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

For ten years, Jessica North has meticulously researched this story about the first Jewish lady on board the First Fleet. Although Esther, the Jewish girl, had none of the education or social standing of Elizabeth Macarthur, she finished up managing a large agricultural estate with success. The author has placed an accurate timeline throughout the book and has not changed any known facts. The story begins in August 1786, when Esther was charged with shoplifting, the penalty for which was death. Fortunately, this was changed to Transportation.

It was apparent that Esther came from a wealthy family, as she was moved to the “better” side of Newgate Prison. Using relevant dates, the author describes what the sixteen-year old girl faced during her wait in prison, her transfer to the ship and journey to Australia. During the crossing, dates are given showing when treats were given out or storms were experienced. Along with other women, Esther was pregnant and gave birth to her baby on board the ship.

During the landing and settling, we learn of many familiar names. Captain Phillip claimed the land for King George, and some French ships came into the harbour led by Captain La Perouse. Also, Mary Bryant and her husband, William are noted. They were the Cornish fishers who helped supplement the food for the hungry settlers. Hangings and floggings were frequent at this time, and everyone was ordered to watch.

There are marvellous copies of original drawings both from England (Newgate Prison), and many others from the new Colony, showing leaders and the lands that were being developed. There is also a portrait of Esther Johnson in her later years. By following the story in a diary form, we learn of many of the intrigues and day- to- day happenings that lead to a successful settlement. Esther married George Johnson, a Lieutenant in the Marines. Together they had developed a substantial estate and had eight children.

To add to the excellent research of the facts surrounding Esther, the author has written an epilogue outlining the lives of Esther’s children, and some of the notable people, such as Lachlan Macquarie. There are also some queries about Esther’s maiden name and other unknown facts about her. Following that, the author gives chapter notes and explains details she has used in the story. A truly professional and exemplary retelling of history.


AuthorJessica North
PublisherAllen and Unwin
DistributorAllen and Unwin
ReleasedApril 2019