m. 1788; dec. 1791
|Children||Charlotte Bryant (1787–1792)
Emanuel Bryant (1790–1791)
Grace Symons Broad
Bryant was born Mary Broad (referred to as Mary Braund at the Exeter Assizes) in Fowey, Cornwall, United Kingdom, to William Broad and Grace Symons Broad, a fishing family. She left home to seek work in Plymouth, England, where she became involved in petty thievery. After being arrested for highway robbery of a silk bonnet, jewellery, and a few coins, she was committed by J Nicholls, Mayor of Plymouth, to gaol, with two accomplices – Cathrine Fryer and Mary Haysoning – and then Mary was sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia.
In May 1787, Bryant was sent as a prisoner with the First Fleet aboard the ship Charlotte. Bryant gave birth on the journey to a baby, whom she called Charlotte after the ship, and gave the surname Spence, after one of the other convicts, David Spencer, possibly the father. When she arrived in Australia, she married William Bryant on 10 February 1788. Bryant, a convicted smuggler, was also on the Charlotte with Mary and they later had a son together called Emanuel, born on 6 May 1790.
William Bryant was also from Cornwall, where he had worked as a fisherman. In Sydney Cove, a colony just starting off, William was considered useful, and was put in charge of looking after the fishing ships. When he was caught selling fish on the side to convicts, he was given 100 lashes. He made a plan to escape with Mary, persuading a Dutch captain to give him some sailing equipment, and waited until all boats that could chase after them had left.
Escape from the colony and recapture
On 28 March 1791, William, Mary, her children, and a seven-man crew stole Governor Phillip's six-oared cutter and many supplies. After a voyage of sixty-six days, Mary, her children and the eight men reached Kupang, in West Timor on the island of Timor, a journey of 5,000 kilometres. This extraordinary voyage became part of seafaring history, and has often been compared with William Bligh's similar epic journey in an open boat of only two years earlier, after the mutiny on the Bounty. Bligh's voyage had also ended in Timor. The trip involved navigating the then uncharted Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Straits.
Timor was then under the control of the Dutch. The Bryants and their crew claimed to be shipwreck survivors. They were later discovered to be British convicts, apparently after William became drunk and confessed in the process of bragging. To avoid an international incident they were sent back to Britain to stand trial, travelling first on a Dutch ship to Batavia in the company of survivors of HMS Pandora, a British ship sent to capture the Bounty mutineers, and then later from the Cape in the company of Royal Marines returning from Sydney on HMS Gorgon. During the voyage back William and both of Mary's children perished of fever; Emanuel and William dying at Batavia in late 1791, whilst Charlotte died on the last leg of the voyage in May 1792.
She expected to be hanged or returned to Australia. However, Mary Bryant was instead imprisoned for an additional year in Newgate Prison, during which time a public outcry ensued, coupled with an onslaught of publicity by the famous writer and lawyer James Boswell. As a result, she was pardoned in May 1793, and the four surviving men of her crew were later pardoned as well. Boswell gave her an annual pension of 10 pounds. Bryant returned to her family in Cornwall and nothing more is known of her.
Boswell had a reputation for amorous dalliances with lower class women and his friends took to imagining or joking that Botany Bay had provided him a new mistress. His friend William Parsons wrote a scurrilous poem in which they're imagined hanged together on the gallows at Tyburn in a final union. Yet despite this "elegantly turned prurience" (as Robert Hughes put it), it seems Boswell was motivated only by sympathy and that all he received from Mary was a packet of "Botany Bay tea leaves". The tea was found with papers at Boswell's Malahide Estate in Ireland in 1930. It and the papers are today at Yale University. In 1956 two of the leaves were presented to the Mitchell Library in New South Wales by Yale University Library, in honour of the Hon. Douglas M. Moffat, United States Ambassador and Yale Alumnus. The leaves were identified as coming from the plant Smilax glyciphylla, commonly known as "wild sarsaparilla", a small vine found mainly on the east coast of Australia.
Bryant's story re-told
Bryant was the subject of a British/Australian television movie The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant, with Romola Garai (playing the eponymous heroine) Jack Davenport and Sam Neill. It was first screened in Australia on 30 October 2005 on Network Ten as a two 2-hour part series. It was screened in the UK over Easter weekend 2006 on ITV. It was not an entirely historically accurate treatment of her story.
She also featured heavily in Timberlake Wertenbaker's play Our Country's Good, which itself was based on Thomas Keneally's novel The Playmaker. Both centre on the first Australian settlers' decision to stage a performance of The Recruiting Officer, and the action ends just at the point of Bryant's escape.
The Mary Bryant story also featured in Patrick Edgeworth's play Boswell for the Defence. A huge success in London in 1989, it starred Leo McKern.
A musical titled Mary Bryant was written by Nick Enright to music by David King   and was presented in Melbourne by Magnormos, directed by Aaron Joyner with musical direction by Sophie Thomas and movement direction by Jessica Enes.
Mary Bryant is the subject of a one-woman physical theatre show, "Oh Mary!", devised and directed by Bec Applebee and Simon Harvey (Kneehigh Theatre and O Region), and performed by Bec Applebee. It has an original script written by Anna Murphy (Kneehigh Theatre, BBC Radio 4), choreography by Helen Tiplady of Cscape Dance and a unique soundtrack recorded with award winning band Dalla and Radjel, including a special commission by Neil Davey. Currently (May 2011) touring the UK .
Books about Bryant
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- Cook, Judith (1993) To Brave Every Danger: the epic life of Mary Bryant of Fowey, highwaywoman and convicted felon, her transportation and amazing escape from Botany Bay. London: Macmillan ISBN 0-333-57438-9
- Currey, C. H. (1963) The Transportation, Escape and Pardoning of Mary Bryant (née Broad). Sydney: Angus and Robertson
- Durand, John (2005) "The Odyssey of Mary B" Elkhorn WI ISBN 0-9743783-1-3
- Erickson, Carolly (2005) The Girl From Botany Bay. Hoboken, NJ.: John Wiley ISBN 0-471-27140-3
- Hausman, Gerald & Loretta (2003) Escape from Botany Bay: the true story of Mary Bryant. New York: Orchard Books ISBN 0-439-40327-8
- Hughes, Robert The Fatal Shore: a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia, 1787–1868. New York: Knopf ISBN 1-86046-150-6
- Kampen, Anthony van (1968) Het leven van Mary Bryant. 3 vols. Bussum: Unieboek NV (in Dutch)
- King, Jonathan (2004) Mary Bryant: her life and escape from Botany Bay. Pymble, N.S.W.: Simon & Schuster Australia
- Pearse, Lesley (2003) Remember Me. London: Michael Joseph (London: Penguin Books, 2004 ISBN 0-14-100649-8) (historical novel)
- Pottle, Frederick A. (1938) Boswell and the Girl from Botany Bay. London: Heinemann
- Scutt, Craig (2007) Mary Bryant: The Impossible Escape. Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia; Black Dog Books ISBN 978-1-921167-61-4
- Veitch, Anthony Scott (1980) Spindrift, The Mary Bryant Story: a colonial saga. Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers ISBN 0-207-14409-5
- Walker, Mike (2005) A Long Way Home. Chichester; Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley
- "Bryant, Mary (1765–1794)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "Paul White – The Fettered and the Free: The Life and Times of Mary Bryant Broad, 2005". Manuscripts, Oral History and Pictures catalogue. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, 1987, paperback 1996 ISBN 1-86046-150-6
- Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, 1987 London: Collins Harvill, page 209
- "Leaves from Botany Bay used as tea". Manuscripts, Oral History and Pictures catalogue. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
- Parish registers for Fowey, 1803–1970. Microfilm of original records in the Cornwall Record Office, Truro, Cornwall. Cornwall Record Office call nos.: DDP/66/1/9, 18, 21–23.
- Cornwall parish registers, marriages. Vol. 8, p. 1–54 Phillimore, 1905
- Devon Quarter Sessions. Epiphany 1786, DRO-QS32/73, Christmas Session 1786. Gaol Calendar.
- Mary Bryant movie at The Internet Movie Database
- First Fleet Online at University of Wollongong
- Mary Broad Christening and Family information from IGI