* Veteran biographer Erickson ( Great Harry , etc.) focuses on Mary Broad, who was arrested for robbery in 1786 and transported in sordid conditions to the new penal colony in Australia. But the book is, more generally, a stark and fascinating account of what prisoners endured: in England, where harsh laws protected property in an era of unsettling social change; on board ship; and in the penal colonies themselves, where the convicts and their guards carved a bleak existence out of the inhospitable environment. Life was particularly harsh for women, who, in addition to the usual deprivations, also endured the threat of rape and the responsibilities and sorrows of raising children in dire conditions. 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. Despite Erickson’s speculations, little can be known concretely about Mary as an individual. Her story draws in the reader, nonetheless, and Mary’s brief moment of celebrity, when the escape and the well-timed intervention of the writer James Boswell earn her a royal pardon, provides a satisfying end to the unrelenting hardship of her life. Agent, Russell Galen. (Nov.) ( Publishers Weekly , September 27, 2004)
Prolific biographer Erickson (Alexandra, 2001, etc.) skillfully renders the extraordinary life of Mary Broad, who survived a voyage to and from a penal colony to become James Boswell’s protégée.
Born in 1769 and raised in Cornwall, Mary grew up amid filth, violence, and privation in a period of especially hard times: harvests had failed, the fish were not running, the Cornish were starving. Arrested for robbery and sentenced to be hung, the 20-year-old girl was instead sent to the recently established penal colony of New South Wales in Australia, because the British government needed people, women in particular, to settle there. In the fetid prison hulks that dotted Plymouth harbor, imprisoned with prostitutes and habitual criminals, Mary became pregnant before she finally set sail. The 15,000-mile voyage was grueling: space, food, and water were limited, diseases rampant, and sexual abuse common. But Mary survived, giving birth to a daughter en route. When they reached Australia, she married fellow convict William Bryant in order that they could acquire their own land. But crops f ailed, famine was rife, the natives were hostile, and mortality was high; realizing that their lives were even worse than they’d been in England, the Bryants decided to escape. Bringing along Mary’s daughter and newborn son, they stole a boat and sailed with seven other adults up the east coast to Dutch-ruled Batavia, some 4,000 miles away. It was an epic feat, but Mary wasn’t yet safe. Discovered and sent back to England, with both her children dead, she was once more imprisoned. Luckily, her amazing story garnered public sympathy and the support of Boswell, who determined to secure her freedom.
Compelling tale with a gritty heroine: Broad’s hardscrabble adventures forcefully remind readers that 18th-century life bore very little resemblance to an episode of Masterpiece Theater. (Russell Galen Literary Agency) ( Kirkus Reviews , September 15, 2004)
Praise for Carolly Erickson: "Carolly Erickson is one of the most accomplished and successful historical biographers writing in English." ( London Times Literary Supplement )
"An intimate, richly detailed, and candid portrait...[Erickson's] scholarly insights combine superbly with a mastery of period manners more often found int he best historical fiction." [Kirkus Reviews on Josephine }
"Carolly Erickson is a most admirable biographer