The Convict’s Wife (The Lancashire Girls)

Written by Libby Ashworth
Review by Bridget Walsh

The Convict’s Wife is an historical love story based on two real characters who lived in a village outside of Bolton in the north-west of England. Libby Ashworth has recreated their story from their letters that have survived. In the early 19th century, Thomas Holden, a hand-loom weaver, is arrested for swearing an oath. It was illegal to join forces or unionise against the government, and Tom is sentenced to be transported for seven years to New South Wales. Tom’s wife, Molly, is left behind to raise their small child, while her husband is locked up on a prison hulk, awaiting transportation. The enticing factor about this novel is Molly’s steadfastness in the face of real difficulties, both financial and emotional. For example, Isaac Crompton, the man who informed on Thomas, tries to persuade Molly to live with him, in the absence of her husband. Molly is determined to join her husband and works to save money for her fare to Australia. Molly must learn fast and earn fast if she is to join her husband. She tries different ways to earn money, first by working in a coal mine, then developing her skills as a weaver. Her struggle to achieve her goal takes the reader into the hard lives of women and men in early 19th-century England.

The love story at the heart of the novel shows not only the two young people, Molly and Tom, and their small child, but also the love and support the couple get from their families in their struggle to be reunited. Tom’s parents are well-drawn and sympathetic characters and add depth to the fascinating story-world created in this enjoyable novel.