The Wreck by Meg Keneally

‘Talk is where everything starts.  And they know it.’

A peaceful rebellion in Manchester, England in 1819 leave Sarah McCaffrey and her brother Sam orphaned.  They move to London where their involvement in a failed rebellion in 1820 leads to Sam being hanged for high treason and Sarah fleeing for her life.  Sarah finds herself aboard the Serpent bound for New South Wales.

‘She was alone, at the edge of everything.’

But when the Serpent is wrecked off the Gap, Sarah is the only survivor.  She awakens in the infirmary and, as Sarah Marin, starts a new life.  Molly Thistle, ex-convict, and local entrepreneur employs Sarah.  And Sarah soon becomes an important part of Molly Thistle’s empire.  However, Sarah’s past threatens to catch up with her.

Ms Keneally has drawn from historic figures and events to create this engrossing tale of fiction, including the Peterloo Massacre (Manchester 1819) and the wreck of the Dunbar(in 1857).  Sarah is idealistic, courageous, and strong.  In New South Wales, her idealism is tempered by realism as she comes to realise that rebellion is not the only way to effect social change.

I enjoyed this novel, with its well-defined characters and focus, both in the UK and in New South Wales, on a range of early 19th century social issues.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith