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Thief, Convict, Pirate, Wife: The Many Histories of Charlotte Badger by Jennifer Ashton

Updated: Aug 9

Charlotte Badger has had many stories told about her over the years. She was a woman convicted as a thief and transported to New South Wales and became one of the first Pākehā women to reside in New Zealand. But was Charlotte a pirate who joined a mutiny to take a ship to the Bay of Islands, or was she just an innocent bystander? Did she marry a soldier and return to New South Wales?

In this extraordinary book, Jennifer Ashton becomes a historical detective, sifting fact from fiction. Despite so much being written about Charlotte Badger - stories that changed considerably over time – there is little firm fact about this woman and her life. Jennifer chases down the few facts and brings to life the broader world around her in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a time of convicts, sailors and soldiers. The story goes from the English countryside, the courtroom in Worcester, to the outskirts of Sydney to Wairoa Bay.

It's a genuinely fascinating read, bringing to life a real-life woman and her place in history. The real Charlotte comes across as resourceful and brave, certainly a survivor and someone adaptable. She is certainly someone that you care about when reading her life story. It's a remarkable life, full of hardship but also wild adventure before it seems she finally found some semblance of stability and peace.

Thief, Convict, Pirate, Wife is a well-researched historical account of Charlotte Badger's life, but it's also a page-turning read that had me on the edge of my seat. This is a must for any history buff, especially those interested in plucky women with odds stacked against them.

Reviewer: Karen McMillan

Auckland University Press

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