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July 19 , 2008

Far From Botany Bay


At age 21, Mary Broom was sentenced to hang for the crime of stealing a cloak. When her sentence was commuted to transportation “upon the sea, beyond the seas,” she was sent to Australia. One of the first European women to set foot on the continent, she landed in what was to become a prison colony popularly known as “Botany Bay.” Mary endured two “starvation years” as the colony struggled to feed itself. Then, in 1791, she executed the most daring escape ever attempted from that wild and brutal place on the far side of the world. How such a young, uneducated woman could have developed a plan to get herself back to England, and found the courage to implement it, is a mystery. How she persuaded eight men to accept her leadership is more mysterious yet. Her story has been told before, in history and fiction, the two generally co-mingled, as they are here. But never has the nature of this remarkable woman been so completely explored. What combination of physical endurance, psychological daring, natural intelligence, and trust in her own intuition made it possible for Mary Broom to succeed at the kind of escape that almost always ended in death for those who attempted it? And what does her story say about how much female liberation and equality have been advanced by women who never considered the concept, only its absolute necessity?
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