Debt, Seduction and Other Disasters

Debt, Seduction and Other Disasters

The birth of civil law in convict New South Wales

By Bruce Kercher


Based on a detailed study of Australia’s earliest civil court records - a million handwritten words about daily life and trade - Debt, Seduction and Other Disasters covers the turbulent years in the penal colony. This was a period when starvation was barely averted, emancipated convicts contended with one another to become wealthy through trade, and Aborigines fought for their land. Soldiers and governors struggled for power, culminating in the overthrow of Governor Bligh, the only military coup on Australian soil.

In this important and entertaining book, Kercher:

  • shows the remarkable egalitarianism of life in the colony, even for serving convicts and married women
  • discusses the invention and legal consequences of tickets of leave and the central role of law in creating the local version of freedom
  • reveals details of daily social and economic life unavailable elsewhere: the seduction cases and sexual scandals; details of the wheat farm at Woolloomooloo; the problems of the grain growers at the Hawkesbury
  • provides unique information about working conditions of:
    • convicts
    • the seal killers in New Zealand and Macquarie Island
    • sailors
    • the very few Aborigines who worked alongside Europeans
  • details:
    • the first case in Australia in which an Aborigine sued (he lost)
    • the first recorded sale of a wife (at Windsor in 1811; sale void)
    • the case in which Mary Reibey was alleged to have blown up the bakery next door (she won)
    • the sharp practices of Tommy the Banker, Dick the Needle and the petty bankers who deliberately wrote their documents in fading ink
  • describes the lives of the convict women who lived with officers but were abandoned
  • explodes the myth that rum was a major currency and explains the use of alternative currencies, such as wheat, and 
  • establishes the crucial role of pigs in town life.

Published June 1996
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862872004
Australian RRP $27.50
International Price $25.00