Reception in Support of the Launch of Dr Jennifer Harrison’s Book: Shackled: The Female Convicts of Moreton Bay 1826-1839
Your Grace and Dr Aspinall; guests, distinguished as are you all. Kaye and I welcome you to this historic house, the first part of which was built by a German immigrant just over twenty years after the official opening of Brisbane to free settlers.
That initial construction here was completed in 1865. But going back, it is estimated that around 2,400 men and women convicts were sent to the Moreton Bay Settlement in the 1820s and 1830s.
The distinguishing point is that these were people convicted of crimes after being transported to Australia.
Of that number, our distinguished guest of honour Dr Jennifer Harrison has established that 144 were women.
It is well-nigh impossible for us, in the 21st century, to imagine what their lives were like. Even so, we can say with absolute confidence that their lives were very hard, and that they needed to be extraordinarily tough to survive.
They faced the hardships experienced by all, including primitive living conditions, harsh discipline, and the constant threat of disease.
And these women also faced the many challenges, indeed dangers, of living in a settlement where men outnumbered them, on average, about twenty to one – sometimes much more.
Thanks to our guest of honour’s publication Shackled: the Female Convicts of Moreton Bay 1826-1839, these women now emerge as individuals and personalities.
Women like the first female convict in the settlement, Elizabeth Robertson, assigned as a servant to Commandant Patrick Logan, step forward from the shadows.
The book tells us about the background of the women’s convictions in Britain, their transportation to Australia, and their second sentence of transportation, this time to the remote and rightly feared Moreton Bay Settlement.
We also learn, from their stories, something of conditions and life in Brisbane’s very earliest years.
How they would be amazed to think that in two days’ time on Saturday, our Open Day, thousands of people – maybe, weather permitting – will move through this estate and freely revel in its tribute to the freedom and achievement of the people – and do so free of shackles whether material or symbolic.
Kaye and I thank Dr Harrison for the extensive research – more than twenty years, I believe – which she has undertaken, and for the equally extensive work required to weave a compelling history from threads of so many lives, the history we wonderfully celebrate tonight.
We thank all those who have supported Dr Harrison in her work.
We congratulate Dr Harrison for bringing this important element of Brisbane’s early European history so vividly into the spotlight, and for introducing us to those I believe she now regards as her “144 sisters”.
We wish the book every success.
And may I now record Kaye’s and my personal delight that we should be hosting the event at Government House 2016. There is nostalgia in this.
Sam was my Commanding Officer in the 1960s – the late 1960s that is, acknowledging our newly acquired bronze state of The Queen on the Western Formal lawns, the early Elizabethan era… yes, Sam was then my Commanding Officer in the Queensland University Regiment; and if I may say even more relevantly for tonight, we junior officers of the day immediately appreciated the greatly significant Jennifer, without pause – much loved of us all.
These two are long-standing, significant Queensland contributors: in varying ways they enrich all of us, and particularly so tonight in Jennifer’s case, with her compelling elucidation of aspects of Queensland history.
I know you will all agree in those sentiments! Thank you all so much for being with us here at Fernberg this evening.