Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Elsbeth Hardie, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2022.
Charlotte Badger, transported to New South Wales as a convict, was one of the first European women to visit New Zealand. Her sojourn was brief, but her passage to New Zealand on a ship taken by mutineers brought her a posthumous notoriety that is not substantiated by the surviving records.
Charlotte Badger was probably the daughter of Thomas and Ann Badger whose baptism was registered in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, on 31 July 1778. By the age of 10 she was being supported by the Bromsgrove parish, and was apprenticed to discharge her from the parish’s responsibility. At 18 she stole four guineas and a Queen Anne half-crown from her employer, Benjamin Wright, who appears to have been a needlemaker. Charlotte was tried and convicted of housebreaking at the Worcester Assizes on 9 July 1796. The crime carried the death sentence, but instead she was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.
Charlotte served much of her sentence in an English gaol. By the time she arrived in New South Wales on the Earl Cornwallis on 12 June 1801, she had just over two years left to serve. Like other convict women, she was most likely assigned to work as a domestic servant.
Charlotte completed her sentence on 9 July 1803. By April 1806 she had an infant child, and that month they boarded the colonial vessel Venus, which was taking much-needed food supplies from Sydney to Port Dalrymple in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). The only other woman on board was another former convict, Irishwoman Catharine Hagerty (variously spelled), who shared the bunk of the American first mate, Benjamin Kelly. The reason for Charlotte’s presence remains unknown, but she too may have accompanied one of the 14 crew or one of the male passengers on the vessel.
Unfavourable winds delayed the Venus for five weeks off the southern coast of New South Wales, and relations between captain Samuel Rodman Chace and some of his crew grew fractious. Chace accused Kelly of breaking into a cask of spirits and suspected others of theft. The Venus reached the mouth of the Tamar River, on the northern coast of Tasmania, on 16 June. When Captain Chace left the brig overnight to deliver some official despatches, Kelly and two others – the ship’s pilot and an army corporal – led an uprising and took over the ship.
The mutineers sailed the Venus across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, reaching the Bay of Islands by the beginning of July. Charlotte, her child and Catherine Hegarty were landed on shore, where they were given refuge by local Māori, possibly Ngāpuhi rangatira Te Pahi and his people in the Rangihoua Bay area. Kelly, a convict named John Lancashire and another child – probably the ship’s boy – were also said to have landed with the women.
Charlotte and Catherine Hegarty were kept apart from the men in their own quarters, and the local chiefs declared them tapu, so no one dared approach them. Catherine was said to have died shortly afterwards. The two men were later reported to have been captured within a few months by visiting whaling vessels, but there is evidence to suggest Kelly, at least, returned to the Venus.
By December 1806, Charlotte Badger and her child had been rescued by the Indispensible and were on board the vessel just north of New Zealand. The whaler delivered them to Norfolk Island some time in the next six months. Charlotte finally returned to Sydney as a passenger on HMS Porpoise on 13 July 1807. Her child did not accompany her and had probably died.
On 4 June 1811, Charlotte Badger married a soldier, Private Thomas Humphries, at St Philips Church, in Sydney. She was described as a spinster in her early thirties. Humphries had arrived in New South Wales as an army private in 1808 on the Recovery. He was aged about 60 and serving in the Royal Veterans Corps.
Population musters track the couple’s movements in the following decades. In 1814 Charlotte was in Parramatta with Humphries and a child, living on the stores provided to army personnel and their families. They lived in Windsor between 1822 and 1824 and were back in Parramatta by 1825 when her child’s name was recorded for the first time as Maria, aged ten.
The only other record of Charlotte Humphries is an appearance in Windsor court on 5 July 1843 on a charge of stealing a blanket, which the judge dismissed. Humphries stood sureties for his wife, who by this time was in her mid-sixties. A pensioner named Thomas Humphries – likely the same man – died in Windsor on Christmas Day that year at the age of ninety-two. Nothing more is known of Charlotte or her daughter Maria.
Captain Chace’s report stated that Charlotte remained on the Venus after the mutiny but not that she had been involved, but the report nonetheless provided the origins for her subsequent reputation as a pirate. In a public notice in the Sydney Gazette on 20 July 1806, Charlotte was identified among the mutineers who ‘by force and arms violently and piratically’ took the Venus. In the notice, Charlotte was erroneously described as a convict, ‘very corpulent, with full face, thick lips, and light hair, has an infant child’.1
This reputation was embellished by three successive writers in the Sydney press in 1895, 1937 and 1949, who created the myth that Charlotte had even led the mutiny. The myth also had her remaining in the Bay of Islands for eight years and becoming New Zealand’s first European female settler.
Instead, it can be said that Charlotte Badger and Catharine Hagerty were probably the first European females to have set foot in the Bay of Islands of New Zealand, and to live in New Zealand under the protection of Māori, if just for some weeks or months, at the turn of the nineteenth century.
This replaces an earlier entry on Charlotte Badger by Mary Louise Ormsby, published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.