Esther (signed edition)
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Esther: The Extraordinary True Story of the First Fleet Girl Who Became First Lady of the Colony
Written by Australian Author, Jessica North
London, 1786: Esther, aged 16, Jewish, pregnant and in gaol for stealing 24 yards of black silk lace, awaits transportation on an eight-month journey to the other side of the world.
First Lieutenant, George Johnson, a soldier in the elite British Marines, waits to board the same ship. On one of eleven ships with orders to establish a ‘settlement capable of supporting many shiploads of British criminals’ Johnson and Esther travel to a land ‘virtually unknown.’
Esther meets Johnson through milking his goat on the ship. Once on shore, she continues to do so and eventually moves in with him. I was interested to learn that freemen were not permitted to marry convicts and, like Esther and Johnson, many raised a family together without marriage.
This is a true ‘rags to riches’ story of one of the first Jewish women to arrive in Australia – a convict on the First Fleet who became First Lady of the colony. Through Esther we meet some of the key people who shaped the nation, and we see the fledgling colony’s struggle to provide enough food, maintain law and order, and interact with the indigenous people.
The book is thoroughly researched, complete with photos, chapter notes and bibliography. It is set out like a diary, with the events of each date imaginatively described. The only drawback is that the characters’ emotions are mostly told and described, which keeps the reader at an emotional distance. Perhaps it is the nature of this genre, which is described not as historical fiction but as ‘historical biography’.
Jessica North has personally signed 20 copies of Esther for The National Trust NSW to sell online