> Skip to content
  • Published: 5 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781473574687
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 368

Oh Happy Day




Carmen Callil explores her roots in a book that is a miracle of research and whose writing is fuelled by righteous anger - a story of Empire, migration and the poverty and injustices of nineteenth-century England.

Carmen Callil explores her roots in a book that is a miracle of research and whose writing is fuelled by righteous anger - a story of Empire, migration and the poverty and injustice of nineteenth-century England

In this remarkable book, Carmen Callil discovers the story of her British ancestors, beginning with her great-great-grandmother Sary Lacey, born illegitimate in 1808, an impoverished stocking frame worker in Leicestershire. Through detailed research, we follow Sary from slum to tenement and from pregnancy to pregnancy. We also meet George Conquest, a canal worker and the father of one of Sary's children. George was sentenced - for stealing a piece of hemp - to seven years' transportation to Australia, where he faced the extraordinary brutality of convict life. Meanwhile, Mary Ann Brooks and her father John, a silversmith, travel across the seas from Lincolnshire to escape the Workhouse and life as a skivvy.

But for George, as for so many destitute and disenfranchised British people like him, Australia turned out to be his Happy Day. He survived, prospered and eventually returned to England, where he met Sary again, after nearly thirty years. He brought her out to Australia, and they were never parted again.

Carmen Callil not only reclaims from obscurity the lives of these ordinary men and women who were sent to Australia as convicts or domestic servants, but also draws telling parallels for our own times. Oh Happy Day is a moving story of poverty, social injustice, Empire and migration.

  • Published: 5 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781473574687
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 368

About the author

Carmen Callil

Carmen Callil was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, but has spent most of her career in the United Kingdom. She founded Virago Press in 1973 and in 1982 became Managing Director of Chatto & Windus, also remaining Chair of Virago until 1995, when she retired from both publishing houses. She co-edited, with Colm Tóibín, The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels in English since 1950, and her first book, Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Award.

Also by Carmen Callil

See all

Praise for Oh Happy Day

An absorbing account of empire, migration, the poverty of injustice and enduring love... The book bristles with Callil's righteous anger at the injustices meted out to her forbears, and at the parallels for our own times.

Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

Oh Happy Day is a phenomenal achievement... The book covers great swathes of history... These are intriguing stories.

Dani Garavelli, Herald Scotland

An extraordinary reclamation of lives usually lost to history... A model of how to construct a compelling narrative from patchy material... Other writers, from Dickens onwards, have exposed these hardships: few have done so with the rigour and bitter irony that Callil employs.

Nicholas Clee, BookBrunch

Powerfully told... [Oh Happy Day is] an impressive work, shining merciless beams of light on murky specifics of the early 1800s... She's such a forceful writer.

Ysenda Maxtone Graham, The Times

Oh Happy Day gives a voice to the voiceless and adds another major work to Carmen Callil's formidable achievements.

Brenda Niall, Australian Book Review

Fascinating... [Oh Happy Day] evokes echoes of the present in speaking about the past, as all great works of history do. It's a gripping narrative.

Erica Wagner, Harper's Bazaar

[A] remarkable tale...drawing chilling parellels to the inequalities of our time... A book that is both a heartfelt outpouring of pity and sorrow and an irate demand for restitution... Oh Happy Day deserves to be called Dickensian.

Peter Conrad, Observer

Callil speaks in the vehement voice of a furious warrior, adversary and advocate. She deftly wields a mighty weapon of words as she puts the case for the dispossessed of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries... From her research, Callil can conjure jewels that light the scene, astonish and delight. Or maybe horrify... The construction of the narrative is a masterpiece of beguiling tessellation... This is a book to be read slowly, reread, treasured.

Carmel Bird, The Australian

[A] stirring and intelligent second book... Oh Happy Day brings a veritable mine of information. Whether she's detailing the rise of the Chartists, the daily grind of the stockinger families, the horrors of the prison hulks, or ruminating on Britain's obsession with flagellation, Callil certainly knows her stuff.

Lucy Scholes, Daily Telegraph

Thought-provoking.

Catherine Pepinster, Tablet, *Books of the Year*

[A] poignant mixture of the personal and the political... a stirring, opinionated account.

History Revealed

Related titles