Mary Bryant

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Mary Bryant : biography

1765 – 1794

Mary Bryant (1765 – after 1794) was a Cornish convict sent to Australia. She became one of the first successful escapees from the fledgling Australian penal colony.

Bryant’s Story Re-told

Bryant was the subject of a British/Australian television movie The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant, with Romola Garai (playing the eponymous heroine) Jack Davenport and Sam Neill. It was first screened in Australia on 30 October 2005 on Network Ten as a two 2-hour part series. It was screened in the UK over Easter weekend 2006 on ITV. It was not an entirely historically accurate treatment of her story.

She also featured heavily in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good, which itself was based on Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker. Both centre on the first Australian settlers’ decision to stage a performance of The Recruiting Officer, and the action ends just at the point of Bryant’s escape.

The Mary Bryant story also featured in Patrick Edgeworth’s play Boswell for the Defence. A huge success in London in 1989, it starred Leo McKern.

A musical titled Mary Bryant was written by Nick Enright to music by David King and was presented in Melbourne by Magnormos, directed by Aaron Joyner with musical direction by Sophie Thomas and movement direction by Jessica Enes.

Mary Bryant is the subject of a one-woman physical theatre show, "Oh Mary!", devised and directed by and Simon Harvey (Kneehigh Theatre and ), and performed by Bec Applebee. It has an original script written by Anna Murphy (Kneehigh Theatre, BBC Radio 4), choreography by Helen Tiplady of and a unique soundtrack recorded with award winning band and Radjel, including a special commission by Neil Davey. Currently (May 2011) touring the UK .

Escape from the Colony and Recapture

On 28 March 1791, William, Mary, her children, and a seven-man crew stole Governor Phillip’s six-oared cutter and many supplies. After a voyage of sixty-six days, Mary, her children and the eight men reached Kupang, in West Timor on the island of Timor, a journey of 5,000 kilometres. This extraordinary voyage became part of seafaring history, and has often been compared with William Bligh’s similar epic journey in an open boat of only two years earlier, after the mutiny on the Bounty. Bligh’s voyage had also ended in Timor. The trip involved navigating the then uncharted Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Straits.

Timor was then under the control of the Dutch. The Bryants and their crew claimed to be shipwreck survivors. They were later discovered to be British convicts, apparently after William became drunk and confessed in the process of bragging. To avoid an international incident they were sent back to Britain to stand trial, travelling first on a Dutch ship to Batavia in the company of survivors of HMS Pandora, a British ship sent to capture the Bounty mutineers, and then later from the Cape in the company of Royal Marines returning from Sydney on HMS Gorgon. During the voyage back William and both of Mary’s children perished of fever; Emanuel and William dying at Batavia in late 1791, whilst Charlotte died on the last leg of the voyage in May 1792.

She expected to be hanged or returned to Australia. However, Mary Bryant was instead imprisoned for an additional year in Newgate Prison, during which time a public outcry ensued, coupled with an onslaught of publicity by the famous writer and lawyer James Boswell. As a result, she was pardoned in May 1793, and the four surviving men of her crew were later pardoned as well. Boswell gave her an annual pension of 10 pounds. Bryant returned to her family in Cornwall and nothing more is known of her.

Early life

Born Mary Broad (referred to as Mary Braund at the Exeter Assizes) in Fowey, Cornwall, United Kingdom, to William Broad and Grace Symons Broad, a fishing family. She left home to seek work in Plymouth, England, where she became involved in petty thievery. After being arrested for highway robbery of a silk bonnet, jewellery, and a few coins, she was committed by J Nicholls, Mayor of Plymouth, to gaol, with two accomplices – Cathrine Fryer and Mary Haysoning – and then Mary was sentenced to seven years’ transportation to Australia.