A powerful woman to be feared by those who tried to control her or a hapless victim and scapegoat? There is much mystery surrounding Charlotte Badger who has been given the title of "Australia's first woman Pirate".
Charlotte Badger was born in 1778 near Bromsgrove, a village outside Worcester in England. Her father was a labourer, and her family was poor. In desperation, at the age of 18, she committed what would be considered a minor crime today - she stole several guineas and a silk handkerchief from her employer in an attempt to support her family. She was caught and sentenced to seven years deportation to the New South Wales penal colony at Port Dalrymple, now known as Sydney.
In 1806 Charlotte had served five years, and she only had two years left of her sentence. She was then an inmate at the old Parramatta Female Factory and had given birth to a daughter. In April, she and her friend, Catherine Hagerty, were assigned as servants to a settler in Hobart and in late April 1806, they sailed from Port Jackson on the Venus with the child and a group of male convicts.
There have been reports that while on board the Venus, she persuaded the mate, John Kelly, to lead the convicts in a mutiny and after the success of the uprising, Charlotte became captain of the ship. However, how much truth there is in this telling is unclear. Initial reports did indeed list Charlotte as being involved in the mutiny, but her role was amplified and embellished over time. Whether the captain was initially ashamed of being overpowered by a woman or if she became the scapegoat of the story - we will probably never know for sure.
We do know that after raiding another ship for stores, the Venus sailed to New Zealand, where Charlotte and her daughter settled in the Bay of Islands, making her one of the first European women to live in New Zealand.