'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 31 October 2013

Review: Child Convicts (Our Stories)

Most people would be surprised to hear that children as young as nine were transported to Australia as convicts, and in fact eight convicts in the First Fleet were under fifteen years of age. These children were treated as adults and punished the same way.

Why were children so young sentenced to such harsh punishment? What would life have been like for them in Australia?

Our Stories: Child Convicts is the story of life in the then mysterious and isolated Great Southern Land. It’s divided into sections like ‘From Gaol to Colony’ and ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ as it explores how convicts went from arrest to transportation to settling in a foreign country. Food supplies and escape attempts are also covered, and a short glossary and list of references provided.

An assortment of child convicts are introduced by way of short anecdotes, showing how tough life was, but also how the dreaded transportation could bring new opportunities. They made a name for themselves, good or bad.

At the age of seven, John Hudson was found guilty of trying to sell a stolen shirt. He was thirteen when he arrived in Australia, the youngest in the First Fleet. Four other children in the First Fleet were found guilty of theft or burglary, and one of assault and highway robbery.

Walter Paisley, one of the first boys sent to the boys’ prison at Point Puer in Tasmania, faced forty charges over his first five years in the colony, and spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. The daily routine at Point Puer is listed in the book and shows the boys there had to wash in the freezing cold sea, work long days, and mostly eat bread and gruel.

There were female child convicts too, including former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s ancestor Mary Wade, who was arrested at the age of ten, but ultimately gained freedom in Australia, and Mary Reibey, known today as the woman on Australia’s twenty dollar note. When arrested, Mary Reibey had been living as a boy and her true identity was only discovered when a doctor examined her before transportation! She went on to become a successful businesswoman.

Everything in Our Stories: Child Convicts is in stark contrast to life in Australia today, and it will provide a useful resource for children studying Australian history.

Child Convicts (Our Stories)
Net Brennan
Black Dog Books, $17.95 RRP
Publication Date:
September 2013
For ages:
Non fiction