The Wreck by Meg Keneally

1. First lines. 2. Published 2020 Echo Publishing. 3. Sydney, approximately 1820 [No known copyright restrictions] via Visit Sydney Australia 4. Peterloo Massacre [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

At a protest in Manchester in 1819 (loosely based on the Peterloo Massacre), Sarah McCaffrey’s mother and father are killed, and Sarah vows to continue her parents’ ideals. She escapes arrest for her part in a failed rebellion, and boards the “Serpent” heading for New South Wales. Here she adopts a new identity, after surviving the shipwreck that kills everyone else on board. She is being pursued by the English authorities, and her life is in danger.


“No light was coming from the crippled ship and precious little from the sky, so Sarah did not see the next wave until it was almost upon her, a shelf of black, angry water flinging her and the barrel towards the rocks.”

I will go with the men when they rise, though most do not want me to do so. Women hunger, and women die, so women must also fight.

My opinion:

This is an interesting story. Wide research, indicated by a list of sources provided at the end, helps to add authenticity to the life and times of the main characters. The writing is very well done, making it a very satisfying read.

The opinion of others:
  • Queensland Reviewers Collective: “The author has a way of writing that is easy to read and her descriptions are graphic, especially as she describes the boat moving headlong towards disaster. It makes the reader realise just how hard life was for these earlier generations and just how much people can withstand in the quest for survival.
  • Canberra Times: “Beautifully written, this is an intelligent book that takes the reader through a period in English and Australian history that has rarely been so truthfully described.”
  • The AU Review: “If you enjoyed Meg Keneally’s previous novel, Fled, then you will find The Wreck an exciting and entertaining follow up. It’s full of rich historical detail, compelling writing and all the seafaring detail you could possibly hope for.

Meg Keneally

Historical note:

The wreck of the Serpent in this novel is loosely based on the wreck of the Dunbar. In 1857, the captain of the Dunbar accidentally drove the ship onto the rocks of South Head as he steered the ship into Sydney Harbour during a wild storm. Only one person survived, a crewman named James Johnson.

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