Mel's Online Book Club: Remember Me? By Lesley Pearse

Posted at 15:53pm on 12th January 2017

I suppose I could say it was an attitude of quid pro quo that prompted me to suggest Remember Me? by Lesley Pearse as my choice for Book Club this month.  After all, the honour of having a multi-million-selling author attend the book launch for my novel, Chosen? is as good a reason as any for selecting one of her novels for us to read isn't it?

In actual fact, though, it had more to do with the observations made by Annette Shaw, Book Reviewer for Devon Life magazine.  When interviewing me for Book of the Month, Annette described Lesley’s books as containing more depth than the covers inferred.  And she was right!

I confess, however, I was a little nervous when our readers’ group met yesterday evening.  With one man among us, and a couple of explicit references to sexual activity in the book, I wasn’t at all sure how it would go down.  As it turned out, I had no need to worry.  Everyone, without exception, loved it – the more so as it was based on a true story set in the West Country where we live.

Mary Broad (married name Bryant) was a felon of the 18th Century.  The teenage daughter of a Cornish mariner, she couldn’t wait to leave home and spread her wings.  While marriage was the ultimate goal of most young women, she wanted more.  Sadly, like so many in modern times, she fell in with the wrong sort, was involved in the theft of a silk hat, was tried and convicted at the Exeter Assizes, and was sentenced to hang.  Her sentence, however, was commuted to deportation: initially to Botany Bay, ultimately to Sydney Cove.

Following a treacherous voyage to the other side of the world, during which Mary became pregnant and bore a child, she and her fellow convicts faced an equally harrowing life in the newly established penal colony.  Factor in a dashing officer by the name of Watkin Tench (whose journal in 1794 attests to much of the storyline) and you have a gripping tale.  But it was Mary’s leadership and determination to escape that gave the story its real appeal.  With a forlorn hope of stability for her children, who both died at sea, Mary and her companions were recaptured.

The topics of discussion among us ranged far and wide.  Why, we queried, were the penal colonies set up with so little forethought?  While provisions were supposedly shipped in from England, given the nature of the journey they proved few and far between. Would it not have been better to have sent non-convicts with the required skills: farmers, fishermen, builders and doctors?  And how could it be just to subject people to such appalling conditions – sometimes for fairly minor transgressions?  Conversation turned to prison-life today and the re-offending rates.  Our prisons, in stark contrast to those of the 18C, are too lax, and with neither punishment nor rehabilitation being adequate, re-offending rates are huge.

We all thought Lesley's book well-written and extremely interesting.  One comment concerned the allowance of £17.7s 6d a head for rations on the journey out, and the corruption that occurred when the convicts were underfed; another focused on the surprising revelation that there were organisations fighting against transportation.  I found it amusing to read of Mary’s understanding of the well-known phrase: In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, which gave credence to her status among the men.  A humble female of lowly birth she might be, but among the weak-minded petulance of the men, she alone stood out as leader.  

I am more than happy to award this book five stars, and would recommend it to all. To me it does so much more than simply entertain.  It makes you think!  Well done Lesley Pearse.

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