The Tin Ticket
by Deborah J. Swiss

Berkley, 2010. ISBN 978-0-425-23672-7.
Reviewed by Judy Miller
Posted on 02/22/2011

Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

I was drawn to this book by a desire to learn how Australia became populated by convicts. In reading The Tin Ticket, I found out more than I bargained for. Although I knew that England had a long history of colonizing countries with slaves and convicts, I was surprised to learn to what degree this was true.

"Under the Transportation Act, 162,000 women, men, and children were exiled to Australia between 1788 and 1868," according to The Tin Ticket. Twenty-five thousand were transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). Of this number less than two percent had committed violent crimes and sixty-five percent were first offenders. If the convicts, many of them women and children, survived the months-long dangerous journey by sea they still had to satisfy years of imprisonment, punishment and slavery in their new home. Life was horrible and punishment harsh.

The Tin Ticket chronicles the experiences some of those women and children transported to Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania. Author and historian Deborah Swiss painstakingly pieces together the stories of Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston through meticulous documented research and written records (she also provides pictures). The reader first meets these heroic women when they are destitute homeless young girls in living the slums of Glasgow and follows them into the Newgate Prison, then across the ocean to the brutal imprisonment and slavery in Van Diemen's Land Tasmania and freedom. Swiss treats each of the women and their contemporaries with respect and compassion as she chronicles their histories and their brutal choices. The story isn't pretty and the ugliness of it will never go away, but the stories of these transported women, who were "once referred to as the 'convict stain'," need to be told and heard.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Deborah Swiss holds her Ed.M. and Ed.D. from Harvard University and her B.A. magna cum laude from Bowdoin College and is the author of Women and the Work/Family Dilemma, Women Breaking Through: Overcoming the Final 10 Obstacles at Work, and The Male Mind at Work: A Woman's Guide to Working with Men. Visit her website.

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