Labour Research March 2012


The tin ticket

The heroic journey of Australia’s convict women

Deborah J Swiss, Berkley Publishing Group, 384 pages, hardback, £11.99

Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston were convicted for shoplifting. Bridget Mulligan stole a bucket of milk; widow Ludlow Tedder, 11 spoons. For their crimes, they were sent not to jail, but to ships teeming with other female convicts.

Tin tickets, stamped with numbers, were hung around the women’s necks, and the ships set out to carry them to Van Diemen’s Land — later known as Tasmania — part of the British Empire’s crown jewel, Australia.

The deportation of thousands of petty criminals, the vast majority non-violent first offenders, provided a convenient solution for the government.

Crossing shark-infested waters, some died in shipwrecks during the four-month journey, or succumbed to infections and were tossed into the sea.

Others were raped by their captors. They arrived as nothing more than property.

The tin ticket takes us to the dawn of the nineteenth century. Ultimately, it is the story of women discarded by their homeland and forgotten by history who, by sheer force of will, forge a new life.

Reviews contributed by the Bookmarks socialist bookshop. Order online at