Harwich Author's Tasmanian Tale Headed To The Screen

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors , Arts

Australian actors Ella Cannon and Jenna Rosenow are bringing Harwich writer Deborah Swiss' book “The Tin Ticket” to the screen. COURTESY PHOTO

In the 19th century, 25,000 women convicted of petty crimes such as stealing a bucket of milk were transported to Tasmania, then known as Van Deimen’s Land, with “tin tickets” stamped with their convict numbers hung around their necks.

Harwich author Deborah J. Swiss’s 2010 acclaimed non-fiction book, “The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women,” is about to be made into a television series by a new Australian production company founded by actors Ella Cannon and Jenna Rosenow. Cannon and Rosenow will launch Midnight Madhouse Productions on June 23 at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. The company aims to shine a spotlight on female-driven stories connected to history and humanity.

“On a personal note, I must say that after 30 years of writing, I’m pretty darn thrilled about my new partnership with Ella and Jenna,” Swiss said in an email.

“The Tin Ticket” tells the stories of three women sent to Australia for their crimes. It also tells the story of a fourth woman, a Quaker reformer who worked with the women. “Ultimately, it is the story of women discarded by their homeland and forgotten by history — who, by sheer force of will, become the heart and soul of a new nation,” Swiss’ website describes the story. Swiss, who has a PhD from Harvard, spent seven years conducting extensive historical research, some in Australia, and on writing the book. It is estimated that 20 percent of Australians are descended from 19th century prisoners.

Cannon is a star in the current Netflix film “Trees of Peace,” about Rwandan genocide. Rosenow is well-known for her roles in the long-running Australian series “Neighbours” and in Netflix’s “Firefly Lane.”

Cannon’s interest in the story of the female convicts was piqued when she was watching a documentary “that made a quick mention of women on the convict ships from the U.K. to Australia,” she said in an email interview last week. “I realized in that moment I’d never considered women in this story before, and decided to research it. I stumbled on Deborah’s book and after reading it immediately shared it with Jenna. From that moment we were both determined to make sure this story got told.”

While both women were familiar with the male convict story, “no one ever told us about the incredible women that built our country on their backs,” she adds. The stories offer hope, sisterhood and survival, “all in the face of unspeakable horror. The story is an incredibly-powerful reminder of the strength women can find in one another and we are so excited to be a part of sharing it.”

The story is timely now, too. “Unfortunately injustices continue to be suffered by women all over the world.” Cannon points to Ukraine, Afghanistan and Africa as places where injustices are occurring. “We are trying to bring awareness through storytelling to…help give a voice to those that have been silenced throughout history.”

The women plan to tell the story through a serialized historical drama, and have mapped out the first three seasons of television. They see a potential for additional seasons and spinoffs. “We’ve recently finalized our pitch and are very excited to begin sharing our vision,” Cannon says. They are seeing “really exciting interest” in the project.

What does it involve to develop a project of this scope?

“A lot of stress, sleepless nights and Googling if it’s possible for your brain to actually melt,” Cannon says. “It’s been a wild ride, but one we are both thoroughly enjoying.” Once a team is assembled, the enterprise will move into pre-production. “We feel very lucky that the flagship project for Midnight Madhouse Productions is a passion project, and one that we wholeheartedly believe in. Mark our words, this story will be told.”

While both women are actors, “we felt it was important to take a jump from in front of the camera to behind it, because we wanted to be a part of instigating the kind of growth we’d like to see. It’s no secret that empowering, female stories are still making their way into the spotlight and we can’t wait to help shine some light on some very deserving women,” Cannon says. “As actors we’ve often felt like participants in male-focused stories. In an industry where it’s very easy to get pigeonholed into categories, we have had many assumptions made about us based on appearances rather than ability.”

The event “Bringing ‘The Tin Ticket’ to the Big Screen” will be moderated by Mindy Todd of WCAI on Thursday, June 23 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, 60 Hope Lane, Dennis. Admission is $12 for members and $15 for non-members. Swiss, Cannon, and Rosenow will all participate in the discussion and Q&A. Swiss’s husband, Digney Fignus, will perform his original song “All for Love,” which honors the survivors in “The Tin Ticket.” Proceeds will be donated to the museum. Weather permitting, the presentation will be held in the museum’s Sculpture Garden. For tickets, visit ccmoa.org. “The Tin Ticket” is available in the museum’s gift shop.