Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zed . . .

Z is for Zed, the last letter of the alphabet, the end of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, my 24-entry excursion into aspects of the history of Van Diemen's Land.

So today, I end with the beginning. The First Australians.


This online video overview, hosted by Australian broadcasting company SBS, in 4-5 minute clips, introduces the longer seven 54-minute segments that took six years to create. The entire series traces the journey the first Australians have taken -- from migration and isolation from 'mainland' Australia (a time leap of some 70,000 years), to the first interactions with European explorers, from the 16th through the 21st Centuries, and ending with the great awakenings of self-awareness and the fight for political and legal recognition with very real land rights.

Two impressions stand out for me from this lovely overview. The first, a clumsy painting (most likely water color) that shows early aborigines dancing corroboree with English troops within a few days of the landing of the First Fleet in 1789. An early report says on first sight of the English led by Governor Arthur Phillip, the aborigines "danced furiously" and then vanished into the woods.

The second is harder to put into words. The faces of the descendants of these First Australians carry a sense of pride and sadness, commitment to change, sorrow for what had been lost. For the aborigines did not understand European concepts of land. To these First Australians, land was never something to be occupied and tamed. They were a part of the land, a gift from the ancient ancestors; they were the owners of the land, charged to care for it and protect it. Water holes were sacred. The geography was shaped by these ancient ones, and from father to son, certain responsibilities were transferred.  How could such a responsibility be taken away by the planting of a flag of a foreign king? The land was already occupied by these people and their traditions.

So as I continue to work on Years of Stone, even though essentially the story is not about them, somehow I want to capture some sense of their inner life, and in the 1840s the sense of cultural loss and displacement, the great divide that then existed between convicts, settlers, the government, and the First Australians.

NOTE: The complete "First Australians" is available online (in seven 54-minute segments) at http://www.sbs.com.au/firstaustralians/ or in book form through amazon. Wikipedia lists a brief description of each segment. If I lived in Australia or Tasmania, I would be haunting the library. Here in the wilds of eastern Washington, such research materials are scarce, so I am very grateful for online research and that this video program has been posted. If I had not written of this video today, I would not have learned the longer version is online! This means Z is for Zed, the end, but in reality, my research continues . . . as does the writing!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Yemmerrawannie . . .

Sometimes we are drawn by the new and different, that far place, unknown, that will shake us into becoming perhaps a different, better person. We don't realize that each day begins 'new and different,' that we define ourselves by our routines, even so small as writing an A-Z Challenge every day.

What if our established routine were something that to others was new and different?

Today's post explores such a person, Yemmerrawannie, born (historians guess) about 1775 in Botany Bay.  Governor Arthur Phillip pretty much adopted this young man (with another, more well known aborigine, Bennelong, the names of both aborigines reported with great variety of spelling). Both were taken to England in 1792 with Phillip. Yemmerrawannie died there in 1794, at 19.

I'm remembering Ghandi's descriptions of his visit to a cold and rainy London in the 20th Century. How different would Yemerawannie's experiences have been as a young man in the 18th Century, so far from his home, barely colonized New South Wales, as he visited crowded, industrial London. What were his impressions before he died, most likely of pneumonia?

But this contrast between a nomadic life lived close to nature and Victorian England is not the real story at all. I now have extreme book lust for Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton's First Australians.

The real story is darker, not about experiencing the new, though that occurred. The real story is about what happened between the colonizers and the colonized in the early days of settling New South Wales, this great, unexplored and stark new land; the delicate negotiations between Governor Phillip, leading a starving colony, and those who knew the land. Interactions between the two groups were always fraught with cultural misunderstandings and violence. Letters, diaries, and records hint of paternalism and that great belief that English values and beliefs trump all else. This backdrop sets the tone for the next several hundred years.

I'm left realizing that history is not fiction.

I have ordered First Australians via interlibrary loan. Excerpts may be read online at Google Books. Sources consulted: The Folorn Hope, Google Books: First Australians. UPDATE: Just found the First Australians television production online. Another fascinating resource!

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for Xerox . . .

As I glance around my home office, the printer/scanner blinks at me. I can remember when making a photocopy seemed close to a miracle. One of my first jobs involved loading paper into the massive Xerox printer that took up its own room. I had to fan the paper just so to avoid a jam, and God help me if I made a mistake and printed too many copies. That paper was expensive! And back-to-back copying? Binding?

Now I can tap dance my way over to any number of PODs or e-readers or even behemoth amazon.com and wearing the proverbial robe and bunny slippers, use my computer to order books, essays, articles, delivered by paper or paperless. The death of libraries is predicted. Not by me. I have far too many books (and several library cards) to believe one day the brick-and-mortar library will disappear. At least, not before I do.

But the real issue for writers (and for me) is understanding how this fabulous technology affects the publishing industry. Over the last several years, we've gone from raised eyebrows and sniffs over self-publishing to a rapidly growing market that big names now enter.

As Rick Bylina says, we have to do it all. Draft, write, edit, polish, edit, and then, if that were not daunting enough, find an agent. Or, today, maybe not. The brass ring calls. Does it mean I can write the book and then design the cover, proofread the bloody thing at least two or three more times, (by this time, wouldn't I hate nearly every word?), and evaluate which company could best 'publish' my book? And then, as if the next book were not calling me back to my computer, then, wouldn't I need to worry about distribution, marketing, and perhaps the most difficult of all -- self-promotion? And not just worry but actually (sigh) treat my writing as a business? When most days I'm thrilled to just keep writing?

Forgive the rant. I know that these various computer-driven technologies will continue to transform writers and how we write. I can't just say it's all the fault of Xerox. Or was that Xerxes?

This letter in cuneiform was sent to the King of Lagash, to tell him his son died in battle (about 2400  BCE) (source Wikipedia). A librarian at the Philadelphia Library Rare Books Department once brought out such a tablet carefully preserved in a tiny box. Parts of this tablet had crumbled to dust, for people once touched the tablet. Perhaps paper books will be like that one day, preserved in museums, accessible only online.





Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Whaling . . .

Whales. I've seen them off the coast of Oregon in the spring. Massive creatures move slowly up the coast in pairs or alone, their spouting a marker for boats with tourists come to gawk, take pictures, and marvel.

In 19th Century Van Diemen's Land, Robert Hughes reports the Southern Seas were "a vast, undisturbed sanctuary" for whales and seals. Whaling and sealing made up most of the export wealth for the "Currency lads"  (native-born white Australians) (331). At that time, millions of black and sperm whales came to small coastal bays in Van Diemen's Land, southeastern Australia, and New Zealand to mate and calve. Millions of whales.

Whalers went out in small boats to kill their prey, joined by whalers from England and America. The crews came from everywhere -- China, India, Indonesia, Africa. Some left their ships in Van Diemen's Land and some convicts, using forged tickets of leave, talked their way onto whalers in a bid for freedom, only to find a different kind of servitude for, as Hughes writes, they could not leave their ship for fear of re-arrest.

This short (3 minute) overview "Plundering and Poaching: Tasmanian Whaling History" (by the Australia Network Production) shows Hobart Town in late 19th Century with commentary, including a mention of the Reverend Robert Knopwood, a famous diarist who also served as an acting magistrate and held the first services in Van Diemen's Land.


This morning's research also brought me to Fanny Cochrane Smith, who once lived at Wybalenna on Flinders Island, where aboriginals were resettled following their forcible removal from Van Diemen's Land (taken following the Black Line (1830), and where Lady Jane and Lord Franklin visited ultimately to adopt Mathinna. Conditions at the Queen's Orphan School are briefly mentioned here as well, conditions I'm guessing did not change markedly through the 1840s (the period of my story).

OK, now back to WORK on actually WRITING.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Van Diemen's Land . . .

"Transported over the seas and far away . . . to Van Diemen's Land for a period of seven years." Van Diemen's Land was England's colonial dumping ground to solve the problem of bulging prisons. In fact, the early governors of VDL ran the colony as a vast prison. Lady Jane Franklin (1791-1875) was the first to attempt to remove the 'convict stain' by referring to the island as Tasmania, after Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer who discovered this large island south of Australia.

Interesting what myths we build of our nation's beginnings and how these shape our national identity. In the United States, the earliest settlers came in search of religious freedom, that no government could tell a group of believers what to do, thus rebellion from the earliest days, culminating in separation from the homeland and a historical separation of church and state. Land was wrested from resident Indians, and this very rich land led settlers to move west in a stubborn, restless search for Nirvana, under no man's thumb.

In the Carribean and South America, successive waves of second sons of the Spanish and Portuguese dons (and other exiles) created vast sugar plantations, a slave-based extractive economy that would allow them to return home wealthy. Many never intended to stay.

And in Van Diemen's Land and Australia, begun with convict labor, men and women were exiled from home, denied their history, shamed to admit any ancestor had been a convict. Following World War II, this began to change. Robert Hughes, in The Fatal Shore (158), argues that the Australian working class, shaped by 19th Century battles with land or factory owners, remembered and retold stories about their convict forebears, these heroes who survived what seemed impossible conditions -- the whip, the fetters, the servitude, the 'convict stain.'

Today, having a great-grandmother or great-grandfather who was once a convict is a source of pride. For they survived.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unmask . . .

This morning I'm thinking about how I come to know my characters. They're rather like 'real' people I come to know gradually. Only very, very slowly do I understand why they act as they do. Others have written about various strategies, but the whole issue of world-building and understanding motivation seems very murky to me.

I've tried the list method, plumbing deep into surface description, their wrinkles and warts, the color of their eyes, what they might like to eat for breakfast or, for heaven's sake, never touch at all. Identifying their secret nightmares and phobias (snakes?) is more fun. Their irrational acts or 'mistakes' or quick tempers. What would cause them to curse or fight or run away entirely.

Sometimes I'll find a photo of someone and recognize that person as one of my characters, somehow loosed on the world. Or I'll have one character fantasize about another and dream them into being.

But it is through action that I learn most about who my characters are, through what they choose to do. For it is in the moment of conflict that we are unmasked and our own character revealed.


Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Theme . . .

Someone once said that each writer has a theme that is unique, that each story in that sense is the same as the writer retells or reworks out this same underlying theme in every story. I always imagined the theme as some great tuning fork that resonated deep within the story, a kind of universal harmony, but I've never wanted to imagine or investigate what my theme is particularly. A variation of 'don't look in the mirror too closely for you may not like what you see.'

My theme, though, is no matter what the provocation or how terrible the situation, that goodness prevails. I would like to believe that is true. I've always liked the existentialists who said if there is no God, then Man would have to invent a god to bring order out of chaos. For perhaps without a god of some sort to measure out rewards or punishment for acts here on earth, there would be no reason to be good. At least this theory explains evil.

So too do Eastern philosophies of reincarnation revolve around some growth of the soul. If you are not good in this life, you will be born again (fill in your least favorite being). Or karma, what you send out comes back to you.

This may be a universal truth -- to strive for good. Christians follow the commandments and turn the other cheek, even to the point of sacrificing what they love most. If they sin, they are forgiven if they but believe. Who can forget "Do unto others as you would have done to you"? Before the Christians were the Jews: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor."

Voltaire in Candide literally puts his silly, naive, and innocent characters through a series of disasters only to have them conclude, "We must tend our own garden" (i.e., do good within our own community), for "all is not for the best in the best of all possible worlds" (Voltaire's answer to another philosopher, Leibnitz).

So my sister says (before breakfast and before coffee) that T is not for Theme, it is for Theology. She's a smart cookie and yet optimistic. She says that faith is believing in what you can't see and that curiosity (rationality) and the search for meaning (structure out of chaos) lead us to act as we do to survive. Let it be for the good, regardless of our personal beliefs.

Should my stories ever be published, you can count on my hero and heroine trying to surmount evil. Even if it seems impossible, they will survive, become better people, and within their abilities, do good in their world. I try to do the same. And if there is a God, perhaps that will be enough.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Guest blogger at Rick's . . .

I'm a guest blogger this Friday at Rick Bylina's blog. The link:

"Up Against the Wall, Baby!"

If you're working on a massive writing project, you may find using "the wall" another way to stay organized and to keep those words flowing.

Thank you, Rick, for your interest in writing and kindness to me. And, as Rick would say, "Writers write!" So write on, and may your writing go well!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Sisters . . .

S is for Sisters today because mine flew up from Tucson to visit me for a wickedly quick weekend. I think she might eat sushi for the first time (she's still a little squeamish), we'll visit a few fabric stores, and then we'll walk along the Spokane River where the ice melt has begun and the river thunders west. Later we'll go to Manito Park and a Japanese Garden. Today the sun is shining. All is well.

If I were to really write today, I'd write about the sealers, how they took aboriginal women from their families, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, and then kept a family of 'wives' on tiny islands to hunt and kill and then skin seals along Bass Strait, just north of Tasmania.

And though I have no sisters in my story, there is a sense of community between the women characters, for there must have been. The women were outnumbered and vulnerable. If they were married to someone of the upper class, they were protected. But the rest, whether single, wives, sisters, or daughters, were often stereotyped and treated as prostitutes from the earliest days of colonization. Robert Hughes reports that 80% of the 24,000 women transported to Van Diemen's Land were sentenced for theft -- a length of cloth, three chickens, what we would call petty crimes today. Perhaps 1 in 5 women were considered "on the town," that is, outright prostitutes (see Hughes, The Fatal Shore,  244-245). 

Ah, the coffee is ready. So, S is for Sisters, and thank goodness for Sunday being off from A to Z Blogging Challenge so I have time for mine!

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Rum Song . . .



Rum was the favored drink down by the waterfront in Hobart Town in 1842. Robert  Hughes, in The Fatal Shore (292-293) asserts that it was the unusual man (does he mean working class man?) who did not drink, for conditions were so bad. Apparently men drank themselves oblivious -- sailors, soldiers, ticket-of-leave men or pass holders (those convicts lucky enough to have permission to work outside one of the many prisons or probation stations).

The Rum Song was written around 1830 and is helpful in establishing the mood (defiance) and slang of the time.

Cut yer name across me backbone,
Stretch me skin across a drum,
Iron me up to Pinchgut Island
From today till Kingdon Come!
I will eat yer Norfolk dumplings
Like a juicy spanish plum,
Even dance the Newgate Hornpipe
If ye'll only give me Rum!

I tried once to figure out what grog tasted like, a mix of water and rum served on sailing ships, but I didn't like it. I probably watered it down too much. Hughes explains that "Norfolk dumplings" are 100 lashes and the "Newgate Hornpipe" is a rather visceral description of how those hanged at the infamous Newgate Prison would kick their heels and twitch as they died.

I'm writing about men in prison this week, so my thoughts are rather grim. Usually I sink down into the story and try to feel what my character might have felt, a rather intuitive approach. And I've been told that my writing needs more sensory detail to create something called "deep point of view." This means that the reader is so pulled into the character through description that uses the five senses that the reader can't stop turning pages.

For example, if a character is beaten (and this week I have two characters roughed up), I can't very well have them popping back up like live-action dolls without an ache or groan. Well, deep point of view is more than simply adding description. Here's a longer definition (complete with purple prose) at Wow! Women on Writing.

So originally, I was going to write about R is for Roughed Up . . . I have some experience to draw upon, the student who came to my office so beaten she could barely walk, how my body felt after a car accident (I was pinned underneath the car for a time; luckily only dislocated a hip, but I remember how that felt). Once I was backhanded and my lip puffed out immediately (I was a mouthy teenager). But I'm having a hard time imagining a place where floggings of 100 lashes were routine. Sigh. Time for granola and back to today's writing.




Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quilting . . .

Now you know it. Quilting and writing are my two, slightly obsessive passions. So, how could a quilt possibly figure in a historical novel set in the 1840s in Van Diemen's Land? I came across the story of Kezia Hayter, a rather intrepid young woman recruited by the famous Quaker Elizabeth Fry to accompany a group of women prisoners transported to, you guessed it, Van Diemen's Land.

Elizabeth Fry (with her committee of concerned Quakers) visited the women in prison, comforted them, prayed with them, and before these over 175 women left, the Quakers brought each woman a bag of sewing notions and fabric for the long journey, that their hands might be usefully employed. Their ship, the Rajah, captained by Charles Ferguson, sailed south, and somehow these women created a quilt to present to the Government on arrival in April 1841.

The first miracle is that the quilt was finished. Parts, true, are clumsily sewn. Not all of the women knew how to sew. Certainly the dark, cramped conditions and the constantly rocking ship added to the difficulty of sewing. But the final quilt -- made of 2,815 pieces -- is a marvel of quilting, applique, and embroidery.

The quilt was duly presented to Lady Jane Franklin with a touching hand sewn announcement:

And then the quilt disappeared, only to be rediscovered in England and returned to Tasmania in 1989. It now resides in the National Gallery of Australia. The Rajah Quilt is taken out just once a year so that visitors can appreciate this artifact that these nameless women created -- beauty where none existed, perhaps hope to some. But their work is remembered, and I would very much like to see this quilt for myself. Perhaps one day.


Read more about the Rajah Quilt at the National Gallery of Australia or about Kezia Hayter and her captain, Charles Ferguson.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Procrastination . . .

Lots of possibilities today . . . Port Macquarie, Pentonville Prison (located in England, but still influential on penal reform throughout Australia), or prisons in general, 19th Century prostitution, or Pirate's Bay, a ship called the Pandora, or John Palmer, nicknamed "Little Jack."

Manitou Park, Spring
But outside my window, cherry and chinaberry trees offer tight buds of pink and red, the first leaves barely open, a sketch of green against a gray sky, clouds quickening, a fitful rain, spring rain. I stop reading and thinking about writing, glance down and then out the window again:  blue sky everywhere.

Sometimes procrastination is good for writers. We need time to let our minds work over material, to consider 'what if?' in all its terrible uncertainty. Sometimes I think writing a long story is like building a bridge over a chasm, faith that each scene will fit the overall plan, that the next session of writing will extend the bridge and not fall, and that at some point, the whole will be complete and hold true.

Or it could be that today I just want to work with my hands. I tell myself I will read later.

But the story of  the Pandora has interesting complexities -- yet true to life. I wrote about Mary Bryant earlier this month. In 1791, Mary, with her two young children, followed her husband, William, in a desperate attempt to escape convict life in Sydney. They crossed nearly 4,000 miles in an open boat with a few companions and little food. They nearly starved but landed finally in Timor. Safe. But somehow William "had words" with his wife and confessed to the local governor that they were not survivors from some anonymous shipwreck. The entire party was put into jail to await return to England, including the children. The ship to carry them 'home' in irons was the Gorgon; its Captain had previously wrecked his ship, the Pandora, chasing mutineers from the Bounty..

Don't open Pandora's box, Mary might have said to her husband. I wonder what they disagreed about so much that he betrayed her. Robert Hughes thinks he was drunk (The Fatal Shore, 206-208). I would rather William's sin be one of omission (an unintended, drunken confession) rather than commission (an act of will). For the sad conclusion to this story is that William, their little son, Emanuel, and their daughter, Charlotte, did not survive that voyage home.

Read more about Mary Bryan at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Oatlands . . .

I'm at that place in writing my story where real and imagined places and people have begun to merge. Oatlands I imagine as a kind of flat farmland with rolling hills, some 50 miles north of Hobart Town. Here early landowners gained immense grants of land and set out to build a colonial empire, far 'out bush' with a handful of family, assigned convicts, marines to stand guard, and sheep.

St. Peter's Church, Oatlands
Once these stations were established, with their Victorian houses and gardens, and open ranges of fields, the mind-numbing routine of caring for thousands of sheep on hundreds of acres took over, with not much between this intrepid family and the next station but open land and forbidding wilderness in the distance. The children, if they were lucky, were sent to a boarding school, or, in a few cases in the larger stations, a school would be set up with books and proper lessons.

Risk from bushrangers was fairly constant in the early to mid 19th Century in Van Diemen's Land, rough men who had escaped from their masters, called 'absconders' or 'bolters.' These men, starving and hunted, had no qualms about taking down a sheep or holding a family hostage for food or money or horses.

One such bushranger came to Oatlands. Bobby Wainwright I've named him in my story, after a man who exchanged bullets with a contingent of marines, while children and the schoolteacher cowered on the floor.

Newspaper accounts report the event with an air of amazement that anyone -- a sheepherder or small landowner living so far from town would help these wild and dangerous men. But I've come to understand that if just the common history of surviving the ocean voyage to Van Diemen's Land led men to become mates, why wouldn't a convict assigned to such a station, scrabbling his way up from a prison past, have sympathy for someone whose face was marked with a mask of rage and who had bolted from prison?

Read more about Australian bushrangers here.


Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Nah, I'm not going to make it . . .

I'm floating under the wire tonight, nattering away all day on various forms of N, mostly negative for Tasmanian history . . . there's never and no or not at all. Norfolk Island, Nobby's Head, the New Poor Law, and a look at Newgate Prison in mid-19th Century. Even Napoleon figures in somewhere.

Nobby's Head is back on mainland Australia, near Newcastle, the first station outside Sydney, about 70 miles north. Perhaps one of my characters worked here before being transferred to Van Diemen's Land. The coal was a rich vein, some 3 feet thick. Several small teams of convicts were set to work the seam, closely guarded. But by 1821, some 1,169 people lived in Newcastle, some free, some farmers, but mostly convicts to work the coal and cut the cedar forests down.

The convicts worked 10-12 hours every day. Once the seam atop the land ran out, the convicts were lowered down a shaft some 100 feet deep by means of a windlass (a kind of rope that we might lower a bucket with). Hughes describes this poignantly, "their leg-irons jingling folornly in the dark" (435). The uniform these men wore everywhere, easily marked a man a convict.

The men lived in something called "slab huts" (I've seen pictures of these huts, raw slabs of wood laid against a loose frame, just big enough to crawl inside). Robert Hughes calls these  huts "cribs a little more than four feet wide, three men to a crib" (434-435). Putting the men three to a crib was supposed to reduce 'unmentionable acts', an issue every governor after Sir John Franklin was called to account for.

Temperatures in the summer pushed over 100. Snakes were common. Hughes goes on to describe a litany of nastiness: "sandflies, mosquitoes, cholera, dysentery, catarrh," and the men further suffered by having no clean clothing, bad air, often no blankets, dampness from water seeping from above them, and, perhaps worst, the constant threat of rock falls (435).

I'm currently reading David Burn's An Excursion to Port Arthur in 1842 (through the online Open Library). Perhaps the nastiest insight I've gained is the sharp divide between the upper classes and the convicts. Burn frequently writes romantic descriptions of the sea, the hills, the gardens, and calls the convicts at Port Arthur lucky for having such an opportunity to have three 'regular' meals a day (bread and skilly, a kind of gruel of flour and water, for breakfast and supper, bread and meat once a day, and only bread and water for recalcitrant or rebellious convicts). He notes the sharp difference in facial expressions between the marines (fresh and hearty) and the convicts (masks of silent rage), and he concludes that the working poor back home in England would be glad if they had the same.

N should be for unthinkable, nasty working conditions.

The photo of the uniform comes from the Australian Government's Heritage Publications, in  Part 2: Convict Sites. See also Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, pages 435-436.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mathinna . . .

Today's entry for A-Z Blogging is short for I'm going on an all-day quilting road trip.

Anyone who has seen Thomas Bock's painting of this little aboriginal girl (1842) has been drawn into the story of her short life (1835-1852). In summary, Mathinna was born after the Black Line, that abortive effort by the Government in 1830 to remove all aboriginals from the island of Tasmania by force to Wybalenna on Flinders Island, under the auspices of Reverend Robinson.

When the new Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, visited Wybalenna in 1838, they (or rather Jane) was entranced by a little girl of 2 or 3 named Mary. They adopted her a year later, renamed her Mathinna, and took her to the formality of life in Government House. From unfettered time and surrounded by her own culture, this little girl now must wear shoes, learn to read and write, and generally adhere to Victorian rules of comportment.

Mathinna, in her own way, rebelled. She ran up and down the halls of Government House, often accompanied by her monkey (which, I imagine, terrorized the household). She refused to wear shoes. She danced with abandon at soirees and rode around town in the Franklin's open carriage, always wearing her favorite red dress.

When the Franklins were recalled in 1843, Lady Franklin very nearly had a nervous breakdown. Mathinna, then about 8 years old, was not taken to England, for the Franklin's family doctor advised that Mathinna would most likely die of the very cold climate there. So, Mathinna was taken to the Queen's Orphan School, where lessons, strict rules, and schedules reigned.

Not much is known of her life after the Franklin's left. But in 1852, she was found drunk and drowned in a ditch at the age of 17. Only her portrait remains.

Source of Thomas Bock's painting of Mathinna.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Library . . .

This morning, I was trying to think of an "L" concept, person, or event that would tie into 19th Century Tasmania. Lady Franklin, otherwise known as she-who-got-me-started-on-this-project.  BTW Robert Hughes gives her just one page in The Fatal Shore, a little shocking given her role in Franklin's recall. But, then I thought since I'm working on convict history at Port Arthur this week, perhaps the Luddites.

But only one "L" leaped off the page. L is for L I B R A R Y.

I've already exhausted my local city and local county libraries. Interlibrary loan takes weeks, but brings me books from all over the country and the Library of Congress. I'm grateful for every book I've gained this way. Shelf browsing at used book stores has brought some surprising gems, but oh, is that random. Libraries are changing, but perhaps not fast enough.

My go-to research source is simply the Internet in all its complexity. I've found doctoral theses, genealogy essays, biographies, travel sites, and lovely PDF files. I'm no apologist for Wikipedia; I think Wiki is a great jumping off place for overviews, key names, dates, maps, and photos.

This morning, my online search took me to a wonderful book, An Excursion to Port Arthur, 1842, written by David Burn, no publication date available. Within minutes, I had downloaded the book onto my Kindle (no cost) through the Internet Archive. and an "editable page" through the Open University.  Right when I'm struggling to understand the daily life of prisoners at Port Arthur, and, yep, in 1842.

Just this year Amazon opened up access to Kindle books for libraries. We patrons (whether of Amazon or libraries) have had to jump through a few extra hoops, but the sorting, searching, and downloading will continue to improve. And now I'm ready to download and get back to work!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kangaroo . . .

The kangaroos in Tasmania, the Forester or Gray Eastern kangaroo, are smaller than those in mainland Australia. The Forester kangaroo can weigh up to 130 pounds and reach a height of 6 feet. They're capable of traveling about 40 miles an hour in their all-out jumping mode.

If a predator (like a dingo) pursues a kangaroo into the water, the 'roo can use its short arms to hold the dingo under the water until it drowns. Also, male 'roos really do box. They may be fighting over a female 'roo or 'practicing' by boxing with another male. Sometimes they lean back on their tails so they can kick the enemy in the stomach. These strangely graceful, yet comic creatures must have been a shock for newcomers to Tasmania in the 18th and 19th Centuries.



To the half-starved early colonials, convicts, sailors, and the military, I've learned that 'roos still made a tasty meal throughout the 19th Century. For my novel, I imagined that the prisoners in Port Arthur would welcome a story-teller. Here's Jake from Years of Stone, telling how a prisoner named Billy Hunt nearly escaped from Port Arthur:

“Yeah, I got a story. One that will make you laugh.” Jake’s stomach rumbled. “Billy Hunt almost got out of here. Somehow he got a ‘roo skin big enough to cover him and bribed his way out to where he’d hidden it. In the dark, he kind of looked like a giant ‘roo. The damn guards spotted him. They was as hungry as us, and they nearly shot him. They beat him near to death. I hear he went insane over at the Separate Prison. You don’t want to go there.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jackeroo . . . and Jackey Jackey

This neat word, jackeroo or jillaroo, today means a young man or woman who goes out to work on an isolated sheet station in Australia, not quite a hired hand, but not skilled, more like an apprentice.

Wikipedia said the word may have come from an aboriginal word, or may have been inspired by the folk hero, Jacky Raw (who is a contempory musician). But I was remembering an Australian folk tale I read about Jacky Jack, so I dug a little deeper to discover Jackey Jackey, an aboriginal tracker later honored for his skill and steadfastness in helping Edmund Kennedy's 1848 expedition into the backlands of Cape York on mainland Australia.
 
And, pay dirt for my story, Years of Stone, set in Tasmania 1842-1843, for there were two men named Jackey Jackey. William Westwood, later dubbed 'the gentlemen bushranger"  and known as Jackey Jackey in New South Wales, was originally transported to New South Wales for highway robbery in 1837. Westwood, a master of disguises and of escapes, once up a tree in chains, was finally sentenced to Van Diemen's Land , arriving there in March of 1842, where he was sent to Port Arthur, an isolated prison one could only access by boat. 

Yet Westwood escaped two times in 1842; his punishment 100 lashes each time. In November 1843, he escaped once again, this time, he and his mates swam across a channel. Westwood made shore, but according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, his companions were eaten by sharks. I'm not sure I believe this last; they may have drowned. The guards floated rumors about sharks to prevent escapees. Recaptured, Westwood faced three months in solitary confinement at Port Arthur.



There's more to the story. Westwood lived only to be 26 years old. He leaves a few records for he was literate. Authorities must have considered him to be incorrigible, for he was sent to the dreaded Norfolk Island, where he was hanged in 1846 for leading an insurrection against Joseph Childs. I have more research to do, for Westwood's accounts were published in the Australasian in 1879. Maybe I can find these online.

Image of Port Arthur (source: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Insidious . . .

Insidious. I always thought that insidious meant untrustworthy, like when you might be walking on marshy ground and suddenly step into quicksand. An online dictionary says that insidious comes from the Latin, to ambush, and can mean either "stealthily treacherous or deceitful" or to operate in "a seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect".

How those transported to Van Diemen's Land were treated seems insidious to me. I don't understand how those responsible for laws and who set social convention could have done what they did without feeling some sense of compassion, remorse, and in the same sense that Joseph Conrad meant, horror. I've read that the worst evil occurs when the average person simply accepts something that is evil as a part of everyday reality, banal, even acceptable.

The upper class talked of reform and redemption through work. But as I read about prison conditions, I cannot reconcile the ideal with reality. In the mid 19th Century, the 'worst' offenders, yes, those who committed repeated offenses, sometimes as simple as running away over and over again, were sent to Port Arthur (young boys to Point Puer), or those without hope, to Norfolk Island.  Backbreaking work, floggings for the slightest provocation, fetters for the legs and the neck, isolation, condemned to silence, reduced rations, solitary, and, perhaps worst, the hood, a black bag over the head that prevented sight.

No wonder Hughes reports in The Fatal Shore that these men became enraged and insane. This is the environment that my hero, Mac, must survive.

I'm remembering a television show, perhaps it was a British series, where a group of actors were sent out to a Victorian country house to play the parts of master and servant over several months. The actress who assumed the role of the lady of the house was heard off camera berating her "son" because he wanted to play with the servants' children. "You do not associate with them. They are not of our class."

Insidious.

Read other bloggers participating in the A to Z Challenge here.

Monday, April 09, 2012

H is for Hulks . . .

And not the Incredible Hulk of movie fame.

Before the American Revolution, English courts, instead of flogging and branding prisoners for minor offenses, transported them to the American colonies. This was a lucrative business for jailers who sold prisoners to shippers who, in turn, sold them to landowners for 7 or 14 years. After the American Revolution, the English prisons were as crowded as ever -- with no place for prisoners to go. Newgate and local jails throughout the country were full to the bursting.

The Thames was lined with old ships, no rigging, no sails, "rotting at anchor" (Hughes, The Fatal Shore, 42). But the Hulks Act (1776) stated prisoners could be kept on these old ships, 'reclaimed' through 'Hard Labour' and assigned out daily in work gangs (Hughes 42-43), before being shipped to New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land to serve out their sentence. But shameful overcrowding led to riots on the hulks, protests from neighboring towns, and what propelled change -- the threat of prisoners escaping, carrying with them gaol fever.

So the British government approved contracts that shipped convicts to NSW and Van Diemen's Land, a four month voyage marked by crowded sleeping space, contaminated food in short supply, and armed guards to prevent insurrection. Sometimes several months passed before all the convicts were loaded on the ships. Men, women, and children arrived in London from all parts of England, some in irons, exhausted from their journey. Such prisoners were often leg-shackled and chained atop the coaches in all kinds of weather. Once aboard the hulks, nearly all, including children, faced some sort of fetters, described by Hughes as "a 14-pound iron" on the right ankle as an impediment to escape (140). If the prisoner (or the family) could not afford to bribe the guards, the irons could be heavier. These were worn constantly even as the prisoner was released to work gangs.

Once they were aboard the hulk, prisoners could expect to be robbed by the officers, their new cell mates, and threatened with flogging or the Black Hole for any breach of discipline. Prisoners with money could gain better conditions, but when a prisoner died, even his body could be sold for dissection.

I've read several accounts of the early landings in New South Wales that said the prisoners stumbled ashore, starving, and hardly able to care for themselves. Most had been convicted of theft, and the women, though none in the first ships were transported for prostitution, often improved their conditions through liaisons with the crew, becoming 'sea wives.'

Hughes reports the average age of convicts was 27, and that due to extreme deprivation, 1 man in 10 died on the Third Fleet's voyage, with the rest "so emaciated, so worn away", they were unfit to work. Some 162,000 prisoners were thus sent to Australia before transportation ended in 1853 (Hughes 73, 105, 143).

A grim history and grim grist for my tale. . .

Saturday, April 07, 2012

G is for Gorgon . . .

I have long been fascinated by Medusa, one of three sisters, a Gorgon with hissing snakes for hair. 

Once, armed with Lonely Planet and exploring the Basilica Cistern, an underground waterworks in Istanbul, featuring Romanesque architecture, we came across Medusa in stone at the very bottom of a massive column. The Basilica was a dark and quiet place, yet we were surprised to find Medusa there. No one could explain then why her head was at the bottom of the stone column, perhaps to protect the building, but then why her head at the base of the column? I think more to subvert her power.  

Rereading about Medusa this morning, I find originally she was a winged creature with hair of snakes and wide, staring eyes, a powerful woman somehow connected to caves and the sea who could turn people to stone by simply looking at them.  Perseus could only slay her by deflecting her glance off his shield. I rather liked Medusa’s stare of death and her power to protect and destroy.

My photo (taken in 2004) shows her enigmatic smile. How fitting in a way that she who killed others with stone would be preserved here in stone.

What is the Gorgon’s connection to Van Diemen’s Land in mid-19th Century?  Nothing directly, but Mary Broad, a young woman transported for seven years for stealing a cloak, arrived with the First Fleet to New South Wales in 1789.  She married a fisherman, William Bryant, also a convict, shortly after arriving.  

William planned a daring escape that took 7 men, Mary, her two children, on a small, open longboat some 3,600 miles to Timor, Indonesia. Battered by storms, fever, starvation, somehow they survived, only to be recaptured and shipped to Cape Town in irons to wait for a ship to back to England, where they faced  death by execution.  The ship that finally arrived at the Cape was the Gorgon.

You can read about Mary Bryant online in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, or in The Girl From Botany Bay, by Carolly Erickson, a fine historian (the book is currently on my “to read” stack), or in Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore (pages 205-209).

Lovely images of Medusa here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medusa

Friday, April 06, 2012

F is for Firestorm . . .and Fleas

I've been told to write what I know. How was I to know that a short story about selkies would take me to a three-novel plan about the Industrial Revolution, clearances, and transportation to Van Diemen's Land?  The actual writing becomes a kind of intuitive blend of what I've read (research) and experienced and try to integrate what "good writers" do. And an excuse to travel, though Tasmania just now seems very, very far away.

So this morning, thinking about F, I was reminded about a piece of writer's advice. Go back to the basics. Conflicts internal and external -- against other characters, against nature.  Earthquakes, natural disasters. Fire.

A few years back, we (that is my DH (dear husband) Allen and I) went camping in California's Siskiyous, the first trip in a long time. Actually, the trip was more a disaster. We carried, yes carried backpacks and canned food and a small propane stove (I can't believe we did this) UP four miles of a mountain trail to set up our tent by a lake. No can opener. No matches. No fire. But the lake was pretty and later the stars came out.

In the morning, the air was a strange color of blue, very hazy everywhere. We were just taking down the tent when a ranger came by and told us to get out, a fire was headed our way. Was our campsite taken down fast? Yes! The fire was a big one. We drove through it at one point with fire on both sides of the road. So, a little research and I found that Tasmania is susceptible to bushfires, several tragic fires have occurred there, and I wondered what might have happened out in the bush in 1842.

My "F" is also for fleas. We stayed in some nameless lower-than-budget hotel on one trip. Allen refused to sleep under the covers; he's fastidious, but I was too tired to care. In the morning, my entire body was covered with flea bites. The hotel owner had some hokey story about his wife and her dogs and some fight they had. I didn't care. I love dogs anyway, and the bites healed. But the shock of seeing those bites everywhere stayed with me.

Such experiences large and small shape our writing.

So I do write what I know, but I also write to learn, to expand my understanding of how others have lived and struggled and survived great calamities. Somehow that's reassuring, maybe cathartic. Do you write what you know?

Today is Day 6 of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Visit to read what other writers have written.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

E is for Exile . . .

When I was in college, my favorite course (other than any writing class), was 'The Economic History of Great Britain.' Not understanding economics at all, even my own, I sat next to two young men who had bought a 25-pound bag of rice to see them through the term. There's more to the story, but here is where I began to learn about the Industrial Revolution and its devastating effect on average people, what purists call the working class.

While many of those transported to Van Diemen's Land may have been thieves, prostitutes, or murderers, some were radical, courageously protesting the wholesale industrialization in farming and manufacture that left thousands without work. Class distinctions were sharp during the 19th Century, and Malthus' ideas that 'we do not feed the poor; they will breed' were popular among the upper class. In the 1830s, protests rose against enclosures (that taking away of common land generally to raise sheep), mechanization, against high prices for corn and wheat, and against farmers who instead of giving workers wheat (which could be made into bread), gave them potatoes (which backfired in the later Potato Famine) (Hughes 197-200).

But violent unrest became common 1830-1831. Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore reports that the Whig government in addition to offering a bounty of L500 "for the capture and conviction of arsonists and machine-breakers," began prosecuting these rioters. About 2,000 from 34 counties in the south of England were arrested; 252 were sentenced to death; but thanks to the 'Royal Mercy' only 19 were hanged; and 481 of this group were transported to Australia -- exiled for 7 or 14 years (199).

Some of these exiles may have been in the prisons of Van Diemen's Land and will somehow appear in my story.

Book of the day:  Robert Hughes also reports that  Thomas Cook, a soliciter's clerk who wrote an impassioned and threatening letter to a cabinetmaker, was arrested at age 18 and sentenced to 14 years; he wrote The Exile's Lamentations. Ah, if I were in Australia, I could check this out at my local library. This book is not yet online (not at Project Gutenberg: Australia); it's not available through amazon, a copy sold on e-bay for $75. Trove reports the book is available at 35 libraries, so I will hold my hopes out for interlibrary loan.

An excerpt may be read here.

Publication info:  Cook, Thomas. The Exile's Lamentations. Illustrated. Library of Australian History, 1978. ISBN 0908120141, 9780908120147. 131 pages.

Now back to work!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

D is for Deception

This morning, gray rain fills the sky, and I'm thinking the weather forecasters are predicting a little snow sometime over the next several days. I'm always surprised, not having grown up in snow country, when rain becomes these funny white fat flakes, a somewhat magical transformation that turns all things white and new.

Writing about writing does not advance the story.

But plopping that butt in the chair may lead to writing. Not necessarily good writing, but once those words are on the page, and the story is done, a writer revises, following that inner sight that says this works and this does not.

Discipline, training, creativity, and tenacity -- these are the gifts I wish you.

Discipline to write every day for then all parts of your mind are brought to the task.

Training to bring to the writing the full complex of tools that will meld story from character, conflict, plot, pacing, setting, dialogue, and action. Of these, we writers could say one or more present challenges. Most of the time, I like my conflict off stage as I generally hate conflicts of any kind, except when something threatens those I love. And under the umbrella of training I would put a command of English -- grammar and syntax, the tools to play with, and later, the tools needed to revise and edit with a very cold eye.

Creativity is a gift, a certain way of seeing or expressing or something mysterious, like a guest we so want to visit, some call her 'the muse,' but we know this guest will arrive on a whim, unexpectedly, full of drama, and she will leave, just as unexpectedly.

Finally, tenacity. That small inner voice that says "Yes!" when someone tells you that being a writer is frivolous or impossible or won't pay the rent. Well, in my case, such stubbornness may stem from Swedish roots, but I suspect many writers are tenacious. At least some of the time. Enough of the time?

So D is for Deception for sometimes we deceive ourselves. Our characters do not speak truth. Our job is to push through and write. Ah, outside I see a soft snow that flickers white and then gray with rain. A man walks by my apartment wearing a red knitted hat, his dog in front, a German Shepherd with tail lifted, happy to be outside. It's time to write.

Today is Day 4 of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. Visit to read what other writers have written.

PAD Challenge #3: Apology

For every moment I have faltered,
or chosen to run away, it comes to this,
that moment I must humble myself.
No reason or rationale or flimsy excuse
separates me from that awful reality, the knowing
our days are numbered and 
intentions are simply not enough.

So I will revel in each of these numbered days, 
these loves, and this constructed reality.

I have lived long and well. When that last night comes,

I will go gently.



Robert Lee Brewer's prompt today for National Poetry Month (PAD poem a day) was to write an apology poem . . . or to write an unapologetic poem. This morning, facing down two April challenges, my thoughts turned to limits that we all face, and one at least I don't think of often, but this last month has been full of death.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

C is for Convict . . .

Three women of three different classes interact throughout my current work in progress, Years of Stone. Deidre, a schoolteacher, has followed the man she loves to Van Diemen's Land. Deidre was quickly befriended by Lady Jane Franklin, an actual historical person, the wife of ill-fated and quite famous Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin, who later died on his quest to find a Northwest Passage.

At first I thought my story would be about these two women, Deidre, fictional, and Lady Jane, this fascinating, quirky woman of the 19th Century, who was villified by the press in Van Dieman's Land as the 'petticoat' behind the scenes who unduly influenced government decisions. This intrepid woman actually lobbied local leaders on policy, wrote correspondence to the London Home Office, climbed mountains, and in many ways would have been more comfortable in modern times.

But then along came Mary Dallow, what I call 'blue collar scrappy,' a conduit between prison life and the very small middle class and the elite class of Van Diemen's Land. Mary, like other transported women, moves in and out of the Cascades Female Factory, a euphemism for a woman's prison, shaped by the Victorian passion for reform through work.

I am comfortable with Deidre, the middle class schoolteacher. for I did teach. Lady Franklin is the least accessible for me, but letters and diaries are available, as well as histories that track the accomplishments of the elite. Mary Dallow is the most fun for she takes me in unexpected places.

My father was a bartender, and and one of my stepfathers was a steelworker. As a kid, I knew about neighborhood taverns and how to 'make do' with my baby sister when no one was home. We moved often, as one joke goes, when the rent was due, and I found solace in books, working my way through college and into the middle class at a time when college tuition was much lower than it is today.

At first I wanted to be a social worker, but a field trip for a criminal justice class to a local prison changed my goals immediately. As we entered the prison, each of us were taken -- one at a time -- through a double locked door. For just a moment, as I stood there alone, locked in a sort of cage with bars on both sides, I knew I was totally dependent on whoever held the key. Later, the young women in our group were taken to an all female facility. I watched the girls fawn on the guards, saying what 'the man' wanted. But when the guard turned away, sneers and asides showed me what those young women really felt and how they survived. As Mary Dallow would say, "An' who wants to know, ya pig sticker."

I'm still working on Mary Dallow and whether she will have a happy ending. Is happiness a middle class invention?

April National Poetry Month: #1 and #2

Already I'm behind in following Robert Lee Brewer's challenge to write a poem a day through Poetic Asides. Yet here are the first two poems for April, the first I've written in a very long time. Brewer provides the prompts, and we write. PAD means poem a day.


PAD Challenge #1: Communication

Al punto, together

Violin and viola, two musicians,
a man and a woman face each other,
al punto, together,
perfectly in tune and time,
fast, then slow, measures of
Bach, then Mozart,
and then Bach again.
The notes in phrases answer each other,
balance and circle round, counterpoint.
Each player nods to the other,
a pause,
each lifts a bow,
and music fills up the room.

PAD Challenge #2: Visitor

At first you are as nebulous
as a sonagram’s image
traced on a screen by an anonymous technician,
your heartbeat, faint but fast, 
a thump, thump, thump
that makes your parents stare at each other in wonder,
unable to forget the very essence of you,
nameless, temporarily floating inside,
filling a certain span of months with hope
and mystery, a future tiny child-to-be,
a visitor who will always be welcome.



Monday, April 02, 2012

B is for Baby . . .

Only since 1962 have American women had access to the birth control pill. This Timeline gives a neat overview of the pill's discovery and the rapidity of its adoption.

But what did 19th Century women do to prevent pregnancy? At that time, married women had an average of 6 children (35% had over 8 children), and working class women were expected to work until they had children (1). Abstinence, delayed marriages, withdrawal, abortion, and infanticide were "birth control" options.

Interestingly, the witch hunts of the middle ages can be linked to the actions of landowners and the Church to prevent population loss following the plagues. Those 'witches' were often midwives with knowledge of herbs that could prevent pregnancy or induce abortions. These women were also accused of infanticide; their deaths led to a loss of knowledge of herbal 'remedies' (2).  But my focus is still the 19th Century. Case histories are few for the women at the Cascades Factory in Van Diemen's Land. But one convict woman was sentenced to 12 months for killing her infant within 10 minutes of birth (3). Infanticide has been called the most common form of birth control (4).

Some scholars talk of a culture of abstinence among the upper classes with delayed marriages and lower frequency of sex after marriage (5). Apparently some upper class marriages, dubbed "companionate marriages," were more for companionship than sex, with little formal recognition of a woman's ability to enjoy sex (5).  It looks like condoms were used by upper class men primarily with prostitutes as protection from STDs. But syphilis (called the pox or 'great pox') was a very real risk, common among sailors and prostitutes. Doctors of this time were just beginning to recognize that syphlitic husbands could transmit the disease to their wives (6). Fabricius, writing in Syphilis in Shakespeare's England, (an interesting book for interlibrary loan), suggests much like AIDS, that the threat of syphilis brought about significant change in people's actions and morals -- and increased chastity before marriage, monogomy, and  faithfulness. The biography of John Bateman, one of the first men to compensate aboriginals for their land, shows the effects of syphilis on both his aspirations and his family. He had nasal syphilis which ate away part of his face and he was unable to walk. Once these lesions appeared, his wife, Eliza, left him (7).

So what does all this information mean for Years of Stone? For now, that 19th Century attitudes about marriage, sex, and having babies vary widely by class. And that we are lucky indeed when a new baby is welcomed by loving parents, then or now.

(1) Spartacus
(2) Wikipedia
(3) Convict Lives: Women at Cascades Female Factory
(4) Cambridge Urban History of Britain
(5) Criminalization of abortion
(6) A Treatise on syphilis
(7) Australian Dictionary of Biography

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A is for Ambivalence . . .


I'm still struggling to understand these women who came as prisoners to Van Diemen's Land in mid-19th Century. The latest book I've read, Convict Lives: Women at Cascades Female Factory (Female Factory Research Group, 2009) came to me via interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress. This small paperback (only one copy in the entire United States) summarized the lives of 33 women out of 25,000 women transported to Australia between 1788 and 1853. About half were brought to Van Dieman's Land. As I settled to read in the library (can't check this book out or take this book home), I wondered again who these women were.

These women were caught up in pretty harsh English justice. Seven year sentence for stealing a silk handkerchief, something pretty and easy to sell. But I'm beginning to understand the handkerchief was perhaps a code for prostitution. So prostitutes were sent to VDL. Not necessarily working class women, but scrappy survivors. Quick to set up a flash mob and subvert the system. On their backs. There was no birth control. What happened to the children? Journals and letters describe the homeless of this time, gangs of children on the streets who found their own ways to survive.

But many of the women who were transported to Australia were not of the underclass. If the father, husband, or brother were unable to pay the rent or provide bread, what work could the women do? Dressmaker, laundress, cook, nanny?  Of course, some found such work in the houses of the aristocratic wealthy.

Imagine the work day in 1842 for such a servant. Sharing a bed with another house maid, perhaps in the attic. Up at dawn to answer a bell's ring. The day spent scrubbing, cleaning, washing. Able to see a life of comfort and elegance, as if the ladies were different creatures, but always observers, always a line separating "them" from "us" that was marked by language and aspiration. And if this servant were caught out pregnant or took something, a necklace or silk handkerchief perhaps, she would be out on the streets or the constable would be called. And perhaps she would be transported to Van Dieman's Land, sentenced to seven years, on the same four-month voyage with prostitutes and other thieves, sailing to an unknown land and an uncertain future.

Mama told me I would be a bad 'un but none of us were. Not Sarah or Paul or William or Baby or me, the oldest. I was to watch them all while she went away with Mrs. Rivers. "Mary," said Mama, "keep the door locked until I return." We had no bread from yester 'en, and the younger ones made a fearful racket. Bobby tapped, tapped, tapped at the door and we let him in. He brought hot beef pasties from the Lion's Head at the corner. The smell made us crazy and we all clustered close. His eyes burned on me and Sarah. We ate, our hands sticky with gravy. He gave Paul a coin and sent the little ones out to the close. Sarah was scared, but I wasn't. Bobby had been to sea. He knew stories and could tie fancy knots with rope.  Mama came home early, her face all twisty, and screamed at Bobby. I remember that was the beginning of the end. How I came here on this stinking ship that never stops rocking. We get gruel twice a day. We're locked below most days. Twice a week we go aboveboard to wash clothes or pick oakum. On Sundays we get a bit of boiled beef after a sermon, usually somethin' about sin. Half the words are blown away by the wind. Sometimes I see Bobby in the faces of the sailors who clamber down into the belly of this ship at night. I am twelve.