Jess Hill was a member and volunteer of the Society of Australian Genealogists from 1964 until her death in 1995. During her time at the Society, Miss Hill worked as a Honorary Library Research Assistant, helping others find ancestors, solve long-held mysteries, and uncover lost details about individuals across the ages. In 1970, she began to collect biographies of women convicts transported to Australia from 1788 to 1818. This was truly an astonishing research project to undertake – with records scarce, and when available, found in multiple different locations across the country. To compile and collate information on each individual convict woman was no small task, but Miss Hill took to it with aplomb. It seems that she felt responsible for uncovering their lives, and became very attached to the women, who she called her “girls.”
Miss Hill’s work gave voice back to the convict women who had, for a very long time, languished in the historical record, forgotten purposefully as the threat of the convict stain hung heavy in Australian society. She began this work in 1970 – an unusually early time to begin investigating convict ancestors, particularly women convicts. Miss Hill joined a small coterie of passionate Australian historians who demanded that women’s history be taken seriously, and women be understood as historical agents in their own right.
In 2021, Archival Manager Dr. Alexandra Mountain and Society volunteer Andrew Redfern rediscovered Miss Hill’s work, and immediately wanted to bring her biographies out of the archives and into the public. Our project, based on Jess’ Girls, is now called Ironclad Sisterhood, and hopes to further Miss Hill’s research agenda and build a searchable database of convict women filled with biographical details pulled from multiple different sources.
Joining Alexandra and Andrew, three Macquarie University students – Georgia Charlier, Alexandra Scouller, and Christina Wisniewski – joined the team, and started to transcribe Jess’ research notes. They compiled her index into a large-scale data set which is hosted on this website as a dynamic, searchable database that allows researchers, historians, and the curious alike to explore the intricate details of each woman’s journey.
Beyond meticulous research and historical documentation, Ironclad Sisterhood embraces the power of creativity to breathe life into the convict women’s stories. Through captivating biographies, AI-generated portraits that bridge the gap between the past and the present, and a thought-provoking podcast, we bring you multifaceted glimpses into their lives, trials, and tribulations.