Review Blog

Jun 12 2014

Convict girl by Chrissie Michaels

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Scholastic, 2014. ISBN 9781743620151.
(Age: 10 +) The title of this story does not do it justice. Mary Beckwith's diary of her experiences give the reader so much more than tales of mistreatment, irons, chains, floggings and the chain gang.
The story begins with the transportation of Mary and her mother, after having been convicted of stealing some cloth from Ball's Linen Drapers. Mary reflects a little on her time at Newgate Gaol which she describes as 'a fearful place where pickpockets, food snatchers and cutpurses and all manner of felon ended up'. Then begins their time in the colony where they are both eventually assigned to work for Judge Atkins: Mary as the nursemaid to the Judge's two girls and her mother as housekeeper. The story alternates between Parramatta and Port Jackson where Michaels creates a clear sense of the life in those places.
But the real story begins when Mary is invited to care for the ailing Captain Baudin, the French explorer, on his attempted circumnavigation around the Great Southern Land. Through Mary's eyes we sympathise with Baudin as he struggles daily with his officers, who being scientists, often refuse to do the work required to 'keep the ship afloat'. We further see Baudin's passion for his task of collecting a wide range of specimens from this new strange land. Also of note is his relationship with Matthew Flinders and their famous meeting at Encounter Bay which would resonate with South Australian readers.
Such is the authenticity of this story that many of the names of people and places can easily be confirmed and, as is the case with this reader, it created a desire to know more. The historical notes at the end go some way to satisfy this.
Even if she says 'Lawdy' much too often Mary is a lively and often fearless character with whom the reader can engage. She is loyal to her friends and has a propensity for trouble both in action and in speech which endears her even more.
Convict girl has its feet firmly based in historical accuracy and would appeal to anyone with an interest in our early beginnings.
Barb Rye

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