The Ends of the Earth

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the late eighteenth century, for political reasons, England needed to establish a new colony in Australia; thus, much to their surprise, a group of condemned felons suddenly found themselves reprieved from the gallows and packed aboard leaky transport ships bound for the other side of the world. There was equal consternation among the king’s officers and the men charged with establishing this strange new colony. Under almost intolerable conditions and with only the vaguest idea of what they would find there, they sailed from London to Botany Bay, a trip of nearly a year. This epic journey is the subject of THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.

Michael Talbot has a good eye for historical authenticity. He gives vivid pictures of life in Newgate and aboard the transports. His real gift, however, is in characterization. His main characters are complex human beings with dreams, flaws, and virtues: Joe Cribb, a former soldier turned thief; Kitty Brandon, an actress who murdered her lover; Levi Abraham, a quack doctor. They are all fascinating people who struggle to maintain life and dignity even as transported convicts. Captain Phillip, the aging commander of the expedition, looks for a lasting place in history as he struggles to keep his leaky vessels afloat. He is alternately aided and thwarted by merchant captains, marine officers, missionaries, and mercenaries--all of whom hope for positions of authority in the future colony. The book concludes with the colonists’ first glimpse of the unpromising shoreline of Australia.

Though the entire novel is devoted to getting the convicts to the ships and the ships to Australia, it is anything but slow. Action abounds and character exposition deepens reader interest; loves, hates, friendships, and power struggles have ample time to develop. The reader cannot help speculating on what will happen when these unlikely colonists finally disembark. The sequel will be eagerly awaited.