Author: Meg Keneally
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Echo Publishing
Published: 15th April 2019
Synopsis: Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out.
Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. And when famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape, but is survival any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean?
Meg Keneally’s debut solo novel is an epic historical adventure based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant.
Meg Keneally’s debut novel, Fled, is a fictionalised account of Mary Bryant’s daring escape from the colony of Sydney Cove in 1791, after her 1788 transportation. In Fled, Meg has created the character Jenny Trelawney as her Mary Bryant stand in, and has used facts and instances from Mary’s life – such as the names and birthdates of her children – Charlotte and Emanuel, some of her family life and their names back in Cornwall (or Penmor for Jenny), and the main event, her daring escape to Coepang from Sydney Cove.
Following her father’s death. Jenny Trelawney, facing poverty, becomes a highwaywoman. She succeeds for months, until a brutal attack lands her in jail, on trial and soon sees her being transported with the First Fleet to Sydney Cove, where she marries Dan Gwyn to protect her daughter, Charlotte. They are eventually joined by son, Emanuel.
When famine hits shortly after, Jenny helps to hatch a daring escape plan with a few other convicts and her family, and they begin their journey towards Coepang (Kupang now) in what was then a Dutch colony in Timor, where they manage to hide out for months. Their journey is fraught with dangers, and Jenny worries about their survival, but as a mother, she feels she is saving her children from a worse fate in what to them, was a desolate colonial existence.
Using Jenny Trelawney to tell Mary Bryant’s story is a clever way to explore a time in Australia’s history where the voices of those invaded the Indigenous people and those forced to go to the colony – the convicts – are often ignored. We get one woman’s story here, but it is a glimpse into what life was like for these people, both living an unwanted existence following the arrival of the First Fleet. It was an era of colonialism, where only the free and powerful had any voice and ability to write history. So for many years, this was the history that was taught. In recent years, a surge in stories about the people whose voices were often left out, relegated into a single group experience – which differed from group to group – are getting a chance to shine.
And this is where books like Fled come in. Not only are we getting to read about the convict experience but are seeing depictions of how some of the convicts might have interacted with the local Indigenous people, and how the convicts didn’t want to be there at all. It is also giving women of the time a voice. Whilst there may be stories about male convicts, like much of history, the voices of the women who suffered and struggled alongside them are absent. Women like Jenny Trelawney and Mary Bryant are often silent, unless they did something of significance or something significant happened to them. In this instance, we may end up knowing their name and their general story, but their voice is still not always present. Here, Jenny at least is given a voice, and I hope to see more stories like this – from convict and Indigenous perspectives – coming out to give balance to the historical record.
Reading this book, I could smell the seas, feel the rocking of the boats, and see, smell and hear all the unease of the new colony, and its makeshift huts and how they had to start navigating a world they never thought they would have to encounter.
Whilst this falls under historical fiction, it also suits one of my book bingo categories, a fictional biography of a woman from history, which I am stretching a bit, yet I feel like it fits well here. I will post that book bingo post later in the year, as the next several posts are already written and scheduled.
Another great book by an Australian woman, that is written very evocatively, and has power and emotion behind it.