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A Letter Home

Students write a letter home from a convict woman’s perspective as they identify some of the emotional aspects of the journey. 

Student activities

Task no. 1

A Letter Home

Read these quotes from Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth’s journal which describe different aspects of the journey to Botany Bay.  The entries for April 1787 are before they left Portsmouth (on 13 May 1787) as the convict women had been waiting on board the ship since early January. Once out to sea, many women sustained injuries from being thrown about in rough weather. 

                                                             April 1787 

15th. Elizth. Bruce, one of the Convicts on board the Penrhyn, fell from the forecastle & broke her right Leg just at the Articulation of the Ankle.  

This day I attended…on the Woman wt. the fractured leg, &c removed the Bandage & dressed it up again; before the Bandage was removed the woman was in the most excruciating pain. 

 

Look at the section of the journal, below, showing where the following entry was written (also in April 1787).

24th Hugh Sandlyn, a Child belonging to one of the Convict women on board, aged abt. 18 months, died.  

Handwriting with a blue arrow overlaid

Image 1: Detail from Collection 01: Arthur Bowes-Smyth, illustrated journal, 1787-1789. Titled `A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in the Lady Penrhyn, Merchantman William Cropton Sever, Commander by Arthur Bowes-Smyth, Surgeon - 1787-1788-1789'; being a fair copy compiled ca 1790.

Saturday 28th

The Women very sick wt. the motion of the Ship.

 

July 1787

Sunday 1st. July

This day Mary Love, one of the Convicts aged 60 fell down the Steerage & broke two of her ribs & otherwise very much bruis'd herself.

 

Mr. White came onboard at 12 o'Clock this day to enquire into the state of the Sick -- perfectly satisfied wt. the Acct. & pronounced the Lady P the most healthy Ship in the fleet.

 

11th July

This day Elizth. Beckford, a Convict on board us, aged 82 died of a Dropsy wt. wh. She had been long afflicted. She died abt. 9 in the Eveng. & abt. 10 her corpse was committed to the deep.

 

Look at the section of the journal, below, showing where the following entry was written in November 1787.

18th. Three more Whales seen. This day Jane Parkinson died.

Handwriting with a blue arrow overlaid

Image 2: Detail from Collection 01: Arthur Bowes-Smyth, illustrated journal, 1787-1789. Titled `A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in the Lady Penrhyn, Merchantman William Cropton Sever, Commander by Arthur Bowes-Smyth, Surgeon - 1787-1788-1789'; being a fair copy compiled ca 1790.

January 1788

10th January

During the Storm the Convict Women in our Ship were so terrified that most of them were down on their knees at prayers.

 

Reflect back to the woman who you wrote about in your convict profile in Activity 3, Convict Identity: My Story

Think about the emotions she would have experienced.  

Consider these questions: 

  • Is she feeling homesick?  
  • Is she scared?  
  • Is she feeling this might be a new opportunity to help her make a better life for herself?   
  • Is she feeling any regret for committing a crime? 

Imagine that she was literate (able to read and write). Many people had not been taught how! How do you think she would describe her journey aboard ship to her family and friends in England?  

Use your ideas and the information contained in the quotes from Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth’s journal above to help you write her letter.