Mary Broad had a brief moment of celebrity, and this is probably one of the only reasons we know so much about the life and times of not just Broad, but others like her. Women who lived a hand to mouth existence, who trod on the wrong side of the law, and then suffered the horrific consequences of British Justice in the late Eighteenth century.
Broad was arrested for robbery in 1786 and committed to transportation to the extremely new colony of New South Wales in Australia. She was first imprisoned on the stinking hulks which had their own brutal justice systems on board. Later came the terrible, long journey half way round the world, only to reach Australia and suffer famine from failed crops.
Her stoicism in spite of enormous hardship and her ability to survive are testament to an extraordinary woman, and her story of survival is amazing.
Erikson has done a great job as usual drawing from sources to outline the social aspects of the time and combining them to reflect what she lived through where her accounts are limited. Certainly, there are many accounts of male life in transporation but few remain of what women’s lot were. Sian Rees published a great book a few years ago called Floating Brothel, which I would highly recommend to read with this one – it follows a transport ship of women and what happened to them on the ship and after – as the title of that book reflects it was not an easy voyage.
Mary Broad, along with several male convicts and her own young children, made a daring escape in a small, stolen boat. Perhaps fortified by stories of the survivors of the Bounty, they sailed along the Australian coast and across open sea to the Dutch settlement of Kupang in Indonesia, where they enjoyed a few months of ease before their recapture.* She was eventually returned to Britain where she was imprisoned again. Only the intervention of the writer Boswell (who was famous for his connection to the Johnson) garnered a royal pardon for her.
Erickson has been a prolific but good writer, I have enjoyed many of her previous biographies including an excellent one on the Regency period. It was a very good read. My only real quibble with it is that I felt it was less fluid than some I have read lately which have been page turners (without being tabloid). It had a nice measured pace and I found I was kept interested in the outcome to the end. Overall a nice interesting history which should appeal to a wide range of readers
Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.
* From the Publisher’s Weekly review, 2004