Tuesday 7 January 2014


In Alias Thomas Bennet, Thomas and Fanny Bennet travel to Bermuda in June of 1792. Very little is said in the book about what that trip might be like, since most of the book takes place in 1811, but the two chapters aboard the ship are pivotal to the back story. Today, I’ve used Fanny’s point of view to give you a flavour for their experiences during that trip.

Mr. Bennet’s late father purchased a home in Hamilton two years before the younger Bennets hasty relocation there, when the town was spurting with growth, in fact, before Sir Henry Hamilton had given the town his name. Thomas and Fanny sailed from Portsmouth aboard a ship called the Valhalla, which some might think an odd name for a boat, but Thomas was amused by the irony, so it suited him quite well.

When they arrived at Portsmouth, in some ways Fanny was reminded of Bristol, where she had lived her early childhood. But Portsmouth was unseemly even for a port city. As they walked along, Thomas looked behind them to make certain that the cart bearing their belongings was following and nothing had been stolen. They had been warned about the crime in the port town during their trip on the Portsmouth Fly. It had been very crowded on the carriage, but nothing could prepare her for this.

Rowlandson, The Portsmouth Fly

Not only were there urchins begging everywhere, mothers with babies shamelessly pushed their hands in her face, and a man missing a leg tried to accost her, too. She squealed and huddled next to Thomas, fearful and nervous. Thank goodness she had, for at that moment, a stinking splash landed on the stones. Someone had emptied a bucket. She held her breath to stifle the fetid odour.

The noise was almost overwhelming for a country girl. There were thousands of people chattering and shouting, and the sounds of wood grinding and machinery working joined the cacophony. She jumped when she heard a shrill whistle, and Thomas glanced down at her and laughed at her folly.

Rowlandson, Portsmouth Harbour

A large group of men and women in chains were being forced along the lane, prisoners being transported to the colonies. Some were very young, and all were dirty and gaunt.

Thomas distracted her from staring at them by asking her if she wanted a bun. He gave a few coins to a man, and soon she was munching on the freshly baked goodie, and it did a great deal to settle her stomach. They continued along as she clutched his arm, and Thomas started pointing out the sights.

There were many types of ships to be seen, and Thomas named them, but she would probably not remember half. Brigs, schooners, frigates, East Indiamen, barques, and barquentines. Most had several masts, with each mast rigged for multiple sails. They were huge.

Their boat was a sloop, said Thomas, distinctive because its sails were triangular rather than square. They were now approaching it, and it was a good deal smaller than many. The tide was high so the ramp was not too steep.

It was made in Bermuda by slaves, from the hard cedar that was so prized from the island, and it gleamed in its rich beauty. Thomas said that when crates of goods were delivered from Bermuda, the wood was quickly seized before it could be pilfered because sometimes the crate was worth more than what it contained. She was not sure how important salt, rum, and sugar were in trade, but they seemed to be quite dear to her, so she imagined this must be very special wood indeed. Thomas said that also cocoa and tobacco from the Americas would come on these ships from time to time.

A cheerful-looking sailor greeted them as they neared the top of the ramp and shouted out to the captain when Thomas introduced himself. They had been fortunate enough to obtain a cabin aboard ship because Thomas was friends with the captain.

But the chamber was shockingly small! There were two very narrow berths stacked one above the other and little room to turn around in otherwise. Where was she to dress? She remained there for only a few minutes and would have complained more, had she not been distracted by Thomas reminding her they best return to the ship’s main deck to watch as they sailed away from England.


A week days later:

When she woke, sun was streaming in the porthole, and the ship was no longer rocking like it had been the last few days. Thomas was not there. It could be that he was seasick again. It concerned her that she had slept late and had not been able to assist him. She did not like it when he left without her.

Fanny had also been feeling ill, but ladies stayed below with a chamber-pot while men could go relieve their stomachs over the ship’s rail, and she had spent the first few days of the trip in their chambers—their berth—all morning. Because of this, Thomas had suffered along with her. He would return soon, though, and they would spend most of the day on deck, as the fresh air did a great deal to settle her stomach, not to mention her nerves. He felt the same, and she was glad he had no study to hide in here.

She scrunched up her nose when she thought of breakfast. The first morning, she had asked for something other than the horrid oatmeal, only to find that there were no alternative for that meal, just oatmeal and a stale muffin. And what was worse, Thomas told her it was the last day for muffins and teased her about her constitution. The rest of the trip they would have a dried, flat brown bread called hard tack, which was not at all appetizing, and showed up at every meal since.

There were not many people on the ship, because it was primarily a merchant vessel. At dinner, due to Thomas’s friendship with the captain, they dined at his table along with another man, Mr. Miles, from Derbyshire. That meant they had meat for longer than the rest, but now, even they were eating salt meat with sauerkraut for dinner. Perhaps tonight there would be some fish to be had. At least the ale was decent, for the wine was not, and she could not even water it.

The captain said the trip would be at least another three weeks if the winds continued to be as strong as they had been thus far, but he expected it would be closer to four, since this weather was not usual.

It had been very strange when England finally disappeared. After the first day, they had seen only two other ships thus far in the trip; otherwise, it had just been the sea and birds. She would have become very bored had Thomas not met Mr. Miles and, even then, their conversations were often dreary to her. Mines and machines indeed.

Her maid came and took the chamber pot and then helped her dress. It was near impossible a thing to accomplish, but she had never been able to manage her own buttons. Mary told of the crowded conditions for the servants and other less affluent passengers, and it was very concerning to Fanny, but she tried to make her feel better by indicating that the food was no better for the gentry, except perhaps for the pickle that came with the cheese.

Suzan Lauder 

Book Blurb:

…of most interest to Bennet was Mr. Darcy of Pemberley.

When Fitzwilliam Darcy attends the Meryton assembly, he befriends a quiet, intelligent gentleman. In frequent visits to his friend’s home,he becomesacquainted with the Bennet family of Longbourn. Yet Mr. Darcy is distracted by a strange feeling of having met some of them before.

This is a different Bennet family from the cleverly crafted one in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. ThisMr.Bennetis a responsible gentleman who takes an active role in the education and upbringing of all five of his daughters, managesLongbourn to be prosperous, and displays loving guidance towardMrs.Bennet—a gentle, caring mother and wife.

There is a mystery lurking at Longbourn—a secret unknowneven to ElizabethBennet—and Mr. Darcyis entangled in its extraordinary revelations.

Who is Thomas Bennet?

This book contains one brief scene of non-explicit sexual violence that may be concerning to sensitive readers. The sexual violence does not include Elizabeth Bennet.

About the author: 

In 2009, during an extended illness, Suzan Lauder discovered a dog-eared paperback version of Jane Austen 's Northanger Abbey, and having vaguely recalled hearing Austen was a good writer, decided to try it. That led to a desperate obsession. After being horribly disappointed to find there were only 6 books, she went on to read the juvenilia, the letters, autobiographies, movies, fanfiction, and everything possible Austen. She continues to read, write, and love anything inspired by Austen.Her first book, Alias Thomas Bennet—A Pride and Prejudice Variation, will be published by Meryton Press in mid- November 2013.




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