The Schoolmaster's Daughter by Jackie French

cover image

Angus & Robertson, 2020. ISBN: 9781460757710.
(Ages: 12+). Highly recommended. Author Jackie French has cleverly used relevant facts from her own family history in the writing of The Schoolmaster's Daughter. The story is set in 1901 where changes were happening in White Australia's young history. Hannah and her family have arrived at Port Harris ready for her father to take up his post of Headmaster. Sadly their arrival was marred by their ship being stuck on a sandbar for a number of days. After escaping to the beach the ship sinks with all of their possessions and the women and two children are left alone while the men search for help. They are rescued by Jamie, a young teenager of mixed race, who takes them home to his white mother Mrs Zebediah who feeds and comforts the women. Jamie and his mother are ostracised by the community but play a significant and pivotal role in Hannah's story. Hannah has finished her primary schooling but her father does not allow her to continue her education nor will he educate Jamie. Hannah's disfigured but her outspoken suffragette and financially independent mother has other ideas and secretly educates Hannah and Jamie at the Zebediah farm. In 1901 this is scandalous and if discovered would mean social isolation for Hannah's family and terrible danger for Jamie and his mother. The local plantation owner employs Pacific Islander people to work in his cane fields in brutally shocking conditions akin to what we know of slavery in the United States.
The Schoolmaster's Daughter has so many important historical facts for consideration: the conditions married women endured, lack of education for girls after primary school, the White Australia Policy as well as the mistreatment of the cane workers, all interwoven in a compelling and absorbing story. The historical facts Jackie French weaves into her stories allows the reader to gain valuable insight into Australia's complex and turbulent growth as a nation. Themes: Family Life, Australian History, Relationships, 1900's, Women's Issues, Cane Plantations, Slavery, Racism.
Kathryn Beilby