This was a fascinating book, based in part on the true story of the ship Rajah and its voyage to take female convicts to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania ) with an added murder mystery thrown in. The quilt that some of the ladies are making is real as currently housed in the National Gallery of Australia where it has been since 1989. If you would like to see image of the quilt they can be found on the gallery’s website – here.
This clever blend of history and fiction made a great read, with some of the characters such as Kezia Hayter the matron on the voyage and Captain Ferguson based on real people it adds to the sense of reality.
The story felt well paced and balanced. I read this as an eBook and I did at times wish I was reading a physical copy so I could flip back and forth and make connections. Purely personal preference of course.
The atmosphere on the ship felt thick and oppressive form the beginning with the description of the conditions below deck where the women spent the majority of their time was horrific. Dark and dirty with no real way to keep clean it is amazing that the women remained as well and healthy as they did.
The story skips between the April at the start of the voyage and July when the voyage is well under way. We learn who our victim is fairly early on and the rest of the story is trying to unpick why she was attacked. The book is well crafted with the time skips and the women the story focusses on thinking back to their previous lives before they were convicted as we slowly learn the (often heart breaking) reasons why they found they found themselves convicted and ultimately transported aboard the Rajah.
I really enjoyed this novel and like all the best historical novels make you do, I went and googled all about the Rajah voyage afterwards as well! Highly recommended if you enjoy well crafted historical fiction.