Book Review: The Tin Ticket – The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, by Deborah J. Swiss

Chapter 2: Crown of Thieves

‘Crown of Thieves’ opens well enough for Agnes and her friend Janet. They have freedom to enjoy, but too soon the 2nd chapter continues the narrative of despair and forced labor that petty thieves were required to fulfill as payment for their crimes. First in Glasgow and then in Kilmarnock, where their hopes for a better life were cut short as a consequence of their short careers in petty crime. In such a setting, in such a time, there was little for street kids to do in order to survive and so to petty thieving they often returned. It was their undoing in a society that knew little of compassion and nothing of social welfare.

From Kilmarnock, via the trial in Ayr, the lives of Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston were propelled in an entirely unexpected direction – transportation to Van Diemen’s Land for a period of seven years. In reality there would be no return. They were convicts headed for Tasmania, Australia, as it is now known. The chapter ends with their arrival in London and Newgate Prison.

The Tin Ticket brings to life the harsh realities of life for the homeless and poor of Britain. They were products of a harsh system that punished those that could do little to help themselves and seldom was help offered to enable them to lift themselves out of their predicament. Certainly deserved criminals were transported to the penal colonies, but far too often it was those who fell through the cracks of an unsympathetic society that were punished for what they had become in order to survive. The recorded history of transportation takes on a human face through the stories of Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston. It is a reminder that convicts were real people and often not all that criminal at all.

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