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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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Growing up in Australia in the 1970s and 80s the Australian history I was taught consisted of Captain Cook, the First Fleet, explorers and the fact that sometimes they had spears thrown at them, bushrangers and a bit of local South Australian history. It was mentioned that there were convicts in Australia but nothing more. These days I’d like to think there would be more coverage of Aboriginals and convicts, with “The Fatal Shore” used as a primary text for covering the latter.

Extremely well written and as fine a tribute to those thousands of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh men and women sent to Australia as one could wish, “The Fatal Shore” doesn’t flinch as it covers the godawful conditions the convicts were held in, from the foetid atmosphere on their boat trip over to the particularly non-PC working conditions they laboured under, the torture of the cat o’ nine tails if one got out of step and the ultimate penalty of Norfolk Island.

Intermixed in this is more sodomy than I thought possible, genocide and a streak of cruelty that still astonishes centuries later. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Jun 5, 2017 |
This is disturbing, compelling and fascinating reading. A must read for all those interested in knowing more about the incredibly cruel and complex first 100 years of white Australia. It's an especially provocative reflection on the issue of punishment versus reform or rehabilitation, and also a great expose of the destructive force of power in the wrong hands. ( )
  CarolPreston | Apr 25, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
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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 editionscalculated
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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