A debut biography focuses on the author’s great-great-grandmother, who arrived in Australia in 1818 at the age of 4.
Just 30 years after the English began arriving in Australia, little Sarah Elizabeth and her two older brothers (James and Henry) boarded a convict ship. Their mother, Martha, found guilty of possessing a forged bank note in England, had been sentenced to serve 14 years in Australia. But Martha died during the arduous journey, and Sarah’s father, Samuel Hale, was already serving indentured time in Australia. Sarah was therefore considered an orphan and placed in foster care, where she remained until she was old enough to enter the Female Orphan School (most likely when she turned age 5). In 1823, Samuel was able to reclaim Sarah and James from their respective orphanages (there appears to be no record of what happened to Henry), and he brought them with him to Cabramatta (now a suburb of Sydney). At only 14, she married a “government servant” (a “constable”), 34-year-old James Smith. He too had been sent to Australia as a convict. But Smith died in 1839, leaving Sarah a 25-year-old widow with four young children. She then threw her lot in with one Henry Harren, with whom she had another three children, and they eventually moved to rustic Melbourne. Although Tregear’s intent was to write a tribute to her great-great-grandmother, the slim volume is overloaded with names, dates, and extra threads relative to secondary and ancillary characters. Readers learn the broad details of Sarah’s long and difficult life, but her voice remains a mystery. The narrative’s greatest strength rests in its historical overview of the fledgling British colony that initially served as a depository for criminals. The author includes shipping manifests and legal proceedings concerning the mistreatment of prisoners during the arduous sea journeys, and she has done prodigious research into the social climate of the day. Speaking of one girl at the Female Orphan School who was disciplined for climbing a tree, Tregear writes: “The committee decided to punish Mary Ann by having ‘a log attached to her right leg.’ ”
A cluttered but historically intriguing immigration tale.