The Victorian era British formed societies to offer marriageable women free passage to the colonies in the so called Bride Ships which sailed into the port of Fremantle between 1849 and 1889. This was in order to counteract the “morally objectionable behaviour” and drinking in which the predominantly free and bonded male colonists were engaging, and to supply servant girls and domestic help to the fledgling colony. A combination of courage and desperation saw journeys made by women from orphanages of Cork and Dublin; from the poorhouses in London, and workers laid off from a downturn in cotton mill manufacture in Lancashire. The Bride Ships may sound romantic but the reality was hard: the conditions were appalling with sickness, lack of access to fresh air, food or medical care, and overzealous chaperones making the women’s lives miserable. These women lived in Western Australia as domestic servants and cooks; wives and mothers; farmers and small businesswomen; mad women and prostitutes. Each art work explores a woman’s story and is named for the ship on which she emigrated.
Image above: Bride Ship series, 2015; repurposed furniture, bone, lead, textiles, plant material, paint.
Images below from top: Travancore 1853; Mary 1849; Helena Mena 1881; Mary Harrison 1862.
Photographer: Eva Fernandez