Convicts and settlers: 1788-1900
Australia’s European settlement began in 1788, when the First Fleet of convicts and their keepers arrived in Sydney Harbor. This brutal and uneducated society hardly encouraged literary production. Instead, those in charge kept diaries and wrote reports on the settlement’s development, the exotic flora and fauna, the land’s geographical oddities, and the Aboriginal inhabitants. Australia’s first novel appeared in 1830: Quintus Servinton, an undistinguished book by a convict named Henry Savery (1791-1842), an educated man who had been transported to Australia for forgery. Although the author died in Australia after further criminal activities, the book’s hero, Quintus, makes a fortune in the new land and returns happily to England. This plot line characterized many of the novels that followed. Written by homesick settlers, not convicts, the books treated the colony’s rugged life harshly and allowed their heroes to go home to England with money they had accumulated by exploiting the country’s resources.
The Transportation System (the euphemism for sending English convicts to the colony) lasted into the 1830’s. One other convict, James Tucker (c. 1808-1888), wrote a novel about his experiences. The manuscript, dated around 1845, was not discovered until the 1920’s and first appeared in an authentic edition in 1952. Tucker’s Ralph Rashleigh, unlike Savery’s book, depicts the convicts as overcoming the injustice dealt them and showing pride in their new country, where they hoped to lead a better life. In spite of the significance of the convict settlement and its inherent drama, only one other novel from the nineteenth century treated the Transportation System fully, and it was written by a free British settler, Marcus Clarke (1846-1881). His novel, For the Term of...
(The entire section is 742 words.)