Friday, September 18, 2020

The Wreck by Meg Keneally

There seems to be a lot of really great Australian historical fiction around at the moment. Just this year I have read and enjoyed books by Alison Stuart, Victoria Purman, Tea Cooper and more, and now to this list I need to add Meg Keneally.

Sarah McCaffrey is a young woman who was left orphaned when her parents are killed in a peaceful protest turned massacre in Manchester. Along with her brother, Sam, she flees to London but they soon find themselves caught up in a rebellion plot. Unfortunately for Sarah, there is a police informant in their midst so the plot is foiled. Sarah escapes to a ship docked at the wharves of London called The Serpent. All alone in the world, Sarah finds herself unwillingly under sail. The boat, The Serpent, is headed for the other side of the world, to the colony of Sydney. 

The ship's captain was an ally to the planned rebellion, but he is a danger in other ways. He doesn't have a great relationship with other captains or shipowners and the ship itself isn't in great condition either. 

Having assumed a new identity, Sarah befriends another young woman on the ship, as well as some of the crew. When they are just hours away from reaching their destination there is a terrible storm, and the ship is dashed into the cliffs. Sarah is the only survivor, and so once again she is alone in the world 

Taken to shore, she shares a room in the hospital with a young woman named Annie who is about to give birth. Sarah is something of a celebrity in the fledgling penal colony. People want answers as to why the ship sank, how she came to be the only survivor, and who she is. 

Life in the young colony is tough. Whilst there are some substantial buildings, a lot of the inhabitants live in wattle and daub huts. And life is particularly tough for young women. Sarah and Annie are taken in by a local woman who gives them jobs in an upmarket boarding house providing food and shelter but little else. Despite her seemingly good fortune, Sarah is still determined to find out what really happened back in London and soon finds herself mixed up once again with rebellious types. When someone from her past reappears, could she find the answers she is looking for without the secret of who she really being revealed once and for all?

It is not necessarily rebellion that Sarah wants, but rather the chance of more equal rights for all, especially the women who so often find themselves without any means of support. Eventually she finds an ally in Mrs Thistle, who is a remarkable character and who is based on a woman named Mary Reibey who appears on our $20 note. Mrs Thistle is a successful merchant, in a world dominated by men, who has her own way of doing business.

Whilst some of the events in this book may seem fantastical, they are in fact based on true stories. There was a massacre in Manchester in 1819, and there was a shipwreck called The Dunbar which sank with only one survivor. Added to these events inspired by history, Meg Keneally has created an array of interesting characters that kept me reading until late at night, and bought the early days of colonial Sydney to life on the page.

Rating 4.5/5

Goodreads summary

All Sarah ever wanted was a better life ... From the bestselling author of Fled comes a moving tale of revolution, treachery and courage.

In 1820 Sarah McCaffrey, fleeing arrest for her part in a failed rebellion, thinks she has escaped when she finds herself aboard the Serpent, bound from London to the colony of New South Wales. But when the mercurial captain's actions drive the ship into a cliff, Sarah is the only survivor. Adopting a false identity, she becomes the right-hand woman of Molly Thistle, who has grown her late husband's business interests into a sprawling real estate and trade empire. As time passes, Sarah begins to believe she might have found a home - until her past follows her across the seas...


  1. I've been looking forward to this one.

  2. LOL I'm waiting for someone to write the novel about the Loch Ard which was wrecked off the coast of Warrnambool with only two survivors: a young woman passenger and a young man who was a member of the crew. He saved her life, and took the initiative to climb the cliffs and walk miles to get help, so the ingredients are there for romance, but in real life the class differences meant that they never saw each other again.

    1. There's a lot of great stories still out there! I want to read the story of the lighthouse masters daughter waving off the ships from Albany in the early days of WWI.

  3. I'm looking forward to this one too. I've had it on hold at the library for ages. Hopefully, now some of the restrictions are relaxed, things will get moving again.

  4. I loved The Wreck! So glad I saw it on your feed at IG. I had no idea you've been back to posting regularly on your blog so it took me a long time to scroll back far enough to find your review! Glad you're back to blogging regularly!