The Potato Factory: episode guide

Part 1 of 2

Ben Cross and Lisa McCune

Australia: July 17, 2000
Canada: March 27 and April 03, 2001

The queen of Australian television, multi-Gold Logie Award winner Lisa McCune is the heart of this epic drama, set in the criminal world of early nineteenth-century London and the convict settlement of Van Diemen’s Land, as a young orphan girl struggling to make her way in the world.

The adventures of Mary Klerk (Lisa McCune), known as Mary Abacus, begin when, as a young orphan employed as a maid in a great London house, she is dismissed because of a sexual indiscretion. Following a harrowing series of misadventures on the dangerous streets of London, she is eventually thrust into prostitution in order to survive. However, her ability to read, write and calculate at brilliant speed on a Chinese abacus saves young Mary who hears by chance that London’s most notorious petty criminal Ikey Solomon needs a clerk. He sets her some complex problems which she solves in their first big battle of wits. Ikey, a fence who deals in stolen goods, employs her and soon realises that, for the first time in his life, he is in love.

It will be a spiky affair. There is little love lost between Ikey and his wife Hannah (Sonia Todd), a brothel keeper, strong minded, and consumed by warring passions. She doesn’t love Ikey but hates the idea of any other woman having him and becomes furiously jealous after learning of his involvement with Mary Abacus—a woman she once employed. When Ikey branches out into the major crime of forging banknotes Hannah betrays him to the authorities. Arrested, Ikey manages a daring, even fantastic, escape from Newgate Jail and gets away to New York. Hannah and Mary meanwhile are apprehended by the police, tried, found guilty, and finally transported across the seas as convicts to Van Diemen’s Land where they are to serve out seven-year sentences, Mary for her successful brothel, and Hannah on a trumped up charge for the possession of stolen goods.

Part 2 of 2

Lisa McCune

Australia: July 18, 2000
Canada: April 10 and 17, 2001

Ikey takes the long voyage to Hobart, claiming to an astonished Hannah that he has been prompted by family feeling to be near her and their children. The real reason, Hannah believes is for him to wheedle out of her the vital clue that could give him access to their hidden fortune. Ikey is arrested and spends several years in a chain gang. His friendship with aboriginal convict Billy, whose mystic world he begins to understand a little, matures and mellows Ikey.

Meanwhile, Mary befriends Margaret Keating while in gaol and the two of them slyly sell whisky they make from prison garden potatoes. When at last, Mary is released, she is able to use her profits to set up a small brewery, The Potato Factory, with the assistance of a kindly older man, Mr. Emmett.

Upon her own release, Hannah Solomon, who is ever the more intent on destroying Mary, eggs on her protector George Madden who threatens to buy up all Mary’s supplies and put her out of business. On his release, Ikey searches out Mary and joins her working at the brewery.

When Ikey’s old friend Marybelle Firkin dies delivering twin boys—Hawk is black and Tommo is white!—Ikey asks Mary to bring them up. She loves them deeply and is horrified when as ten-year-olds they are kidnapped. The disagreeable David Solomon, his mother Hananah and George Madden claim to have Hawk who will be returned alive only if Mary signs over "The Potato Factory" to them. To save the boy Mary is ready to do this but realises in time that it is a cruel bluff and goes off alone on a dangerous search of the mountainous bushland, eventually rescuing Hawk after shooting dead his kidnapper. Hawk returns home to find Ikey on his deathbed. Mary finds unexpected solace in the surprise arrival in Van Diemen’s Land of Ikey’s hidden fortune—which she shares with Hannah—and in the overwhelmingly emotional return of Tommo.