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The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  757 Ratings  ·  105 Reviews
A seafaring story with a twist -- the incredible voyage of a shipload of "disorderly girls" and the men who transported them, fell for them, and sold them.This riveting work of rediscovered history tells for the first time the plight of the female convicts aboard the Lady Julian, which set sail from England in 1789 and arrived in Australia's Botany Bay a year later. The wo ...more
Hardcover, 236 pages
Published March 6th 2002 by Hachette Books (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Daenerys
Aug 29, 2012 Daenerys rated it it was amazing
If you make it past the first 10-20 pages which list in a quite boring way the names of convicts and some details of their crimes, this is an absolutely brilliant book. Extensive and painstaking research is evident throughout the book and this covers all aspects of the story of the convicts, from an explanation of 18th-century British law to life on board the ship to the creation of new colonies. All is presented in an enjoyable and captivating way. Where details are the result of research regar ...more
Sharon Robards
This is the story of women convicts who were transported ‘beyond the seas’ on the Lady Juliana – so called ‘Julian’ by the author due to the memoir The Life And Adventures Of John Nicol, Mariner, who fell madly in love with convict Sarah Whitlam on board the ship, only to be forced at gunpoint to leave her and their child born on the ship, in what was still a muddy convict settlement. John Nicol recounted his memoir 30 or 40 years after the trip, and still his heart pined for a woman he would sp ...more
Rebecca
Aug 28, 2008 Rebecca rated it really liked it
The book isn't as bawdy as the description would lead one to believe. I'd say the book is evenly divided between the convicts and sea faring information. I learned quite a bit about bilges, tar, shipwrecks, and the history of sea travel in the 1700s. I bought the book for the stories of the convicts, so I was a bit disappointed, but learned so much about a topic I knew absolutely nothing about, sailing the high seas, it evened the score. Great book.
Maureen
Jun 22, 2008 Maureen rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Bawds, thieves and fallen women.
A sort of Bad Girls at sea, this was a history book about an all-female convict ship that sailed to Australia at the end of the 18th century. It was fascinating to read about the lives of convicts and seamen - the kind of people history usually overlooks - and the realities of life at sea, in 18th-century England, and in the colonies.

It's only a three-star as the historical detail can sometimes be a bit plodding and the prose isn't the sparkliest. Still very interesting, though.
Catherine
Mar 08, 2009 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookcrossing
This is just the sort of history I can cope with: anecdotal, but with some continuity of characters; acknowledging sources, but not full of footnotes; including background information, but not tediously detailed. A Previous reviewer on BookCrossing said you could almost smell the ship, and I would agree that the descriptions of the smells are vivid enough to justify that comment.
Henri Moreaux
The Floating Brothel is a great non fiction history book mainly focused on the lives of female convicts who came to be aboard the Lady Julian for transportation to the new British settlement of New South Wales.

It starts with their background and crimes, the initial trials & journey to the shores. What was involved in the preparation of departure, the journey, romances, port calls and adaptation once landed. There's also the shocking landing of Neptune, Surprise & Scarborough where bodie
...more
Patricia Hirsche
Jun 02, 2015 Patricia Hirsche rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pete daPixie
In less than a decade after Captain James Cook's rather unfortunate contretemps with the natives of Hawaii, began the convict ships' voyages to his newly discovered land mass on the other side of the globe, or to use the vernacular,"Transportation to parts beyond the seas." Just three months after the mutiny aboard H.M.S Bounty in 1789, the Lady Julian (official records name her Lady Juliana) sailed from England with 237 female felons on board, bound for Sydney Cove. (Some records list 226)
Sian
...more
Nimue Brown
Apr 13, 2012 Nimue Brown rated it liked it
This is an interesting subject - a ship full of women convicts sent to be breeders for the new Sydney colony. The book itself gives insight into period crime, prison conditions, politics, the slave trade and all sorts of other things, along with quotes from the time. It is short though, and not as in depth as I would have liked. There's some speculation about what experiences would have been like, and there could have been a lot more context material, and a lot more explanation of terms. I know ...more
Jeffrey May
Aug 07, 2012 Jeffrey May rated it it was ok
Maybe because I’ve read so much excellent narrative nonfiction recently (Unbroken, Brutal Journey, A Voyage for Madmen, The Lost City of Z, Born to Run) it has negatively skewed my view of The Floating Brothel. On the other hand, it may just mean that I’m more attuned to good nonfiction. In any case, I don’t think anyone is fond of giving bad reviews, and that includes me. Perhaps, as a writer, I know that, regardless of success or failure, writing any book is a lot of hard work. (That’s why I r ...more
Naomi
Jan 08, 2008 Naomi rated it really liked it
Recommended to Naomi by: Michael Bond
I thoroughly enjoyed this account of one particular ship load of convicts sent to Botany Bay in 1789 with its focus on real stories, general accounts and descriptions of what occurred during the voyage. Sian Rees investigated the mitigating factors behind the rise in prostitution and thievery in 18th century London, which was illuminating and quite disturbing. Life on board ship, both for the women and the crew sounds horrendous in the extreme, especially given Sian Rees description of the stenc ...more
Victoria Lister
Jul 23, 2015 Victoria Lister rated it it was amazing
Despite its rather salubrious title this book is an excellent, well researched history of a women's transport ship to the then penal colony of Australia. The women could be transported for as little as stealing a handkerchief. The book centers on several real women and shows the hardships they had to endure during the long voyage. A must for anyone interested in history.
Tweedledum
Jul 17, 2016 Tweedledum rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Tweedledum by: Katy Huntley
I have been reading The Floating Brothel because my daughter recently sang in the premier of the new Opera, Banished, by Stephen McNeff. This opera takes place on the Lady Juliana and weaves around the characters whose stories Sian Rees has painstakingly recovered. It is almost impossible to imagine the thoughts and feelings of these unfortunate women, pushed to he margins of life and to desperate acts in an England whose rapid industrial expansion left them destitute and then grimly punished fo ...more
Anthony Stancomb
May 05, 2016 Anthony Stancomb rated it really liked it
An interesting and highly detailed account of how women were transported to Australia in the late 1700’s. Horrendous tales of the injustice practiced in England and of the frightful conditions and sexual abuse these women had to endure while in prison and on their year long journey to Australia. Things weren’t a lot better when they got there, too. The conditions were dire and their only option was to couple up with one of the male convicts.
The book is painstakingly researched, and there is a we
...more
TWiMC1964
More an impression than review, but don't you think it's generally easier to see the injustices of times past than of our own, just as it is so inviting to ridicule the clothes fashions exposed in older family photograph albums , even if haute couture or self-portraits are present. At the time pride was often such a welcome feeling.

So laying in wait for a drunkard on their stumbling way home east out of the City of London in 1788-9 got you sent on the convict ship, Lady Julian, or carried by a m
...more
Martin
Jul 26, 2016 Martin rated it really liked it
The title is very misleading. I found this a warm-hearted book, full of sympathy for the female petty criminals of Georgian England. The details of crime and punishment at that time are horrendous and I was particularly distressed to read that women were still being executed by burning at the stake in the seventeen eighties - no, not for witchcraft, but for being accomplices of money forgers.

Most of the book paints a very kindly and tolerant account of the poor girls and their ordeal aboard the
...more
Jim
Sep 22, 2008 Jim rated it liked it
Although I found myself losing interest at points, it is a decent recounting of how Imperial Britain disposed of some of the criminal riff-raff from the overcrowded jails and streets while furthering colonial interests. This book follows the plight of a ship populated by female miscreants on their journey to New South Wales. I wouldn't say it was compelling reading, but for people interested in social history, maritime history, it is not bad. I enjoyed the description of the stop in Rio.
Phoebebb
Feb 24, 2015 Phoebebb rated it it was ok
Shelves: disliked, history
An interesting topic turned tedious. I had to put it down because it dragged so much that my interest faded. Too much time was spent on an endless list of women and their petty crimes without any real direction; like reading a list of records.

You also need to have previous knowledge of the history during that era in order to know certain locations and terms that aren't defined for you; which I found frustrating.
Ellsworth
Apr 13, 2016 Ellsworth rated it liked it
I kept doubting this book's accuracy. For example,
"By night, when 200 women were shut into the orlop hold, it was all rather less hygienic. The orlop was equipped with 'easing-chairs' or commodes. The most prized berths were furthest from these and closest to the hatches, which gave some ventilation. The majority of women had now been living together in an all-female environment for months, even years, and their menstrual cycles would have started to synchronise. One week each month, the distinc
...more
Sarah
Aug 10, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History of Women In England
The title of this book is a bit misleading. it is not so much about a floating brothel, but more about how a bunch of women, who had been convicted of petty crimes in the England, were transported to Australia. They sold themselves at the ports they stopped at en route, that's the only brothel bit. It is more of a look at the criminal system, and the sea-fearing industry. it is a bit dry, with some nice stories about one or two of the women. Also the women ended up "marrying" (read being used by ...more
Kirsty
Nov 20, 2010 Kirsty rated it it was ok
It's odd to read a non-fiction book that doesn't weave facts into a narrative, and it took a few chapters for me to get into this. Once Rees started to create atmosphere - smells, tastes, textures - I was hooked. If you can get past the rather dry beginning, it's worth it.
John Mccullough
Jan 30, 2016 John Mccullough rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Feminists, historians, those interested in the colonisation [rocess.
A most interesting book. a view not universally shared with other readers it seems. While sporting a catchy title, the book is a serious history of the second wave of women convicts who were brought to Botany Bay to serve two purposes - rid England of an over burgeoning prison population and to bring women to serve as consorts to the male convicts already in Australia. England had already dumped 50,000 prisoners in America and the West Indies, but the American Revolution had cut England's abilit ...more
Michael
Feb 05, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
I picked up this book on my Tasmania travels. It is a fascinating account of the 2nd boat load of prisoners sent to Australia from the request of the governor that they need more women to help expand the population. This book is well researched and gives a glimpse into the lives of some of the prisoners, some of whom became successful entrepreneurs once their sentences were served. It also details the relationships between the women, and their ships crew, and the state of the lives of women who ...more
Sandra
Mar 27, 2014 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating. A lot of historical accounts can be dry and tedious, but this was very engaging. I found the descriptions of conditions on the transport ship extremely well told, from the ballast, to the sanitary conditions on the ship. The information about the colony at Sydney Cove was enlightening, and despite being a born and bred Aussie, 3rd generation, it was information I was previously unaware of.

I also found it shocking to read about the condition of many other convicts that
...more
Sara
Apr 20, 2015 Sara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Honestly, I was really disappointed by this one. I voted on it as my choice for a non-fiction book club meeting and excitedly picked it up from the library. After reading the summary, and a number of great reviews, I was expecting to not put it down. Unfortunately, it didn't fare well for me. For the most part, I felt that the book was written for individuals who already have a wealth of knowledge regarding 18th century London, and are extremely familiar with ships. A lot of the information went ...more
Lydia
Apr 20, 2015 Lydia rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Fascinating story, but awkwardly written. Many reviewers have commented on the jumble of names and places at the beginning of the story and how confusing it is to keep track of them all. In fact, none of those details are particularly important to the story, so it would have been better if the author would have described the environment in more general terms. Besides all that, once the voyage gets underway, I was drawn in to the awful world of life aboard ship. The authors mentioned that one sho ...more
Chandrashekar Gangaraju
It was an enjoyable read with a lot information about other happenings of the period. A collection of numerous stories with a good description of realities in different societies, unpredictability and miseries of human lives as well life on the sea.
I felt that the word brothel was not an appropriate one as it can somewhat mislead and more importantly turn away some readers.
I was particularly impressed by the author's use of language - which made me learn quite a few meanings for words or phras
...more
Marcus
Feb 08, 2012 Marcus rated it really liked it

This is the fascinating story of strategies adopted, and relationships, made and broken, between all those involved in the convict transportation operation – women and men convicts, seamen, officers and marines. It is much more than an account of the sexual experiences of women convicts that the title suggests.

Rees brings to life the rough end of eighteenth century urban life, particularly in London, the dog-eat-dog world of petty crime, the cursory and rudimentary justice system, and the horren
...more
Alan
Mar 21, 2014 Alan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An account of female transportation to Australia (or "Parts beyond the Seas" as it was described in criminal sentences) in the late 18th century. The book describes the harshness of life in general and the criminal justice system in particular. It seems to be well researched and although it has an easy reading style it is at times hard to keep up with the large cast of characters.
Janet
Jun 16, 2014 Janet rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book, I read it as a family historian , so was looking at the content rather than looking for correct grammar and story writing ability .
This book for me was therefore a great read, the true story of an eighteenth century ship and it's cargo of female convicts. Thank you Sian Rees, top marks.
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Siân Rees is a British author and historian. She has a degree in history from University of Oxford. She lives in Brighton and is an RLF Fellow at the University of Sussex. She is particularly interested in the social and maritime history of the 17th and 18th centuries.
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