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The Fatal Shore: History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787-1868 (Harvill Panther) [Paperback]

Robert Hughes
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Sep 1996 Harvill Panther
The Fatal Shore reveals the full extent of Australia's role as the concentration camp of Georgian England, and in doing so has set new standards in the writing of narrative history

Product details

  • Paperback: 699 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (5 Sep 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860461506
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860461507
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 390,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Hughes was born in Australia in 1938 and has lived in Europe and the United States since 1964. Since 1970 he has worked in New York as an art critic for Time Magazine. He has twice received the Franklin Jeweer Mather Award for Distinguished Criticism from the College Art Association of America.

Product Description


"A unique phantasmagoria of crime and punishment, which combines the shadowy terrors of Goya with the tumescent life of Dickens" (Peter Ackroyd, The Times)

"A triumph of research, passion and fine writing. I found it an extraordinary and compelling book to read, one of fantastic scope and imagination; truly a tour de force" (William Shawcross)

"Riveting" (The Book Magazine)

"With its mood and stature...The Fatal Shore is well on its way to becoming the standard opus on the convict years" (Sydney Sunday Telegraph)

"An enthralling account of the convict settlement of Australia, thoroughly researched and excellently written, brimming over with rare and pungent characters, and tales of pathos, bravery, and horror" (Peter Matthiessen) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

'An extraordinarily vivid yet authentic account of the birthpangs of a nation. A work of real distinction' Philip Ziegler --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sets The Standard 5 Aug 2008
By Dave_42
"The Fatal Shore" by Robert Hughes is the one book which is always mentioned when it comes to books about the history of Australia, and for good reason. Hughes' brilliant work covers in great detail the transportation of criminals from England to Australia, and the history of those penal colonies. He also deals with the historical figures and events which impacted those colonies.

Prior to this work, Robert Hughes had authored books on art, and is generally known as an art critic and a documentary maker. This work of history seems to be an unusual diversion from his typical interests, but as he explains in his introduction, it was while doing a series of documentaries on Australian art which took him to Port Arthur that he realized that he knew little of his country's convict past. His documentary work undoubtedly played a key role in his making this one of the more readable histories there is, and led to "The Fatal Shore" becoming an international best-seller.

He starts by discussing the conditions in England which led to the transportation of criminals to the opposite side of the world, the theories about there being a "criminal class", and the loss of the Americas as a dumping ground for British criminals. Another key point is the sentencing which was used at the time which resulted in people with a wide variety of criminal convictions, from petty theft to murder all being selected, without regard to whether or not they would be able to provide any valuable service to the colonies which were to be created.

Next Hughes discusses the first fleet, from the difficult passage, both for prisoners and free people, to the arrival and the dealings with the Aborigines to the difficult first years of the colony; it is an engaging tale which reads like a novel.
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the read. 21 July 2003
This book is an excellent read, both accessible and fluid in its writing as well as detailed and well researched.
I'm sure that this book will be an invaluable resource for those studying or interested in the transportation process and Australian history in general.
While the main focus is on the penal colonies, the book opens with fascinating insights into both the Aboriginal group around Sydney harbour at the time and also the Georgian "Working" and "criminal" class. Both of which give depth and range to the subject at hand.
Being a history teacher myself I can recommend this book for teachers who are looking for something new and interesting to spice up the industrial revolution. And for the general reader I would recommend this book as a fascinating and balanced insight into a very different world. One that is both part of and a world away from the Georgian world we so often hear about.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 16 Jan 2000
By A Customer
I read this during a year working in Sydney and couldn't put it down (which says a great deal for a work of non-fiction!). The descriptions of the hardships faced by convicts were so vivid that I went to see many of the places for myself. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I studied English history for many years at school, and not once was the shameful secret of transportation mentioned in the syllabus. The scale of cruelty and barbarism described by Hughes in some parts of the Colony is staggering, but what strikes most about the book is its evenhandness. The convicts' backgrounds and unconventional social mores are fully investigated, as is their treatment at the hands of unknowing and uncaring British petty colonialists. What are more uncertain are Hughes' assertions about the effect of the convict past on the Australian character of today - is the convict past really an issue in Australian social politics (other than a friendly taunt to visiting pommies)? Still, an enthralling, deeply moving and informative read, a must for students of English or Australian history, or visitors to Australia.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Humane Account 1 July 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At first glance, the title of this brief review may appear something of an oxymoron. However, this is exactly what Robert Hughes does by applying his almost tangible decency to a subject which few British authors and until the fairly recent past not many Australian writers saw fit to examine in an extremely academic, but still humane style; namely the transportation of 160,000 men, women and children from Britain to various penal colonies in Australia between 1788 and 1868. Hughes explores this period through the documentary and physical sources examined, over what must have constituted an immense period of research. The fruits of that research are shown in the vivid pictures he presents not only of the many gross violations perpetrated on those unfortunate enough to savour embrace of the System; but, also the society that acted as its progenitor. Hughes' writing is exceptional and efficiently conveys the moral paradox at the heart of transportation. Namely. its undeniably inherent wrong with the fact that equally undeniably the transported labour quickened the process of colonisation. This book pulls no punches in its exposure of societies often hypocritical stance on the treatment of offenders. Personlly, it reminded us to beware of politicians and others who offer us a simple or one dimensional solution to the problems of crimminality. OveralL, I have no hesitation in commending this excellent and thought provoking book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 12 days ago by David R.
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh My God!
This book, about the early colonisation of Australia by shipments of convicts, is incredible and should be part of the A-level and/or history degree syllabus. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jane Byars
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic of popular history
This is a giant of a book. Not just because of its 600-page length but for the impression that it creates of being the definitive word on its subject. Read more
Published 4 months ago by IceBear
4.0 out of 5 stars getting in touch with Australia
For history lovers there are facts but the writing is often overly flamboyant I felt it got in the way. Just give it to me how it happened!
Published 4 months ago by zuma
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Very pleased with the book The Fatal Shore. I found it had Good detail without being boring.

Deliver was speedy much faster than expected.

Many thanks.
Published 4 months ago by BILLY KENNA
3.0 out of 5 stars only some parts of interest...
For me a cover to cover read was not possible. I read chapters on treatment of women and while not a great surprise, showed how sexist attitudes ensured a terrible (in many cases)... Read more
Published 4 months ago by echo
5.0 out of 5 stars The Convicts Lament
The Fatal Shore has two main subjects that are inextricably linked, a comprehensive history of the Transportation system used by Great Britain to dispose of its `criminal classes',... Read more
Published 5 months ago by S. Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant historical work
Essential reading for any immigrants but for all australians. We forget this so recent a history and that military people don't make good civilian leaders.pat mcl
Published 5 months ago by pat mcloughlin
5.0 out of 5 stars Great history book
I bought this for my friend from NZ who liveds in Oz now. My mum leant me her copy many moons ago & I wanted to pass on the knowledge. Great service & prompt delivery.
Published 6 months ago by Gabriella
5.0 out of 5 stars The brutality of the government to its own people is unbelievable.
I was shocked to the core by the treatment of the prisoners in 18th century Britain. The government and ruling class considered the working population almost as vermin. Read more
Published 6 months ago by terry Burke
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