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Convict Identity: My Story

Students analyse journal entries to uncover more details about the lives of convict women on the First Fleet.  

Student activities

Task no. 1

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Convict Identity: My Story

Teachers note: Print Resource 3: List of Female Convicts aboard the Lady Penrhyn and Resource 4: Convict Identity Card

Some women who were found guilty of crimes who might have been sentenced to death, were instead sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay for 7 years, 14 years or even for life. Lady Penrhyn was the name of a ship that was part of the First Fleet, that carried 109 female convicts and 8 children. The ship’s doctor Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth kept a journal about the journey.  This journal is a primary source and provides information about the women and children onboard from his official perspective as the ship’s surgeon as well as his personal impressions. Smaller numbers of convict women were also transported on other First Fleet ships: Prince of Wales with 49, Charlotte with 29 and Friendship with 21. 

Look at the page of Arthur Bowes Smyth's journal, below. This is his actual handwriting. Primary sources can be challenging to read and decipher.

22nd March 1787 - ships accompanying the Lady Penrhyn
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Imagine you are an historian reading Arthur Bowes Smyth’s journal. Click on the link here to look at the item in our catalogue. Zoom in to discover the details. 

Find these actual handwritten words: 

  • ‘Lady Penrhyn’ 
  • ‘109 convicts & 8 children’ 
  • ‘form a settlement there’ 
  • ‘Governor Philip’ 
  • ‘List of their Names, Crimes, Ages, Trades’ 

Read the downloadable list, Resource 3: List of Female convicts aboard the Lady Penrhyn. You can view the actual list (compiled for publication in 1790), below.

Collection 01: Arthur Bowes-Smyth, illustrated journal, 1787-1789. Titled 'A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in ... - Image 9, 22 March 1787-12 August 1789
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Choose an identity from the list to match the female image card you used in Task 2. Choose anyone you like. There are no correct matches. 

Complete her details on the downloadable Resource 4: Convict Identity Card and imagine what her life was like. Write her story.  If you completed Activity 2, Tableau - In Her Shoesrefer back to the words and phrases your group listed.

Consider the following points to guide your writing: 

  • Imagine and describe her family  
  • Where do you think she lived?  
  • Was she single or married, young or old? 
  • Was she committing crimes to survive or was she a career criminal? 
  • What was her job or trade? 
  • What will she miss when she departs England? 
  • How might she be feeling about her future on the other side of the world?