‘How could it have come to this? All I did was to steal a dress and a bonnet.’ Beth arrives in Australia in 1788 as a convict on the ‘Lady Penrhyn’, one of the ships which were part of the First Fleet, and befriends an orphaned girl, called Molly, whose convict mother has died on board. Protecting Molly becomes a reason for Beth to survive. They are both taken as servants to a surgeon named Mr Brady who writes a diary of the first dreadful weeks in the colony, as food supplies dwindle, and efforts to grow food fail. Encounters with the ‘Natives’ also create an air of uncertainty and trepidation in the colony. Beth works with Molly in the surgeon’s garden, until she grows ill and dies in Beth’s arms. This may be one of the worst moments in Beth’s life or perhaps a moment which inspires her to live and prosper in memory of those she has cared for. This is a story of survival and a story of the bonds which we develop with others even in the direst of circumstances.
This beautifully illustrated picture book was inspired by the experiences of Elizabeth Hayward, the youngest female convict on the First Fleet. Mark Wilson’s luminous artwork contains photo-realistic detail which make these two characters very ‘present’ for the reader. Wilson’s work is a form of ‘super realism’, which he uses to emphasise important moments in the story. His artwork begins with line drawings, sketched in detailed pencil, then employs permanent markers, ink, oil pastel, watercolour and/or acrylic paint, and other media – each picture dictates the technique. The full-colour illustrations throughout are mainly acrylic paint on canvas, but he often overlays parts of these with simple black and white drawings.
This is a work of historical faction enriched by the vibrancy of the visual text and emotional impact of the written text. It is a moving account of the life of these often-forgotten children who contributed to the forging of our nation. It is a masterful work by a master of the picture book form.
The Convict Children series