Still highly as I respect marriage, as the foundation of almost every social virtue, I cannot avoid feeling the most lively compassion for those unfortunate females who are broken off from society, and by one error torn from all those affections and relationships that improve the heart and mind. It does not frequently even deserve the name of error; for many innocent girls become the dupes of a sincere, affectionate heart, and still more are, as it may emphatically be termed, ruined before they know the difference between virtue and vice, and thus prepared by their education for infamy, they become infamous.
A woman who has lost her honour imagines that she cannot fall lower, and as for recovering her former station, it is impossible; no exertion can wash this stain away. Losing her every spur, and having no other means of support, prostitution becomes her only refuge and the character is quickly depraved in circumstances over which the poor wretch has little power, unless she possesses an uncommon portion of sense and loftiness of spirit.
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
The Age is ended and the Reason too,
To which these various narratives were due,
Yet for some few decades there lingered on
An afterglow, although its sun was gone,
In the young colony of New South Wales.
Look southward, Angel, prompter of these tales
And, in the cradle of my homeland, let
The final history of all be set!
There I was born and live and trust to die
And, since there is no prouder boast that I
Can offer for the country of my birth
Than that she was the first of lands on Earth
To have decreed and given women the vote
And freed the long disfranchised petticoat—
Or rather the first step to make her free
By giving her voice in the democracy—
A first step, for the battle still goes on—
My tale is of her earliest skirmish won
Here in the settlement of Botany Bay,
Impossible in the England of that day
Against the masculine, unthinking brute.
Elizabeth Chamberlain, a prostitute
(As would have been the judgement on her then,
When sexual freedom was accorded men
But, by the savage customs of the time,
To be seduced was treated as a crime)
A girl of some intelligence and charm,
Breeding and sense, brought up upon a farm,
In adolescence she had formed a plan
To have her own career like any man.
Well-educated, full of enterprise,
She left her parents’ home and family ties
To make her own way. Soon she found a place
As governess, almost the only case
In which genteel young women of her class
Could find employment, as indeed it was
Earlier with Mary Wollstonecraft and then
With the three Brontë sisters once again.
But unlike them, Elizabeth fell in love
With a young gentleman, frequenter of
The mansion where she worked, quite well-to-do,
Pleasant and handsome and persuasive too.
He offered marriage, solicited her to run
Away with him to London, where undone,
Seduced and then abandoned, her one skill
Denied her, with her needle she could still
Find casual employment, just enough
Working long hours to stave starvation off
And pay the rent of an ill-furnished room.
But dressmakers and milliners with whom
She worked, she found, were all so badly paid
That prostitution was their second trade,
And often her work-mates urged her to the same.
Still she held back, restrained by fear and shame
To find herself at last upon the street.
But in the long run, when she faced defeat
And at the lowest ebb, she met with Jem.
Her sempstress friends invited her with them
To a small evening party. He was there,
A large, rough-spoken man, but with an air
Of quiet confidence and easiness
In all his ways. He smiled and called her Bess.
They met again next day, liked what they saw
And liking grew to love. Almost before
They realized this, she went to live with him
And washed and ironed and kept his house in trim.
But what his living was, she could not guess
And when she asked, he answered, “Night-work, Bess,
Well, mostly night-shift, sometimes of a day,
A sort of overseer you might say
Down by the docks in a big factory there.”
But would not tell her more. She did not care,
Though doubting his evasions from the first.
Nothing else mattered; she’d survived the worst,
The fate most ‘fallen women’ had to meet,
That last descent to ‘being on the street’.
So life went on for them an even pace;
Comfort and safety, as is often the case,
Dulled fears Bess could not help but entertain.
Jem’s absences at night, and then again
His hanging round the house for days on end
It made no sense. Sometimes he brought a friend
And would sit drinking with him while they planned,
In jargon which she did not understand,
—Jem called it the flash language—but which she
Felt in her bones involved conspiracy.
And sometimes—at long intervals indeed—
Sitting late reading, for she loved to read,
She would hear him, long before he reached the house
After an afternoon’s prolonged carouse
Coming home quarrelling drunk and violent too,
And more than once he beat her black and blue.
Next day in deep remorse to make amends
He’d foreswear what he called his lush-ken friends.
Although she loved him and although she knew
That when he swore he loved her, it was true,
And though she knew that wife-beating would pass
Scarce noticed among people of his class,
Yet being a woman of spirit and active will
The indignity she suffered rankled still
And, firmly in her heart of hearts she swore
That she would leave him if he beat her more,
Considerations that caused her more distress
Than all her doubts about his business.
One thing was clear: his business prospered so
That when she mentioned not having enough to do
He set her up in business on her own
As dressmaker and milliner in the town,
Where her initiative and common sense
Soon brought them in a modest competence,
And within a twelve-month something more,
A thriving shop that added to their store.
I have based Elizabeth’s story, more or less,
On that great study of misery and distress
Observed by Henry Mayhew (Volume Four),
His London Labour and the London Poor;
And I now turn to Jem’s career, of course
My information’s based on the same source.
Elizabeth’s suspicions, I am afraid,
Were justified: house-breaking was his trade;
Jem was a most successful burglar, but,
In character above the common cut.
A country lad from a north country spot
Apprenticed to a locksmith, he was not
Innocent of opportunities in his trade.
He served his time with credit and then made
His way to London, where he soon became
Expert in what flash language called The Game,
And, though he prospered at it, did not show
The usual easy-come-and-easy-go,
But planned his enterprises far ahead
And ‘fly as young Jem Hawkins’ people said.
Unlike most cracksmen to whom all is grist
That finds their mill, he was a specialist,
And, having planned a foray without haste,
Took only such goods as could not be traced,
‘Dinged’ jewels and silver, as they say in flash
And concentrated all his plans on cash.
Within a year or so he had amassed
A tidy sum, but was ‘bowled out’ at last.
It was bad luck: though not upon a ‘job’,
He was taken up, charged with intent to rob,
‘Having the tools on him’ as the phrase went,
Which being proof sufficient of his intent,
The crime, as everybody knew, entails
Seven years’ transportation to New South Wales.
Jem, lodged in Newgate, was not much dismayed,
Having all the privileges for which one paid,
Since those who could afford it at that time,
If they had money, regardless of their crime,
Could hire and furnish them a private room,
Have meals brought in, invite their friends to come
On visits and dine and even stay the night.
And affluent Jem assumed them as his right.
And there, by ready money’s artful aid
Elizabeth joined him. But she was dismayed:
Her life once more in ruins and, her chief
Concern, her Jem, a liar and a thief.
But Jem, though he was penitent and kind,
Firmly forbade all talk till they had dined.
They ate in silence and, their supper done,
Jem told her all from the beginning on,
From the first time he ever picked a lock
Up to the hour when, standing in the dock,
He heard his seven-year sentence. She in tears
Broke out, “How can I bear it Jem? Seven years,
Parted from one another, my dear! How can …
How could you? … Why did you not tell me, man,
About yourself, about the way you made
Your living?” “What?,” he broke in, “What, my trade?
For I’m a craftsman, though outside the law
And proud of it—but tell you that before?
Nay, it was for your sake that I kept mum,
Or you’d be pulled as my accomplice, chum.”
“Jem, that’s just what I long for, don’t you see,
We’d stay together! Is it too late for me
To break a law and be transported too?”
“Bess, love, there’s summat better you can do.
Listen to this, I’ve nobbed it for a plan
Will save us; an old pal, a ‘family man’
Was lagged and now come back from Botany Bay
Told me the trick. The settlers there, they say
As can’t get labour, has convict help assigned.
Some wives gets their own man; its easy, mind,
I’ll wait here in the hulks, say, half-a-year
Before they finds me transport, never fear!
While you take ship at once to Sydney Cove
And there set up another shop, my love,
Just like the one you’re in. Sell that and buy
The stock for your new crib. The meantime I
Will tell ee how to rise my plant, and what
To do then: it’s in twig, be sure of that.
What do you say, lass? An’t it a prime lurk”
“Yes, yes, my dearest Jem, but will it work?”
‘I’ll pound it to be so, it’s worked before,
Only if you will promise one thing more.”
She promised to do anything he wished.
“Right, lass, before you leave, we must be swished.”
“Jem, I knew what you meant about the cash.
But times I lose you, when you speak in Flash.
What does it mean?” “It means we must be wed.
Now I’m a convict, I’ve no rights,” he said,
“But there are things the law cannot undo,
If you be bound to me and I to you.”
She smiled and caught his drift. “My cautious dear,
Just as you wish, but you have naught to fear.
All standing for a convict is unsure
But, as a husband you should be secure,
For all I own will then belong to you
As the law stands. In ways you own me too.
Jem, whether I am your mistress or your wife,
I trust my heart to you, my goods, my life;
And it is fair, even though we are friends,
That each holds ties on which the other depends.
But there’s one thing on which I shall insist:
—And we must go our ways, if you resist—
I marry only on this condition made,
That you give up forever your so-called trade,
Both after and before you serve your time,
For I will have no partnership in crime.”
“Bess, love, you may depend on me for that;
I’ll not be lagged a second time, that’s flat!”
“Why then, I’ll marry you with all my heart,
But how arrange it, seeing we soon must part?
And once convicted, they won’t give you bail;
How can we marry with you here in jail?”
“Nay, never fash yoursen, while I’ve the beans
Even in Newgate there are ways and means.
There’s a jail-parson here will do the trick,
His palm greased, he will wed us in the nick.”
So Jem and Bess were married and, next day,
She left him, eager to prepare the way.
First to the safe place where Jem’s cash was hid,
She put it in the bank as she was bid;
But since she knew its source, Jem’s stolen pelf
She would not touch a penny for herself;
Next, found a deputy to run her shop
And act as London agent and back-stop
For goods and needful furnishings to equip
Her new establishments. Then, for the ship,
Packed in five sea-chests, a well-chosen load
Of gowns and millinery in the latest mode
To see her business launched in Sydney Town.
Having made these disposals, she sat down
And scanned the newspapers from day to day
Until a brief advertisement came her way:
“Officer’s wife, returning New South Wales,
Requires ship-board companion. Vessel sails
A fortnight hence. Fare paid. Expenses found”.
Elizabeth dressed with care, at once went round
In a hired cabriolet to the address
And met with an unqualified success.
The woman, when she had welcomed her ordered tea
And, told her purposes for going to sea,
Exclaimed, “You seem an answer to my prayer.
My dear, I have been almost in despair,
Advertised several times had no replies,
—Perhaps that should occasion no surprise:
A lonely convict settlement, after all,
At the world’s end—what likelier to appal
A gentlewoman travelling on her own?
As for my voyage to England, had I known
The vulgar person I was forced to share
My cabin with for all those months—but there,
I had no choice at all. Well you have sprung
At heaven’s behest, so charming, fresh and young,
I’m sure that we shall get on famously.
Miss Chamberlain, may I offer you more tea?
You have not travelled before? I must explain,
It’s a long trip; we have to entertain
Each other—tell me, do you like to read?”
“Yes,” said Elizabeth, “I do indeed.
It is my favourite pastime; pray, do you?”
“How pleasing! I have books enough for two
And, since you are a sempstress, as you tell,
Apart from books, we may talk clothes as well.”
They parted from each other, already friends.
Elizabeth tidied up her odds and ends,
Sent her stock to an earlier ship, wrote Jem
Her new arrangements and, defending them,
Explained it was the best she could afford
With her own means. Next day she went aboard.
The voyage was speedy once they passed the Cape
And both of the young women were in good shape
And in high spirits; they read, they talked, they sang
And peals of laughter from their cabin rang
And, as their friendship grew, Elizabeth
Felt her heart lightened of that dread beneath
Which it had laboured constantly for years.
But the society of her former peers
And their acceptance was what cheered her most.
Her sense of being ‘a fallen woman’ once lost,
She made determined plans to rise again
And once, discussing the tyranny of men
Over their sex with Laura, her new friend,
Laura remarked, “I have a mind to lend
One of my books upon that theme, which I
Found quite compelling; would you care to try?”
Elizabeth read the classic trumpet blast
By Mary Wollstonecraft and found at last
Her burgeoning ideas fall into place.
And expressly applied to her own case
The passage placed as preface to this tale.
She had not mentioned Jem in Newgate jail,
But told her friend, “My husband plans to come
When he has settled his affairs at home
In our joint business enterprise. My part
Has been to go before and make a start.”
And Laura proved, accepting these small lies,
A mine of information and advice.
So with her help, when they at last made land,
Elizabeth soon found, as she had planned,
A shop in Pitts Row with two rooms behind,
A high, stout fence, a garden plot, a kind
Of storeroom, workshop, tool and potting-shed
Where Jem, when he arrived could make his bed.
Next, in the Government Gazette she made
A brief announcement and her goods displayed.
Since all the other shops in town, she found,
Were ‘general stores’, and Laura spread around
News of materials, costumes and designs
In a new dress-shop run on London lines,
Her opening day was an immense success,
And she, so charming found that she, no less,
Was welcomed. In this small society
All were received, provided they were free.
She settled down to wait and, as her store
Was fast bought up, wrote back to home for more.
Jem’s fortunes on his voyage did not compare
With his Elizabeth’s. He could not bear
Confinement or her absence. Then he fell
Ill with jail-fever, while still in prison, as well.
Taken raving to the prison hospital,
For days on end there seemed no hope at all;
But, young and strong, he rallied in the end
Until they judged him fit enough to send
Down to the floating hulks. He waited there,
Six mortal months of vermin and foul air,
For transportation to this continent.
The voyage was dreadful. Most of it was spent
Between decks and in double irons because
He cursed an officer and threatened force.
It was no wonder then, though he survived,
Jem was in wretched state when he arrived.
Jem had contrived, while at the hulks to send
Intelligence to Elizabeth, by a friend,
Naming the ship to which he was consigned.
So when it came, she closed her shop to find
Herself a handyman to do her chores
And fetch and carry for her out-of-doors.
And down the hill she tripped alert and gay
To where her love was anchored in the bay.
With beating heart she watched the deck and saw
The convicts mustered there and rowed ashore,
But, on the wharf, could scarce believe her eyes;
Jem, she admitted, looked a sorry prize,
Gaunt from a voyage of nine months on the way,
Most of it spent in irons or the sick bay.
To this add the debilitating brew
Of loathsome smiggins and of foul burgoo.
She bid for him and soon obtained her price
And, the indenture signed, she bade him rise
And follow her, his irons being struck off.
And Jem obeyed her with ill-grace enough:
A woman giving orders to a man!
So with a rough grunt their new life began.
As with her convict husband new-assigned
She walked ahead, Jem followed on behind.
Hating her elegance, nursing his wrath,
He lurched along the Tank Stream’s dusty path.
But when they reached the shop and stepped inside,
Her stiffness melted and his anger died;
And in each other’s arms awhile they stood
Each conscious of the other’s throbbing blood.
The weary months, the barren seas between
Now seemed at last as though they’d never been.
But when he clutched her fiercelier she said,
“No, darling Jem, before we go to bed,
And that I wish as heartily as you,
One thing you positively have to do,
Is have a long, hot bath. My dear, you smell!
And I’ve a meal prepared for you as well,
When you are clean. Here, take these buckets to
The Tank Stream dams we passed awhile ago,
And draw yourself a bath. The fire is set
And here’s the tub. Go on now, while I get
Out the fresh clothes I have for you to wear
And dinner going. After that ship-board fare,
Salt junk and mouldy biscuit you will think
It quite a feast. I’ve saved for you to drink
A bottle of prime claret, given me
In payment for some haberdashery.
—Here we live much by barter, did you know?—
Dear Jem, how I run on! But you must go;
Go now or else you’ll have me talk all day.
But, Lord, my dear, there is so much to say!”
She pushed him out the door and on its lock
She hung a notice: ‘Closed for Taking Stock’.
Jem bathed and shaved and in a new suit dressed,
They sat down radiant to their little feast.
A roast duck with potatoes and green peas,
Cabbage from Kissing Point and strawberries
Served afterwards with cream and then mince pies.
They gave their tongues no rest nor yet their eyes.
But long before even the half was said
They left the board and took themselves to bed.
Husband and wife, as their new life began,
Found reason to applaud their artful plan.
The business prospered and their garden throve;
They had each other and were deep in love.
Jem fetched and carried goods from ships in port,
Delivered orders and, for things they bought,
If customers paid in kind with wheat or wood
He bargained with the surplus for their food
So well that soon he added to their store.
Elizabeth, in favour as before,
So kept their secret with her grace and youth
That none of her acquaintance guessed the truth.
Having taken a male servant, it is true,
There was some gossip and, with this in view,
Jem, banished to the hut at the back fence,
Felt some resentment; but he had the sense
To keep the strict rule this society
Set between the convicted and the free.
So he wore convict dress and stood aside
To let a soldier pass and even tried
Though with ill-grace enough, when Bess bespoke
To parties, bade him follow with her cloak,
While she within played cards or danced, to wait
With other convict servants at the gate,
Or, at whatever hour she bade him come,
With his horn-lantern fetch her safely home.
Jem, though an honest burglar as we saw,
Like other heroes nursed a fatal flaw
And that was drink, and drink in turn gave vent
To fits of rage that made him violent.
And, though his love restrained him at the first
He had amassed a mighty twelve-month thirst
While waiting in the hulks and then at sea,
And Sydney Cove, so short of currency,
Used grog for money and drank it out of hand.
Though, by decree, for convicts it was banned,
In practice they contrived to have their way
And soldiers, to augment their meagre pay,
Would buy it from the ships and not ask why,
But sell to anyone with cash to buy.
Jem who had leisure time and cash to spare,
Soon after landing, fell into this snare.
He formed a habit, when his work was through,
To meet a friend and take a dram or two
And, though he managed to keep himself in hand,
About a twelve-month after making land,
One evening in a tavern drinking late
He came home in the black and drunken state
Which she remembered and recalled with dread.
She had long given him up and gone to bed
When she heard maudlin singing in the street,
Next at the back gate, oaths and stumbling feet.
She left her bed and stood in her night-gown;
“Jem,” she called out, “Jem darling quieten down!
For if the neighbors hear you swear and sing,
So late here, it will ruin everything.”
They met in their small parlour at the back;
Her candle showed an ugly mood and black
And, when she went to him, he threw a rough
Punch at her face: “You blowen, I’ve had enough!
Don’t come the bloody lady over me!
I’ll lush red tape if I’m so minded, see!
I’m sick of taking orders. Hold your jaw,
Or by the living God, you’ll get what for.”
She looked at him awhile: “O Jem,” she said,
“I’ve had enough too dear; best get to bed.”
She went back to her room and locked the door.
Jem kicked and battered, bellowed, raged and swore
Come the next morning, he would baste the bitch
And kick her out of doors without a stitch.
Next morning she closed shop, the reason why
Was plain to see: he’d given her a black eye
But Jem was cheerful, came in with a shout:
“O, what a lovely shiner!”, he burst out.
She answered quietly, not to put him down,
“Jem, I’ve an errand for you in the town.”
“What errand’s that, Bess?” She did not reply,
But, breakfast over, with a steadfast sigh,
She went to a small escritoire and wrote,
Folded and sealed and handed him the note.
“Please take this to the Magistrate,” she said,
“Then come back here; you’ll need to go to bed.”
“Nay, Bess, lass, tell me what’s this all about?”
He grumbled, but she answered, “You’ll find out.”
“You’d better tell now. I’ve a right to know.
If it’s about last night, then I don’t go!”
He took a step towards her, fist raised high,
Suspicion and defiance in his eye.
She stood and saw unmoved his threatening hand.
“My love, some things you have to understand.
But you are right, you have a right to know
And to decide if you accept or no.
Sit down, Jem! There’s a lot I must explain
Ere we two can live happily again.
There are things we must decide today to do
And others on which, maybe, your life hangs too.
The first of these is—let us get this clear—
What passed in London, Jem, will not do here.
There once or twice you beat me, I admit,
And even there I hated you for it,
But, since I knew you loved me, I would think
It was not you who beat me but the drink.
I was your fancy woman. In this new life,
I am no more your doxy but your wife
Who loves you as an equal, if you learn
To treat her as an equal in return;
Something I knew but could not say before
When I was little better than your whore.
A book I read, Jem, on the voyage out,
Showed me my dream could now be brought about;
And I resolved, upon those heaving decks,
To end the ancient feud of sex with sex.
You’re a good man, my love, and staunch and true;
What life I have, I wish to spend with you.”
Jem, who had glowered through her opening speech,
Patted her hand which lay within his reach
And muttered, “Don’t take on, Bess, that’s alright!
I’m truly sorry, lass, for yesternight.”
“You’re truly sorry, my dear, I know, but then
Can you warrant me it will not happen again?
You can’t, I know, but you’re a proper man.
I am a woman and I think I can.
Jem, there’s one way, my love, and only one
To save ourselves now—and in the long run:
You are my husband; that must not come out
Or you’ll be taken from me, there’s no doubt.
But, in the eyes of this community,
You are a convict and employed by me.
Last night’s to-do, before the sun goes down,
Depend on it, will be all round the town.
I have no choice but to report you, Jem,
And you’ll be punished—but that’s up to them—
You must accept, too, what the courts direct;
Six lashes is the least you can expect.
This note reports you merely brawling drunk.
If I report the blow, we’d both be sunk.
You’d be assigned the chain-gang at the least
Flogged to a pulp, your seven-year term increased
Perhaps to life. It could be worse, I fear.
You know, we have no trial by jury here;
Bashing one’s master’s a most serious crime
And frequent. Should the court decide the time
Has come for worse deterrents than the cat,
Jem, you could hang: it must not come to that!
And there’s another thing: If I keep still
And don’t report you, there are those who will.
The neighbors do not love us, I’m afraid,
And three of them are rivals in the trade.
They would be pleased—informers here are rife—
If it were shown that we are man and wife.
You’re a convicted felon, as for me,
For the first time in all my life, I’m free
And mean to stay so and, when you are too,
Make a new life together, just we two
In equal partnership, in equal trust.
Will you not make the effort?—Jem, you must!
Will you not venture with so much at stake?
I say no more. The choice is yours to make.”
They sat together in silence for a while
Until Jem chuckled and answered with a smile,
“Reckon I’ve earned it then: alright, I’ll go.
Bess, you’re a rare one: got me trussed, I know.”
So Jem took his six lashes and a stern
Warning that if he ever should return
With fresh complaints he could expect to draw
Upon him the full penalty of the law.
He trudged back to the shop. Little was said.
Elizabeth dressed his weals, put him to bed
And, giving a head-cold as the reason why,
She closed shop on account of the black eye,
And nursed and gentled him for a full week.
And yet, for all her care, Jem would not speak,
But seemed withdrawn into himself and grim.
She had no means to tell what troubled him,
Whether it was his pride or else his heart
Or being over-reached had made him smart,
Or whether vengeance moved him or remorse.
But she resolved to let things take their course
And went on just as usual day by day,
Cheerful and friendly, business-like and gay
And her reward was seeing him unbend
To joke and argue with her in the end
And greet her every morning with a kiss.
It happened about six months after this,
That Jem, his chores done, smoked and took his ease,
Watering his broad-beans and his cabbages,
In the small garden plot behind the shop,
Heard footsteps cautiously approach and stop
Outside the gate. A voice called him by name,
A voice he recognized as from the Game:
“Jem, hey Jem Hawkins? Aye, for sure it be.
Unbar the gate; I’d drop a whid with thee.
I’m an old pal.” And when Jem let him in
With, “Jack, so you was lagged!”, said with a grin,
“Aye, I was snitched on. If I warn’t seen come
Let’s go where we can whiddle in your back-slum.”
When they were in, “Now Jem, let’s get to work.
I’ve touted this crib; it’s a tidy lurk.
If you’ll be in it, we will each go whack.
I know as you was done, chum, for a crack,
Fined for the tools, not taken with the swag.
See, I’m lagged for my wind, you’re just a lag.
But stow that! This is a sweet job; no need
To betty or screw the jigger: we just weed.
When Madam Mollisher’s gone off to bed,
You bring a cant of dobbin to this shed,
Or driz or other toggery, duds-crib stuff.
Don’t over-do it, pal, but just enough
As won’t be missed so no-one has a down,
—Trust me to do it away upon the town—
And sometimes, not too often, milk the lob.
I tell you, it’s as good as caz, this job.
It’s plummy! What do you say?” But Jem’s reply
Was short, “Jack, I don’t do things on the sly.
It ain’t no use, Jack. Now I’m on the square,
I’ve turned up prigging, see! And should you dare
Show yourself here again, or should you split,
I’ll bash you first, then see you sold for it.”
“So it’s the covess! You’ve turned pensioner
And dance the blanket horn-pipe now with her?
Nice work, old chum …”—“Stow that! Jack! Hold your
Get going! or I’ll be upon your taw.”
Jack took the hint, and though no more was heard
Of him or of his schemes, Jem kept his word.
A model convict, model husband too,
He merited when half his time was through,
A ticket-of-leave, which granted, left him free
To choose a trade, whatever it might be.
He chose the one in which he’d served his time
And had professed before he turned to crime.
He took a shop, not far away from Bess
And mended locks with even more success
Than he had picked their mechanisms before
Now they proclaimed their marriage, what is more,
Founded a family, and although Jem laughed,
Christened their first girl, Mary Wollstonecraft.
They say one false step’s ne’er retrieved. I think
It is, if folk are not pushed to the brink.
That’s why I like this land where they can grow
In ways that let them have a second go,
As Jem and his Elizabeth surely did.
But had Elizabeth not in time got rid
Of those absurd obsessions which her sex
Found fastened in that age about their necks,
She and her children, children’s children too,
Might to this day have had good cause to rue.
A chance at a new life on a new shore
Was something, certainly, but even more
Those virtues which the Age of Reason presents:
Intelligence, enterprise, and common sense!
This tale may have a moral; just what it was,
I leave my readers arguing the toss.