Thursday, February 10, 2011

On This Day...

William Bryant and Mary Brand did not meet on a Valentine's Day cruise for young singles. In amongst 600 convicts on route to Australia in 1788, they rattled about the oceans on one of 11 ships we call the First Fleet. Bound for the colony of New South Wales, and with much of their freedom replaced by iron shackles, they sailed into a bleak and unknown future. They made it into our history books and modern movies for their ill-fated and unsuccessful escape attempt to Timor via Norfolk Island, but even before their daring grasp at freedom, their names were written into the record books.

Together with one other couple they hold the title of First To Be Married On Australian Shores, on February 10, 1788, two weeks after the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson. Perhaps theirs was an onboard courtship as they travelled together on the Charlotte. We know Mary was pregnant with another man's child and gave birth to a daughter before reaching their destination. Perhaps William saw a resilience in Mary to match his own, or perhaps they were both ambitious for a life free from the brutal rigours of convict life. Perhaps William could not imagine living without the girl he'd fallen in love with.

Painted with the broad stokes of heartache and romance we've come to expect in historical sagas like theirs, the story of Mary and William Bryant never had the chance of being written any other way. This is a love story peppered with sacrifice and loss. We will never know how much of it is true, but we can be sure of one detail.

On this day in 1788, the young Cornish lass transported for stealing a silk bonnet, jewellery and coins, married her fellow countryman, also a convicted smuggler. They may not have savoured much of a happily ever after, but they will always be remembered as Australia's first bride and groom.