Last Thursday I attended the launch of historical novel “Hannah” written by Australian author Raymond W. Clarke. It tells the story of Ray’s great-great grandmother, who was transported to Australia on one of the prison ships after she and her friend were caught stealing a bundle of clothing from their employer in England. Their initial sentence was death by hanging but this was commuted and instead they were banished to Botany Bay. She survived the ordeal to become the matriarch of the Clarke family that lives on here today.
The launch took place at the Sandgate Community Centre around mid-morning. I recognised a couple of faces from my writers’ group and found a seat near the back after helping myself to a glass of ice cold water. Ray began proceedings by talking about the old convict ships that form such an important part of modern Australia’s past. He spoke with passion on the subject, quoting facts and figures designed to shock. They did. Hundreds of people died in the squalid conditions; so many that had no business being there in the first place. It seems rather an extreme punishment to be sentenced to death or banished for life for what was sometimes no more than a petty crime.
Hannah was one of the fortunate survivors of the voyage and there were others. Judging by the statistics, women fared better than men. Ray had done his research and he teased us with the stories of three Mary’s and an Esther before he finally got around to hers.
This novel is Hannah’s story; of how she came to Australia and of the life she carved out for herself here. He has taken some literary license in order to turn it into a novel; however the places, names and dates are factual.
Ray kept his audience’s attention despite the searing heat that day, with interesting background facts and a summary of Hannah’s story. He ended by reading an excerpt from the book that allowed us a glimpse into his characters’ lives in a touching scene between Hannah, her husband and her daughter.
I left with an autographed copy safely tucked under my arm. It was the last one in the box but I believe the next batch has been ordered and will be available in a couple of weeks.
You can view Ray’s profile here.