This is the story of the lives of 14 significant women who sailed to the Australian colonies in its founding years.
The first to arrive was Esther Abrahams, a 16-year-old Jewish girl transported for shoplifting two cards of lace. Esther and other female convicts landed on ‘the fatal shore’ in a storm and she and many other female convicts were set upon by sex-starved men who had been awaiting their arrival for two weeks.
Pioneer sheep farmers Elizabeth Macarthur and Eliza Forlonge were bitter rivals to own the best breed of merino sheep. Eliza Hawkins conquered her fears and became the first woman to cross the Blue Mountains. And like a character from a Jane Austen novel comes witty Fanny Macleay whose father built one of Sydney’s most beautiful houses but poor Fanny died before the house was completed.
In South Australia Mrs Mary Thomas, faced deprivation and despair as she struggled to give her children a better life. Irish Catholic Annie Mooney Caldwell came to South Australia as an indentured servant before becoming a ‘dungaree settler’ on a small block of land with a poor water supply. As a widow with a young family Annie became Australia’s ‘Mother Courage’ undertaking a dangerous journey in a covered wagon from South Australia to northern New South Wales.
Van Diemen’s Land punished and persecuted convicts and decimated the Aboriginal population. Louisa Meredith, wife of Tasmanian settler Charles Meredith faced a life of deprivation with courage. Landing at Western Australia’s Swan River Settlement, Mrs Mary Anne Friend had to camp on the edge of the Swan River surrounded by distraught settlers facing starvation as their crops withered and died. Mary Anne and her husband sailed away to Tasmania but the stress of a court case caused Mary Anne’s premature death.
Australian born Emmeline Leslie grew up in luxury before marrying a young squatter and traveling north on horseback to pioneer the frontiers of Queensland. Matilda Murray-Prior and her daughter, Rosa rumbled through the Outback in covered wagons to take up an isolated sheep and cattle property where the sheep died of scab and her father failed to make money. Her mother died in childbirth, Rosa also married a squatter in what she thought was a love match but found herself marooned on lonely Curtis Island riddled with mosquitoes and fleas while her husband amused himself with his mistress in Brisbane.
Letters and portraits help bring these women to life and describe the dangers and deprivations of pioneering.