The Nightingale - Movie 2018.

Jennifer Kent Director of The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent - Writer/Director.

This week, the cast and crew of the movie The Nightingale (2018), left the Derwent Valley after filming here for more than a month.

The movie tells the story of the revenge of a young convict woman in Tasmania, and the director Jennifer Kent said that she rejected the sanitised version of female convicts and wanted to adhere closely to the reality of the era. Any concern she had that elements of the story were too heinous was quickly despatched. Her research showed that Van Diemen’s Land was originally considered as a ‘hell-on-earth’, fit only for the British Empire’s worst repeat offenders, and women, as mere chattels, were at the bottom of the heap.


After a horrifying ordeal at sea to get here, they arrived in a colony where a gender imbalance saw women greatly outnumbered by and at the mercy of their British captors, and faced with the probability of sexual ‘duties’ as well as the officially articulated domestic and farm duties. From 1803 to 1813, only ninety convict women had arrived. By 1820, the ratio of males to females was still almost 10:3, and nearly 9:1 among the convict population. Female convicts were brought into Tasmania by the shiploads to address the severe gender imbalance. a roaring ‘wife trade’ saw them sold for as little as 5 pounds and a gallon of rum.

The Female Factory in South Hobart

Cascade Female Factory

Unexplained ‘gaps’ in the official records, where women disappeared but later ‘re-appeared’ on records, suggest that men of power in the colony were able to spirit them away with impunity. Some of these women disappeared into the bush never to be heard of again, and others were openly raped and then sentenced to hard labour for the crime of pregnancy out of wedlock.


But many managed to survive, and the scarcity of women then opened up opportunities for convict women as many negotiated the system to successfully merge into colonial society, marrying, creating new families, and forging new lives. Above all, convict women demonstrated a diversity of character, aspirations and behaviour, contradicting their stereotype as ‘damned whores’.

Female Factory Hobart

One of these, Betty King (sometimes known as Thackery) was transported to Botany Bay and was purportedly the first white woman ashore in Australia. She was repeatedly in trouble and was sent to Norfolk Island, and thereafter came to New Norfolk with the relocation of most of the Norfolk Island population. She ended her days in the Derwent Valley, a free woman, married with a family, and a landowner.


Betty King died aged 92, and was the last known female survivor of the First Fleet. She is buried at the Back River Methodist Church, New Norfolk.

“The Nightingale” is an upcoming Australian period thriller film set in southern Tasmania, written and directed by Jennifer Kent.

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