Calamity and Conquest by Allan Hawke

‘A chronicle of the convict Joseph Blundell and his consort Susan Osborne’

Blundell’s Cottage, close to Canberra’s Lake Burley-Griffin has an interesting history.  I was fortunate enough, a couple of years ago, to be part of a guided tour through the cottage and to learn some of its history.

Canberra is a relatively small city, and many of us who have worked for the Australian Public Service at some stage in the past forty (or so) years will know of Dr Allan Hawke.  I had the privilege of working with (and learning from) him in the Department of Defence during the first few years of the 1980s.

But it wasn’t until quite recently, reading about the book launch of ‘Calamity and Conquest’ that I learned of the link between Allan Hawke and Blundell’s Cottage.  Intrigued, I bought a copy of this book.

Allan Hawke is a great great grandson of Joseph Blundell and Susan Osborne through the 10th of their 11 children.  The Blundell story, which begins long before Joseph travelled to Australia, has been extensively researched by Allan Hawke and others.  Joseph Blundell was sentenced to death for attacking a gamekeeper while poaching and was transported to NSW (for life) in 1826.  And it appears that Susan Osborne was an alias adopted by Mercy Balcombe in 1842, when she absconded from her husband and fled with Joseph Blundell to the Limestone Plains (now the site of Canberra). Scandalous!

There’s a wealth of information here, of interest both to members of the extended Blundell family as well as to those of us interested more broadly in Australian colonial history. Allan Hawke succeeds in finding hints (at least) of the people behind the official records.  We may never know why some of them made the particular choices they made but the impact of some of those choices has clearly shaped this nation. 

I enjoyed reading this book, of seeing into the history of a family, of their shifting place in society, of the consequence of choice and of opportunity.  Family stories are important: it’s how we personalise the past.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith