This really is a ripping yarn. A tale of convict Australia, and the harsh prisons of Port Macquarie, Port Arthur, and Norfolk Island. It follows the story of “Rufus Dawes”, a man wrongly convicted for murder and transported to Australia.
Interestingly we only see brief glimpses of Dawes for about the first third of the novel. What we do see are mutinies, crime, punishment, heroism, love, and the very harsh landscape of the penal colonies of Tasmania.
Clarke draws well rounded characters. He shows human nature at its best and worst. Not all convicts are bad, but some of them are very nasty. Whatever the nature of the convict, you have got to feel appalled at their treatment and condition at Port Arthur and Norfolk Island.
The authorities are completely sure they are right. The gaolers would be tried war crimes in different times.
This novel was first published in serial form from 1870 to 1872. For me, interestingly from me, this novel was written only about 20 years after the closure of the penal colony of Port Arthur. It was popular at the time, which tells me that society had changed … or the make up of that society as the prisoners gained their freedom and the injustices of the justice system had come to light.
It was a rollicking read. One of its time, so it’s not hard to read but it is long and uses the language of the day. I did find it quite depressing because of what continuously happens Dawes. There seem to be no breaks, and not everybody gets their comeuppance.
I have read some literary articles about this novel, but they were focused on theses and I really just wanted to talk about the yarn.
Feel free to disagree.