Monday, November 30, 2009

Mary Bryant

I wasn't actually supposed to write about Mary Bryant today. I was supposed to write about Esther Adams. But when I looked up the name, I couldn't find anything. I must have typed the name wrong when I added her name. I did find an Esther actress on Home and Away. Maybe that's who I meant to write about. Anyway, I wasn't sure, so I decided to just skip it for now.

So, who is Mary Bryant?

Ah! She was a convict. That's pretty exciting. I didn't expect to be writing about that kind of thing today.

She was born in 1765 in Cornwall.

I feel like Cornwall has been calling out to me lately. I ran into it twice in one day last week (or the week before?). At the time, I was having second thoughts about going to Ireland. It's not that I have anything against Ireland. It's just that the Disney Vacation Club has only one resort they're doing trades with there. And it wasn't listed as one of their family-oriented places. I wasn't sure if Jack would have any fun there. SO, I asked Tim and Jack if they minded going to England instead. They were both fine with it.

 I suggested Cornwall because I had seen it twice in one day. It looks like a nice place to visit. We did some talking about Cornwall, but then it was decided that London might be better. I'm kind of torn between the two. It seems a bit crazy to go all the way to England and not visit the big famous city. But then I'm also kind of tired of doing the major touristy things. Although the last time I was in London, it was with my parents. They were totally into playing tourist...seeing the major sites surrounded by thousands of other people with their cameras clicking. Tim helped me to remember that our holidays are different than that. If we go to London, it will be about picnics in the park, people watching, little cafes, visiting neighborhood grocery stores, digging through used bookstores, playing in playgrounds, hanging out at museums, etc. Now I'm excited to go to London. However, it's highly unlikely we'll end up going there. I put us on the waiting list via Disney. It seem pretty hard to get any luck with that. We might end up having to change to Cornwall....or maybe even back to Ireland. Actually, we're probably lucky to even leave the United States. We'll probably get stuck at a hotel in Iowa or something.

Anyway, sorry. That was a long tangent there. Let me get back on track.

Mary Bryant was Cornish. I don't know what that is, but it makes me hungry. Maybe I'm thinking of Cornish Hen. Lately, I've been having a craving for poultry. That's kind of sad when you're a vegetarian.

Oh! Cornish just means she's from Cornwall. Okay. I should have gotten that.

Bryant was born into a fishing family. At some point, she left home and went to Plymouth. She ended up becoming a thief there. Along with two accomplices, she stole a silk bonnet, some jewelry, and some coins. She was caught, and sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. Bryant traveled with the First Fleet.

The name of her ship was Charlotte. It left England on 13 May 1887. It had eighty-eight male convicts, and twenty female ones.

On the ship, Bryant gave birth to a baby girl. I wonder if she got pregnant on the ship, or before. I'm guessing it was on the ship. She named the baby after the ship...Charlotte. She gave it the last name Spence. Lord Wiki says this came from a fellow convict, David Spencer. He might have been the baby's father.

The ship arrived in Port Jackson on 26 January. A few weeks after that, Bryant had herself another man. William Bryant had also been a convict on the ship. The lovely couple got married, and soon had a baby together. Emanuel was born in 1790.

Is there any possibility that Bryant was the father of Charlotte as well? I guess I shouldn't be surprised that she went through two boyfriends on the ship. Who knows. There may have been even more.

In the colony, Mr. Bryant had a fishing job. He was then caught selling fish to some convicts. I guess he wasn't supposed to do that. He got a punishment of a hundred lashes. Ouch.

Then in 1791, the Bryant family decided to try to escape the colony. They managed to steal themselves a boat, and left on 28 March 1791. The family wasn't alone. They took seven other men with them. I guess they needed the help, or maybe they wanted to help others escape. Well, maybe it was a combination of both things.

Within sixty-six days, the Bryant family and their crew reached Timor. According to Lord Wiki, it was a very impressive journey. It's famous among people interested in sea journeys and all that.

In Timor, the Bryant group pretended to be shipwreck survivors. This worked for awhile. Then legend has it....William Bryant got drunk, and bragged about who they REALLY were. Oops.

Timor was occupied by the Dutch back then. The Dutch officials sent the Bryant family back to England to stand trial. On the voyage back, Mary lost her husband and two kids. They died of a feverish illness.

Bryant expected to be either hanged or sent back to Australia. Instead, she was sentenced to a year in prison in London. If I'm reading this right, she was defended by a famous lawyer and writer named James Boswell. The public was against her imprisonment. She got pardoned soon after.
The Mary Bryant story has been featured in various plays and TV things.

In 1989 in London there was a successful play called Boswell for the Defense. Oh! And I guess they eventually turned it into a movie starring Michael Caine. Well, never mind. There was going to be a movie. It looks like production was stopped because of budgeting issues.

In 1995, there was a TV movie in Australia called The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant. It won an AFI award for best miniseries, and it also won a Logie.

I was going to watch a trailer for the program, but that's not working. It looks like they have some of the miniseries on YouTube. I'm going to watch a clip from the first part.

Wait! I think that ship officer guy is from Flashforward!

Okay. I just looked him up. It is him! His name is Jack Davenport.

I love Flashforward.

This miniseries sure has a lot of water drama.

Lord Wiki says the miniseries had the largest miniseries budget in Australia. It stresses the turbulent relationship between Bryant and the ship officer played by Jack Davenport. It sounds like a good story, although I'm not sure how much of it is true. Basically Davenport is infatuated with Bryant. On the ship, he rescues her from a storm and gets permission to take care of her. Later, she uses him in her attempts to escape. He gets mad about that.

Here we go. The Australian Biographical Dictionary has an entry on Bryant. Maybe they can give me a clue on what is true or not.

They say she was born on 1 May 1765. Her original last name was Broad.

She was arrested on 20 May 1786. She would have been twenty-one at the time. In the miniseries, they talk about her as if she's very a child. I don't think twenty-one is all that young.

In Australia, Mary and her husband William received what they needed to escape from Dutch sailors. I'm not sure if they stole the stuff, bought it, traded for it, or were just given it. Anyway, they got it. Then they waited for an opportune time to escape. They picked a moonless night that had no ships around to chase after them.

During their adventurous journey, they had a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. This wasn't quite the tourist destination it is now. I'm guessing it was pretty dangerous. Well, it's still dangerous today, but  now they've got tour guides and all that.

When they got caught and were sailing back to England, Bryant lost her son and husband first. Charlotte died a little later. Poor Mary Bryant.

 I guess some good stuff happened to her though. She didn't remain a convict, thanks to the Boswell guy. It looks like she returned to her family in Cornwall. Still. I'm guessing maybe life would have worked out better for her if she and her family had stayed in Australia instead of trying to escape. Then again, maybe not. Perhaps her son, daughter, and husband would have gotten sick there as well.

This Australia history site has some information on Bryant. According to this account, it seems that William Bryant got the needed sailing-escape equipment by talking the sailor into giving it to him. I guess he used the power of persuasion. I wonder whether he lied about what they'd be using the stuff for; or if he honestly told them they were planning an escape. The website says, In October 1790 an East Indies trader, the Waaksamheyd, lumbered into Port Jackson heavily freighted with stores from Djakarta. Her Dutch captain, Detmer Smit, felt no obligations to the English convict system. I'm going to take that to mean the captain was on the side of the convicts, and not the system imprisoning them.

The website says their journey started out easy. They found good amounts of food, and fairly friendly natives. All was well. But then the weather turned, and things became a bit more difficult. At one point, they had a major lack of food and drinking water.

At the Great Barrier Reef, they ate some turtles. That's good. I mean for the people, not the turtles.

In Timor, they had planned to wait for a ship heading back to England. I guess they planned to go back as shipwreck survivors. Did they not worry that people might recognize them? Or did they plan to go to a different part of England....away from their family and neighbors? I guess it's not like these days. They wouldn't have photos of themselves plastered all over the Internet. Back then, it was probably much easier to escape and hide. If only William hadn't gotten drunk and confessed everything. I mean maybe that's NOT what happened. I don't think anyone knows definitely for sure. Maybe he didn't get drunk. Maybe they had been playing an intense game of Truth or Dare.

I just found a book on Powells about Bryant. I think I'll add it to my wish list so I can eventually learn more. But for now, I'm going to end this and get some laundry done.


  1. I knew nothing about her, so that was interesting. Somewhere in my head is that Boswell for the Defence has a connection to Aussie actor Leo McKern. Sure enough, he starred in a play.

  2. Andrew,

    Oh cool. I haven't heard of least I don't think I have. I'll go google him.

  3. McKern was great. Starred in Rumpole of the Bailey and many other things, including a very nice movie called Travelling North.