Strange But True Stories About History

Lady Juliana -The Floating Brothel of 1789

Lady Juliana was a British ship that was launched at Whitby in 1777. She transported female convicts in 1789 from Britain to Australia. She gained a reputation as a ‘floating brothel’. However scandalous that may seem, many women on board the ship would go on to play a crucial part in the history of Australia

A Very Long Voyage

After a delay of six months, Lady Juliana left Plymouth on 29 July 1789 and arrived at Port Jackson Australia on 6 June 1790. She took 309 days to reach Port Jackson, one of the slowest journeys made by a convict ship. One reason was that she called in at the islands of Tenerife and St Jago and spent forty-five days at Rio de Janeiro, and nineteen days at the Cape of Good Hope. She carried 226 female convicts, five of whom died during the journey.

Why we know so much about the voyage

We know detailed information about the voyage because her steward, John Nicol, wrote a detailed account of the voyage. He gives a fascinating account of the voyage and the convicts.

The Women and their crimes

Most of the women aboard the Lady Juliana were London prostitutes, but some were hardened criminals – thieves, receivers of stolen goods, shoplifters – among them.


Lady Juliana quickly gained a reputation for being a floating brothel. 

Nicol recalled that “when we were fairly out to sea, every man on board took a wife from among the convicts, they nothing loath.” 

At the ports of call seamen from other ships were freely entertained, and the officers made no attempt to suppress this licentious activity. No provision had been made to set the convicts to any productive work during the voyage, and they were reported to be noisy and unruly, with a fondness for liquor and for fighting among themselves.

Lady Juliana - The Floating Brothel of 1777
Lady Juliana – The Floating Brothel of 1777

Low Death Rate

Only 5 of the 226 women died on the journey. This death rate was considerably low for the time period for this type of voyage. This has been contributed to the care of the government agent Mr. Edgar and of the ship’s surgeon Dr. Alley. 

Rations were properly issued, the vessel kept clean and fumigated, the women were given free access to the deck, and supplies of fresh food were obtained at the ports of call. 

The Second Fleet

The lady Juliana was the first ship in the second wave of ships transporting convicts to Australia. The First Fleet had sailed the year before. 

This treatment on the Lady Juliana was in sharp contrast to that meted out on the other ships of infamous Second Fleet.

The Second Fleet has achieved historical notoriety for the poor conditions aboard the vessels, and for cruelty and mistreatment of its convicts. Of the 1006 convicts transported aboard the Fleet, one quarter died during the voyage and around 40 percent were dead within six months of arrival in Australia. The captain and some crew members of one vessel were charged with offenses against the convicts, but acquitted after a short trial.

Arrival in Port Jackson, Australia

  When Lady Juliana arrived at Port Jackson she was the first vessel to arrive at Port Jackson since the First Fleet’s arrival almost two and a half years before.

The ship carried letters bringing the first news of events in Europe to the settlement since the First Fleet had sailed in May 1787. 

With the colony in the grip of starvation, Judge Advocate David Collins was mortified at the arrival of “a cargo so unnecessary and so unprofitable as 222 females, instead of a cargo of provisions”. 

After repairs to her strained timbers, Lady Juliana sailed for China on 25 July 1790 to take on a cargo of tea for the East India Company. She arrived back in England on 26 October 1791.

The fate of the Ship

Lady Juliana was last listed in the Register of Shipping in 1832. Her fate after that is unknown.

Notable Women

Mary Wade

Mary was transported as the youngest convict at 11 years of age, and at the time of her death at age 82, had over 300 living descendants.

Elizabeth Steel

Elizabeth is historically recorded as the first deaf Australian. Her headstone was rediscovered in 1991.

Mary Pardoe

Mary gave birth to Ann (fathered by Edward Scott, a sailor aboard Lady Juliana) in March 1790 while making the journey to Australia. This child was the youngest person onboard Lady Juliana when she arrived at Port Jackson.

Elizabeth Perry

Elizabeth was the first female convict emancipated. She married the first fleet convict and farmer James Ruse. Together they grew the first successful crop.