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Precious Cargo - a review


Precious Cargo, by historian Carlene Winch.Dummett of Tuross Head, and based solely on primary sources, tells the story of her ancestor Mary Turner who arrived at Sydney Cove with 103 other women convicts on the Lady Penrhyn. The author's literary style is pleasant to read, and her text is interspersed with informative anecdotes and back stories about many of Mary Turner's fellow convicts. The book is divided into two parts - first Mary Turner, and then her third fleet husband David Batty. As a fascinating teaser to what is to follow, we meet the mysterious David Batty in the challenging introduction. Several contrasting trials, with which he is involved from 1784 in London to 1810 Sydney, book-end in an intriguing fashion the rest of the story. Mary Turner was one of the seven Worcestershire women who have featured in other recent publications, but in Precious Cargo she takes the main stage. Many of the women are featured in the second chapter where the reader is given an outline of their crimes and court cases, and where the author-historian comments on the well-known range of punishments meted out. The third chapter gives us Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth's account of the voyage. This comes across as an in-depth study of the man himself and his changing attitude toward the women in his care. Supportive and positive at first, his opinions gradually alter and eventually become quite vindictive. By the time Sydney Cove is reached and the women allowed to shore Bowes Smyth has nothing kind to say. Our author puts this final peevishness down to the surgeon's not being invited to the official reception. Mary's story on Norfolk Island and back in Sydney is eventually told in some detail, especially the interesting anecdote when Mary, possibly unaware of the danger she was in, is caught up in administrative legal politics raging in March 1789 and threatened with execution by Marine Captain James Campbell. Reading history afresh can always reveal incidents we have not come across before. Of note was the fact that 'all children born at sea would be accepted as belonging to the Parish of Stepney (P 36). Again, in chapter 4, we learn that while exploring the Botany Bay foreshore with John Palmer Bowes Smyth became hopelessly lost 'in the woods' when confronted by some aborigines. Your reviewer enjoyed this book and recommends it for those who would appreciate a somewhat fresh approach to Lady Penrhyn convicts. Over 70 of them are mentioned in the text, but alas, there is no index, either to them or to some of the men of the First Fleet as well. In summary, a most rewarding and informative book, a worthy addition to First Fleet libraries. Book review by the editor of Founders Magazine of the Fellowship of First Fleeters Note: For those venturing to Tuross Head the book is available for sale at the Tuross Head Post Office otherwise contact the author on cawinch@bigpond.com about obtaining a printed copy. The book may also be downloaded from the website: www.seaspirit.weebly.com.


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