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Esther - The extraordinary true story of the First Fleet girl who became First Lady of the colony

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Esther only just escaped the hangman in London. Aged 16, she stood trial at the Old Bailey for stealing 24 yards of black silk lace. Her sentence was transportation to the other side of the world.

She embarked on the perilous journey on the First Fleet as a convict, with no idea of what lay ahead. Once on shore, she became the servant and, in time, the lover of the dashing young first lieutenant George Johnston. But life in the fledgling colony could be gruelling, with starvation looming and lashings for convicts who stepped out of line.

Esther was one of the first Jewish women to arrive in the new land. Through her we meet some of the key people who helped shape the nation. Her life is an extraordinary rags-to-riches story. As leader of the Rum Rebellion against Governor Bligh, George Johnston became Lieutenant-Governor of NSW, making Esther First Lady of the colony, a remarkable rise in society for a former convict.

'North skilfully weaves together one woman's fascinating saga with an equally fascinating history of the early colonial period of Australia. The resulting true story is sometimes as strange and thrilling as a fairytale.' - Lee Kofman, author of The Dangerous Bride

288 pages, Paperback

Published April 1, 2019

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About the author

Jessica North

2 books10 followers
Jessica has worked at the Australian Research Institute for Environment & Sustainability at Macquarie University, for the past fifteen years, including five years as its Director.

As well as the books listed here, she has written four business guides and two lifestyle books, plus articles for the Australian Association for Environmental Education, 'Vogue Entertaining' and 'Vogue Children'. And she co-wrote a chapter for the United Nations publication 'Tomorrow Today'.

Jessica is fascinated by the remarkable women of colonial Australia and is delighted to be bringing them out from the shadows.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 62 reviews
Profile Image for Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews.
1,953 reviews277 followers
May 26, 2019
‘People make history. And it is not until we get to know the people behind the historic events that we really understand what they were all about.’

Jessica North, author of Esther

Esther is the culmination of ten years of dedicated research. Author Jessica North poured over hundreds of diaries, letters, books, records, maps and journals to produce her first book. This rich historical biography tells the story of one of Australia’s pioneers, a woman destined for the hangman’s noose in Britain, but saved by the olive branch of a new life in the penal colony of Australia. From a convict to a prominent landowner, Esther rose above her position and triumphed in her new nation.

Jessica North has brought to life the incredible story of Esther, in her debut biography. Beginning with Esther’s conviction for stealing at the age just 16, in the renowned Old Bailey, in the year 1786, we learn how Esther’s life was saved by an alternative sentence to hanging – transportation to the new colony of Australia. Esther’s journey to the new colony of Australia was eventful and dangerous, made even harder by the fact that Esther also had her young baby daughter in tow. The transportation ship was no place for a young babe in arms. However, by a miracle or pure determination, Esther survives, along with her child. Soon after disembarking the ship, Esther lands a position as a servant and eventually a lover to a prominent figure in the colony, Lieutenant George Johnston. However, in the very early days of the establishment of the colony, life was incredibly harsh. Esther must do all she can in order to preserve her own life and that of her young daughter. Esther’s rise from a convict to a prosperous woman of the colony is outlined by Jessica North with care and insight. Along the way we learn about the life and hard times of other prominent figures that touched Esther’s life and that of our nation.

I really love biographies such as Esther by Jessica North. These books go such a long way in filling in the gaps where history lessons have been unable to cover key figures such as Esther, the main subject of this new biography. As a proud Australian, I am always keen to discover unknown nuggets of our nation’s history. I do feel like we owe it to our brave pioneers of yesteryear, to appreciate the hard yards they went to in order to establish our nation.

I am familiar with a few convict stories, courtesy of my education and some wider reading. However, Esther is a new name and figure to me. I am extremely grateful to the author of this biography, Jessica North, for drawing our attention to this remarkable woman. Structuring the book in the form of date by date and year after year key events helps to resurrect Esther’s lost tale. Jessica North embarked on a decade of research in order to compose her book and this is evident not only in the book itself, but the extensive Epilogue, Acknowledgments, Notes on Esther, Chapter Notes and Select Bibliography.

Esther represents an untold history of a woman who lived a life beyond belief. She rose from the ashes and succeeded in making her mark on Australia’s history books. Esther’s life is one of hardship, setbacks, resilience, resourcefulness and pure grit. Esther’s life is relayed alongside the defining events of Australia’s first settlers, we get a strong insight into life in the penal colony. We learn about key historical events, influential figures and the regrettable relations between the colonists and the local indigenous people. It will break your heart at times, but most importantly, it makes you value Australian life today.

The life of one of Australia’s most innovative, brave and determined early settlers is brought to life through the excellent penmanship of Jessica North. Authentic, riveting and inspiring, Esther is a sensational tribute to one of our nation’s leading female pioneers.

‘Esther looked again at the invitation. It occurred to her that her own life reflected that of the colony itself: a remarkable transformation from an inferior convict beginning, through drama and hardship, to finally achieving a position of respect.’

*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Esther is book #73 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,964 reviews202 followers
June 11, 2019
‘Esther was travelling with over a thousand other people to an unknown future in an unknown land.’

Esther Abrahams was aged only 16 when, in 1786, she was sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing 24 yards of black silk lace. She was transported to Botany Bay as part of the First Fleet in 1788. Over time Esther rose to become one of the most prominent women in the colony.

Once on shore, Esther became the servant of first lieutenant George Johnston. Over time they became lovers. And when George Johnston became Lieutenant-Governor of NSW after the Rum Rebellion deposed Governor William Bligh in 1808, Esther was the leading woman in the colony for a period of seven months. In the 1828 census, some five years after the death of George Johnston, she appeared as a free settler in possession of 2460 acres (996 ha).

Ms North undertook her research for this book over a period of ten years, after first encountering Esther in a book about women in Australian history. The paragraph said that Esther had been a convict on the First Fleet and had later become First Lady of NSW. Ms North was intrigued: she thought that she would have heard of Esther if this was true.

While Ms North documents the known facts of Esther’s life from a number of different sources, little is known of her origin. She was tried in the Old Bailey as ‘Esther Abrahams’ but by the time of her marriage to George Johnston in 1814 she was known as ‘Esther Julian’. During her trial she was represented by a barrister, which was unusual at that time, and three people appeared in court to declare that she was of very good character. We do know that she was Jewish, she was convicted of stealing 24 years of black silk lace valued at 50 shillings, that she was sentenced to be ‘transported beyond the seas for seven years’, and that she was pregnant.

Ms North’s research enabled her to find out more about Esther and her imagination enabled her to bring Esther to life. Through Esther’s story, we meet several of the people who shaped the European settlement of Australia. An interesting read, which I’d recommend to anyone wanting to know more about the early European settlement of Australia.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Profile Image for Kim.
870 reviews88 followers
December 18, 2019
A woman from The First Fleet. Her extraordinary story is simply told and with a little bit of creative indulgence with some of the filling in between facts. It is revealing to have a contemporary view of this part of history in light of contributions of women in history and also Indigenous relations.
Women in this time period who were often left to run family properties and provide for the family while the men were elsewhere. My own First and Second Fleet ancestors, while not alluded to by name in this book, were on Norfolk Island and later in Green Hills on The Hawkesbury. They are recognisable in some of these recollections.
Interactions between Indigenous people and Colonists are viewed with a current perspective. Especially, in the wake of revelations in Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage I hope we see more of this.
The structure of the book is by date entry and at the end of the book there is an explanation of where the author filled in some historical gaps with a little bit of indulgent conjecture.
Well worth a read.

49 reviews
September 11, 2019
Loved this book. I often labour to get through books about early settlement in Australia/First Fleet. I found this story very alive and accessible. As a historical novel, I love how North explains, at the end of the book, some of the fictional license she used and the reasons for that. A story of amazing ingenuity and creativity.

For me also, the gradual disappearance of Australian Aboriginal people from the consciousness of those who took over their lands (and more) reverberates in what is not said as well as what is said.
Profile Image for Victoria.
182 reviews3 followers
January 16, 2021
Very much enjoyed this book which, refreshed my knowledge of NSW history from the first fleet arrival to mid 1800s. A remarkable story about Esther and all she achieved in her life. From a 16 year old convict girl transported to the colonies (Australia) for stealing a piece of lace, to the first lady (being shortlived) of NSW. She was fortunate enough to develop a relationship with the kindly Lieutenant Governor of the colony. The lived happily for decades, and developed considerable wealth. The story reminds us of the cruelty that man can bestow on his fellow human and also the lowly status of women at the time. The book is written in diary form with all the sections having a date title. The book easily reads like a novel.
25 reviews1 follower
January 12, 2020
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, from the subject matter through to the interesting and easy to read style. This novel is about Esther herself, but also about the colony as a whole, and by the end if the book I felt as though I knew a whole cast of characters and their stories. It is odd to read about the people after whom so many places and things have been named, and I drove my partner crazy telling her random facts and annecdotes whenever we walked around the city whilst I was reading this. 'Esther' painted a fascinating portrait of the often frought, perilous and complicated business of establishing a colony in Australia that certainly wouldn't have interested me quite as much if it hadn't been bound in the tale of Esther and her life. A great read if you are interested in Australian Literature, and strong women in our history.
Profile Image for Sonia Bowers.
28 reviews
March 25, 2023
Book 3 in 2023
Title :- Esther
Author :- Jessica North
Pages :- 288 pages
Genre :- history, biography, nonfiction, Australian

The extraordinary true story of the First Fleet girl who became First Lady of the colony…

Not my usual read, at first glance it’s cover suggests a romantic fictional
But this diarised book is filled with wonderfully researched and carefully woven history of an amazing pregnant 16 year old, Jewish woman in 1786,
who stole 24 yards of black silk lace, and was sentenced to transportation to the other side of the world- Australia.
As we meet key characters of Australian history and watch historical events unfold through as a young woman, Esther (Hetty as the dashing young first lieutenant George Johnston calls her), rises from a former convict through society to become the most prominent woman and First Lady in the colony.

My Notable Quotes
- p36
‘… this rain belonged to a land where flood and drought dominated the landscape.
- p228
‘Esther looked again at the invitation. It occurred to her that her own life reflected that of the colony itself: a remarkable transformation from an inferior convict beginning, through drama and hardship, to finally achieving a position of respect.’

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5 stars

#bookstagram #booksofinstagram #bibliophile #readmorebooks #soniasreads2023
#history #biography #nonfiction #australian #jessicanorth #esther
Profile Image for Kathryn J H Jones.
33 reviews2 followers
November 4, 2020
Wow! What a hard, but rewarding life Ester lead. I found the grit and determination she had to just get on with things inspiring. Her loving relationship with Johnson also lovely... really enjoyed it.
I am definitely going to go to Waverley Cemetery to see Johnson and Ester’s crypt. Amazing part if our history.
841 reviews9 followers
April 9, 2020
A competent and interesting history of Sydney for the first 30 years from 1788. The main character lived in Annandale and Stanmore. For history buffs rather than fine writing lovers.
89 reviews
April 5, 2020
Loved this book, all the history was there but story of the characters lives were real and relatable.
Great book if you're wanting to know about the world of early Australia in Sydney
Profile Image for Claire Louisa.
1,643 reviews97 followers
May 7, 2019
This is in my library as a biography, but I'm inclined to say it's a mix of biography and historical fiction. This was such an interesting read, based on the true story of Esther the First Fleet convict girl who became First Lady of the colony.

Written in a diary like form, the story spans over 30 years. This is the first book I've read about the First Fleet and it was extremely interesting, especially Esther and her husband George Johnston's life. Esther was an extremely strong woman, any woman would have had to have been to survive the conditions of the convict ship, then life in a new country that until then had not been populated by anyone other than the aboriginal people. I was disappointed we didn't get to read much about the plight of the indigenous people, they were mentioned, how could they not be in a story about the founding of Australia by white people, and the way they were treated and the way they fought back to begin with was both interesting and terrible.

The politics involved in setting up the colony were extremely complicated with some of the governors trying to do the best for the colony and some trying to do the best for themselves. It definitely wasn't a fair place or time to be living in, especially for the convicts and those with no money.

I definitely recommend this book if you are interested in Australia's history.
1 review
August 6, 2019
A gritty, captivating, true story that keeps the pages turning long into the night! Jessica North's meticulous research and clear-eyed, sensitive perspective shines a light into the shadows of the past, revealing Sydney's beginnings in a fascinating diarised form like no other book has done before. One can almost smell the dark horror below decks on the voyage out, hear the clinking of chains and bite of the lash that echoed across the bay to where the Opera House now stands.

Centred around Esther, a young Jewish girl who not only survived the harsh reality of our convict past, but who emerged triumphant as 'First Lady' of the colony, North convincingly portrays the hardships the early white settlers endured as they struggled to survive in an inhospitable land, far from the green fields of home. Jessica also reveals the initial efforts that were made by some in trying to gain the trust of the aborigines – indeed, to befriend them – before disease, fear and eventual mistrust turned the relationship sour.

'Esther' should be required study by every high school student – read by every Australian – for this book shows us what it was really like to step ashore at Sydney Cove (for those lucky enough to be still standing) and eke out an existence that laid the foundation of what you and I share today.

Microscopic in its focus, yet epic in its broad canvas, Jessica North has reached back into the sepia mists of time and painstakingly sieved the truth from a myriad faded pages and much past research, revealing new threads in the tapestry that is Australia. More than just a good read – the book is also an important historical reference.
54 reviews
August 18, 2019
This was an excellent read. I was nearer to 4.5 stars. I like Jessica’s writing style and how the history unfolds, the date references keep reader close to the timeline that they know. Esther is a rich and complex character whose courage and grit enabled her to move through the layers of her past and be part of the future of the new colony in a way that was only possible there. Enjoyed the relationships between other prominent families and characters in the colony and how they made their success and at times lost it.
The literary landscapes of England, Sydney, Norfolk Island and Hobart each provide dramatic locations where success and failure rests on cordial relations with aboriginal people, limited communication, law and order and having and being able to provide the necessary sustenance for survival. The end references to the characters and what happened to them was very welcome and encourages further reading.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Pauline Tyrer.
6 reviews2 followers
June 8, 2019
Absolutely fascinating account of the First Fleet to Sydney Cove and the first 25 years of the colony from the viewpoint of Esther Julian Abrahams Johnston, a convict and later free woman. Arabanoo, the first indigenous person to live among the white settlers, albeit initially by force was befriended by Esther’s young daughter Rosanna. Later the narrative details the interactions between the settlers and Bennelong, who became the de facto liaison between the whites and the indigenous people, and his wife Barangaroo. After the first Governor, the gentle Arthur Phillip, the book goes on to detail the brutal governership of William Bligh who resurfaced after the mutiny on the Bounty.
Profile Image for Margaret Williams.
247 reviews3 followers
August 5, 2023
An interesting story which filled in many gaps for me about the people and places connected with Sydney's early settlement. A strange mix of fact and fiction (even though the book is classified as a biography), the writing style I found rather wooden at times and almost childishly overdescriptive at others ("the gum leaves hung sugar-frosted with dew"...!). I was puzzled that in spite of so much poetic licence in the story-telling, there was very little indication as to any real feeling between Esther and her long-time partner George Johnston. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Tahnaya.
54 reviews2 followers
April 19, 2019
I loved reading this book. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, especially when it’s about my country’s history. The story of Esther is heartbreaking but inspiring and really provides an insight to what the first colony experienced. They were tough times but Esther was a tough woman!
Profile Image for Robyn Waite.
9 reviews
May 4, 2019
Written in the form of a diary enables better understanding of the events that occurred in chronological order in early Sydney. An enjoyable read for anyone interested in Australia history.
34 reviews
March 30, 2019
ESTHER by Jessica North is published by Allen & Unwin 1st April 2019
Review by Lorraine Parker
This is the stunning and fascinating true story of Esther, a convict girl of but sixteen, who is transported to the first colony of Australia in the very first fleet. Ten years of research by Jessica North bring not only Esther to life but all personalities and locations. The account is an historical masterpiece told objectively with no embellishment to fill in any gaps.
A special friendship is forged between 3 of the women who are pregnant in the convict transport ship; Esther, Susannah and Mary. Esther gave birth to Rosanna in the stinking bowels of the Lady Penrhyn. It unfolds as a miraculous journey of survival, not only of convicts but of each of the 10 vessels, led by Governor Arthur Phillip. Esther and her baby survived because of a goat whose care was given to Esther by the officer, Johnstone. The author has not stressed this or given it great prominence. It is for me, just one example of the unfolding of innumerable fascinating facts.
A link with Lieutenant George Johnstone had been forged. It was fortunate (in many ways) that Esther became Johnstone’s servant, living in quarters shared by others and not far from his humble home. In such a raw new settlement life was rugged, with flogging as punishment for convicts and the ongoing likelihood of starvation. At best minimal rations were the order for all. Hardship was so often insurmountable.
The Guardian bringing much needed supplies and livestock did not make it.
I love the way that there is no great love scenes of how and exactly when Esther and Johnston formed a sexual relationship. Esther is suddenly sick and she recognises the same feeling as when she was pregnant with Rosanna. To her relief Johnstone is pleased and the baby is christened George. She now lives with him.
I had forgotten the importance of Norfolk Island from the time of the very first settlement. Johnstone and Esther (and children) are sent there. A very different and unanticipated sailing experience for Esther. I felt that the author could have given a little more emphasis to this aspect.
The account of the loss of the Sirius is gut wrenching, as is the arrival of a thousand more convicts in Sydney Cove which is already starving. The British assumed so much from afar. One such example is June of 1790 in the arrival of three convict ships. Supplies were expected and inhabitants rushed to watch. Instead Susannah and Mary, “watched in dismay as boatloads of dead and dying people were brought ashore”. They were emaciated, covered in their own filth, disfigured by scurvy, rotting with gangrene and crawling with lice.”
Most of us only know the bare bones of our early history. Jessica North has left no stone unturned to reveal so much more. There are gaps in her dialogue but this is realistic and make the record so authentic, remarkable and at times overwhelming. I devoured every detail.
So what happened to Esther and Johnstone? How many children did they have? Did they flourish as the colony grew? Did he, Johnstone ever marry Esther? Did they escape the mismanagement of the arrogant unscrupulous Governor Bligh or was Johnstone able to find ways around it? Was Esther accepted as First Lady of the colony?
The remarkable facts surrounding Bennalong and Barangaroo are interwoven into this account as they occur in time. To me, an eye opener, even though I thought I knew the facts.
The concluding summing-up by Jessica North, especially of Esther’s life still leaves me stunned and teary.
This is a riveting, informative must read for all Australians. We can learn so much from history.
Profile Image for Dilly Dalley.
139 reviews8 followers
May 27, 2020
We were in Sydney for a weekend and visited the Jewish museum as part of our daughter's Year 12 assignment, then went to Kinokuniya, before heading home to Canberra. I just happened to pick this up and thought 'wow - there was a Jewish woman on the First Fleet'. There was mention of her at the museum and now here was a book about her. As I'm interested in Australian history, and little known stories of women, and contact between settlers and the First Nations peoples of Australia, I was always going to buy this book, once it found its way into my hand. Esther's Jewishness is only a small and poorly understood part of the story. The overarching story is one of survival and development of the fledgling colony of New South Wales as seen through the reconstructed story of one woman's journey from 16-year-old pregnant convict on the First Fleet, through to land owner and wife of the Governor (though Johnston was only briefly in that role due to the William Bligh story).

This is an impressively researched and constructed story. I greatly admired the method by which the story was told, with an accurate timeline always present in the text. The author Jessica North has done an excellent job of using the record of the day with an elaboration of the events and motivations of the historical actors. I started the book worried that the treatment of contact between the Indigenous people and the British settlers would be underdone, but quite the opposite is true. Jessica North has given a great chunk of the story over to this aspect and I needn't have worried. The book does not have a sociological or structural history aspect but rather a lived experience of the individual characters as we can understand it from records and imagination. So, we don't get an analytical history of the dispossession but we do get the characters of Arabanoo and Bennelong and their wives and families and the stories from the settlers of the conflict with Indigenous people as the settlement expands to Parramatta and beyond.

I spent a big part of my late 20s living around Johnston St, Annandale and now it has a resonance that is not just part of the pub bands at the Annandale hotel. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Australian history.
Profile Image for Ozbernie.
130 reviews
October 23, 2020
Stumbled across this book while in line at the post office. I didn’t know what to expect but I loved it! I loved the style of writing and the way it had dates and events recorded from history. This is not your usual narrative style book yet it still captured me with how the author combined the facts and real events and yet still introduced me to Esther’s character making me warm to her very much.

I think I would also enjoy a fictional and even more emotive telling of all that happened during the first fleet and the colonization of Australia but not in this book as there’s no place for it here. The author did it justice by giving us just the right amount of emotive description in these true accounts based on her tireless research so we can read about these remarkable events and people in an easy to remember format.

I learnt so much and by reading this book I feel even more enriched with added knowledge and insight into the incredible history of my island home.

To sum it up, I loved the quote about Australian history that the author included by Mark Twain:

“Australian history is almost always picturesque; indeed, it is so curious and strange, that it is itself the chiefest novelty the country has to offer, and so it pushes other novelties into the second and third place. It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies. And all of a fresh dirt, no moldy old stale ones. It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened”
Profile Image for Carolyn.
1,125 reviews12 followers
October 21, 2021
I had never heard of Esther Abrahams, who came to Sydney as a convict on the First Fleet. She had a long relationship with and eventual marriage to George Johnston. He was a naval officer and, for a short time, the acting Governor of New South Wales. The other interesting fact about Esther is that she was the first Jewish woman to live in New South Wales. She observed Christian customs in Australia but apparently always considered herself Jewish.

This is an important book, bringing to the fore the story of yet another woman who has been largely forgotten in the historical record. Esther survived great hardship but prospered. Her management of the Johnston family property showed skill and energy. In this she was not unlike the more famous Elizabeth Macarthur.

Earlier in the year, our book group read a fictional account of Elizabeth Macarthur’s life (Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville) and I followed that up by reading Michelle Scott Tucker’s biography. Esther seems to sit between genres - it is a well researched biography but much of Esther’s life is imagined, which Jessica North explains in her Chapter Notes at the end of the book. I rarely enjoy non-fiction as much as a good story and I don’t think North’s insights into character motivation or her prose style are good enough to make her a strong story teller.

North is a thorough researcher though and has made a valuable contribution to the record of Australia’s early history, including relationships between the colonisers and the Indigenous inhabitants.
Profile Image for Emma Skapetis.
93 reviews102 followers
April 23, 2020
Esther is the story of a girl who became a convict , and eventually first lady as the partner of George Johnson. She had stolen lace in England , and her sentence was to be sent to Australia. She went on the lady penrethyn with her young baby Rosanna. She meets George Johnson and Susannah Kable also a young mother and who becomes a friend to her. Esther begins working for Johnson and they eventually start a relationship. She ends up having 8 children to him. As well as being the story of Esther , this book is the story of the early colonial period of Australia which is very interesting. It goes into detail about the governers of NSW including , King , Bligh , Hunter and Macquarie. It also mentions the short period in which Esther is first lady when Johnson becomes governor NSW after the rum rebellion he led against Bligh. You also see in this book what a good business woman Esther was , and that she was trusted by Johnson to manage his affairs. Esther and Johnson eventually married in 1814.
The lives of Indigenous Australians at the time like Bennelong are mentioned throughout the book and the relationships they had with the British settlers , which is really good. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to read about Esther or about the early colonial period.
Profile Image for Eli's Bookshelf.
12 reviews
July 27, 2020
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, from the subject matter through to the interesting and easy to read style. This novel is about Esther herself, but also about the colony as a whole, and by the end if the book I felt as though I knew a whole cast of characters and their stories. It is odd to read about the people after whom so many places and things have been named, and I drove my partner crazy telling her random facts and anecdotes whenever we walked around the city whilst I was reading this.

'Esther' painted a fascinating portrait of the often fraught, perilous and complicated business of establishing a colony in Australia that certainly wouldn't have interested me quite as much if it hadn't been bound in the tale of Esther and her life. A great read if you are interested in Australian Literature, and strong women in our history. I would have loved to know more about her connection Judaism, being one of the first Jews to every step foot in Australia, however I appreciated the authors end notes about this and about some of the other small liberties that had to be taken and the reasons why.
Profile Image for Aileen Pound.
Author 1 book106 followers
December 3, 2021
I’m going to be brutally honest here, I don’t usually read Australian books. There’s no reason for it, I just have never gravitated towards them. When I bought this book, I skimmed it quickly and thought it was about a convict women from England getting sent to America. As I said I skimmed it so made a quick assumption.

When I started reading this book, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to read. The format was inviting and set out so that as a mother if I got called away the book was written like a diary of sorts so easy to put down and then pick back up again. Also it was so interesting. The things I learnt about Australia left me wanting to run and tell someone about it. Look out for the part about how the Rosella got its name.

Reading this book, it really brings home how young our country still is compared to the likes of England or America, yet how far we have come in such a short time.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough xx
Profile Image for Rosemary.
448 reviews
May 7, 2020
I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it clarified so much for me, an immigrant, what it was like for individuals waiting in prison and then sailing on the the First Fleet. Esther was quite a woman. Though the notes at the end of the book for each chapter provide what aspects of the story are imagined by the author, it is great to have that imaginary touch to give the reader a grasp as to how a convict could end up the unmarried partner of George Johnston, a remarkable man himself who, among many other talents, had to handle so ably the crisis in early Sydney of Governor Bligh. No spoilers here. What a good way this is to learn many details of early Sydney and will make my next visit to Sydney so much more interesting as I try to visit areas still that relate to Esther and her family.
Profile Image for Mike White.
190 reviews1 follower
December 21, 2022
“Macarthur’s timing could not have been better. The war with France had interrupted supplies from Spain and English farmers were increasingly breeding sheep for meat rather than wool because of food shortages. Macarthur had appeared to offer a perfect solution: Britain would have virtually unlimited supply of wool from one of its own colonies, and the export trade would make New South Wales more financially independent.”
Factual biography of Esther, a convicted thief transported to Australia who became the wife of the Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales.
Thoroughly researched: chapter notes, bibliography & index. Captain Bligh of the Bounty was the unpopular Governor of the colony for a time. The interesting story of a woman’s life in Australia at the turn of the 17th/18th century.
Profile Image for Jene Bring.
8 reviews
August 22, 2020

Skeptical when I first started reading, here's another Australian colonial story - I knew enough to know this wasn't going to be an uplifting experience, ho hum.
But, to my surprise this turned out to be a great read!
This book has all your old favourites. James Ruse and James Squire, Captain Phillip, The Macquarie's and Macarthur's, Johnston, Hunter, Bligh, Bennelong and Barangaroo.
Many many more characters interwoven into just one thread of the beginning of colonial life.
Great research and skill to bring together so much information into a very readable format.
Thank you Jessica North, well done!
January 11, 2023
This is a genre I usually enjoy and I have read several books based on this period of history with many of the same characters. However, I didn’t enjoy this book.

It’s written as diary entries, but rather than the diary entry of one person it’s a collection of events seen from everyone’s perspectives. It’s also told heavily in 3rd person with very little dialogue or even inner monologue. It reads more as non-fiction and is quite dry, taking me longer than usual to finish reading.

If you’re interested in their era I’d read something else, Nanberry by Jackie French or there’s another from the perspective of Elizabeth McArthur.
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