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The Fatal Shore (1986)

by Robert Hughes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,630542,981 (3.99)177
An account of the convict settlements in Australia based upon letters, diaries, and documents from the first landing in Botany Bay in 1788 to the last shipload of convicts in 1868.
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English (51)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Much as the history books of my (U.S.) schoolyears, Australian history schoolbooks glossed over the genocide of the Aborigines, and the criminal background of their White Australian ancestors. As such, Hughes energetically researched English and Australian records to write this eye-opening history. He says of his effort:

P.7:
"Yet the effort to perceive the landscape and its people as they were is worth making, for it bears on one of the chief myths of early colonial history as understood and taught up to about 1960. This was the idea, promulgated by the early settlers and inherited from the 19th century, that the First Fleet sailed into an "empty" continent, speckled with primitive animals and hardly less primitive men, so that the "fittest" inevitably triumphed. Thus the destruction of the Australian Aborigines was rationalized as natural law. 'nothing can stay the dying away of the Aboriginal race, which Providence has only allowed to hold the land until replaced by a finer race,' remarked a settler in 1849."

The Aboriginal people's had been mostly left in peace, until England decided to rid its island of criminals by shipping them to the southeast of Australia.
P.46-7:
"there had been Asian landings in the 16th century, but none resulted in colonization. They were made by MaKasson traders from the island of Celebes, who ran down the northern monsoons in their slat - sailed praus to what is now Arnhem Land, on the North coast of the continent. The goal of their 1200 mile voyages was a sea slug, the trepang or bêche-de-mer. These creatures, which looked like withered penises when smoked and dried were Indonesia's largest export to the Chinese, who esteemed them as an aphrodisiac. Thus, until the 19th century, Australia's sole contribution to the outside world was millions of sea slugs."

Once squatted, the English persecution of Natives begins ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Bibliography: p. 656. Includes index.
  TorontoOratorySPN | Sep 2, 2022 |
reads like lots of little stories and essays ( )
  farrhon | Aug 10, 2022 |
We learn zero about Australian history in New Zealand schools, obsessed, like most countries, by our own history. The Fatal Shore details past horrors of a familiar place, a culture that doesn’t feel foreign to me. The emotional baggage wasn’t there though; I haven’t had a lifetime of experiencing the politicisation of Australia’s history.

The scene is set with descriptions of the landscape and the Aboriginal people. Then, after investigation of life in Georgian England, we follow the path of the first fleet of convicts that arrived in Botany Bay in 1788. The structure of the book isn’t chronological, different places are mentioned and then returned to in more detail. This causes some information to be repeated and I was sometimes a bit confused as to what year and place was being described. However, this is an exhaustive and often gripping history of convict Australia.

I'd always wondered about Macquarie as there are many places named after him. He was a somewhat liberal governor of New South Wales, the other governors sound pretty awful. It’s amusing that the trendy Darling Harbour is named after a bit of a tyrant. Slowly, New South Wales improved and many, convict or not, started to enjoy a life better than they could have expected in England. But if you fell foul of the authorities there were always the new penal colonies: Van Diemen’s land, Norfolk Island, Brisbane and then finally Western Australia. These places ensured that hell on Earth existed. This expansion was disastrous for the Aborigines.

The most shocking story is of a group of convicts that escaped in Van Diemen’s land (Tasmania) and ended up eating each other. That some convicts on the mainland thought they could escape overland to China, it seems that they had no clue where they were and felt completely disoriented in this new land. This book was written in the eighties, but the attitudes and views of the author don’t seem outdated. Maybe this is because this book, while it does judge those involved, concentrates more on chronicling what happened - as good history books should.



( )
  FEBeyer | Oct 25, 2021 |
When I selected this book to read, I thought it was a more popular treatment of Australia's founding than it turned out to be. Although the book is well-researched, it tends to be slightly to the academic side. Hughes does not spare ugliness from his readers as he describes punishments sometimes received by transported convicts. The convicts were mostly thieves the British legal system thought needed reform. In places the author gets bogged down in uninteresting detail. This book reminds readers of how far Australia has come from its founding to its current respected nation status. ( )
  thornton37814 | Sep 14, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (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.
 
Hughes might have attempted this book in his youth, and got the story out of proportion, even if he had not skimped it. Fortunately, he has made The Fatal Shore the magnum opus of his maturity. By now his sense of historical scale is sound, as for this task it needed to be. It would have been easy to call the Australian system of penal settlements a Gulag Archipelago before the fact. The term ‘concentration camp’, in its full modern sense, would not have been out of place: at least one of the system’s satellites, Norfolk Island, was, if not an out-and-out extermination camp, certainly designed to make its victims long for death, like Dachau in those awful years before the war when the idea was not so much to kill people as to see how much they could suffer and still want to stay alive. And, indeed, Hughes draws these parallels. The analogies are inescapable. But he doesn’t let them do his thinking for him. He is able to bring out the full dimensions of the tragedy while keeping it in perspective. The penal colony surely prefigured the modern totalitarian catastrophe...

When there was no one else left to absorb, the real Hughes might have emerged, as happened in his prose. In those years, you could always tell what he had been reading the day before. Even today, he is a magpie for vocables: no shimmering word he spots in any of the languages he understands, and in several more that he doesn’t, is safe from being plucked loose and flown back to his nest. Omnivorous rather than eclectic, that type of curiosity is the slowest to find coherence. But his fluency was always his own, and by persistence he has arrived at a solidity to match it: a disciplined style that controls without crippling all that early virtuosity, and blessedly also contains his keen glance, getting the whole picture into a phrase the way he once got his fellow-students’ faces into a single racing line. It is exactly right, as well as funny, to call a merino sheep ‘a pompous ambling peruke’. Scores of such felicities could be picked out, but only on the understanding that they are not the book’s decoration. They are its architecture.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe New Yorker, Clive James (Mar 23, 1987)
 
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 (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Hughesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Verheydt, J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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,
Dedication
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
Quotations
As Sirius sailed past Point Solander, Captain John Hunter watched them flourish their spears at her and cry “Warra, warra!” These words, the first recorded ones spoken by a black to a white in Australia, meant “Go away!”
No classless society has ever existed or ever will. Every group has bottom and top dogs. The hostile glare of the decent did not prevent men and women “on the cross” from constructing pecking orders whose minuteness and punctilio were almost worthy of Versailles. From the lowest thief to the highest member of the “Swell Mob,” all was graded; the criminal milieu was a meritocracy with strong tribal overtones.
Most of a platypus’s life had to be spent foraging on the streambed for worms and insects, since it ate rather more than its own weight in food a day and had a metabolic rate like a blast furnace. Hold one of these frantic little fossils (avoiding the hind legs, which carry a poison spur, like many “cute” things in Australia) and it seems to be all heart, pumping and quivering.
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An account of the convict settlements in Australia based upon letters, diaries, and documents from the first landing in Botany Bay in 1788 to the last shipload of convicts in 1868.

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