Mary was born in Fowey as the daughter of a local fisherman. She later moved to Plymouth to find work, but was arrested for highway robbery after stealing a bonnet, jewellery and some coins. Her punishment was going to be execution (death), but instead she was sent to Australia. Sending criminals overseas was called transportation.
Transportation to Australia
In 1787, Mary and a group of other lawbreakers began the long journey to Australia on the ship Charlotte. On the way, Mary gave birth to a daughter, who was named Charlotte after the ship. When she reached Australia, Mary married William Bryant, who had also been transported. William had been a fisherman and smuggler in Cornwall. Together they had a son named Emanuel.
An amazing escape
Unhappy with life in Australia, Mary and William decided to escape. They made friends with a sailor who gave them equipment to help them navigate (steer) a boat. On 28th March 1791, Mary stole a small boat and escaped, along with her family and seven other prisoners. The group travelled over 5,000 kilometres across the sea and reached Timor in Indonesia after 69 days. This was one of the most amazing journeys ever made in a boat.
In Timor, William got drunk and told someone about the escape from Australia. Mary, William and the others were soon arrested and sent back to Britain. Conditions on the journey back were very harsh. Sadly, William, Charlotte and Emanuel all died on the journey. When she arrived back in Britain, Mary was sent to court and then to prison in London.
Return to Cornwall
A famous Scottish lawyer called James Boswell argued that Mary should be released from prison. She returned to Cornwall and lived on a pension of £10 a year, given to her by James Boswell.