As a family historian I am interested in the research of others even if their background is totally different to mine. This book is the story of Patsy’s ancestor Mary Pitt, a 53 year old widow from Dorset, who in 1801 found herself in distressed circumstances and made the brave decision to travel to Australia with her 5 children. Luckily she had a link by marriage to Horatio Nelson which guaranteed gracious treatment in New South Wales including a generous land apportionment.
But the title of the book, quoting Major Robert Ross, “there is not a worse country,” underlines the problems facing the Pitt family trying to farm land alternately bone dry or flooded. The marriages, deaths and children of the family in Australia are described in detail which might have been easier to follow with a family tree. Quotations from letters enhance the narrative effectively.
Patsy Trench calls her book, “part family history, part memoir, part novel,” as she describes her research and her visits to Hawkesbury valley in Australia and discusses with the reader the problems of following two different Margaret Catchpoles, one of whom worked for the Pitt family. She also uses poetic license to imagine the conversations between members of the family.
I found this mixture of styles rather disconcerting and slightly confusing but Patsy is a skilled writer and she brought Mary Pitt to life showing what bold, brave folk forged a life in the foundation of New South Wales. “The worst country in the world,” is well worth reading for a fuller understanding of the early settlers in Australia.