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The Switherby Pilgrims by Eleanor Spence

The Switherby Pilgrims

post written by Emma Filbrun

The Switherby Pilgrims by Eleanor SpenceTitle: The Switherby Pilgrims
Author: Eleanor Spence
Major Themes: Australia, Wilderness
Synopsis: After a typhus epidemic in England, a spinster took a group of orphans to Australia to make a new life for themselves.

We finished reading The Switherby Pilgrims a few days ago—and immediately everyone wanted to start the sequel. My boys enjoyed this book so much that one of them narrated most of the story to his sister who was away at the time. It was definitely the favorite of the five or six books we have going at the moment!

After an epidemic of typhus swept through the little village of Switherby in the center of England, ten years after the battle of Waterloo, Miss Arabella Jane Braithwaite found herself caring for a number of orphans. What was she to do with them? What would their futures hold? She soon found herself embarking on a novel and daring expedition: She obtained a grant of land in the wilds of Australia and escorted 10 orphans on the long sea voyage to that land.

Once in Australia, Missabella, as the orphans quickly renamed her, had to figure out what supplies her little band would require in the bush, how to get there—and she believed she had to keep her charges away from convicts. Then there was the matter of Francis’s future, the black boy who hung around, and the sheer challenge of keeping everyone alive and fed in the wilderness. And what would they do when real danger presented itself?

So what did we like about this story? Justice was done; the bad guy punished himself, in the words of one of my boys. We liked how the story kept moving along, and tension was kept up to the very end of the book. Also, it felt like it was historically accurate, from other books we’ve read. Also, we really felt like we were there, in the Australian bush. We loved the way the diverse group of orphans became a family. Also, with five boys and five girls in the family, this story appeals to both genders!

WARNING: In chapter 10, there is a lot of lying.

Age Levels:

Read Aloud—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 13, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15


Links to buy The Switherby Pilgrims:

Amazon: Paperback

AbeBooks: View Choices on


Australia, Wilderness

  1. February 25, 2019

    please give me project ideas for this book!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • February 28, 2019

      If you’re wanting to do this with your family, perhaps you could map out the trip they would have taken to get there (maybe print a map, and let each child draw a line along the probable ocean voyage route). You could have a meal with dried/crunchy bread and some sort of cured meat (similar to hard tack and salt pork, which would have been a common meal while sailing). If you are able to get outside, you could build a hut similar to what the Switherby Pilgrims lived in when they moved in (a palm frond hut). Or, if you can’t get outside, you could try collecting things to build an example miniature farm in a box, full of lots of bush/woods and undergrowth, and have a little clearing with maybe a tiny garden and lean-to housing (the “ground” could be moss, for example, and twigs would act as trees, etc.). You could research Aborigines together, and find out what they may have eaten off the land—the book mentions that frequently. Hope there’s something here that’s helpful!

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