Bibliophile | Fled tells the story of the woman who escaped Australia

by Meg Keneally
Echo Publishing

This novel is based on the life of Mary Bryant, a woman transported to Sydney Cove in the late 1780s and escaping with a group of men when starvation and scurvy was picking off the weak in the struggling colony. With two small children the small group of men, she headed out into the unknown ocean.

Although based on what historical facts have been recorded in transport logs and court documents, Meg Keneally points out that her book is a work of fiction as she has had to fill in many gaps in the narrative. Mary was illiterate so she left no record of her adventures.

Mary’s character, Jenny Trelawney, resorted to highway robbery to help her family survive and after being caught, she was sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay for 7 years. Of course, anyone who came from England in the hull of a boat was never going to get the funds for a return voyage.

Keneally immerses the reader in the horrors of the sea voyage and the abysmal conditions that not everyone survived. There was no joy when landing as crops would not grow in the sandy soil, livestock struggled to survive and no native animals could be found that resembled sheep or cattle.

By 1790, Jenny was pregnant for the second time and more ships were due to arrive. The penalty for stealing food was hanging and only fish enabled their meager survival as it was. When Jenny met Dutch Captain Detmer Smit, he spoke of a free land to the north that was rich with spices.

Keneally takes us on the treacherous sixty-nine day journey in the small boat to Kupang in West Timor and although it reflects the actual journey, it is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination that such a thing would be possible.

The epic journey continues as after a short time in clean clothes with full bellies, they are betrayed as escaped convicts and they are back in the hull of a boat. This exciting tale of the only female to successfully escape from the colony is totally immersive and includes reading group questions for greater discussion.

Lezly Herbert