For educated middle-class women in nineteenth-century Britain, options were limited. 'Great Expectations' is the story of a group of intrepid ladies who forged a different path - as governesses to wild colonial boys and girls on the other side of the world.
From 1861 to 1886, women participants in the Female Middle Class Emigration Society scheme made new lives in Australia, in cities and on remote stations, in well-established families or as teachers. Often fluent in multiple foreign languages, skilled artists and musicians, the women came with great expectations. Some gained employment with well-established families or found husbands; others battled extreme loneliness and wild colonial boys and girls.
Others were great observers of the Australian character. According to Gertrude Gooch, 'All Australians ride like Arabs, love luxury and money. They live very much out of doors and eat great quantities of fruit'. The women 'are certainly very indolent and untidy', which explained their offspring: 'Australian children are just like the vegetation here for neither appear to submit to much control. Pineapples, peaches and the finest fruit grow in open air without care and the children are equally wild and impetuous'.
'Great Expectations' tells of the colonial experiences of a particular group of emigrant women, but it also tells a broader story, of emigration, education, class prejudice and the development of Australian society.