Quantcast
Connect with us

Escape tale of first Australian convicts published in full for the first time

Published

on

The only first-hand account of the most famous escape from Britain’s fledging Australian penal colony was published in full on Friday for the first time, exactly 223 years on.

The tale of William and Mary Bryant’s escape from the first penal settlement in New South Wales on March 28, 1791, their extraordinary voyage and their ultimate recapture is well-known.

ADVERTISEMENT

Along with their two children, fellow convict James Martin and six others, they stole the governor’s six-oared boat and travelled round Australia’s east and north coasts, encountering Aboriginal peoples and surviving fierce storms.

However, the popular story is chiefly based only on a heavily-edited 1930s version of Martin’s account and second-hand tales containing numerous exaggerations and inventions.

Now University College London (UCL) is publishing the unexpurgated “Memorandoms by James Martin” in full, accompanied by expert annotation.

The hand-written account was found in the vast archive of Jeremy Bentham, a philosopher and prison reform campaigner of the time, part of which is held by UCL.

ADVERTISEMENT

Besides the escape tale, it is the only known narrative from the first convicts deported to Australia, who arrived in 1788.

“This is the first time that the original document has been made widely available,” said UCL researcher Tim Causer.

“This document should have a wider audience than it otherwise has had because it is the only first-hand account written by First Fleet convicts and it’s such a well known story — probably the most famous escape story from colonial Australia.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The escapees all survived the two-month journey of more than 5,000 kilometres (in an open cutter boat, partly through uncharted areas — a remarkable feat of endurance and seamanship.

When they landed at Kupang on West Timor on June 5, they posed as shipwreck survivors and were well-treated by their Dutch colonial hosts.

However, they were eventually identified as absconders and were sent back to England. Four convicts and the two children died en route. The survivors — Mary Bryant, Martin and three others — were eventually released in 1793 after serving out their sentences in London’s Newgate Prison.

ADVERTISEMENT

The story was made into a 2005 television film, “The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant”, starring Sam Neill and Romola Garai. It was said at the time to be Australia’s most expensive mini-series ever made.

– ‘Sink of immorality’ –

Causer said existing accounts of the escape by historians and writers “contain a number of inaccuracies, exaggerations and inventions, which are not borne out by a reading of the manuscript” and are probably down to the scarcity of first-hand material.

ADVERTISEMENT

He added: “It is often told with a focus upon the figure of Mary Bryant.

“I hope that by publishing this narrative online and fleshing out the perspective of the other convicts, it will help to create a more rounded story.”

The narrative ends with their incarceration at Newgate, and Causer said the account — which begins with the words “I James Martin” but is written by three different hands — was most probably taken down by prison staff.

“It reads as if it’s been dictated,” he told AFP, but nonetheless “it reads true”.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You can compare the documents to other accounts of people who were in the vicinity,” he explained.

“A man on the ship home spoke to them and the account he gives matches with the account of Martin. It matches up with newspaper accounts and other primary sources.”

The Bentham researcher said there was also a mystery as to how the philosopher got the testimony, but the man regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism had been gathering “ammunition” about the New South Wales colony.

Bentham tried to portray it as “a sink of immorality, a place where convicts would never be reformed and would be a constant drain on the country”, Causer said.

ADVERTISEMENT

UCL is digitizing its portion of Bentham’s archive, conservatively estimated at 60,000 manuscripts and 30 million words.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Commentary

Vladimir Putin must be laughing out loud at the bungling Donald Trump’s crazy mess in Syria: Pulitzer-prize winning reporter

Published

on

Trump Created the Bloody Disaster in Northern Syria; We Should Make Sure He Owns It

Vladimir Putin must be smiling – even laughing out loud -- at the bungling Donald Trump’s crazy mess in Syria.

Putin is the clear winner in Trump’s blood-soaked disaster. By tweeting without telling the generals his signal for Turkey to invade Syria, Trump forced American troops to flee half-eaten meals so they could escape alive. His inept (to be kind) actions then required our Air Force to bomb America’s weapons storage base in Northern Syria.

Continue Reading

CNN

‘It just didn’t add up’: Pelosi says Trump’s meltdown was triggered by simple logic

Published

on

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday said that a "meltdown" on the part of President Donald Trump came after she questioned the logic of his military leadership.

At her weekly press conference, Pelosi explained the details of a meeting on Syria that took place at the White House on Wednesday.

"I also pointed out to the president I had concerns that all roads seemed to lead to Putin," the Speaker recalled. "The Russians have been trying to get a hold in the Middle East unsuccessfully and now the president has given them an opportunity with the Kurds reaching out to them for support in Syria."

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Billionaire Trump-loving governor took $125,000 in bailouts meant for struggling farmers: report

Published

on

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) received $125,000 in emergency stabilization payments for his farms, as part of the bailout program authorized by President Donald Trump to help farmers avoid losses due to the trade war with China.

Justice, a Trump-loving business magnate who briefly switched to the Democratic Party to run for governor of West Virginia and switched back to the GOP after the election, hardly fits the profile of a struggling farmer. He is worth $1.5 billion, and owns over 50 businesses, including a network of coal mines and the Greenbriar luxury resort, a popular gathering place for Republican officials.

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.
close-image