'Australasia' Convicts
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A Drift of 'Derwent Ducks'

cover image for A Drift of 'Derwent Ducks'TITLE: A Drift of 'Derwent Ducks'

SUBTITLE: Lives of the 200 female Irish convicts transported on the Australasia from Dublin to Hobart in 1849

AUTHOR: Trudy Mae Cowley

PUBLICATION DATE: paperback 2005, eBook 2014

PUBLISHER: Research Tasmania


SIZE: 400 A5 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9756784-4-2


paperback version sold out, ORDER eBook version NOW AVAILABLE

Winner of the Kay Daniels Award 2006. Citation.

This is awarded by the Australian Historical Association biennially for outstanding original research with a bearing on convict, heritage and/or early colonial history to self-government/independence.

A Drift of 'Derwent Ducks' is a study of the 200 female Irish convicts who were transported to Van Diemen's Land from Ireland in 1849 on the Australasia. These women had suffered through the Irish famine yet many of them made a new life for themselves in Van Diemen's Land, most marrying and settling down to raise families.

The study focuses on their lives and the connections between the women from their time in Ireland through to their deaths. The book, published in November 2005, is a valuable reference and resource for historians, genealogists and family historians.

The book is fully indexed and contains 16 pages of illustrations. The first edition came with a CD containing biographies of the 200 Australasia convicts (Chapter 7). These biographies can now be downloaded from this website.

The first edition sold out in 2010, having received many positive comments and reviews. The book cover provides reviews from Professor Lucy Frost and Dr Alison Alexander.

Revisions to the biographies are currently being made—some are already available on this website.  An eBook version of the book is now available for purchase.

An outline of the book is provided below. Links to the indexes for the book and the biographies are also provided below.


Read the citation from the Australian Historical Association, reviewers' comments and unsolicited comments from readers.

Citation for Kay Daniels Award 2006 from the Australian Historical Association

This is an impressive piece of scholarship, based on a wealth of original research, determination to dredge up and present every available piece of information about the 200 Irish women at the centre of the study, and a desire to recreate their humanity, their life experiences and their world.

It provides a valuable reference point and resource for any future research in all relevant areas. The quoted material with which the book abounds comes from all sorts of sources—police and court records, depositions, diaries, wills, institutional records, newspapers, gravestones, and so on—and provides insights not only into the language, attitudes and personal experiences of many of the women and their associates, but into the institutions, systems of authority and natural environment of their native Ireland and Van Diemen's Land. The book also includes a CD containing files of all known biographical details of the Australasia women.

Ken McNab
Julia Clark
Hamish Maxwell-Stewart

Reviewers' Comments

Christopher Bantick, Sunday Tasmanian

It is a rare book indeed that is capable of bridging both scholarly interest and general reader appeal.  A Drift of Derwent Ducks is such a book ... A Drift of Derwent Ducks is likely to become a standard work of reference but also be well read for itself.  This substantial book is simply a fascinating read ...

Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

It is probably true that history makes sense only when it is anchored to the lives of individuals.  This premise underpins this very detailed account ... The result ... is a wonderful image of convict life.  It goes a long way to challenge the accepted orthodoxy of female convicts as wild, promiscuous, criminal women.

Unsolicited Comments from Readers


Just a thank you for your book a drift of DERWENT DUCKS.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Hobart 1800s.  What a marvellous job you have completed with this read.  Enjoyed it so much I am on to my second reading.


I read your book A Drift of Derwent Ducks from cover to cover and it is a fantastic achievement.  I certainly appreciate the depth of your research and the time taken to produce this book.  You are to be congratulated.  Thank you, and well done.  It certainly made me view my Australasia convict, Julia Ahern, as part of the whole colonial community at the time, and put a lot of things in perspective for me.


Trudy, I wish to thank you for your attention on the delivery of A Drift of "Derwent Ducks".  I cannot thank you enough, it is an amazing book.  All I can say is thank you.


The book was FANTASTIC ... I read it in three days which is a record for me ... it was written in a very interesting and easy manner and a great lesson in history.


Congratulations.  Book is just Ducky.  I have been going to email you since receiving your book in the mail, but I have been so busy reading.  What a great result from all your research.  The ladies from the Australasia would be so proud once they got over the shock of someone knowing so much about them.  I am finding it really interesting and even if there wasn't a possible relative I would still find it interesting and helpful in understanding the hardships these women went through.  Great indexes, very well put together.


Congratulations on such a wonderful book and CD!!!!  You certainly have put together wonderful history in an interesting way.  I think it's wonderful and quite the best book about convicts that I've read.


I am reading the book slowly and reading out loud to my family, enjoying every page.


The book is fantastic.


Many thanks Trudy.  I am really enjoying reading the book and congratulations are certainly due to you.  You have certainly done mountains of research to achieve such detail as you have provided in an easy to read format.


You have done wonderful work writing these fascinating stories on so many people ... your book opens up the facts to ordinary people about our ancestors.


Congratulations to Dr Trudy Cowley on what is and will be the quintessential reference to the arrival of 200 female convicts per "Australasia" in 1849.  Ambitious in scope and executed with commanding authority that can only come from reference to the staggering number of resources used.  The bibliography itself is a major resource and I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone ...


Trudy, you have done a wonderful job, I agree this is the quintessential reference for links not only to "Australasia" convicts.


What a wonderful work of love and dedication, so meticulously researched.  I enjoyed the social and economic history of Ireland that led the ladies to work hard in their endeavours to book a passage to Tasmania, and how they adapted down under ...


Book Cover Text

The following text appears on the cover of A Drift of 'Derwent Ducks'.

Approximately 12,500 women and girls arrived in Van Diemen’s Land as convicts in the first half of the 19th century.  A Drift of ‘Derwent Ducks’ tells the stories of 200 of these women—those transported on the Australasia in 1849.  These women committed crimes in Ireland at the height of the Great Famine and were transported to the other side of the world to serve sentences of seven years to life, never returning to their homeland.

What were their crimes?  How did they endure the voyage from Dublin to Hobart Town?  How were they treated by their masters and mistresses?  What were their lives like in the female factories, hiring depots, hospitals and nurseries?  What support networks did they establish?  How did they survive?

A Drift of ‘Derwent Ducks’ answers these questions, revealing stories of the women’s hardships, their heartaches, families, friendships, relationships, crimes and deaths so far from home.

A Drift of ‘Derwent Ducks’ comes with a bonus CD containing a biography of each of the 200 Australasia convicts listing sentence and life events—an invaluable resource for historians and genealogists.

Fascinating stories of the trials and triumphs of convict women. Dr Alison Alexander, UTAS

Like the most assiduous of detectives, Trudy Cowley has tracked the women of the Australasia through a multiplicity of sources.  She brings their lives together in a panorama of suffering and success, of families often split asunder and sometimes re-configured under the difficult conditions of colonial Van Diemen’s Land Prof Lucy Frost, UTAS


Book Outline

A Drift of 'Derwent Ducks' contains the following chapters:

Introduction—background information on Ireland, the great famine, transportation, Van Diemen's Land and the probation system.

Chapter 1: The Crimes—stories and statistics about the crimes of the Australasia convicts, including information on their previous, transportation and colonial offences.

Chapter 2: The Voyage—a description of the voyage of the Australasia from Dublin to Hobart, based on the journal of the Surgeon Superintendent, Alexander Kilroy.

Chapter 3: The Employers—information on the masters and mistresses to whom the women were in service upon arrival in Van Diemen's Land, with a focus on interconnections and stories of the women in service.

Chapter 4: The Institutions—information on the institutions which housed the female convicts in Ireland and Van Diemen's Land and stories of the women's lives in these institutions, including Grangegorman Depot; the Anson Probation Station, Brickfields Hiring Depot; Cascades, Launceston and Ross Female Factories; gaols; nurseries; the Queen's Orphan Schools; New Norfolk Insane Asylum; and pauper establishments.

Chapter 5: The Families—information and stories on the families the women left behind in Ireland and the families they established in Van Diemen's Land, with a focus on interconnections and marriage under sentence.

Chapter 6: The Convicts—stories and statistics about the women, including information on age, height, religion, literacy, native place, trade, friendships, freedom and death.

Chapter 7: The Facts—a chronology of each of the women's lives, detailing information from their convict records and events from the time of their trial to their death. This chapter was originally provided on CD, but the biographies can now be downloaded from this website.

Book Indexes

A Drift of 'Derwent Ducks' contains two indexes. One index pertains to the printed book and the other pertains to the biographies (originally provided on CD as Chapter 7). If you are looking for a name, make sure you check both indexes.

Book Index

Biographies Index 

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