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The Girl Who Stole Stockings: the true story of Susannah Noon and the women of the convict ship Friends

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On 8th April 1811, the ship Friends sailed from England carrying 101 female convicts bound for the penal colony that was New South Wales. The crimes of the women and girls on board ranged from pickpocketing to murder, but most were convicted of theft. Susannah Noon, not yet in her teens, tried to steal four pairs of cotton stockings from a shop in Colchester. It earned her On 8th April 1811, the ship Friends sailed from England carrying 101 female convicts bound for the penal colony that was New South Wales. The crimes of the women and girls on board ranged from pickpocketing to murder, but most were convicted of theft. Susannah Noon, not yet in her teens, tried to steal four pairs of cotton stockings from a shop in Colchester. It earned her a sentence of transportation for seven years' 'beyond the seas'. It was a sentence that reverberated throughout her lifetime; she never returned to England. What drove most of these women, young and old, to crime was what helped them to shape new lives in New South Wales - the will to survive.The newly invented society they found themselves in was, in effect, that of an 'open prison'. In 1811, there were only one hundred women in New South Wales who had not arrived as convicted felons. Susannah and her Friends shipmates were free to work and marry. Most of them grabbed the chance for respectability and, in doing so, they became part of the unexpected phenomenon that was transforming a penal outpost to thriving colony. Author Elsbeth Hardie knew nothing of these women when she went in search of them. Susannah and the others remained largely silent and invisible to history. In uncovering their stories, she provides a little-known account of the convict system that prevailed in the early years of transportation to New South Wales and how these women fared. Susannah's journey would take her on to yet another new life in a whaling station in New Zealand, some years before the arrival of that country's first organised colonists. Her story becomes that of the shore-based whaling industry that drew hardened men from around the world to the southern seas and the families they gained. Later still, Susannah becomes a first-hand witness to the events that led to the fight at the Wairau between the land-grabbing New Zealand Company and Te Rauparaha and his followers.


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On 8th April 1811, the ship Friends sailed from England carrying 101 female convicts bound for the penal colony that was New South Wales. The crimes of the women and girls on board ranged from pickpocketing to murder, but most were convicted of theft. Susannah Noon, not yet in her teens, tried to steal four pairs of cotton stockings from a shop in Colchester. It earned her On 8th April 1811, the ship Friends sailed from England carrying 101 female convicts bound for the penal colony that was New South Wales. The crimes of the women and girls on board ranged from pickpocketing to murder, but most were convicted of theft. Susannah Noon, not yet in her teens, tried to steal four pairs of cotton stockings from a shop in Colchester. It earned her a sentence of transportation for seven years' 'beyond the seas'. It was a sentence that reverberated throughout her lifetime; she never returned to England. What drove most of these women, young and old, to crime was what helped them to shape new lives in New South Wales - the will to survive.The newly invented society they found themselves in was, in effect, that of an 'open prison'. In 1811, there were only one hundred women in New South Wales who had not arrived as convicted felons. Susannah and her Friends shipmates were free to work and marry. Most of them grabbed the chance for respectability and, in doing so, they became part of the unexpected phenomenon that was transforming a penal outpost to thriving colony. Author Elsbeth Hardie knew nothing of these women when she went in search of them. Susannah and the others remained largely silent and invisible to history. In uncovering their stories, she provides a little-known account of the convict system that prevailed in the early years of transportation to New South Wales and how these women fared. Susannah's journey would take her on to yet another new life in a whaling station in New Zealand, some years before the arrival of that country's first organised colonists. Her story becomes that of the shore-based whaling industry that drew hardened men from around the world to the southern seas and the families they gained. Later still, Susannah becomes a first-hand witness to the events that led to the fight at the Wairau between the land-grabbing New Zealand Company and Te Rauparaha and his followers.

30 review for The Girl Who Stole Stockings: the true story of Susannah Noon and the women of the convict ship Friends

  1. 5 out of 5

    Louise Zacest

    I don't read a lot of non-fiction but this book caught my eye. Hardie was originally a journalist and her thorough research and well structured prose provide a compelling insight into the lives of female convicts and early settlers. The more I read, the more astounded I became as the book traced the arc of Susannah's life from petty thieving to the challenges of convict life and not wholly reliable husbands and on to become the only white woman living is an isolated whaling cove in New Zealand. I don't read a lot of non-fiction but this book caught my eye. Hardie was originally a journalist and her thorough research and well structured prose provide a compelling insight into the lives of female convicts and early settlers. The more I read, the more astounded I became as the book traced the arc of Susannah's life from petty thieving to the challenges of convict life and not wholly reliable husbands and on to become the only white woman living is an isolated whaling cove in New Zealand. Through this book, Hardie has given a voice to the many many women transported to Australian shores, whose stories until now have been silent. Part academic treatise, part genealogical tale and a great yarn. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chris Mules

    A well researched and written book about an ancestor of the author who was sent as a convict to Sydney. It covers an interesting period of history in Sydney and then the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand, and skillfully blends the personal tale with its historical context. Recommended

  3. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Barron

    'The Girl Who Stole Stockings' is a meticulously researched and engaging true story about 12-year-old Colchester-born girl, Susannah Noon, who, in 1811, was convicted of stealing stockings and sentenced to seven years transportation on the convict ship, 'Friends'. The story is two-fold: firstly, Susannah’s changing fortunes and society in early convict New South Wales; and secondly, her marriage to convicted bigamist Samuel Cave and their eventual arrival in a remote whaling community in New Zea 'The Girl Who Stole Stockings' is a meticulously researched and engaging true story about 12-year-old Colchester-born girl, Susannah Noon, who, in 1811, was convicted of stealing stockings and sentenced to seven years transportation on the convict ship, 'Friends'. The story is two-fold: firstly, Susannah’s changing fortunes and society in early convict New South Wales; and secondly, her marriage to convicted bigamist Samuel Cave and their eventual arrival in a remote whaling community in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds in 1838—and being one of only two Pakeha (white) women for miles. We read of the travelling conditions on Friends and what some women did to survive. We learn of the good luck of having a moral surgeon on board, to ensure women were kept in good health, for the surgeon received payment for each healthy convict that arrived in Australia. The knock-on effect of the women’s good health was increased fertility, a soaring birthrate and a growing population (p 96). Hardie writes that “a child arriving in the colony around the aged of five years had an increased lifespan of twenty years” (p 129). The reader witnesses the ebb and flow of Susannah’s fortunes, from convict to an upstanding member of society upon marriage to her carpenter then supply-store owner first husband and, after his death, back to having nothing upon marrying renowned bigamist and scoundrel, Samuel Cave. Particularly interesting was the extent to which Susannah went to support Cave—and whether it was because of financial desperation or true love that she followed him to the remote onshore whaling settlement of Ocean Bay, Port Underwood, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. To give some perspective of what it was like to arrive there in 1838 we must remember it was both before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and before the majority of white setters arrived. Susannah and family lived side by side with Maori, relying on them for protection and exchanging supplies. I can only imagine what Susannah must have thought as Samuel erected their basic thatched dwelling on the beachfront amongst the stink of rotting whale carcasses and the pungent aroma of arrack rum. "She instead found herself remote from any concept of civilisation, living again in makeshift housing in a miserable damp climate, dealing with a rough and often drunken male society that rivaled even that of convict New South Wales and bereft of female companionship of her own kind save her daughters." (p194) There are two things that particularly struck me about 'The Girl Who Stole Stockings'. The first is the manner in which the author, Aucklander Elsbeth Hardie, braids together the general and the personal to create Susannah’s seamless story—written by a less-experienced hand, the gaps in available knowledge about Susannah might have been obvious. The second is the philosophical and societal point the author makes throughout: the lives of “lesser” members of a society often go unrecorded or unremembered. Back to my first point: I imagine at the beginning of Hardie’s research, piecing together Susannah’s life must have felt like trying to fashion a gown out of fabric pocked with impossible-to-darn holes. Despite meticulous research there were things about Susannah’s life the author would never know. But Hardie has sewn an end product—a seamless gown—utilising the technical and structural skill learned throughout her years as a journalist, PR maven and graduate of Witi Ihimaera’s Auckland University creative writing course. Hardie draws together Susannah’s story—and that of the women on the 'Friends' convict ship—by stitching together a multitude of stories of period and place, weaving them so skillfully at times it is as though the author had transported herself back in time. Related closely to the first point is the second: the value of a person’s (especially a woman’s) existence despite a lack of recorded information. For example, for many women on Friends, pleading their innocence in court was the only record of their voice for their lifetime (p 39). Similarly, regarding the Cave’s off-the-grid move to the Marlborough Sounds, Hardie writes that "Susannah and her family were not only removing themselves from any colonial oversight; they were disappearing from any officially measured or recorded society" (181). An impossible feat in today’s obsessively recorded digital times. One of the only slivers of Susannah’s recorded life in early New Zealand archives is her deposition relating to the tragic Wairau Massacre of 1843—surely a conflicting task for her considering the Cave’s close relationship and proximity to the Maori of the area, including Te Rauparaha. And so these two points—the necessary cobbling-together of Susannah’s life through what is known and recorded about her, and the general society and times; and the lack of recorded information about lesser-valued early New Zealand habitants, could have prevented this book’s publication and success. Instead, Hardie’s skilled handling of what is not known, as much as what is known, has resulted in a readable and enjoyable book revealing to a modern audience a fascinating period in early New Zealand history, through the story of Susannah, her family and her convict ship friends. The Girl Who Stole Stockings by Elsbeth Hardie, Atom Publishing, Australia, 2015. RRP NZ$39.99. Available from leading booksellers in New Zealand and Australia or order online at www.friendsconvictship.com. Disclaimer: Elsbeth Hardie is my aunt, and Susannah Noon my great-great-great-great-grandmother. This review first appeared on www.lovewordsmusic.com.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christina Ward

    This is an excellent read! Elsbeth Hardie turns a family mystery into a dramatic history tracing 12 year-old Susannah Noon’s offence, incarceration and transportation with a boatload of women and girls to New South Wales. The book is packed with historical context and detail, and yet reads like a rollicking novel. While Susannah’s remarkable life lies at the heart of the book, its range is extensive, tracing the stories of many of the women on board the ship Friends.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eric Grounds

    This proved to be a fascinating book. Very well researched and equally well written, it was the tale of transportation to Australia, based upon the experience of Susannah Noon, who conceived a complex fraud at the age of 12. She never got the goods because the shop owners rumbled her, but that didn't stop the judge sending her to Australia for seven years - and ultimately for life. She was an ancestor of the author, and I can fully understand the cathartic nature of her labours since I am trying This proved to be a fascinating book. Very well researched and equally well written, it was the tale of transportation to Australia, based upon the experience of Susannah Noon, who conceived a complex fraud at the age of 12. She never got the goods because the shop owners rumbled her, but that didn't stop the judge sending her to Australia for seven years - and ultimately for life. She was an ancestor of the author, and I can fully understand the cathartic nature of her labours since I am trying to write a similar story about the six ancestors of mine who were transported between 1789 and the late 1820s.

  6. 4 out of 5

    CJ Dainton

    An incredibly well-researched true story of convict Susannah Noon. If you have any interest in the historical Antipodes, the stories of convict women or colonization of the 19th century, you will likely enjoy this book. Factual details are rendered with gracious writing so as to convey both the harsh realities and the personal plight of these early settlers of Australia and New Zealand. Highly recommended.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Moffett

    The extraordinary experiences of young Susannah Noon Her crime: stealing a pair of stockings. Her fate: to be transported from England to the wild west penal colony of New South Wales. Her age: 12. More than 200 years after young Susannah Noon stepped on board the convict ship Friends, knowing she would never see her family again, readers of “The Girl Who Stole Stockings” can share Susannah’s experiences. We feel we are there with her. We endure the frightening voyage with her, we can see the dus The extraordinary experiences of young Susannah Noon Her crime: stealing a pair of stockings. Her fate: to be transported from England to the wild west penal colony of New South Wales. Her age: 12. More than 200 years after young Susannah Noon stepped on board the convict ship Friends, knowing she would never see her family again, readers of “The Girl Who Stole Stockings” can share Susannah’s experiences. We feel we are there with her. We endure the frightening voyage with her, we can see the dust and hear the carousing in the new town of Sydney, (only 100 of the women living there were not convicts when Susannah arrived), and smell the stink of rotting whale flesh when in later years she ended up the only woman in a rum-fuelled, shore-based whaling station in New Zealand. Often the book reads more like fiction than fact, thanks to author and historian Elsbeth Hardie’s ability to give vibrant life to otherwise obscure entries found in records in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. She takes us inside the gaol where Susannah was held after her trial, and by referring to the social and economic changes of the times, and even using some words and phrases more reminiscent of the 1800s than the 21st century she provides a very readable human context for the facts. For New Zealand readers, Susannah’s move to the whaling station in Port Underwood, before the arrival of the country’s first organised colonists, is particularly interesting. There she became a witness to the fight at the Wairau between the land-grabbing New Zealand Company and Te Rauparaha and his followers. But this is not a book just about Susannah Noon, it also traces the crimes and lives of the other 100 women on the convict ship Friends. Although we may not identify with them as closely as we do with Susannah (because we know more about her) this additional information deepens our understanding of the often reckless despair faced by these women, many of whom had had to leave children behind in England. Elsbeth Hardie’s research is impressive. She has woven her way through conflicting accounts, alternative spellings and often obscure records hidden in court transcripts, shipping manifests, coroners’ reports and colonial secretaries’ files, always with the aim of identifying primary sources. For those wishing to pursue information on their own ancestors who may have been on the Friends, she has helpfully provided 56 pages of references and a website www.friendsconvictship.com In fact, it is a book for anyone interested in genealogy - the website addresses in the reference section alone would be interesting. At the end of the book, the author lets us in on a little secret: Susannah Noon was her great-great-great grandmother. However, “The Girl Who Stole Stockings” is anything but a family history. It is an excellent, admirably researched work of non fiction which lifts the veil on, and by its existence honours, that little known group of women exiled from their home and family at a time when crimes involving possessions were treated more harshly than crimes against a person. Read it, and be thankful that was not your life.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ian Lambert

    This book appears to have started as research into the life of an ancestor and morphed into a book. There is a vast amount of detail for such a relatively short book and it is this which eventually gives an unusually clear view of society, not from Susannah Noon's perspective but from the known particulars of her life and the lives of her contemporaries. She had a challenging life with many progressions and reversals in circumstances which became more unusual as she grew older. The detail around This book appears to have started as research into the life of an ancestor and morphed into a book. There is a vast amount of detail for such a relatively short book and it is this which eventually gives an unusually clear view of society, not from Susannah Noon's perspective but from the known particulars of her life and the lives of her contemporaries. She had a challenging life with many progressions and reversals in circumstances which became more unusual as she grew older. The detail around the Port Underwood period is revealing and surprising. The whaling trade and the "Wairau incident" are both described carefully. Susannah knew Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata who were occasionally guests in her home and had Jackie Guard as a neighbour. Others have rated this book highly but I found it tedious in the way it sometimes listed people and events. At other times it is abrupt when I would have liked to know more or would have appreciated a little more predigestion or guidance. Maybe that's a bit unfair given the author's apparent original purpose. The very white and slightly polished pages with smallish black print made it physically difficult to read in some lights. For all that, it's an illuminating read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Williams

    A meticulously researched and yet entertaining read which brings to light much previously unknown information about the early settlers in both New South Wales and New Zealand. A must read for anyone who is interested in New Zealand's early history, I found it engaging and enlightening. A meticulously researched and yet entertaining read which brings to light much previously unknown information about the early settlers in both New South Wales and New Zealand. A must read for anyone who is interested in New Zealand's early history, I found it engaging and enlightening.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janine Russell

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tracie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Rodger

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katrina

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sue Halligan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shaz

  17. 4 out of 5

    DR RG DUNN

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lynne Nodder

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  20. 4 out of 5

    Peter Sara

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  22. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  23. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hyacinth

  26. 4 out of 5

    Merrin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Helen

  28. 4 out of 5

    Slava

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janice

  30. 4 out of 5

    Frances

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