Far From Botany Bay by Rosa Jordan

Far From Botany Bay by Rosa JordanA couple years ago, I walked from our house by the university down the hill to Cadboro Bay Books for a reading hosted by a local publisher. One of the authors was Matthew Hooton, reading from his debut novel Deloume Road, and since I was about to take a writing course from him, I wanted to find out what he wrote. Another author was Rosa Jordan, and while she talked about her writing, I made a mental note to look up her books later. However, life and school intervened, and I forgot about Rosa’s books until last summer, when I won Oolichan Books monthly contest. As I browsed their website, Far From Botany Bay caught my eye and I remembered that reading. I quickly requested the book.

A few weeks ago, I finally had the chance to sit down and read Rosa’s book. I was instantly hooked. The story begins in England with Mary Broom’s sentence of transportation to Botany Bay in far-away Australia—and her subsequent daring escape by boat across the dangerous Coral Sea. The book reminded me of another series I’ve read about early Australian convicts and why I headed to Australia myself as soon as I had a chance.

Mary Broad was the daughter of a seafaring father who spent her first ten years aboard his ship. In Far From Botany Bay, her parents had a close, loving relationship and Mary was a sheltered, beloved only child. Then her father dies and Mary goes to work for the local doctor. When an unthinking act lands her in prison, Mary is sentenced to transportation. On the way, she meets two men—James and Will Bryant—who will both play huge roles in her future. Upon landing in Botany Bay, she marries Will and together, they make a home for themselves in the new prison colony.

Mary, however, isn’t happy in Botany Bay and begins to plan. The arrival of a Dutch ship bringing supplies to the prison colony gives her the opportunity she needs. Mary gathers the supplies and information she needs, recruits her husband’s team of fishermen, and launches a boat into the open sea. She successfully navigates across the notorious reefs which sank bigger ships than hers, keeps everyone in her crew alive, including her two young children, and arrives at Kapung… where the biggest challenge faces them: pose as shipwrecked sailors until an English ships comes along.

This story drew me in for a number of reasons. First, Rosa Jordan is an excellent story-teller. I wanted desperately to know how Mary’s story ended, but I wouldn’t allow myself to google it until after I’d finished the novel. I was horrified at the way so many of the people (particularly the women) were treated, and yet Mary is a strong woman who moved beyond it. Rosa clearly did her research for this novel, and I was fascinated to learn about other historical events that tied into Mary’s life, such as the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty (which I also read about as a teen).

Second, I was interested, because of my own attempts at writing historical fiction, to see how another author gets into the head of a woman long dead and retells her story for modern readers. From my own research, I have a rough idea of the material that Rosa probably had to draw on in writing about Mary, and I was amazed at how well Rosa was able to get into Mary’s psyche and to imagine what motivated her to do what she did.

Rosa Jordan began her writing career as a freelance journalist and is now the author of 12 books. Far From Botany Bay won the OneBookOneKootenay Award in 2011. Her writings “illuminate landscapes where social and political realities intersect with personal courage and compassion.” She grew up in Florida, went to university in California and Mexico, and moved to Canada in 1980. She now lives with her partner Derek in the Monashee Mountains of BC.

I received this book for free by winning Oolichan’s monthly website contest; visit their website to enter to win 6 books for yourself and your library!

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