The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

‘Three quite different women, three different stories.’

From Flinders Island in 1840, to London and then to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), this novel follows the life of three exiled women.  We first meet Mathinna, an orphaned Indigenous girl ‘adopted’ by Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin.  We then meet Evangeline, pregnant, convicted of stealing and imprisoned in Newgate.  On board the prison ship Medea transporting her to Van Diemen’s Land, Evangeline meets Hazel, a Scots teenager, who has also been transported for theft.

Three quite different women, three different stories.  Evangeline and Hazel are fictional characters, Mathinna is real. Each has been removed from the world she is familiar with.  How will each of them manage?  And what about Evangeline’s child?

Christina Baker Kline’s depiction of Newgate prison, of life on a prison transport and the female factory in Van Diemen’s Land is consistent with other accounts I have read.  Evangeline and Hazel are both representative (at least in part) of women convicted and transported.  Mathinna’s story (and I have read several different accounts) is a sad reflection on the treatment of Indigenous Tasmanians.  Those who read this novel will, if they are so tempted, find a list of additional books and sources to explore.  I have read a number of these books.

If you enjoy historical fiction set during the nineteenth century and have an interest in Tasmania’s colonial past, you may enjoy this novel.  If you are looking for more information about the history and human impact of transportation, you will find several sources to explore.  And, if you ever have an opportunity to view Thomas Bock’s painting of Mathinna, look into those eyes and see a young woman trapped between two worlds.  A tragedy.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Allison & Busby for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith