In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonize Australia. Documenting the brutal transportation of men, women and children out of Georgian Britain into a horrific penal system which was to be the precursor to the Gulag and was the origin of Australia, The Fatal Shore is the masterfully-written narrative that has given its true history to Australia.
Reviewed by Charles Elliott in Slightly Foxed Issue 62.
Australia was born as a jail. Not until well into the eighteenth century was Europe aware of the place, and even then nobody could see much use for it. But the British, who claimed it, had serious problems at home, principal among them being an apparent crime wave that had generated an unmanageable volume of convicts. What with poverty, gin and social disorder, justice had become rough indeed – stealing a loaf of bread might get you hanged. Good citizens were convinced that a true ‘criminal class’ was about to engulf the country. ‘The huge, ramifying tree of English criminal law’, as Robert Hughes describes it, had left the Georgian government at a loss for ways to punish so many threatening malefactors.
What to do about it? In The Fatal Shore (1986), Hughes’s account of the founding of Australia, we learn about the chosen solution: transportation . . .
Extract from Slightly Foxed Issue 62, Summer 2019
Australia was born as a jail. Not until well into the eighteenth century was Europe aware of the place, and even then nobody could see much use for it. But the British, who claimed it, had serious...Read more