This is a biography about a woman called Mary Broad who was born into a fishing family in Fowey in 1765. Life was very tough in Cornwall so she left home to seek work in Plymouth where she became involved in petty thievery. After being arrested for highway robbery of a silk bonnet, jewellery, and a few coins, she was committed by the Mayor of Plymouth, to gaol and then was sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia.
In May 1787, when she was only 22 years old, Mary was sent as a prisoner aboard the ship Charlotte to New South Wales. Mary gave birth on the journey to a baby, whom she called Charlotte. When she arrived in Australia, she married William Bryant who was also from Cornwall. Bryant, who had worked as a fisherman, was a convicted smuggler. He was also on the Charlotte with Mary and they later had a son, Emanuel, born on 6 May 1790.
On 28 March 1791, William and Mary Bryant with the children and six other fellow prisoners stole the Governor’s six-oared cutter. After a voyage of sixty-six days, the group reached Kupang on the island of Timor, a journey of 5,000 kilometres. Timor was then under the control of the Dutch. The Bryants and their crew claimed to be shipwreck survivors. They were later discovered to be British convicts, apparently after William became drunk and confessed in the process of bragging. To avoid an international incident they were sent back to Britain to stand trial. The punishment for escaping from transportation was generally death and Mary was sent to Newgate jail. I won’t reveal any more details of the journey back to England or what happened once the prisoners arrived there because not knowing anything about Mary’s story made the book an absolute page turner for me.
This was an excellent account, informative and very well researched. Apparently other fictional books have been written about Mary Bryant as well as a TV movie, plays and a musical. I can understand that as her story is certainly fascinating and stirs the imagination. This book is factual but extremely interesting and easy to read. It describes life in Cornwall at the time, the multiple reasons for the widespread grinding poverty of the rapidly increasing underclass - a half starved population living, quote “cheek-by-jowel with conspicuous wealth.
It describes in depth the horrendous prison conditions, the even worse conditions on board ship and the unbelievable deprivation suffered by the convicts as they struggled to survive while building everything from scratch - the houses which they made from wattle and daub collapsed in the strong winds and rain, the cereal crops rotted, the vegetables failed to thrive while disease and lack of food decimated the animals. The rations of old salted meat, weevily flour and dried peas had to be cut. Clothes were becoming ragged. Ships bringing new supplies were wrecked and there was no way to get news of their plight back to England. Major Ross the Vice Governor who hated the country, the natives, the marines, the convicts and most of all his staff was loathed by everyone in return. Discipline was harsh and disease rampant. It was an absolutely wretched existence and it was no wonder that the Bryants planned an escape, especially after William had been been punished with a hundred lashes which nearly killed him.
It is an excellent book brimming with information and suspense - absolutely gripping and unforgettable.