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


Chapter 10: Bendigo’s Gold

Bendigo’s Gold is the story of the families now being followed in The Tin Ticket as they move toward the gold rush in the gold fields of Victoria. It provides a short, almost rushed account, of life for those heading off to make their fortune in the gold fields. As always, an insight into this period is provided, right down to various incidentals of what life was like for these prospectors. There was the very real prospect of being robbed, both by bushrangers on the roads leading to the gold fields and the inspectors on the gold fields. Life was a difficult prospect for most during the gold rushes and especially so for those with young families.

Included in this chapter is an account of events leading up to the rebellion that has come down to us in history as the Eureka Stockade, which began as the fight for miners rights and finished with that bloody battle and the crushing of the miners rebellion.

There are further brief descriptions of what the lives of each of the three women and their descendants brought for them. The narrative though is quickly brought to a conclusion toward the end of chapter 10 and there is a sense that more could have been told regarding the stories of these remarkable women and their thirst for freedom in the Australian bush.

Chapter 10 is essentially the end of the book proper, though there are a number of appendixes following the end of this chapter. Overall, I think the book tends to be a bit rushed in sections, though well written. I have a bit of a thing for detail and appreciate more thorough investigations within nonfiction works, yet still found this book to be a very valuable contribution to the written history of early colonial Australia. I would highly recommend The Tin Ticket to anyone with an interest in Australian history and our convict past.

I think I would give it somewhere between a 3.5 and 4 out of 5 as a rating.

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


Chapter 9: Flames of Love

‘Flames of Love’ begins a new chapter of life and love for each of the three main women characters and convicts of the book. Each of the three women – Agnes McMillan, Janet Houston and Ludlow Tedder – are now free and each fall in love and marry as they start new lives in Van Dieman’s Land. The narrative presents the reader with a different picture from that which has gone before. Prior to chapter 9 the stories for all three women were dominated by affliction and sadness, now there is joy and great hope. There is a measure of sadness though in the realisation that these firm friends will not see each other again, as they each go about living their new lives.

Interwoven into the narrative of the three women and the new lives that each are now pursuing, are the winds of change in Van Dieman’s Land and indeed Australia as a whole. That dreadful punishment of transportation is coming to an end and the process of how that came about in Van Dieman’s Land and the long enduring consequences of transportation on the colony are highlighted throughout the chapter.

Also of great interest in this chapter are the stories of the men that have entered the lives of each of the three women, providing further insight into the lives of those living in this period of Tasmania’s and Australia’s development and growth. Australia does present itself as a far more attractive prospect for all three women and their partners than Britain ever did. There are still many horrific experiences in the everyday happenings of colonial Van Dieman’s Land which play a role in the lives of The Tin Ticket’s main characters – bushrangers, the wholesale extermination of Aboriginal people, etc.

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


Chapter 8: The Yellow C

Chapter 8 of The Tin Ticket brings a mixture of news for the three main characters of The Tin Ticket to this point. The conclusion of the previous chapter recorded the birth of William, the son of Janet Houston. This chapter begins with the reunion of old friends in Agnes and Janet, along with Ludlow Tedder. Sadly it also delivers the terrible news of William’s death, not long after Janet’s return to Cascades, following the forced separation of mother and child. The heartbreaking scene of a convict child’s burial and the resulting depression is only broken when Janet and Agnes are again reunited, and soon after they in turn are reunited with Ludlow Tedder in the Crime Class at Cascades.

However, there is good news also, as all three are released from their servitude by the end of the chapter. Agnes and Janet complete their time, while Ludlow is granted a Ticket of Leave for good behaviour. The chapter ends with a reunited Ludlow Tedder and her daughter, before the final conclusion of the chapter with the marriage of Ludlow Tedder to a free settler, the widower William Manley Chambers. There is now the promise of a new beginning for all three women – Agnes, Janet and Ludlow (along with Arabella). What will the future hold?

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


Chapter 7: Liverpool Street

Liverpool Street continues the story of Ludlow Tedder and her daughter Arabella, and the journey they embark upon as convicts to Van Dieman’s Land aboard the Hindostan. Once again the Tin Ticket enters the story, with Ludlow Tedder being assigned #151. Ludlow’s journey to Australia is softened somewhat for her and her daughter by being appointed the nurse aboard the Hindostan.

Woven into the account of Ludlow Tedder’s journey to Van Dieman’s Land are fascinating insights to what transportation meant to countless others, with snippets of information concerning other female convicts who were forced from the land of their birth to a country on the other side of the world. There is of course the description of Ludlow Tedder’s own experience aboard the Hindostan as well, with what she and her daughter endured during the crossing of the world’s oceans.

Upon arrival in Van Dieman’s Land, the accounts of other female convicts and their experiences of convict life continue to be interwoven into that of Ludlow Tedder’s experience, providing a much richer understanding of what being a female convict in Van Dieman’s Land during 1839 really meant. The horrific conditions endured by convicts at Cascades and by children who were housed at the Queen’s Orphanage, separated from their mothers who were only allowed a single monthly visit, were truly shocking. Conditions were atrocious at both facilities by the modern standards of today, but apparently were far better than those experienced in the slums of Britain. They were most certainly not easy times.

The chapter concludes with Ludlow Tedder serving as a nurse at the Liverpool Street Nursery and with her coming into contact with another of the books main characters, Janet Houston. Janet re-enters the narrative with a newly born son, William.

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


Chapter 6: Ludlow’s Choice

Chapter 6 introduces a new character to the narrative of The Tin Ticket – Ludlow Tedder, a 45-year-old widow who is working hard to try and provide for her family. There is a very brief biographical description of her life to that point and a very good description of her then life as a servant in the home of a barrister, Fitzowen Skinner and his wife Laura. It is not an easy life and with so much work for not much pay – certainly not enough to provide all the necessaries for her family. And it is this that brings her into the story of The Tin Ticket. To try and get that little bit extra so she can purchase what she needs for her young daughter she pawns a few pieces of cutlery, but is found out in tragic circumstances for her family.

As a result she seeks to escape justice but her life on the run is cut short in very quick time and she is imprisoned at Newgate. There she awaits trial and is quickly condemned to be transported to Van Dieman’s Land for ten years, though tempered with the mercy of being able to take her youngest daughter with her. Yet again the injustice of the British law system can be seen in the sentence – 10 years transportation in appalling conditions for a very petty crime.

The chapter also provides a selection of other similar petty criminal cases and examples of the corruption that influenced the sentencing of prisoners at that time.

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


Chapter 5: More Sinned Against Than Sinning

Having arrived in Van Dieman’s Land at the conclusion of the previous chapter, chapter 5 begins with an account of the disembarkment of the female convicts from the Westmoreland and their arrival in the Van Dieman’s Land colony proper at Hobart Town, an already bustling centre of some 14 000 people. Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston are abruptly introduced to the ‘winterish’ Tasmanian summer of December 1836, as they are much some distance through Hobart Town to the Cascades Female Factory housed in an old rum distillery some 2 miles outside of town at the base of Mount Wellington.

The first section of chapter 5 covering the convicts arrival at and journey through Hobart Town provides a fascinating insight into what life was like in colonial Van Dieman’s Land in 1836. The description of Hobart Town is wonderful, as is the colour of society set forth as the convict brigade marches thorugh the town. This is a great encapsulation of what is what like to live in those early heady days of Tasmania.

The remainder of the chapter narrates the life of Agnes as a female convict on assignment, though it seemed more often than not, her time was spent in the crime class at Cascades Female Factory. The conditions of her imprisonment at Cascades were far in excess of what was deserved for the ‘crimes’ she committed. Indeed, the chapter title is very appropriate – ‘more sinned against than sinning.’

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


Chapter 4: Sweet Sixteen

Having introduced Elizabeth Fry to the narrative in the previous chapter, chapter 4 sees the paths of Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston cross with that of Elizabeth Fry. It is a crossing of paths that lifts the quality of life that would otherwise have been for the two young convicts as they arrive at Newgate Prison and then prepare for their departure to Van Dieman’s Land aboard the Westmoreland at anchor in the Thames at Woolwich. The conditions in which the the two young girls find themselves in both places having been ameliorated through the constant and industrious efforts of Elizabeth Fry and the Quakers.

It is in this chapter that the reasoning behind the title of the book becomes apparent, as Agnes McMillan is issued with a Tin Ticket with #253 stamped onto it. Her friend Janet was issued a tin ticket with #284 stamped onto it. These two numbers identified the two girls aboard the ship and they accompanied them in everything that they did and in everything that was recorded regarding them on the way to the Cascades Female Factory in Van Dieman’s Land.

With the full compliment of convicts, the Westmoreland weighed anchor in the early hours of the morning of August 12, 1836. Sailing down the Thames and through the Channel, the Westmoreland, her crew and convict cargo were on their way to Van Dieman’s Land. The remainder of the chapter provides a description of the journey to Hobart Town in Van Dieman’s Land, complete with a colourful description of life aboard a prison hulk in its journey to the other side of the world. The chapter ends as the Westmoreland arrives at Hobart Town on December 3, 1836 and the beginning of a new life beckoning in the penal colony of Van Dieman’s Land.

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


Chapter 3: The Angel of Newgate

Chapter 3 is something of a departure from the main narrative of The Tin Ticket to this point, however the new character introduced into the plot plays an important role in the further development and future of the lives of both Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston, who were to be sent to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania). Their destiny was a direct consequence of the activities of this new player in The Tin Ticket – Elizabeth Fry.

‘The Angel of Newgate’ tells the story of how Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker, was determined to minister to the poor of London and the destitute women of Newgate Prison. Elizabeth Fry and her generous assistants and helpers, transformed the lives of the incarcerated women of Newgate Prison. These poor women, poor in more ways than one, passed their days in terrible conditions at Newgate. The description given in The Tin Ticket is heart-wrenching stuff. Elizabeth Fry most certainly moved outside of her comfort zone to minister to these desperate women and offer compassion to those that society had cast aside. What a remarkable woman, who was not afraid to face ridicule in her efforts to ameliorate the condition of the female and young prisoners of Newgate.

Chapter 3 of The Tin Ticket continues to paint a most depressing picture of society in early 19th century England and London in particular. The dreadful reality of life in the early industrial age of Great Britain is presented front and center in this chapter. Yet it is the deplorable attitude of those that held the power and the better places in society that truly mark out this period in the history of Great Britain as one of the most disgraceful. It is only the rare examples of compassion, godliness and humanity as shown in Elizabeth Fry and others of her ilk, that mitigate this period of English history. One cannot imagine the plight of female and young convicts of this era if there had been no social conscience within society at that time.

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


Chapter 1: The Grey-Eyed Girl

Well I lasted one day before reading some more of this book – but I did finish one of the other books I was reading first and posted a book review of it, so that wasn’t too bad. I’ve convinced myself anyway, so I can now continue reading this book as well.

The first chapter begins the story of Agnes McMillan Roberts, a convict sent to Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania) from Glasgow in Scotland.

This first chapter paints a terrible picture of conditions for the poorer families of Glasgow in the 1820s. The early years were tough years for Agnes and her childhood was cut short by the abandonment of her parents – first her father, then her mother (who basically stopped being one). In the place of family, Agnes aged 12 found support in a ‘street gang’ of young girls and this led ultimately to her arrest for burglary. Her partner in crime and life was 13-year-old Janet Houston, who took the younger Agnes under her wing.

Fighting to survive the elements in a filthy city, petty crime was one of very few options open to Agnes and she took it. She was to pay the penalty for being a survivor, a penalty that she was required to pay because society failed to care for the less fortunate of her day. Her small gang of young girls were arrested at the scene of their crime and quickly sentenced.

Agnes and Janet were sentenced to 18 months forced labor at a woolen mill, working 15 hour days, 7 days a week. They were basically slaves, child slaves and poorly treated ones at that. Life at the mill was 18 months of torture, a slave labor that no child should have to endure. Yet this was the life that beckoned for thousands of children across Britain during the so-called Industrial Revolution. Child exploitation and exploitation of the poor were signs of the times.

Reading this chapter you can’t but feel for Agnes and her friend Janet. Abandoned by society, with no hope for survival except by embracing a world of what you could call the underbelly of 1820s Glasgow. To survive they turned to a life of petty crime. Sure they were by definition criminals, but it is difficult to feel anything but pity and compassion toward these young girls given the circumstances in which they lived. From out of the frying pan and into the fire though was the result, in what is just a terribly sad childhood for these young girls.

This first chapter leaves you asking yourself just who were the real criminals in all of this? Are the parents the real criminals? Are the upper class to blame for this? Is it the government’s fault? Is it society as a whole? 1820s Glasgow certainly makes me glad to be living in 21st century Australia.

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