Against the Wind (1978) mini-series




Director:  George Miller, Simon Wincer.

Starring:  Jon English (Jonathan Garrett), Mary Larkin (Mary Mulvane/Mary Garrett), Warwick Sims (Ensign Maurice Greville).

TV mini-series about the life of a transported convict in the colony of New South Wales, Australia

Mary Mulvane, an 18 year old Irish girl, is convicted of a crime (but she was merely trying to protect her property).  She is sentenced to be imprisoned in New South Wales, Australia for seven years.  The series follows Mary for 15 years, a time in which several historical events occurred:  the Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804 and the 1808 Rum Rebellion. The series is based on true stories. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire miniseries.

Part I. The Seeds of Fire.

Ireland 1796.

The Irish are worried by the presence of British red coat soldiers. If they canít find any trouble, they will have to stir it up. The soldiers can always use flogging until the prisoner confesses. The soldiers want the Irish to take an oath of allegiance to the Sovereign Majesty. Mary Mulvane is a red-headed girl that the British donít particularly care for. The saying is that girl needs curbing. Her father has had to hide in the hill in order to teach the children about Irish traditions. These types of schools are known as hedge schools. In the hills Mary sees her father teaching the Irish children. The talk is there being a curfew next week.

The White Boys are the only ones standing up to the red coats and the landlords. Mr. Buchanan, the landlord, raises the rent on the Mulvane family. Michael OíConnor is one of the White Boys. He takes the position that the Irish need pikes and guns, not poetry. The White Boys gather at a house. They set afire one of the landlordís cabins holding grain.

The red coats arrive at the Connor house. Mike returns home. He is given a hiding on his back.

A protestant reverend arrives to force the Irish to pay 48 shillings to what is a state church. The Irish refer to British justice as consisting of laws made by rogues for thieves. When the Mulvane family canít pay the fee, the government takes their cow. Maryís comments: "Damn them all to hell."

Mary decides to steal her cow back from the government. She is accompanied by Michael OíConnor. The red coats hear the bang of the hammer against the lock at the cow enclosure. They investigate and Michael ends up dead. Mary has to stand trial. She is found guilty and is to be transported across the seas to New South Wales (Australia) for a period of seven years. She is held in the prison at Cork and then put aboard ship.

Part II. The Wild Geese.

December 1796. Cork Harbor.

The ship carrying the prisoner abroad is the Britannia. Dr. Augustus Bayer is the doctor on ship.

Also aboard ship is officer Greville who recently purchased a commission in the New South Wales Regiment.

Mary is put below with the other female prisoners. She meets convict Polly McNamara who unofficially runs the womenís unit for the voyage. Polly is at first very hard on Mary, but she soon take a real liking to the spunky redhead.

Greville has Mary called up to his cabin. She is very fearful of what she might have to go through with the young officer. The deal is an exchange of services (both as maid and sex object) for better treatment and food. Mary wants nothing to do with Greville and pleads to be allowed to return to the hold.

A male convict is given six dozen lashes for trying to loose his irons. The doctor is called only after the 72 lashes are given. A woman tries to commit suicide by jumping overboard, but she is caught and then thrashed.

Mary is called back upstairs to Greville. She frankly tells him that she "wonít be a whore". Greville is very displeased with her and gives the nod for a guard to rape her. Mary, however, puts a stop to that by cutting the guard with a knife. Mary is punished by being placed in the stocks for two hours.

February 1797, Rio.

The men on ship by rum here and sell it in New South Wales. To carry more rum, water is sacrificed and the water rations for the convicts are cut severely. This makes life much more intolerable for the convicts.

The talk is of mutiny. Brennen is the ring leader. Mary believes that a mutiny would be madness and only make things worse for the convict. Before any mutiny can take place, a snitch informs on Brennen. The ring leaders are named and punished. Brennen and two others are given 800 lashes each. Others get 300 lashes. The total is 8,468 lashes in three days with three dead (including Brennen) and three others dying.

Half the convicts are burning up with fever. Each person only receives three pints of water daily.

To make up for lost time, the captain pushes the ship too fast and water starts coming in. Polly becomes so concerned over the shortage of water that she attack a guard. Her punishment is to have her hair cut and be lashed.

Finally reaching Sydney Cove, there are 15 male and 1 female convict dead with 6 of them being flogged to death. The women are told that they will be "assigned to service". This makes most of the women very worried. Mary says: "I am going back to Ireland like the wild geese."

Part III. A Question of Guilt.

The captain is questioned about the 16 convict deaths. The captain blames the surgeon. The Chief Colonial Surgeon takes a look at the women convict. He is very concerned about what he sees. He asks the women how long they have been kept in this condition. He wants the women to state their complaints against the captain, but the women are wary of speaking up.

Greville comes in to speak to the women convicts. He warns them that the guards on the ship will be their guards on shore. Polly and Mary talk back to him.

An inquiry is held into the 16 deaths. It concludes that the captainís conduct was imprudent and ill-judged. But the captain and surgeon receive no real punishment.

The women convicts are placed in a hospital ward. Assignment Day arrives. Polly is able to use her charms to pick out the man she wants to be assigned to, Wilberforce Price, innkeeper. A very tall man picks Mary. She is very worried about this man, but relaxes a bit when he tells her that he is also a convict and that he works for Captain Wiltshire. The convictís names is Jonathan Garrett.

Greville, who hates Mary, rides his horse fast to catch up with Jonathan and Mary. The nasty officer makes Jonathan perform some senseless tasks. The mention of the name of Captain Wiltshire forces Greville calm down.

Greville visits the Wiltshires. He tells Mrs. Wiltshire that all the convicts on the recently arrived are morally lax and should not be trusted. Mrs.Wiltshire takes this very much to heart. When Mary arrives Mrs. Wiltshire tells her that she cannot stay; she has to go back to Sydney in the morning. This makes her husband confused because he tells his wife that the girl was especially picked out by the colonial surgeon for special placement. He tells Mrs. Wiltshire to give the girl a chance, a fair trial.

Part IV. The Flogging Parson.

Mr. Pike is the overseer for the Wiltshires and is a very mean and cruel man. He complains when he receives only one of the six convict laborers expected. The fellow is an Irishman named Dinny.

Westbury, June 1797. Mary is set to be a scullery maid for the Wiltshires. Polly seems to be pleased with her situation. Will is a very sweet man. Polly is even able to make suggestions for improvements. Later Polly asks Will to find Mary Mulvane for her.

Captain Wiltshire learns that Mary can both read and write, so he makes Mary the new governess for his two children. Jonathan strikes overseer Pike and has to appear before the magistrate. Reverend Marsten gives him 75 lashes. No wonder he is known as the Flogging Parson. There was no lawyer to help Jonathan present his case, so he had none. When Jonathan returns to the Wiltshires Mary and Dinny help nurse him back to health. Jonathan asks Mary to teach him to read and write and she agrees.

Part V. An Agreement between Officers and Others.

August 1797. British soldiers arrive late at Willís tavern "The Bird in the Barley". They are rude and troublesome. They wonít let Will close the tavern and start damaging the bar.

Polly gets to see Mary. Mary is extremely happy to see her friend from that horrible ship.

The military are upset with Isaac Nichols, chief overseer of the government convicts, who they feel is reasonable about the decisions about the convict labor supply. In New South Wales the military is the privileged elite. Many of the officers are building little agricultural empires and making themselves lords of the manors. Nichols complains about the uppity behavior of the New South Wales military. The military actively fights Governor Hunter for more power.

Jonathan finds learning to be a difficult task. He frustrates Mary so much that temporarily she gives up on him. But Dinny encourages Jonathan to study and Jonathan soon tells Mary he wants the lessons again.

March 1799. News arrives that Admiral Nelson has won a major naval victory for the British. There are some 10,000 French soldier in Ireland but are defeated British forces under Cornwall. Irishman Dinny is extremely upset about the news.

Greville receives 40 acres of land from the government. He approaches the sadistic Pike about becoming his overseer.

The army landlords make a plan to get rid of Isaac Nichols. He is accused of stealing tobacco, is tried by the courts (controlled by the military) and given 14 years transportation to Norfolk Island.

Jonathan receives his certificate of freedom. Greville and Pike try to pull a fast one on Jonathan, but are stopped dead in their tracks when Jonathan reads the certificate to them out loud. They are simply amazed that Jonathan can actually read.

Part VI. A House on a Hill.

March 1803.

Mary receives a "ticket" to leave New South Wales to go back to Ireland. Jonathan, who has not seen Mary for a year, tries to see her. The day he comes over to see Mary, Mrs. Wiltshire makes sure that Mary is away from the farm. She turns Jonathan away from her farm.

Later Dinny tells Mary that Jonathan had come to call. Mary is very upset about missing him. Dinny also tells Mary about the current sad state of Ireland. He then tells Mary that she should marry Jonathan and stay in New South Wales.

Rev. Marsten visits Mrs. Wiltshire and tells her that Mary should remain in New South Wales. He believes that it is the duty of the big land owners to see to the "best" interests of the recently free convicts.

Jonathan sees Mary and the two Wiltshire children. They go into the woods for a picnic. While there, a "bolter" rushes the picnic basket and starts wolfing the food. The little Wiltshire boy tries to stop the man, but Mary tells him to stop and that the fellow is just a poor convict. Soldiers arrive to take the bolter into custody. The man is accused of strangled an overseer.

Jonathan takes Mary to see his newly build cabin. He tells her: "I done it for you." He then asks Mary to marry him, but she says she cannot. She still plans to return to Ireland. Later Jonathan and Mary meet with Polly and Will at the tavern.

Mrs. Wiltshire wants to delay Maryís leaving for Ireland for at least another seven years. Mary learns that they hanged the bolter at Castle Hill. She is afraid that the very outspoken Dinny may end up hanged like the bolter.

Jonathan rides to see Mary. She hugs and kisses him and tells him that she will marry him. Mrs. Wiltshire still tries to deter her. She tells Mary not to marry Jonathan and threatens Mary with the charge that she knowingly aided a bolter. Mary runs out of the house.

Mary is in despair. She finally opens up to Father Dixon. He in turn speaks to Mr. Wiltshire about the terrible actions of his wife. Mr. Wiltshire tells his wife and tells her that she will have the help she needs, but just not Mary. Laters Mrs. Wiltshire tells Mary that she has their blessing to marry.

Dinny attends the wedding. The reception is held at Will and Pollyís tavern.

Part VII. The Tree of Liberty.

December 1830. Jonathan works hard on the farm. New South Wales then has its best harvest in 15 years.

Dinny talks rebellion. He talks about an possible uprising of convicts and settlers. Mary doesnít like the idea. She does not want any killing. Jonathan is more neutral in his reaction.

January 1804. Castle Hill Prison Farm. At the tavern, there will be a meeting with General Holts (who works for paymaster Cox) who is supposed to lead the convicts into battle with the military. Holt agrees to support the rebellion, but he says that he does not want any of the freed convicts to run away to South America. Father Dixon is also with the convicts.

The plant includes the planting of a tree of liberty at Parramatta. The date is set for March 4 at nightfall.

March 3, 1804. Parramatta Barracks. Pike notifies the New South Wales military about a possible convict uprising. The officer in charge just does not take the threat seriously. It seems that almost every day someone reports that an uprising is going to happen. But upon receiving another warning, the officer notifies Sydney.

March 4, 1804. Parramatta, 5 p.m. Holt learns that the British have learned about the uprising when an oversee warns him to stay indoors.

When Holt does not appear at the prison farm, the convicts decide to proceed anyways. The men overpower the guards and gain access to the stored rifles and ammunition.

Instead of riding to the prison farm, Holt arrives at Coxís house. He has made the decision to stand with the big land owners. He tells Cox about the planned uprising and helps set up defensive positions around the Cox property.

At the prison farm, the shouts are of "death or liberty".

Part VIII. When Kings go forth to Battle.

March 4, 1804. Castle Hill Prison Farm. 7:30 p.m. With the cry of "We are free or we are dead" the convicts start marching on Parramatta. The force is split into three groups which will converge at a designated place. Along the way the convicts rob houses of their guns and other weapons.

New reaches Parramatta Barracks that the convict are marching on the town. News is sent to Sydney for reinforcements.

March 5, 1804. 4 a.m. Constitution Hill. The first of the three convict columns arrives at the meeting place. There is no sign of the other forces.

March 5, 1804. 5:30 a.m. Reverend Dixon is brought into Parramatta Barracks. He is warned that he better help the British calm the convicts or there will be drastic repercussions.

The rebels have the high ground. A second rebel column arrives.

The British corps arrives from Sydney. The rebels fall back to Hawksbury Road. The British military learns that the rebels have started to run. The order is given to the British corps to start running in order to catch the rebs.

The rebels take a stand at Vinegar Hill. 10:30 a.m. But the rebels take no defensive actions. The men just stand around on the hill. The commanders of the British Corps stall for time by meeting with two rebel leaders. The rebel leaders are taken prisoner. This makes the convicts on the hill very angry. But again, no action is taken.

The military arrives and the troops deploy to fire. The rebs still do nothing. It appears that they merely wait until the military fires its first volley. The rebels are pure amateurs and the "battle" becomes a virtual slaughter. The rebels have to run for their lives, leaving many dead on the field. The British bayonet the wounded rebels.

Part IX. The Farmerís Friend.

March 5, 1804. Mary is mad as hell about the slaughter. But she is relieved when she finds Dinny still alive, although wounded. Martial Law is proclaimed in New South Wales. Greville arrives at Maryís house. Dinny is able to escape through a back exit. Greville finds the musket Dinny used. There is blood on the musket. Greville obviously wants to accuse the Garretts of aiding the rebels.

Seven rebels are hanged. Reverend Dixon is exiled to Norfolk Island.

Greville and Pike plot to foreclose on Sam, a neighbor of the Garretts. They have lent the drunken Sam a lot of money and make sure he is supplied with hard liquor. The drunken farmer has no chance to make a go of his farm. Jonathan lends the man a rake only to find out later that Sam has sold it to buy still more liquor.

Mary is pregnant. One night Sam heads to the Garrettís house but in a drunken stupor he falls in a ditch. From the ditch he is able to see Dinny calling on the Garretts. The next morning Sam tells Pike about Dinny and the Garretts. Greville and his soldiers arrive again at the Garrett house. Jonathan is accused of sheltering a rebel leader. Greville, however, finds nothing incriminating.

July 1804. Pike gets Sam good and drunk and Sam signs away his farm to Greville. Soon Pike evicts Sam and throws the drunken man onto the Garrett property.

Part X. A Matter of Life and Death.

January 1805. Dinny has been living with the aborigines of Australia. He has an aborigine woman as a common law wife. She has dreams of a house with a child where there is violence and death.

Polly is at the Garrett house to help Mary deliver her baby. Complications arise and Polly has to ask Jonathan to ride to town to get a surgeon. Jonathan gets a horse from Will and rides off. The doctor, however, is not available and the assistant surgeon is heading off to Sydney and refuses to help Jonathan. Instead he tells Jonathan to go to the government mid-wife. But Jonathan tells him that the woman is a butcher.

Dinny has a feeling that the house his mate dreamed about is the Garrett house. He makes a beeline to the house. He has some knowledge about what to do for Mary from the aborigines. Mary becomes delusional, but after many hours her fever breaks. A baby boy is born to Mary. Jonathan arrives and is very grateful to Polly and Dinny for helping to save his wife and son.

Greville and his men arrive again at the Garrett house. When Dinny makes a break for it, one of the soldiers shoots and kills him. Back at their campsite, Dinnyís "wife" cries out when he dies. Greville accuses Jonathan of harboring a rebel leader, but the Garretts do not seem very concerned. Jonathan is arrested, but back home the following morning.

Part XI. The Spirit of Enterprise.

December 1805. Jonathanís crop is twice as much as the previous year. Greville and Pike want to get their hands on his crop so they can sell it at a great profit.

Polly tells Mary that Will is up to something. He is acting peculiar. Will is worried about the fact that the officers are brewing their own liquor and establishing a virtual monopoly over the liquor business.

Pike offers Jonathan 7 pounds and 10 shillings an acre for his harvested crop. Mary is angry about the offer. She knows Greville and Pike are trying to do to them what they did to poor neighbor Sam. The offer is rejected.

The situation looks bleak for the Garretts. The military officers have divided the colony into regions with a different officer for each region. The officers have also signed a covenant that forbids any officer from offering competitive bids to the small farmers in regions other than their own. They have effectively created a monopoly in New South Wales. Jonathanís farm is in Grevilleís region.

Will receives a letter and is happy as a lark.

Pike pays a visit to Mary and threatens her with the idea that their crop might catch fire and burn. Mary talks to her husband and they both realize that they will probably have to accept Greville and Pikeís offer.

When Jonathan accepts Pikeís offer, he lowers the price from 7 pounds and 10 shillings to 6 pounds payable in goods. Pikeís men help harvest the crop. Jonathan was to get 24 pounds, but after charging 6 pounds for harvesting labor, Pike only agrees to pay him 18 pounds. Pike ends up giving Jonathan 6 gallons of rum for his harvested crop. Jonathan is so upset that he takes one of the rum gallons and drinks himself into a stupor.

Will picks up goods at a General Merchants place. He has two big crates placed on his wagon and heads home. Willís big secret is that he plans to fight the military monopoly on liquor by brewing his own liquor. And for this endeavor he needs Jonathanís barley crop. So he brings Jonathan into the scheme. Will desperately wants to beat the "rum corps" at their own dirty business. Mary says that the Irish had stills in their struggle against British tyranny; itís a way to fight back. Will, Polly, Jonathan and Mary drink a toast to the spirit of enterprise.

Pat XII. The Whip Hand.

Two years of illegal distilling.

January 26, 1808. A big struggle takes place between the military lead by MacArthur and Governor Bligh (famous for the mutiny on the Bounty). Bligh has MacArthur arrested. The convicts and small farmers largely support Governor Blight against the military. There is, however, talk of a possible coup díetat.

In town selling their liquor, Will and Jonathan see the New South Wales military march on the Governorís House. They are not happy at all. The governor is burned in effigy and any one not celebrating the house arrest of the governor has his name taken down as a possible enemy of the new military regime.

Martial law is declared. All the government offices are now manned by military personnel or by friends of the military. The military demands that the small farmers sign a statement asking for the removal of Bligh from office. Jonathan refuses to sign. Will signs, but is not happy about it.

February 1808. Pike finds Willís still. Jonathan sees Pike at the still and reports to Will. Will knows that Pike will turn him in and as a reward will get the license to Willís tavern. So Jonathan and Will drive Polly into town to turn Will into magistrate, Captain Abbott. Polly informs on Will (in order to get the liquor license).

Will is arrested and put in jail. Pike arrives too late. Greville only scoffs in disgust at his late report of Willís still.

In order to get some leniency for Will in the upcoming trail, Mary talks with Mr. Wiltshire and he agree to do what he can for the man.

Will gives a great performance at trial being a model of a reformed man. He is given three years, but three years working in the brewery at Parramatta. The colony needs a man of Willís talent with distilling liquor. Polly gets the liquor license.

Part XIII. The Windfall Summer.

July 1809. The military starts to take advantage of Polly. A soldier suggests that she give him sex. And now Constable Pike informs her that she has only one week to pay the duty on her liquor license.

Everyone has to attend the muster. But Jonathan tells Pike that he will not attend. Pike warns him of the consequences.

Mr. Wiltshire is growing tired of the new military government. He tells Greville that the government is getting nowhere and the colony is falling apart, especially the colonyís roads. There is some talk among the small farmers of overthrowing the military government.

Jonathan writes a letter to the military Lt. Governor of the Colony telling him that he did not attend muster because he does not consider the present government a legitimate one. He says that the new government oppresses the many for the good of the few.

Jonathan goes to court for skipping muster. He tells the court that it is not a lawful court, therefore he cannot recognize the court. The court introduces Jonathanís letter to the Lt. Governor as evidence of his seditious scheming. The defendant is found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail.

Mrs. Wiltshire has a thing for Greville and he has been taking advantage of that fact. To get close to Morris she asks her husband to go to Sydney. Mr. Wiltshire agrees knowing that Greville has a woman there. In Sydney, the older couple run into Greville and his lady. Mrs. Wiltshire now regrets her infatuation with the evil Greville.

With Jonathan in jail, Pike tells Mary that he will run the farm for her. She defiantly refuses his offer.

The Wiltshires give Greville a previously planned birthday party. But no military personnel appear. Finally, Greville makes an appearance, but he looks like a beaten man. His hair has been cut off. He tells te party-goers that his hair was cut by troops under Captain Cameron of the 73rd regiment of foot. He adds that the entire New South Wales corps will be packed off to England. The commanding officer of the 73rd will be the new governor.

Mr. Wiltshire says that the major officers will be sent back to England for court martial and that the regiment will be sent to the war.

New Yearís Eve, 1809. Mary and Polly celebrate together.

1810. Colonel Lochlan MacQuery says that William Blight will be reinstated as governor for 24 hours. All trials taking place under the military dictatorship are deemed illegal. Jonathan and Will are released from prison. They return home to warm receptions. Pike, still thinking he is a constable, tries to threaten Polly and the tavern. Will informs him that he is no longer a constable and throws him out of his tavern.

The new governor is very impressed hearing about Jonathanís struggle with the military dictatorship, his letter to the Lt. Governor and his words at his trial. He invites Jonathan and Mary to an important function. He wishes to make Jonathan a justice of the peace. Jonathan and Mary attend the event.

Jonathan and Mary lived until 1855. They had 5 children, 23 grand children and 11 great grand children. Today some 8,000 descendants came claim Jonathan and Mary as part of their family tree.



Good movie covering an important part of Australian history.  But what a hell the viewer is put through.  There are 13 parts, each part around 48 minutes long.  Of all this time only the last 12 minutes or so are relative happy for the heroes of the story.  I enjoyed the movie.  It kept my interest.  But I was also relieved when it was over because the movie was a presentation of just one great injustice to another.  The movie just never let up until the last few minutes.  I kept comforting myself with the fact that since Australia is currently a flowering democracy that there just hadsto be an eventual happy ending.  The mini-series makes me realize how much better the start of the American colonies was compared to the start of the Australian experience.   This history of the start of New South Wales is a terrible one of dominance by a greedy, selfish officer corps and then by a military dictatorship. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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