Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Bryant (c. 1765–?)

by C. H. Currey

This article was published:

Mary Bryant (b.1765), convict, was baptized on 1 May 1765 at Fowey, Cornwall, England, the daughter of a mariner named Broad, whose family was 'eminent for sheep stealing'. On 20 May 1786 at the Exeter Assizes she, referred to as Mary Braund, was charged with assault and robbery, convicted and sentenced to death. Her sentence was commuted to transportation for seven years, and she was taken from Exeter jail to the hulk Dunkirk off Plymouth, where she remained until transhipped to the transport Charlotte in the First Fleet for Botany Bay. On the voyage she was 'delivered of a fine girl', who was baptized Charlotte Spence in October at Cape Town. At Sydney Cove on 10 February 1788 Mary was married to William Bryant, a Cornish fisherman of some 31 years, who had been convicted in March 1784 at the Launceston Assizes for resisting revenue officers. Sentenced to transportation for seven years to America, his destination was changed and he too passed through Exeter jail and the Dunkirk to the Charlotte, where he was employed in issuing provisions to his fellow prisoners.

At Port Jackson, William soon acquired the use of a hut and started a garden. He was given charge of the fishing boats, but in February 1789 was convicted of selling privately some of his catch and sentenced to receive 100 lashes. He was deprived of the fishing control, although, being a skilful fisherman, he was kept in the boats. In April 1790 Mary's second child, Emanuel, was born and baptized. In October there arrived at Port Jackson, with badly needed provisions, the Dutch snow Waaksamheyd, under Captain Detmer Smith (Smit). From him Bryant obtained a chart, compass, quadrant, two muskets, ammunition and food. William was known to be planning an escape and was closely watched, but in February 1791, after a squall had nearly wrecked his boat, he contrived to give it a thorough overhaul. On 28 March six days after the Supply was sent to Norfolk Island, the Waaksamheyd sailed for England. That night, with no ship at Port Jackson to overtake them and no moon to betray them to the lookout at South Head, the Bryants and seven convicts escaped in the governor's cutter with new masts, sails and oars and a good supply of provisions. Although one of the fugitives was a navigator and others were familiar with boats, their voyage to Timor was hazardous; they landed at Koepang on 5 June, after travelling 3254 miles (5237 km) in 69 days on an epic voyage in which they found coal, probably near Newcastle, discovered many of the islands of the Barrier Reef and crossed the Arafura Sea.

Bryant and his party posed as survivors from a wreck on the Australian coast, but the truth leaked out and they were detained in the local 'castle'. On 17 September Captain Edward Edwards arrived at Koepang with survivors of his crew from the wrecked Pandora and of his captured mutineers from the Bounty. He questioned the fugitives who admitted their escape from Botany Bay, but he did not take them in charge until 5 October when he was ready to sail in the Rembang. In November and in irons, the convicts reached Batavia where Emanuel died on 1 December and William Bryant three weeks later. Mary, Charlotte and one convict left Batavia in the Horssen; of the others, one went overboard in Sunda Strait and two died at sea. At the Cape, Mary, Charlotte and the four surviving convicts were transferred to the Gorgon for the voyage to England. Charlotte died at sea on 5 May 1792. Five weeks later they landed at Portsmouth and were taken to London and committed to Newgate. On 7 June at the Old Bailey they escaped the death penalty, but were ordered 'to remain on their former sentences until they should be discharged by due course of law'.

The press took up their story and James Boswell appealed to the Home Office for clemency. Mary Bryant was not pardoned until 2 May 1793, six weeks after her original sentence had expired. Her four companions were released next November, one of them later enlisting in the New South Wales Corps. Boswell continued to help Mary and regularly sent her money when she left London to rejoin her family at Fowey. An acknowledgment of one of these gifts in November 1794 is the last that is known of her.

Select Bibliography

  • C. H. Currey, The Transportation, Escape and Pardoning of Mary Bryant (Syd, 1963) and for bibliography.

Citation details

C. H. Currey, 'Bryant, Mary (c. 1765–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Braund, Mary
  • Broad, Mary

c. 1765

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Events
Key Places
Convict Record

Crime: assault and robbery
Sentence: death
Commuted To: 7 years
Court: Devon
Trial Date: 20 May 1786


Children: Yes (2)
Left the colony: Yes