Last Updated on May 24, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1300
Laura Trevelyan is a young woman who was orphaned as a child and came to Australia to live with Mr. and Mrs. Bonner, her uncle and aunt. She is intelligent, idealistic, and extremely sensitive, to the point where she forms a psychic connection with Voss after falling in love with him, and sympathetically feels the pain of her maid, Rose Portion, in pregnancy and childbirth. Laura often seems aloof and priggish but is intensely self-critical and flagellates herself mentally for these faults.
Rose Portion is a former convict who works for the Bonners as a maid and dies soon after her illegitimate daughter Mercy is born. She is a heavy, dull, morose woman who has led a harsh life.
Johann Ulrich Voss
Johann Ulrich Voss is a German botanist who has come to Australia to explore the uncharted continent. He is arrogant and solitary by nature, though able to be convivial when it is necessary for the purposes of the expedition, with which he is obsessed. Voss initially dislikes Laura Trevelyan, but falls in love and abruptly proposes marriage when he finds that he feels closer to her than anyone else. Even when thrown together with other men during the course of the expedition, he remains aloof and often contemptuous in his thoughts.
Edmund Bonner is a rich Sydney merchant who sponsors Voss’s expedition. He is materialistic, simple-minded, and fond of comfort. Though he is generous with money, he expects his generosity to be acknowledged, and is inclined to sulk when he feels he is not receiving his due.
Emmy Bonner is similar to her husband in her concern for appearances and her simple desire for material comfort. She is easily upset and spends much of her time worrying about her social position.
Belle Bonner, the daughter of Emmy and Edmund Bonner, is a beautiful, simple-minded girl, who loves her fiancé, Lieutenant Radclyffe, and wants everyone to get along. She has a strong affection for her cousin, Laura.
Lieutenant Radclyffe is Belle’s fiancé, which means that he is constantly at the Bonners’ house. He is superficial in his values and dislikes people he does not understand, such as Voss and Laura.
Harry Robarts is a simple-minded young man endowed with great physical strength. He is loyal, particularly to Voss, and joins the expedition in order to be near him. He has a strong desire to be useful and is happiest when helping others.
Frank Le Mesurier
Frank Le Mesurier is a young man who arrived in Australia at the same time as Voss. He is cynical and aimless, joining the expedition because he has nothing better to do. However, during the expedition, he is inspired to write poetry about his life, and the journal in which he writes these poems becomes central to his existence.
Turner is a drunkard, a sour and envious man who is continually complaining and causing trouble. He is a former petty criminal and may have been involved in more serious crimes. He forms an unlikely friendship with Ralph Angus, with whom he has nothing in common.
Mr. Palfreyman is a clergyman and an ornithologist who joins the expedition to collect specimens of birds. He is weaker and more delicate than the other members of the expedition. His strong religious faith is balanced by a tendency to doubt himself. Palfreyman is kind-hearted and generous and is accepted as a gentleman by all who encounter him.
Mrs. Pringle is a wealthy woman with a great many children. She and Mrs. Bonner are ostensibly friends but really social rivals.
Una Pringle is Mrs. Pringle’s eldest daughter. She is ill-natured and particularly envious of Laura, eventually coming to hate her.
Mr. Sanderson is a wealthy landowner who has a large estate at Rhine Towers. He is one of the sponsors of Voss’s expedition and hosts the explorers after they arrive in Newcastle. Sanderson is generous and well-educated, and spends much of his spare time reading. He also has aspirations to be self-sufficient, making his own wine and crockery.
Mrs. Sanderson is a kindly, thoughtful woman who is very close to her husband. She feels sorry for Voss and wants to help him.
Ralph Angus is a wealthy young landowner who has property adjacent to Mr. Sanderson’s. He is friendly and well-mannered but initially stays aloof from Judd because of his background as a convict.
Albert Judd is a former convict, a quiet, reserved man of great strength and resilience. He has a small property close to Mr. Sanderson’s station and regards it as his duty to place his knowledge of the area at the service of Voss’s expedition. He is the most capable and industrious member of the expedition, a fact which leads Voss to fear that he offers an alternative to Voss’s own leadership.
Mrs. Judd is a former convict like her husband. She works hard and has no wish to travel or broaden her horizons but acknowledges that Judd’s priorities are different from hers.
Brendan Boyle has a property at Jildra, the last outpost of civilization visited by Voss and his expedition. He lives in a dirty, untidy two-room shack and has a rough manner that masks a refined upbringing and education. A few old books and pieces of silver in his home are remnants of his former life. He has many aboriginal servants and sleeps with the women.
Dugald is an old man in the service of Brendan Boyle, who instructs him to accompany Voss on his expedition. He has a serious, formal manner and wears a very old swallowtail coat. Dugald is seized with a sense of foreboding as the expedition travels into the desert and leaves, with Voss’s permission, to return to Jildra.
Jackie is a young aboriginal servant of Brendan Boyle who is selected to accompany Voss on his expedition. Initially, he will not speak directly to Voss, or even receive a gift except through Dugald. However, he becomes closer to Voss and rides with him after Dugald’s departure. Later still, he turns against Voss when he is accepted by an aboriginal tribe. After his return from the expedition, Jackie becomes a legendary figure and itinerant prophet.
Mrs. Child is a midwife, a tough, resilient little woman with long experience, though she does not demonstrate much skill in delivering Mercy, the daughter of Rose Portion. She is struck by Laura’s immediate connection with the child and says she seems more like the mother than Rose. Laura thinks that Mrs. Child’s incompetence and lack of attention are at least partly responsible for Rose’s death.
Dr. Badgery is the ship’s surgeon on the Nautilus. He is thick-set, with a healthy complexion, and attempts to make himself agreeable in social situations. Badgery is “not quite a gentleman” and his conversation is dull and awkward, but he has a kind heart.
Chattie Wilson is a plump, unattractive girl who is always giving advice to others. She is literal-minded and is friendly to Laura without understanding her.
Palethorpe is Mr. Bonner’s senior clerk. He is deferential and tries to avoid expressing any opinion for fear of causing offense. He prides himself on his discretion and good taste.
Dr. Kilwinning is a fashionable, expensive doctor in Sydney. He is a worldly, conventional man with a reassuring bedside manner but no great skill in diagnosis.
Colonel Hebden is a kind-hearted, courageous, but rather vain gentleman who goes on an expedition to find Voss and the other lost explorers.