Defiant Voices: How Australia’s Female Convicts Challenged Authority 1788-1853

Reviewed By  Nan van Dissel       May 20, 2021


Author  Babette Smith

Distributor:      NLA
ISBN:                 9780642279590
Publisher:         NLA
Release Date:   April 2021  


Many Australians take pride in the fact that they are a descendant of a convict. Generally, until recently their genealogical research has understandably focused on male convicts, as during the period of 1788-1853 only 25,000 female compared to 163,00 male convicts were transported. 

Historian and writer Babette Smith first work “A Cargo of Women” opened a new perspective on the women prisoners sent to the penal colonies in Australia. Her latest book ‘Defiant Voices’ collates a huge volume of research to dispel many of the earlier misconceptions while giving a fresh insight on how the female convicts challenged authority and carved out a new life for themselves.

This scholarly volume is a comprehensive chronological history of female convicts in penal Australia. It emphasises that many of these women were far from being powerless victims, who were subjugated, but who used their voice and every kind of sound (stomping, clapping, singing, clacking etc.) to demonstrated deliberate resistance to authority; generally achieving satisfactory outcomes.

Women’s scarcity also gave them power, as they didn’t need references due to the excess availability of jobs.  By including individual biographical stories of female convicts, the author demonstrates their triumphs and achievements. The book is also generously lavished with Illustrations, images of artifacts from the convict era and letters from the National Libraries collection (in the main).

By dividing this academic work into ten distinct sections covering the leaving of British shores to the cessation of transportation, the author has provided the reader with a most absorbing read, while also allowing it to be used as a source of reference for future publications on this most riveting topic.