The Lady Juliana was built in the Thames River, London. She was a fine looking three-masted barque of about 400 tons, 110 feet long, 30 feet beam and two decks. It is believed she was the first British ship captured by American privateers in May 1776, near Cuba, on a passage from Jamaica to London. While en-route to Rhode Island the captive Lady Juliana was re-taken by a British man-of-war and conveyed to England where she resumed her role running to and from the Caribbean. In September 1782 the Lady Juliana was struck by lightning and lost her main mast in the Gulf of Florida when the whole fleet ran into a huge storm. The ship was towed to safety for repairs.
The next time we heard of the Lady Juliana was in February 1789 when she was commissioned to transport convicts to the new penal colony at Port Jackson. She was modified for human cargo and after a six-month delay sailed from Plymouth on July 29, 1789 carrying about 230 female convicts and 35 soldiers to a settlement on the other side of the world. Some of the convicts were guilty of petty crimes, some were hardened criminals and others were prostitutes rounded up on the streets of London. All were sentenced to life in the colony.
Most of the convicts were aged between 20-39 years with only 23 more than 40 years old and 51 aged between 10 and 19. They were shipped to the penal colony to relieve the overcrowding of British jails and provide wives for the convicts who had arrived at Port Jackson 18 months earlier, after America refused to accept further convicts from England. The first shipment of convicts, consisting of 543 male, 189 female and 22 children, had established a settlement at Port Jackson on January 26, 1788 along with 246 soldiers, their wives and children and several administrators to run the new colony. The first census taken at the end of 1788 listed a settlement population of 1,030 inhabitants plus 7 horses, 29 sheep, 74 pigs, 7 cattle and 6 rabbits. They didn’t count the kangaroos.
Shortly after leaving Plymouth every man on board the Lady Juliana selected a convict woman as his mistress and at ports along the way the vessel became an “open ship” to entertain sailors from the ships moored nearby. The voyage from Plymouth to Port Jackson took over ten months, mainly due to stops at Tenerife and St Jago to take up fresh food and the prolonged stays at Rio de Janiero (7 weeks) and Cape of Good Hope (4 weeks). Only five convicts died during the voyage due to improved cleanliness and fumigation of the ship and freedom for the convicts to visit the open deck. Other ships that followed the Lady Juliana became known as “hell” ships due to the mortality rate of convicts locked up below deck – Surprise (36 from 256 embarked), Neptune (147 from 424 embarked) and Scarborough (73 from 259 embarked).
The Lady Juliana arrived at Port Jackson on June 3, 1790 and, after a near disaster entering the harbor, disembarked her human cargo. It was the first ship to arrive in almost two and a half years so the starving settlement was expecting a cargo of food and farming supplies. The earlier convicts had come from the cities of England. They were not farmers and didn’t have farming tools. The land at Port Jackson was poor and there was little fresh water. Many of the older convicts were unable to work. Within two months of arrival of the Lady Juliana 150 of its younger and healthier female convicts were shipped to Norfolk Island, on the Surprise, where another penal colony had been established to relieve the burden on Port Jackson. The unfortunately named Surprise arrived at Norfolk Island on August 7, 1790 and while disembarking its cargo one small boat load of female convicts capsized in the heavy surf and seven of them drowned. For those who survived the long journey from the overcrowded jails in England to Norfolk Island it was home. As harsh as it was, the new home was more attractive than the squalid conditions of Newgate Prison, where most of them came from, and the death sentence.
The youngest convict on the Lady Juliana was a little girl named Mary Wade who was only 11 or 12 years old. She too was shipped to Norfolk Island. While there is some doubt about her actual date of birth, at her trial on January 14, 1789 Mary’s mother said she was only ten years old and Mary stated she was “Going of eleven.” Her crime was described in the transcript of the trial at the Old Bailey:
Mary Wade, Jane Whiting, theft with violence: highway robbery, 14 Jan 1789.
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Ref: t17890114-58. Original Text: MARY WADE and JANE WHITING were indicted for feloniously assaulting Mary Phillips, on the King’s highway, on the 5th of October, putting her in fear, and feloniously taking from her person, and against her will, one cotton frock, value 3 s. one linen tippet, value 2 d. one linen cap, value 2 d…
The trial record said that 10 year old Mary Wade and her 14 year old friend Jane Whiting, beggars on the streets of London, lured 8 year old Mary Phillips into a public toilet near the Treasury and robbed her of her outer clothes to be pawned for cash. During the trial, the judge said to Mary Wade’s mother: I hardly can ask you how your child has behaved; for I am afraid you are as much in fault as she is, by not taking proper care of her, and keeping her at home, and making her industrious; letting her run about the streets, was the sure way to lead her to the place where she is now; therefore I ought rather to ask you, what you can say for yourself then for her?
Mary Wade’s mother replied: “It is the other girl that induces her out, when my back is turned, to go a begging with her. I never brought her up to go a begging…”
The judge replied: “I hope you will take better care of the rest, or else they will all come to the gallows.”
The Judge then addressed the Jury: Gentlemen, I am distressed how to state to you, that this is a less crime than robbery; because, though there is no such violence as would affect the constancy of a grown person, or alarm them; yet the very circumstance of such a child falling into the hands of two strangers, young as they are, standing over her and stripping her, does seem to me to be equivalent to holding a pistol to the breast of a grown person; therefore, I cannot state it to be anything less than robbery; the consequence of that is, that they must answer it with their lives. Therefore you are to consider, whether the fact is sufficiently established against both or either of these prisoners. Now, that this child was drawn away into this privy by somebody, and was there stripped of her clothes, stands so clearly established, that there can be no doubt about it, upon the evidence of Mrs. Forward.
In summing up the evidence, the Judge added: For the sake of example, I cannot recommend to you, if you should be of opinion that the crime is sufficiently fixed upon them, I cannot recommend to you to say, it is of a less degree of attrociousness than robbery: the tender years of these persons may be a circumstance to be attended to in other views; but as to the denomination of the crime, I think it would be a dangerous thing to society, if you were to be induced, by any humanity, to lower the offence at all below the rank of actual robbery. So that if you say, that they are both, or either of them guilty, I think you must say they are guilty of the crime for which they stand indicted, robbery, and not larceny.
Mary Wade, Jane Whiting: VERDICT – GUILTY, DEATH.
The two young girls were taken to Newgate Prison to await hanging.
On March 16, 1789 King George III proclaimed all the women prisoners on death row, including Mary Wade and Jane Whiting, would have their sentences commuted to transport to a penal colony for life. They spent three months in Newgate Prison before they left for Port Jackson on the Lady Juliana. The conditions at Newgate were bad for any female prisoner, for two young girls locked up with older hardened criminals and prostitutes it would have been almost unbearable as the cell block, built for 70 inmates, had 150 prisoners sleeping on the concrete floor.
Three years after arriving on Norfolk Island Mary Wade, then aged about 15 years, gave birth to her first child. The father was a convict from Ireland. In 1796, Mary produced her second child on Norfolk Island followed by a third child the year after, probably with a different father – a chair maker from London who had been sentenced to seven years in the penal colony for stealing 200lbs of glue. The third child did not survive. The difference in the sentences for eleven year old Mary Wade in 1789 (death or life in the penal colonies) and the thirty-three old chair maker in 1790 (seven years in the penal colony) is difficult to understand.
Around 1800, Mary Wade was shipped back to Port Jackson and lived in a tent by the river with the Irish convict father of her first child. She had a fourth child there (in 1803) before the father left in 1806 on a whaling expedition. He didn’t return so Mary moved to live with the father of her second child on Norfolk Island, Jonathan Brooker, whom she ultimately married. There was little work for a chair maker in the colony so Jonathan became a laborer and then a farmer on land provided by the government for freed convicts. Mary Wade had at least nine children, including a daughter named Mary Brooker in 1812 who was my paternal great great grandmother. Mary Ann Wade died at 82 years after a hard life. She was one of the founding mothers of the early settlers in Australia.