Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Mary Louise Ormsby, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Charlotte Badger, a convict from New South Wales, became one of the first Pākehā women known to have lived in New Zealand. Her origins and the course of her life are difficult to establish with certainty. A woman of that name arrived in Port Jackson (Sydney) on the Earl Cornwallis in 1801. Convicted at the Worcester assizes in 1796 of the capital felony of housebreaking, she was sentenced to seven years' transportation. The offence had taken place in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where the baptism of Charlotte, daughter of Thomas and Ann Badger, is recorded in the parish of St John on 31 July 1778.
In 1806 she had two years of her sentence to serve, and was an inmate at the old Parramatta Female Factory, where she gave birth to a child. In April she and her friend, Catherine Hagerty, were assigned as servants to a settler in Hobart. In late April 1806 they sailed from Port Jackson on the Venus with the child and a group of male convicts.
On 17 June, while at Port Dalrymple, on the north coast of Tasmania, the convicts mutinied and took control of the ship with the help of the first mate, Benjamin Kelly. Accounts of Charlotte Badger's role in the rebellion vary. According to one, she dressed in male clothing and, armed with a pistol, flogged the captain and conducted a raid on another vessel to obtain supplies and weapons. In another she and Catherine Hagerty are said to have incited the male convicts to rebel. The captain's report stated that Kelly was the ringleader but noted that the women were enthusiastic participants. His testimony accuses those on board of drunkenness, vandalism and immorality. He was said on one occasion to have found the crew in a state of intoxication while the two women entertained them with a dance. During the voyage Charlotte Badger is believed to have cohabited with John Lancashire, a fellow convict, and Catherine Hagerty with Kelly.
With a full cargo of supplies intended for the settlement of Hobart, the mutineers were able to sail across the Tasman. Charlotte Badger with her child, Catherine Hagerty and their two partners were set down with a supply of stores at Rangihoua Bay in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. They established themselves in huts on the shore while the Venus sailed on down the coast. By April 1807 Catherine Hagerty had died. It also seems likely that by the end of the year Lancashire and Kelly had left New Zealand.
Charlotte Badger and the child stayed on. Once her shipmates had left and the supplies were exhausted, she must have been accepted by the local Māori community or treated, at the very least, with tolerance. On two occasions she was offered a passage back to Port Jackson. She refused, and in 1808 said she would prefer to die among the Māori.
Charlotte Badger's fate is not known. Māori attitudes towards her may have changed when it became known that the crew of the Venus had kidnapped several Māori women after leaving the Bay of Islands in 1806 or 1807. About 1826 a ship which had visited Tonga reported that an English woman with a girl of about eight years had landed there 10 years previously. The woman had said she was escaping from the Māori of New Zealand. Her description, 'A very big stout woman', fitted Charlotte Badger. A proclamation at the time of the mutiny had stated that she was 'very corpulent'. One account of her life claims that she finally escaped to America, and the ship may have called at Tonga on the journey across the Pacific.
Charlotte Badger's story is dramatic and unique; in some respects, however, she foreshadows a later group of women immigrants, whom poverty prevented from conforming to the contemporary stereotype of feminine respectability. Among them were those who, like Charlotte Badger, reacted to their situation with defiance and courage.