In an act of mass hypocrisy, the 19th century British were fond of wagging their fingers at the U.S. for her continued dependence on slave labor. Meanwhile, they were transporting their criminals - particularly those undesirable, subhuman Irish - to their new "colonies" in Australia and New Zealand. The actual details of these voyages, which are many times very similar to the African experience of the middle passage, are best left to Horror on the High Seas week. For our purposes today, though, suffice it to say that transportation was frequently a fate worse than death and that people would do just about anything - from selling their souls to suicide - to escape.
In 1806 Catherine Hagerty arrived on the shores of Port Jackson. The Port would eventually become the city of Sydney but when our heroine first gazed upon it, there was nothing but a shanty town. In April, she was aboard the brig Venus when in dropped anchor. The ship's Captain, an American named Chace, did not seem particularly thrilled to be hauling human cargo. He was a humane commander, however, and he allowed his captives to roam the ship unlike some who chained men, women and children in the hold for the entire voyage. To his further chagrin this kindness came back to bite him. Our lady pirate managed to seduce his first officer and the man neglected his duty over her.
Catherine is somewhat of a mystery. There is no surviving documentation as to why she was sent down, but what information we do have about her explains eloquently why she was able to seduce the officer away from his watches in order for her to obtain her freedom. Catherine, it is said, was "much inclined to smile" with a "fresh complexion", blond hair and a husky voice. The word "nubile" is used for Catherine more than once and it isn't hard to imagine that her favors were at the very least promised in exchange for help.
The ship was bound for Tasmania as it's final destination, where an even less hospitable "settlement" awaited Catherine for life. Between the stop over in April and the arrival of Venus at Tamar harbor in June, Catherine's plan began to take seed. She enlisted a fellow convict named Charlotte Badger, convicted of picking pockets, to help her. Charlotte was a thick set woman, less attractive than Catherine and the mother of an infant. Still, it is not hard to imagine that Charlotte also used her femininity to pull crewmen over to the notion of helping the transportees escape. By the time the ship had reached Tamar, Catherine's First Lieutenant was accusing loyal crewmen of infractions against the ship and Catherine herself had somehow managed to obtain ship's papers - possibly the sentences against she and Charlotte - and throw them overboard. Open mutiny was in the offing.
As if unaware of the trouble, Chace allowed shore leave on June 16th and pulled across to spend the night aboard another ship. While he was gone, Catherine's plan went into affect. By now she had three loyal sailors willing to do just about anything for her. They locked up the officer of the watch, Second Lieutenant Richard Edwards. The remaining seamen aboard - eight in all - were given an ultimatum at gunpoint. Three chose to join the mutineers. The remaining five were forced off the ship. Edwards, for some reason, decided to join the group as well and by dawn they had Venus under sail heading out of port for New Zealand. Captain Chace must have been flabbergasted to see his own ship baring away when he came up on the deck of his host the next morning.
The sailors were now just as criminal as Catherine and Charlotte but for most of them it seemed that the whole thing was great sport. They dropped anchor at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and further deliberation followed. Here Catherine prevailed once again. She and Charlotte were allowed to leave the ship. Along with them came the First Lieutenant, a convict named Lancashire who may, by that time, have been attached to Charlotte and of course Charlotte's baby. They would set up huts above the Bay and live free and easy off the land. Or so they imagined.
Those who did not come ashore sailed off aboard Venus and began a series of raids on local villages, kidnapping Maori women and subjecting them to sex slavery until they were tired of them. They would then sell the women to other Maori's ashore and start the whole process over. This, as one might imagine, incurred the wrath of the native New Zealanders but the seaman and convicts aboard Venus seemed oblivious to the creeping doom they were bringing down on themselves.
No one in our story came to a good end and by 1809 all but one of them was accounted for. Venus was captured by Maoris while taking on water. The men aboard were slaughtered and the ship was dragged ashore and burned. The First Lieutenant and the convict Lancashire were seized by two separate British ships and returned to England for hanging. The Lieutenant informed his captors that Catherine Hagerty, with her ready smile and blond hair, had died of disease soon after arriving on shore.
Only Charlotte Badger managed to escape, or so it seems. What became of this bit player in the great drama can only be speculated at for she was never properly heard from again. An American whaling captain claims to have come across a white woman in Tonga living with a native man. He says she told him she was Charlotte Badger but we've no way of knowing. All we know now is that plump Charlotte, who seemed to simply have followed nubile Catherine's lead, has come down to us with the moniker of Australia's first female pirate.