During the night of March 28, 1791, William Bryant, his wife Mary, their children Charlotte and Emmanuel, and seven other convicts, escaped from Sydney in the governor’s own six-oar cutter. An an extraordinary feat of navigation, they sailed from Sydney to Timor (a journey of 3,250 miles) in just under 10 weeks.
Mary, nee Broad, was a sailor’s daughter from Cornwall who was transported for 7 years for stealing a cloak. She came out on Charlotte and gave birth to a baby daughter on the trip, whom she named Charlotte after the ship.
William Bryant also came from Cornwall and also travelled on Charlotte. He was transported for resisting arrest by excise officers. Mary and William married soon after reaching Port Jackson. Their child, Emmanual, was born April 1790.
As a fisherman, William Bryant was an asset to the coloney, and he was soon put in charge of the boats that hauled the fishing nets. What some would see as a chance to make good, Bryant saw as a chance to make money. He was caught selling fish on the sly and given 100 lashes.
In October 1790, an East Indies Trader visited Sydney. From its captain, Bryant received a compass, a quadrant, muskets, food and a chart of the waters between Sydney and Timor. This he hid in rolls of bark under the floorboards.
They waited until the Supply was dispatched to Norfolm Island and the East Indies trader also left Port Jackson, both in March 1791, after which they put their escape plan into action.
The beginning of their journey was fairly easy-going. They had no difficulty in finding edible palms and quantities of fish. Any natives they encountered were either friendly or kept well away.
Their luck soon changed, though, as they encountered so much rain that for 5 weeks they were constantly soaked and rarely able to light a fire. Between Port Macquarie and Brisbane they were driven out to sea by wind for almost 3 weeks.
After reaching land again, they met hostile natives. Even after leaving Cape York Peninsula, they were pursued by natives in canoes. They then travelled through open water to Arnhem Land and then again through open water to Timor.
On June 5, they reached Koepang in Timor, where they told the dutch Governor they were survivors of a shipwreck on the Australian coast. For two months their tale was believed and they were given new clothing and food as they waited for a ship bound for England.
After 2 months, William Bryant, possibly because he was drunk, told the Governor their true story and the entire party was immediately taken prisoner and held in detention util the arrival of Captain Edward Edwards, who had been chasing bounty mutineers and had lost his ship near New Guinea.
The Bryants and their fellow convict escapees were put in irons and shipped to Batavia, where William Bryant and his son, Emmanuel, died of fever.
The others were taken back to the Cape and then the survivors (three men died at sea) were put on board a man-of-war which was takin a marine detachment back to London. On the way, Mary’s daughter, Charlotte, died and was buried at sea.
In London, Mary and the other convicts were taken prisoner in Newgate, where they gained the interest of the English publish and the press, who named Mary “the girl from Botany Bay”. Many letters, some from influential people, urged clemency on her behalf.
In May 1793, Mary Bryant was granted an unconditional parden and returned to Cornwall. Her fellow escapees were later pardoned in November 1793. One made the surprising decision to immediately join the New South Wales Corps and return to Botany Bay.