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The Fatal Shore (1986)

by Robert Hughes

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3,447492,851 (3.99)169
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 (47)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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 |
This is a very good book, well written, exceptionally researched. If you want to learn about the early history of Australia, and you want a readable book, this is the one for youo. ( )
  ArtRodrigues | Jun 9, 2021 |
Part narrative, part documented history. Full on brutal. There were parts that were hard to read - the treatment of many of the convicts was horrific. This was definitely a rough punishment for a 12 year old pick pocket let alone the adult man or woman.
At least there is a lot of documentation concerning the men. Unfortunately, women being merely chatal (spelling). there is virtually no record of their lives.
I enjoyed the read, though, as I knew little to nothing about the beginning of Australia. It says a lot of what the "civilized" world thought of the lower classes/criminals and what was needed to "reform" them. On Australia, the great experiment of a penal colony, it was proven that the harsher the punishment ... well, it didn't create the results that were thought to have happened.
I appreciated that there was little comparative discussion between what we know today about convict treatment as compared to the time this was occurring. It is a factual accounting of what happened. ( )
  PallanDavid | Mar 20, 2021 |
In which Mr Hughes destroys most of the myths Australians tell ourselves, whether conservative ("we're not really descended from convicts") or, more usually, progressive ("the convicts were mostly political refugees"... nope. "The convicts and the indigenous peoples worked together to..." nope.) And does it in a highly entertaining narrative. It really isn't over-rated, though it is, perhaps, overlong. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Here's another thing about Australia. It has its priorities right. So, when I heard Greece is in some trouble, the consequences of which might destablise the world economy, I went to ABC.net to check it out.

Not a WORD about Greece. Honestly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. The really top world news stories are:

Lleyton Hewitt out of Wimbledon
A person who was born in Australia (ie tenuous connection, but we still want him) has made the NBA draft.
Cocaine still popular in the US

and the real biggie:

Grave fears - GRAVE FEARS, in case you don't register the import of this story - held for lost Emperor Penguin.

Presumably this story has pushed Greece off the front page in other parts of the world? SURELY. This penguin took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, on his way to Antarctica and ended up in New Zealand. What could be more important than that?

I think we can add another question to the binary decision making tree for Aussies:

New Zealand? Or Antaractica?

Hmm. Ummm...I dunno. This one's kinda tricky.


I've been thinking about I Ching lately and I can see that in a way, maybe it helps people focus on thinking about their decisions in life. But I can't see it working for Australians.

As Stewart Lee said recently, of all the places in the world to have compulsory voting, it's one whose population survives on the following binary tree of decision-making:

Get out of bed in the morning? Or not?

Shorts? Or trunks?

Sit in the shade? Or in the sun?

Beach? Or pool?

Fosters? Or Carlton?

The moment you add a complication to this. Say,

Hang out with mates? Or girlfriend? Or both?

The moment you do that, they are already looking lost.

And as we really don't have a two-party system any more, we really have to get rid of the whole compulsory voting thing.

Or do we? ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (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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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
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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