Susan: Convict’s daughter, soldier’s wife, nobody’s fool, By Stella Budrikis

susan book review aldershoot 1866.jpg
Garrison town, Aldershot, England, where David Whybrew was stationed in 1871. 

Book Review by A. G. Moore

Stella Budrikis’ excellent biography, Susan, takes readers on a journey through the hardscrabble existence of Australia’s early European settlers. The eponymous Susan is Susan Mason, the author’s great–great grandmother.  The characters in this book are real people who struggle in the harshest of circumstances.  Fortune, will and physical endurance allow some to reach maturity and raise families.  Survival is a lottery in which perseverance and serendipity play equal roles.

Nature granted Susan the ability to bear numerous children.  Fortune took many of these from her.  This was a common occurrence at that time, but more likely to befall those who were crowded into the hull of a ship or crammed into a fetid slum where immigrants congregated.

Susan eventually migrated to England, where she settled with her husband, David Whybrew, a soldier in the British army. David’s income barely supported the growing Whybrew family. Throughout her sojourn in Australia and England, Susan had repeated contact with the police. Indeed much of the record cited in this book is derived from official court records.   Budrikis does not shrink from the less attractive aspects of Susan’s life. It is the author’s unflinching treatment of her subject that renders her narrative credible.

One of the several Whybrew children who did reach maturity, Eliza, was destined to be the author’s great grandmother. Eliza’s life followed a very different path from Susan’s. This may have been partly due to temperament and partly to the influence of her husband, William Beales.  Beales and his family were active in the Salvation Army.  This involvement likely offered Eliza the sort of stable guidance that had not been available to Susan.

In the “Afterword” to Susan, Budrikis wonders if she’s done right by her forbear in telling this story  without attempting to conceal blemishes. Budrikis writes, “I hope that by telling her story I have given her, and other women like her, a recognition that they were denied in their lifetime”.  Indeed she has. Susan Mason made choices that put her afoul of the law and forged for her a chaotic path through life.  But those choices also helped her to survive.  Susan Mason and thousands of others had only their wits and their determination to help them prevail over daunting odds.  They survived.  When life is stripped to its barest essentials, that becomes the ultimate test of character.

Stella Budrikis has written a book about more than family legacy.  It is about a time and place in history, about pioneers who were essential to the foundation of Australia.  The book is informative and entertaining.  I highly recommend it.


Ms. Budrikis maintains a website that traces her family history.  It is a fascinating read.



Indigenous People of Australia

Truganini, reported to be the last full-blooded Palawa from Tasmania. Truganini died in 1876. (Public domain picture, author unknown, copyright expired)

This piece was adapted from The Modern British Empire, Rhythm Prism’s first history book in its Reading for Fun and Comprehension series.

Most recently, the essay was included in Exploration and Conquest: Stories of Indigenous Peoples.  This book is designed for a mature audience.  It includes material on French, Italian, Belgian and Spanish colonialism.  The book tells its stories with the help of pictures. These reveal the experiences of real people who suffered the effects of European colonialism across the globe.


In referring to the indigenous (indigenous means native to, or original) people of a territory, the word aboriginal is often used. The indigenous people of Australia and Tasmania, for example, are usually referred to as Aborigines. This term is convenient but not very accurate. Just as there were different ethnic groups in Europe, so were there different ethnic groups in Australia and Tasmania.

Europeans coming upon the different groups, or tribes, of the new territory did not notice distinctions, only similarities. Among the groups that existed in Australia and Tasmania at the time of conquest are included the following peoples. There were hundreds of groups; these are just a few of them:

*Muthi Muthi

It is estimated that before European colonization of Tasmania there were between 3,000 to 15,000 Palawa living there. Britain colonized Tasmania (then called Van Dieman’s Land) in 1803. The British used the island as a penal colony–a place to send prisoners. “Transportation”, as the exiling of prisoners was called, was common practice in England at the time.

Conflict between the British and local Tasmanians grew as settlement proceeded. In the 1820s, conflict became so widespread that it was called The Black War. The Black War has been described as one of the earliest recorded instances of genocide in modern times. Over the years, the Palawa people perished, partly as a result of violence and partly as a result of disease. The last full blooded indigenous Tasmanian,Truganini, died in 1876.


Batman's Treaty
Artist’s impression of Batman’s Treaty, signed in 1835. This is the only known time when Europeans directly negotiated their occupation of lands owned by indigenous peoples in Australia. In this case, the treaty was signed by John Batman and elders of the Wurundjeri people. The treaty was declared invalid two months later by the governor of New South Wales. (Public domain picture, copyright expired, author unknown)