- Paperback: 752 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (Feb. 12 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0394753666
- ISBN-13: 978-0394753669
- Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3.8 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 658 g
- Average Customer Review: 45 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #73,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia's founding Paperback – Feb 12 1988
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An extraordinary volume--even a masterpiece--about the early history of Australia that reads like the finest of novels. Hughes captures everything in this complex tableau with narrative finesse that drives the reader ever-deeper into specific facts and greater understanding. He presents compassionate understanding of the plights of colonists--both freemen and convicts--and the Aboriginal peoples they displaced. One of the very best works of history I have ever read. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
For 80 years between 1788 and 1868 England transported its convicts to Australia. This punishment provided the first immigrants and the work force to build the colony. Using diaries, letters, and original sources, Hughes meticulously documents this history. All sides of the story are told: the political and social reasoning behind the Transportation System, the viewpoint of the captains who had the difficult job of governing and developing the colonies, and of course the dilemma of the prisoners. This is a very thorough and accurate history of Australian colonization written by the author of the book and BBC/Time-Life TV series The Shock of the New . A definitive work that is an essential purchase for both public and academic libraries. BOMC and History Book Club main selections. Judith Nixon, Purdue Univ. Libs., W. Lafayette, Ind.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Hughes tells the story of the discovery of Australia, the decision of Great Britain to "transport" its convicted to the continent, the various kinds of lives the convicts found there, the aboriginal settlers and their treatment by the newcomers, and the ultimate creation of a new society. There are harrowing accounts of the passage from Britain to Australia in the convict ships, and still shocking accounts of the secondary places of punishment created in Australia for repeat offenders -- places such as Norfolk Island, Port Aurthur, and Macquarrie Bay. Hughes describes these nineteenth century camps as precursors of the Gulag in our own time, and I am afraid he is correct. They reminded me to of Andersonville Prison in our own Civil War but on a much broader, more wicked scale. The description of the prisons and barbaric punishments were to me the most vivid portions of the book.
Besides the horror stories, there is a great deal of nuanced, thoughtful writing in the book about the settlement and building of Australia and of the dangers of facile over-generalization about how the convicts fared, or about virtually any other historical subject. Some were able to serve out their sentences and rise to prosperity and a new life. Others were shamefully abused. The history of the aboriginal peoples too is described and it is an unhappy subject, alas.
Hughes begins with the early days of the transport and concludes when the system was finally abolished in the 1850's as a result of protests and of the Australian gold rush.
After reading this book, I thought I had realized my goal of learning something of Australia. More importantly, I felt part of the land even though I hadn't seen it before and will likely never see it again. Places that I read about and that were only names took on character and importance.
I have read a substantial amount of United States history but hadn't read about Australia before. This book is well-documented, eloquently written and has a feel for the pulse of its subject. It is an outstanding work of history and is sure to broaden the human perspective of the reader.
Hughes also examines the social history of Britain from the late eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century - in particular, its criminology. And it's right that British social history should be assessed in this book, because I thought that transportation could not be understood in full without that context. The book was all the better for that. Were I to be churlish, I should point out that the Irish experience is slightly underplayed (but not overlooked) - one could view the Irish angle as more political than social - but as I said, that would be over-critical.
Among the tales of shocking brutality, there are great escape stories, assessments of the British officials who were brave and humane enough to attempt reform, and an assessment of the effect of the transportation system upon both the Australian psyche and upon the Aborigines.
Fascinating though all this is, I thought that Hughes had a tendency to depart from strict chronology. By that I mean that as one particular aspect of the story engaged his interest, he told it to completion. Frequently at the beginning of the next chapter I had to "leap backwards in time" as Hughes looked at another part of the history. This can be disorientating, but I tried to approach the book as a series of extended essays on transportation and Australian history. This worked for me. Perhaps Hughes's method was as good as the conceivable alternatives given the structure of the history he was dealing with.
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