively female convict ship called the
sailed in 1840, another called the
a couple of years later. The fictitious name of the ship in this story, the
, is a combination of the two, sailing in 1842 for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Australia. Real facts, the strife of real people, and the conditions of actual convict ships form the foundation for this story.
1350–1400; (v.) Middle English convicten
1400–50; late Middle English < Late Latin conviction-
(stem of convicti) proof (of guilt).
a fixed or firm belief
an unshakable belief in something without need for proof or evidence
acknowledgement; strong persuasion or belief; condemnation
the act of convincing of error, or of compelling the admission of truth; confutation.
the state of being convinced or convicted; strong persuasion or belief; especially, the state of being convicted of sin, or by one's conscience.
a judgment of condemnation entered by a court having jurisdiction; the act or process of finding guilty, or the state of being found guilty of any crime by a legal tribunal.
the act of proving, finding, or adjudging, guilty of an offense.
(criminal law) a final judgment of guilty in a criminal case and the punishment that is imposed
to prove or declare guilty of an offense, especially after a legal trial: to convict a prisoner of a felony.
to impress with a sense of guilt
June 29, 1842
Jennie’s bare feet
burned as she stepped down
onto the sun-baked cobblestones from the crammed prison wagon, one of many lined three deep next to the Liverpool quay. She swallowed hard at the sudden cloying stench of dead fish, rotting wood and slime. Sweat beaded on her forehead in the glaring noonday sun. She brushed fingers across her face and wiped them on the tattered dress that clung to her thin body.
A guard yanked her by the shoulders. She winced as he cuffed her wrists behind her back. A second guard snapped shackles on her ankles and then thrust her behind ten year old Alice. The girl huddled against Jennie until a third guard chained them to an already-formed line. In silence, they waited for the rest of the female convicts to join the fettered queue. Quaking inside, Jennie ran her dry tongue over parched lips.
Whips crackled overhead, and at last the line of emaciated women lurched forward along the crowded wharf. With slow, uneven steps, Jennie trekked with the other prisoners. Many kept their heads down as they edged past the throng of onlookers waiting with friends and family to board their respective passenger ships. With each hobbled step toward the ship bound for Van Diemen, the heavy manacles bit into Jennie’s ankles.
“Be gone with you, ya thieving women,” someone hollered.
“Yeah, good riddance!” yelled a tall man whose head stuck above the crowd.
Jennie tensed as he pushed his way toward them.
“You’re good for nothing rubbish, and we’re best rid of your kind,” he snarled. “If anyone disagrees, they belong on the convict ship with you.” His spittle landed near Jennie’s bare feet.
“Shut your yap!” someone else bellowed.
“Make me,” the tall heckler roared and turned toward the voice.
“It’ll give me pleasure!” A young punter pushed his way through the horde.
The tall man lunged, but someone tripped him. Jennie cringed as he caught himself before falling into her. He flailed his fists at those in his vicinity. The crowd cut him a wide berth.
“Leave ’em alone. They’re paying for their crimes,” a squat man in a top hat harrumphed.
Dissenting shouts rose. A scuffle broke out in the middle of the mass.
“Some of them are only children,” a woman near Jennie said in surprise.
“They’ll grow up without their families,” said another.
The horror of her destiny closed in on Jennie. She stumbled, and the ankle chains bit harder into her skin.
The group of hecklers swarmed closer, crushing past bystanders waving good-bye to loved ones who were boarding a nearby ship. The wooden wharf creaked under the added weight. Amid the shoving and cursing, a well-dressed lady screamed when she was shoved to the ground. As her husband picked her up, their child started crying.
Jennie twisted to see.
“Keep back,” yelled a wharf policeman, charging toward the crowd.
“They’ll push us off,” wailed an older convict farther down the line.
“Are we going to die?” Alice whimpered in front of Jennie.
“Sh. We’ll be all right,” Jennie said. “I have an eye out for you.”
The shouting grew louder as more people joined the fray. Overhead, screaming seagulls wheeled against the cloudless sky, plunging for scraps from a row of waterside fish stalls. Police whistles shrieked.
A sudden volley of gunshots exploded over the heads of the crowd. Everything stopped at once.
Then, as if in slow motion, people righted themselves. Officers pushed through the crowd looking for troublemakers and the injured.
The guards flicked their whips overhead to get the line moving again. The heavy manacles bit deeper into Jennie’s wrists and ankles as they approached their vessel moored farther down the wharf.
Jennie watched as the line of women bobbed along the quay like a string of fishing boats nodding in the wind. Young and old, fit and maimed, some pregnant and some children as young as seven were bound together. Many youngsters and babes in arms were with their condemned mothers, Jennie knew, only because there was no one left to care for them at home. She had spent time in prison with some of them over the past four months. Many more Jennie did not know, as they had been transported from across the whole of Great Britain, some even from Ireland.
The leaden chains and the unseasonably warm weather were almost more than Jennie could bear. The brisk wind ming- ling with the briny tang of salt water did little to ease her distress. Jennie had no idea which of the three-masted vessels along the quay would carry her so far from home.
She searched desperately through the throng for her mother. Had she not found a way to come? Didn’t she know this was probably the last time Jennie could ever hope to see her?
“Move on!” A burly guard with a bushy red moustache and beard shoved someone a few feet ahead of her, setting off a chain reaction of falling women.
Jennie lurched forward, smashing headlong into Alice. Pain seared her wrists, as other women fell against her. A chin dug into her back, and with her face planted between Alice’s narrow shoulders, Jennie couldn’t breathe.