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The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

The Fatal Shore (1986)

by Robert Hughes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Fantastic history. The odd theory of exiling criminals to start a colony - the tragic history of the encounter between 18th century Western Civilization and the Native Australians - the bizarre end of the system with the Gold Rushes. Another lesson in "the past is another world". The details of the prison life are so disgusting and brutal - that part of the book seemed to last forever. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
There's nothing like reading history to make you grateful. The past is a dark place.

Hughes doesn't strike me as entirely reliable, but he has a tremendous turn of phrase and eye for the novelistic detail. Highly recommended. ( )
  ben_a | Aug 1, 2014 |
History of Australia’s beginning as a penal colony. Well written but lengthy and detailed, with altogether way too much flogging. Wouldn’t recommend it for casual reading but it’s an impressive source for understanding the founding of modern Australia and Tasmania. ( )
  jdjdjd | Feb 8, 2014 |
This book fascinates me for its scope and depth of reporting/analysis, no matter how many times I've dipped into a chapter. ( )
  BethCamp | Dec 6, 2013 |
This is what a non-fiction books should be: a wonderful, absorbing history book. He starts by describing Georgian England and the many crimes that could get you locked up or hanged. (He points out that there were more slang words associated with hanging than with sex.) The jails were full, so they put hulks of battleships in the Thames and filled them with prisoners. (Any of this sound familiar?) Still not enough room. I know – let’s send them “beyond the seas” to this new land we just discovered, and make them support themselves. They can send back flax and timber from Norfolk Island, plus this will keep Boney and the Frenchies from claiming this part of the world! Win-win! Well, it didn’t work out quite like that, but it’s a fascinating story.
Tons of interesting facts from primary sources – letters, criminal records, etc. One example: apparently descendents of Irish convicts in Australia pride themselves on being the scion of political prisoners, when in fact political prisoners were only a tiny percentage – most Irish sentenced to transportation were common criminals. The Irish were treated more harshly than other convicts; there was one rebellion that was quickly crushed. Political uprising was easily quashed by dispersing the rebels – ending up on a remote farm where none of the other convicts had the energy to care pretty much put an end to that.
Australians also get a kick out of the idea that their formothers were whores, but that actually wasn’t a transportable offence. They were just thieves, mostly.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff about class issues and how historians disagree about whether the convicts can be considered a class; there was much loyalty amoung them, but as time went by some of them acquired wealth and disassociated themselves. Of course the military people and the folks who came over to farm (with land grants and convict labor) never saw them as anything but convicts, and the children of convicts were just as bad as their parents.
Along the way he mentions a bunch of stories of people that deserve to be made into books or movies: bushrangers; Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked, along with her husband, on an island off the Australian coast, married a convict who’d lived with the Aborigines, and eventually returned to England (there is a book about that one, Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves); William Buckley, who escaped and was taken in by a group of Aborigines because they thought he was the returned spirit of one woman’s husband and lived with them for thirty-two years; Mary Bryant and her family, who rowed to Timor in a six-oar cutter they stole from the harbor and claimed to be shipwreck survivors. James Boswell gave her a pension. ( )
  piemouth | Sep 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Hughes' descriptions of sadism and suffering, desperate escape attempts, rape, murder, cannibalism, and forays into the bush to exterminate the aboriginal and other indigenous peoples, become, in their accumulation, wearying, mind-numbing. Yet it is the story of the founding of a modern nation whose development was coetaneous with the last century of America's slave period, if even more savage and barbaric. "The Fatal Shore" is an unexpected, original and important work of history.
In the early 1970's, while filming a television program on Australian art in Port Arthur, Tasmania, the Australian-born art critic Robert Hughes became curious about the city's prisons, which date from the period (1788-1868) when criminals were shipped from the British Isles to Australia. The prisons are ''the monuments of Australia - the Paestums,'' he said recently in his New York apartment, and the period ''was an extraordinary time - an effort to exile en masse a whole class. The English felt that just as shoemakers make shoes, this class produced crime.''

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Hughesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Verheydt, J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world:
And, for because the world is populous,
And here is not creature but myself,
I cannot do it; - yet I'll hammer't out.

Shakespeare, Richard II, V.v.
The very day we landed upon the Fatal Shore,
The planters stood around us, full twenty score or more;
They ranked us up like horses and sold us out of hand,
They chained us up to pull the plough, upon Van Dieman's Land.

Convict ballad, ca. 1825-30
che 'n la mente m'e fitta, e or m'accora,
For my Godson
Alexander Bligh Turnbull, B. 1982
a seventh-generation Australian
and for my son's godparents
Alan Moorehead, 1910-1983
Lucy Moorehead, 1908-1979
First words
INTRODUCTION -- The idea for this book occurred to me in 1974, when I was working on a series of television documentaries about Australian art.
In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonize Australia.
che 'n la mente m'e fitta, e or m'accora,

la cara e buona imagine paterna

di voi...

e quant'io l'abbia in grado, mentr'io vivo,

convien che nella mia lingua si scerna

-- Dante, Inferno, XV, 82-87
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0394753666, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:24 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Draws on diverse original materials to recount the European settlement of Australia, from the 1788 landing of the first prison fleet to 1868.

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