The following story, Survival, was short-listed and then awarded a certificate in the 2020 E. M. Fletcher Writing Award… sponsored by the Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc. (HAGSOC).
On behalf of the judges, Professor Peter Stanley, UNSW Canberra, said:
‘I’m delighted to say how impressed we were with the standard of entries: just to make the short list was a considerable achievement in such a field.’
The judges’ comments on Survival were: ‘Appealing and well-written, vividly imagining a story of a Scottish convict girl. Although verging on historical fiction, Survival evokes a young girl’s experience and is based on extensive research.’
Ann huddled in the doorway: watching, waiting… and shivering, as much from dread as from the icy wind teasing her inadequate clothing.
She covered the shoulders of her ragged dress with the soft wrap a kind woman – a true lady she was – deliberately let slip from her grip with an ever-so-slight tilt of her head and a catch of Ann’s eye, as she passed one afternoon in the mists of dusk. Ann had whispered ‘Thank you’ to the disappearing image of her benefactor’s back, and scurried away to find an overnight hide-out.
‘Wha yer lookin’ at?’ a sharp voice cut through Ann’s recollections.
‘Nothin’, Ann mumbled. She steadily returned the other girl’s gaze, despite her fear. She had not yet learned to quell the internal hysteria.
The girl swiped a bag of apples from the stall in front of her and vanished.
Ann was hungry, very hungry…
She waited until the marketeer was distracted, then swiftly filled her shawl with food and ran for her life. She was soon lost in the jostling crowd; swallowed by the noise of traders, shoppers and starving urchins rummaging around the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.
She steadied to a walk along Canongate, crouched behind some stairs to stash her haul down the front of her dress – held in place by the waistband and disguised by her wrap – and to gorge on a chunk of bread.
At night she slipped into the foyer of a church and hid among the stacked pews, covering herself with discarded newspapers. This shelter was the best she’d had for some time, and she managed a few hours’ sleep before dawn.
When she emerged, the apple-girl was waiting for her. They eyed each other in silence, then the apple-girl asked, ‘Der ye live ’ere?’
‘I live nowhere and anywhere’, was Ann’s considered reply.
The apple-girl shook her head. ‘I’m Margaret’, she said. ‘Der ye want to stay with me and m’ friends? We have a room in a widow’s house in Halkerston’s Wynd.’
Ann took a gamble. She nodded, thinking that staying with anyone would be better than the gut-wrenching aloneness she’d carried since her father died, her mother already having gone to God.
Margaret’s friends were her boyfriend and his mate. Ann kept herself separate from the lads to protect her privacy. If she turned towards the wall and covered her ears at night, she could almost pretend there was no huffing and puffing and moans of pleasure in the room. If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist, she thought.
Danial and Danny had a friend, William. He lived with his family in Cowgate and worked at the brass foundry. He was closer to Ann’s age and she felt safer when he visited.
Widow Marshall expected the fee for the room on time, and Ann didn’t dare ask how Daniel and Danny met this responsibility. Food was Margaret and Ann’s domain. Stealing produce was easier working in pairs and Ann felt less conspicuous in the clothes Margaret gave her.
She settled into the routine. She had a place to belong, shelter, and the feeling that life was improving.
One afternoon, less than a week after Ann moved in with her new friends, she and Margaret burst into their room giggling… and stopped in their tracks. Two policemen stood between them and the three boys. Silence bounced off the walls.
One of the officers held a pair of trousers and William groped for his own to cover himself. He’d been trying on a ‘new’ pair his friends had offered him, when the police arrived. Ann was acutely aware the white dress and petticoat she wore had come from the same place as the garment in the officer’s hand.
Ann stood, head bent forward, eyes cast down. The courtroom felt heavy, burdened with the weight of the thick dark wood that seemed to turn itself in on her… smothering her with dread. She focussed on the fall of her tattered skirt, fingered a hole, was pleased her clothes told of a tough life, lived rough. This, and giving her age as twelve, might help when it was her turn for judgement.
Sir William Rae, Lord Justice Advocate, addressed the Jury for the Crown, Mr Melville appeared for William and Mr Ferguson for Ann and her room-mates. Lord Boyle, Lord Justice Clerk, summed up the evidence for the Jury, who retired and took just thirty-five minutes to reach their verdict.
Ann listened as ‘habitual and reputed thieves’ Daniel and Margaret were sentenced to ‘life beyond the seas’… and Danny to ‘fourteen years’. William nudged Ann gently when the case against him was dismissed, there being no evidence he’d entered the Howard Place home of James Smith Mack, solicitor-at-law, and pilfered his family’s possessions. William was of good character, the court was told, and his family and neighbours insisted he was at home when the crime was committed.
Ann playfully nudged William back, then stiffened as her name burst forth into the Justiciary. ‘You have been found guilty of ‘reset of theft’, and will be transported for fourteen years…’ The Lord Justice Clerk’s words faded into the cheers and jeers of the unconstrained crowd.
William’s hand gently squeezed Ann’s and brought her back from the brink of collapse. Her eyes flooded and he whispered, ‘Stay strong’, as officers of the court dragged her from the dock and into a cell behind the courtroom.
She felt a pull in her chest drawing her back to William, but knew she would never see him again. She sobbed uncontrollably for this loss, and in terror of what lay ahead.
After five months in Edinburgh’s overcrowded jail, Ann and Margaret, and twenty-five other women endured the journey to London in chains.
Calton Jail, Edinburgh, where Ann was held before transportation.
There they were bundled onto the Princess Charlotte and ushered through the hatches and down to the prison deck; where they joined sixty-five English women and four children, all in caged enclosures. Ann clung to Margaret and moved quickly to avoid reprimand.
The prisoners were locked below for days while final preparations were made for the voyage to Australia, their only relief being exercise sessions between the rows of cages.
Boredom, frustration and testy moods caused rifts characterised by hair-pulling, squeals and threats. Between outbreaks, the atmosphere was thick with tension and stale air.
Terror kept Ann riveted on the spot, as far as possible from anyone but Margaret. An English woman, withdrawn like Ann, began to fit each time there were altercations.
Finally, the ship glided down the Thames until it reached The Downs, where the anchor was dropped.
The woman who’d been fitting was taken off the ship and returned to Durham Prison, and the body of a baby boy who’d died the previous day was taken away for burial. Ann begged the guards’ permission to read the bible to comfort the mother through the separation from her bairn. Many on the prison deck cried to the background of Ann’s words and the mother’s violent sobs.
With the newly-installed marine chronometer set to Greenwich Mean Time, the Princess Charlotte was at last clear to ride the seas. The creaking and groaning as the wooden sailing ship thrashed on the ocean was terrifying.
Ann clung to the bars and prayed they wouldn’t be dragged to the depths. Without warning, she threw up into a nearby bucket, her moans only softened by those of the other women. She rolled with the waves… and her sickness… for days, then gradually found her sea legs and assisted other sufferers.
A piercing scream cut through the prison when a tub of soup just out of the coppers fell down the hatchway onto the neck and back of an unfortunate woman.
Ann rushed to help and Doctor Cameron put her to work immediately. Alcohol and oil of turpentine were alternately applied, then cold vinegar and water kept the burn constantly wet to aid healing.
Ann sat with the patient while the doctor and nurse attended cases of dehydration. ‘We could use you in here every day’, the doctor said.
‘Could I?’ she asked, her face alive.
He smiled. ‘I’ll request it.’
Ann was blessed with little sea-sickness, and Margaret helped in the hospital too when she wasn’t herself a patient.
The Isle Of Wight slipped past, followed a week later by Cape Finisterre in heavy rain, driven by strong south-westerlies. Ann and Margaret prayed in the darkness with a desperately ill woman as she passed to a more peaceful place.
Days rolled by, swallowed by long hours in the hospital with grateful patients. Those prisoners well enough were allowed on deck for exercise and air when the weather was good enough for the scuttles to be open.
The prisoners who’d been constantly ill began to show signs of scurvy, a discovery that made everyone anxious to reach land.
Word quickly spread that Port Jackson was in view.
Ann and Margaret listened to the First Mate call instructions, the responses from crew members, and the slosh of the ocean as the ship rocked about steadying a course towards the shore. Sails clunked into position, flapped with the changing angle of the wind. Soon the top sails were lowered, and the anchor sliced through the water with an horrendous lurch.
The women wanted to rush from the ship. After 128 days in a floating prison, they were ready for whatever was to follow. They waited patiently – this being no time to make a fuss.
Hours passed. They ate their rations in silence, except for occasional whimpers from the weakest among them.
The smell of wet sand teased from afar…
When the hatches were opened the following morning, the women huddled around in anticipation.
The First Lieutenant took muster and announced cleaning duties for the coming days. The shocked women protested. Some cried openly. Disappointment pushed tears through Ann’s eyes and she struggled to contain them.
Dr Cameron offered to take the women on deck in small groups, so they could see land, smell the eucalypts, and quell their sense of urgency.
Ann filled her lungs and breathed deeply. She was taken by the brightness of the sky and the dark green trees framing the docks.
‘Won’t be long now’, Margaret whispered.
Although not travelling, the ship was busy. Frustration drove everyone to do their chores quickly and properly.
Five days after the Princess Charlotte dropped anchor, she was boarded by Australia’s Colonial Secretary, Alexander McLeay. He assessed the condition of every inch of the ship, interviewed the Master and crew, took a report from the Surgeon Superintendent on the condition and nutrition of the convicts, and completed a Convict Indent entry for each woman.
Ann was nervous, but pleased she could say she’d gained some nursing experience on the voyage.
‘That will help us place you’, he said and smiled at her.
Ten days later, the ship eased towards the shore. Ropes were lobbed from deck to wharf and the gangplank secured. The dock pulsed with activity, the screech of pullies and winches, and officials and workers bustling to and fro.
Anticipation and trepidation overwhelmed Ann.
Margaret put her arm through hers reassuringly, ‘We’ll ’ave each other.’
They stepped forward and bent to touch the earth, careful not to soil their newly-supplied convict clothing. A guard urged them into the dock-yard behind its new twelve-foot high sandstone wall, and into groups by alphabet. Ann clung to Margaret as she had to William in the Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh.
They were forcibly separated, and Ann was soon assigned as housemaid to Mr John Connor Esq. of South Creek. She was grateful not to be behind bars, but something had shifted in her with the shock of losing Margaret so suddenly.
‘Stay strong’, William had said.
Ann straightened her back, lifted her shoulders and pushed her chin forward. She was sixteen, alone, and obligated to a master in a strange land: she would have to rely on herself to survive. Staying strong was her only option.
Edinburgh 1826, showing locations significant to Ann _see map key.
c. Kathryn Coughran, 2020
The New Jail From Calton Hill ~ drawn by Thomas H Shepherd and engraved by W. Tombleson, in Modern Athens: a Series of Views of Edinburgh (p91), published by Jones & Co Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square 1829 – (Public Domain – British Library: access.bl.uk)
Hand-drawn (by the author) map of Edinburgh in 1826 showing:
- Street Markets ~ Canongate
- Relief Presbyterian Church ~ Fountain Close
- Room where Ann stayed with friends ~ Halkerston’s Wynd
- William’s family home ~ Campbell’s Close, Cowgate
- Home robbed by Ann’s friends, incl. her ‘new’ clothes ~ Howard’s Place
- Court of Justiciary ~ Parliament House, Parliament Square
- Calton Jail ~ Regent Street
- Crown Office Precognition against Daniel Wheler, Daniel MacLaren, William Law, Margaret Desley, Ann Westwater for the crime of theft by housebreaking at Howard Place, near Edinburgh – 1826. (National Records of Scotland… Ref. AD14/26)
- Newspaper Article in The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland) Thursday 14th December 1826, p3. – (newspapers.com)
- 1826 In Scotland – (Wikipedia – en.wikipedia.org)
- Modern Athens: a Series of Views of Edinburgh, published by Jones & Co Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square 1829 – (Public Domain – British Library: access.bl.uk)
- Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868, p139 – 27th March 1827 from National Archives Microfilm Publication HO11. (The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surry, England [www.ancestry.com.au])
- Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1790-1849 in New South Wales Government, Musters and other Papers relating to Convict Ships. Series CGS 115. Reels 2417-2428. (NSW State Records, Kingswood, NSW [www.ancestry.com.au])
- Ann Westwater Transported on the Princess Charlotte, 27th March 1827 – (Australian Joint Copying Project, entered in the British Convict Transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Qld from British Home Office records)
- Margaret Desley Transported on the Princess Charlotte, 27th March 1827 – (Australian Joint Copying Project, entered in the British Convict Transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Qld from British Home Office records)
- Free Settler or Felon? Convict Ship Princess Charlotte 1827 – Jen Willetts; http://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ship_princess_charlotte_1827.htm
- New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842 for Ann Westwater in State Archives NSW; Series NRS 12188. Item [4/4012]. Microfiche 665. (NSW State Records, Kingswood, NSW [www.ancestry.com.au])
- NSW Convict Arrivals – Ann Westwater – (Genealogy Society of Victoria [Find My Past Record Transcription – https://www.findmypast.co.uk])
- Sydney and British Intelligence, in Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser (Hobart, Tasmania: 1825-1827, Friday 24th August 1827, p2)
- Plan of Edinburgh 1826 ~ Drawn and engraved for the GPO directory, by John Bartholomew – (Public Domain – National Library of Scotland)