Timewatch: The floating brothel

Updated Wednesday 18th January 2006

In 1789 England’s all-female transport ship set sail for a penal colony in Australia. Timewatch follows the the floating brothel.

Two women and man on ship Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission

Three modern day women trace their ancestors and uncover the rags-to-respectability tale of three feisty convict women who bucked the system and became the unlikely founding mothers of modern Australia. Timewatch follows this extraordinary story which starts with The Lady Juliana, the all-female transport ship sent out to Australia, and its cargo of whores, thieves and canny con artists who saved a dying colony and redeemed themselves.

In 1788 the British Government sent a fleet of eleven ships to establish a penal settlement on the far side of the world – in Australia. But within days of their arrival the new settlers were battling to survive. Stranded in an alien world, they were wracked by starvation and disease. But another blight threatened to push the fledgling colony over the edge – depravity.

The meagre number of convict women brought with the First Fleet were ravaged by the men on their first night on land, Aboriginal women were sexually assaulted and soon one of the youngest colonists, an eight year old girl was raped by a marine. To save it from moral collapse, the settlement was in dire need of rescue.

Help would come from the most unlikely quarter. Welcome to the startling, shocking and stinking world of Georgian London! Meet some of the motley collection of street-girls, bagsnatchers and con-women who are plying their trade and turning their tricks… Rachel Hoddy is a mischievous prostitute who drags men back to her home not just to relieve them of their money ...but also their clothes. Little Mary Wade, an eleven-year-old street urchin, is hardly the picture of innocence either. Ann Mash has been convicted for stealing just a bushel of wheat. And finally, there's the doyenne of the London crime scene, Mrs. Elizabeth Barnsley.

Incarcerated for their ‘crimes’ and reprieved from death sentences these women are swept up in a government plot to rescue the starving colony at Sydney Cove. But these women will never be at the mercy of the bigwigs of the British Empire.

Aboard The Lady Juliana, they criss-cross the oceans and at each port of call the women show they have quite a head for enterprise. Turning the boardwalks into catwalks they convert the ship into a floating brothel, the sure means to feeding themselves and staying alive. These women are survivors and doing business is in their blood. Sydney Cove will get more than it bargained for when this lot arrive.

This is the rip-roaring tale of a boat-load of women who sailed to the ends of the earth to breath life into a dying colony. But together they would give Sydney and the nation of Australia something much more – a future.

As their descendents discover the story by unearthing diaries, court records and documents they begin to draw parallels with their own twenty-first century lives, and discover they have inherited more than just their genes - but also the incredible entrepreneurial spirit of their forebears.


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

History & The Arts 

10 big news stories that happened in 2006 (when OpenLearn was born)

OK, so 2006 wasn't as relentless as 2016, but the year still had some huge news stories. As part of our ten year anniverary celebrations we look at what happened in our birth year...


History & The Arts 

10 incredible people whose stories you'll find on OpenLearn

We're ten this year - isn't that amazing? What's even more amazing is this list of ten extraordinary people and their incredible stories...


People, Politics & Law 

Reacting to Hillary Clinton's nomination

Hillary Clinton has won enough delegates to be certain of being the Democratic Party's candidate for President. She's the first woman to have been selected by a major US party. What does this mean for America, Hillary - and for women?


History & The Arts 

World Religion Day

As part of World Religion Day's aim to promote understanding of different faiths, we have compiled a great range of resources on religions and themes.  


History & The Arts 

Armistice Day

The armistice which marked the end of the First World War took effect at 11am on 11th November 1918. For Remembrance Day, here's a collection of resources to commemorate and remember these events.


History & The Arts 

Britain's Great War: Download your free 'The First World War Experienced' booklet

From casualties to commemoration, explore the realities of war with this free booklet.



Learn 40 hand signals used by the Aboriginal people of the Western Australian Desert

Long before the invention of telegraphy, never mind mobile phones, the people of the Australian desert had a way to communicate across distances.


History & The Arts 

World-changing women: Download your free booklet of postcards

Download your free world-changing women booklet of postcards to accompany the BBC Two series The Ascent of Woman.  


What's On 

OpenLearn Live: 28th July 2015

Free learning from OpenLearn and beyond; updated during the day