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The Second Fleet arrived in Sydney in June 1790, and proved something of a disaster. The colony founded by the First Fleet was already struggling and in the grip of starvation, and the Second Fleet was sent partly to aid them with further supplies. The first ship to arrive was the Lady Juliana, which contained female convicts. It took such a leisurely route that although it left months before the other ships, it arrived only a couple of weeks before them.

The convicts on the Lady Juliana provided Australia with its first sex scandal, because the women and ship’s crew consorted freely together, some of the women sold themselves for money or alcohol, and whenever the ship made a port of call, the women entertained men from other ships. Several gave birth on the ship, and many were pregnant by the time they reached Australia.

The women were well treated on board, but on arriving in Sydney, the Lady Juliana was called “a floating brothel”, and its female occupants “damned whores”. A cargo of more than 200 women when provisions were wanted, the ladies couldn’t have been more unwelcome.

Worse was to follow. While the First Fleet had been an effort of the British government, and generally well-organised, the Second had been handed over to private contractors. They had little concern for the convicts’ welfare, and although only a small number died on the first voyage (the unfortunate Ishmael Colman being the exception rather than the rule), the mortality rate on the second was 40%. The ship carrying the majority of the supplies, such as livestock, hit an iceberg en route and was wrecked.

When the remaining convicts reached Sydney, the colonists were horrified to see that the new batch was in terrible condition – starved, filthy, sick with scurvy, covered in lice, and bearing the marks of cruelty on their emaciated bodies. Instead of being the saviours of the colony, the people of the Second Fleet were instead a great drain on its resources. A Third Fleet had to be sent (amazingly, they chose to use the same private contractors again).

More than 165 000 convicts were sent to Australia over eighty years. This is a tiny number compared to the number of free settlers. For many years, convict ancestry was something of which people were deeply ashamed, and it was hidden from the family histories. These days, people are proud of their convict ancestors, and there’s a wealth of information available to them.


Dorcas (Talbot)

At the age of 39, Dorcas was convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing sixty yards of material from a shop, and sentenced to seven years transportation. Dorcas was sent to the penal colony on Norfolk Island, a place of untold horror and abject misery. In 1804 she married John Hatcher, who had arrived on the First Fleet. She died on Norfolk Island in 1811. The name Dorcas is a Greek translation of the Aramaic name Tabitha, meaning “gazelle”. In the New Testament, Dorcas (or Tabitha) was one of the disciples of Jesus; the Bible makes her seem important, and she may have been a leader in the early church. It is said that she was a widow who did charitable works, and Dorcas Aid International is an organisation which raises money for the poor and needy. Dorcas is regarded as a saint in some denominations. Often used in fiction, Dorcas is a shepherdess in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. She has also given her name to a species of gazelle – the dorcas gazelle, meaning “gazelle gazelle”.

Isabella (Manson, aka Isabella Smith)

At the age of 28, Isabella was convicted at the Old Bailey for stealing clothes and sentenced to 7 years transportation; she seemed to have a male partner, but took full responsibility for the crime. She married John Rowe in Sydney in 1790. John had arrived on the First Fleet, and there was a scheme of marrying off the “best” Second Fleet convict women to the “best” remaining First Fleet men and giving them farmland to work. John and Isabella ran a farm together without much success, and had three children named John, Joseph and Sarah, and possibly another named Mary. They have many living descendants. Isabella died a widow in Gosford in 1847. The name Isabella is the Latinate form of Isabel, a medieval Provencal form of Elizabeth. It was commonly used by royalty, and is the name of Princess Mary of Denmark’s eldest daughter. Isabella has been on the charts since 1900, dropping from it in the 1950s and ’70s. In 1900 it was #75, and today it is #1; its big jump in popularity occurred in the 1990s, although rising since the 1980s. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise naming their daughter Isabella in 1992 may have assisted.

Phoebe (Williams)

At the age of 41, Phoebe was convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing 5 yards of cloth and sentenced to seven years transportation. She married Edward MacLean, a First Fleeter, in 1790, and they ran a farm together in Parramatta. Edward died in 1794 and Phoebe died in Parramatta in 1798. The name Phoebe is from the Greek for “bright, shining”. In mythology, Phoebe is one of the Titans, a moon goddess who was the grandmother of Artemis; her name was given to one of the moons of Saturn. Phoebe was also one of Artemis’ titles, and there are several Phoebes in legend, including an Amazon, and the sister of the beautiful Helen of Troy. In the New Testament, Phoebe was a deacon in the early church regarded as a saint by several denominations. It was used by Shakespeare for another of his shepherdesses in As You Like It. Phoebe was #148 in the 1900s and by the 1930s was off the charts altogether. It made a comeback in the 1960s, and climbed at such a rate that it was in the Top 100 by the 2000s. It is maintaining its position around the #50 mark.

Rosamond (Dale, aka Rosina Dale, aka Mary Woods)

At the age of 22, Rosamond was convicted at the court in Lincoln, and sentenced to seven years transportation. She married James Davis from the First Fleet, and they were sent to the penal colony on Norfolk Island, where she died. The name Rosamond is a variant of Rosamund, a Germanic name meaning “horse protection” which was introduced to England by the Normans. From early on, the name was associated with the Latin phrases rosa munda (“pure rose”) and rosa mundi (“rose of the world”), referring to the Virgin Mary. Rosa mundi was transferred from the cult of the goddess Isis who was worshipped throughout the Roman Empire; roses were sacred to her, as they became for Mary as well. There is a heritage rose called the Rosa Mundi which has existed since the 1500s. One of the old Gallica roses, it has red and white striped petals.

Violetta (Atkins)

Violetta was a servant. She was convicted of stealing from her employer at the Old Bailey and sentenced to seven years transportation. I think Violetta must have either died on the voyage, or soon after her arrival in Sydney. Violetta is the Italian form of Violet. Violetta Valéry is the main character in Verdi’s 1853 opera La Traviata, based on the play adapted from the novel La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils. It’s a romantic and emotionally wrought tale of a courtesan who finds true love, but tragically dies of tuberculosis.


Ephraim (Lindsay)

Ephraim was convicted by the court in Northampton and sentenced to seven years transportation. In the Old Testament, Ephraim was a son of Joseph, born during his years in Egypt. Ephraim’s mother was a priest’s daughter named Asenath; their marriage was arranged by the Pharaoh. A Christian story is that she converted from paganism to the worship of Yahweh; it’s a fanciful tale involving an angel and some magical bees. According to Jewish tradition, she was actually Joseph’s half-niece, conceived in rape. How she got to Egypt involves yet another angel who leaves her under a bush wearing a necklace inscribed with an explanation of her origins; the priest finds and adopts her. You can see there is some discomfort with the idea of Joseph’s bloodline being “besmirched” by an Egyptian. Ephraim can be pronounced several ways, including EE-free-im and EE-fruhm. It seems like a good alternative to popular Ethan.

Janus (Everard)

Janus was convicted at the Middlesex Guild Hall and sentenced to transportation for life. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings, and thus all points of transition, such as gates and doors. He is famously depicted as having two faces, to indicate that he looks forward to the future and backward to the past simultaneously – a rather neat visualisation of the flow of time, which Janus oversees. The Latin name for “door”, janua, is named after him, and thus doorkeepers and caretakers of building are sometimes known as janitors. Janus was an important deity, and when the Roman calendar was regulated, the first month of the year was called Januarius in his honour. We still start the year off in January, making Janus suited to this month.

Ormond (Burcham)

Ormond was convicted of stealing five bushels of barley and sentenced to death by the court of Norfolk. This was commuted to seven years transportation. Ormond is an Irish surname named after the ancient Irish kingdom in Munster. It simply means “east Munster”, and was a hereditary title within the Irish aristocracy. It may also have become (perhaps deliberately) confused with the Irish surname O’Ruadh, meaning “son of the red one”. Francis Ormond was a philanthropist who founded the college which later became the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, as well as endowing Ormond College at the University of Melbourne. There is a 6th century French abbot named Saint Ormond, however, this is an Anglicisation of Armand, the French form of Herman.

Traverse (Spileye)

Traverse was convicted of attempting to steal five dozen tallow candles by the court in Nottingham and sentenced to seven years transportation. This may be a Puritan virtue name, very interesting if so, because they are rarely found in Australia compared to the United States. As the word traverse means to travel, it could refer to pilgrimage, or the soul’s journey through life, or perhaps even the Israelites traversing the desert for forty years. However, I can’t help wondering if it is just a variant of the surname Travers, coming from the French for “to cross”; it was an occupational name for someone who collected tolls at crossing places such as city gates and river fords. There is a Puritan connection with this surname, because Walter Travers was an English Puritan theologian.

Uriel (Barrah, aka Uziel Baruch)

Uriel was a Jewish butcher with a long history of being convicted for debt and theft, although he had also been a constable. His wife’s name was Judith. He was convicted of theft by the Old Bailey and sentenced to seven years transportation. He was originally going to be sent to a penal colony in Africa, an idea the British tried which didn’t work out, so he was sent to Australia instead. When he completed his sentence he returned to England; a relative seems to have taken over his butcher shop during his absence. Uriel is one of the archangels in Jewish and Christian tradition; he isn’t mentioned in the scriptures. He is given several interesting roles, one of which is to guard the gates of Eden with a flaming sword so that none living may enter; he is said to have buried Adam and Abel there. In Jewish mystical tradition, he is called the Angel of Poetry. Uriel appears several times in literature, including Milton’s Paradise Lost. His name means “light of God”.