I live in Australia and had no idea of the cruelty meted out by the British to their own people, nor any understanding of the extreme hardships faced by the so-called convicts and their guards, nor any idea of what it would feel like to scratch out the the beginnings of a community, village, town, State and Country from a blank canvas. I have a very clear understanding now. The complete lack of humane treatment of the convicts and the lack of planning and preparation is shockingly recorded from detailed research carried out by David Hill. This is a moving book which records the depth of human ability to withstand and overcome fearful confinement and torture, sickness and deprivation, aboard ship for about 6 months, followed by exposure and starvation and a grinding existence after arrival in Australia.
The magic and joy of the book is that it enables a stark comparison with 'then ...and now'; the place and the people. The wonder is, that the chrysalis David Hill so clearly paints has become the amazing butterfly that Australia is today...a standout amongst the world's nations and peoples.
Unlike a number of the Australian reviewers of this book I live in England. My interest was sparked by seeing a play, ‘Our Country’s Good’ by T. Wertenbaker, based on a real life event that took place in Sydney colony in June 1789. Governor Phillip allowed convicts to stage a production of, ‘The Recruiting Officer’. The modern play portrays many of the key characters of the new penal settlement both from the military and the convicts themselves including the infamous Mary Bryant. The play examines the redeeming qualities of drama and examines the attitudes of many of the key characters mentioned in this book. (Governor Phillip comes off slightly less well in the book compared to the play.) It is clear that David Hall has undertaken a good deal of research in order to produce this detailed and well written narrative of the journey of the First Fleet to establish a penal settlement in Sydney, Australia. Hill draws a very good picture of life aboard the ships and of the enlightened attitude of Captain (Governor) Phillip. He goes on to describe very clearly problems associated with trying to establish a settlement on the inhospitable shores of Sydney harbour and the Herculean efforts to provide an adequate supply of food. (The astonishingly inaccurate information supplied by Captain Cook’s botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who enjoyed a totally unblemished reputation, is quite shocking.) Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the book was to learn that sailing ships often had to make the most amazing and unexpected detours in order to find satisfactory winds to reach a given destination. Who would have expected ships to regularly sail to Brazil as a means of reaching South Africa in order to avoid the becalming breezes associated with the west African coastline? I was also shocked by the number of instances of ships being lost by breaking on reefs, hitting icebergs or losing most of their crew to disease or scurvy. The author provides fascinating information on the private lives of many on this expedition and what happened to them in later years. The tale ends with the return of Phillip to England leaving the reader wanting to know more, especially about the rule of William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) as Governor and the rebellion that took place in 1808. This is an interesting and well written book and is commended to all those interested in the establishment of the first settlement in Australia and the hardships of the First Fleet. A useful chronology of events is included. My one minor criticism is the absence of a map or two that would have facilitated following the voyages of the numerous ships involved in establishing and supplying the settlement.
We all think we know that the first white settlers in Australia were convicts. David Hill's book tells also of the sailors and marines who went with them and the hardships they all suffered. Transportation is explained in relation to the situation in eighteen century England. It gives a sympathetic account of Captain Arthur Phillip who commanded the First Fleet and established the colony. The book is a must-read for Australians and those Britons interested in the far flung Commonwealth. Less expensive when bought from Amazon UK that it is in Australia or Changi.
Wow - what a book! We've just been visiting New South Wales - and it is difficult to believe that, out of this brutal penal 'colony', of 200 years ago, has grown the magnificent, vibrant, free-spirited city that is Sydney! One can feel, vicariously, the pain of the convicts 'abandoned' by their homeland; we English have a lot to answer for! The style of the book is clear and unequivocal - and I found it difficult to put down. Undoubtedly, the best book I've read for years!