The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

the desert nurse.jpgTitle: The Desert Nurse

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Amid the Australian Army hospitals of World War I Egypt, two deeply determined individuals find the resilience of their love tested to its limits

It’s 1911, and 21-year-old Evelyn Northey desperately wants to become a doctor. Her father forbids it, withholding the inheritance that would allow her to attend university. At the outbreak of World War I, Evelyn disobeys her father, enlisting as an army nurse bound for Egypt and the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

Under the blazing desert sun, Evelyn develops feelings for polio survivor Dr William Brent, who believes his disability makes him unfit to marry. For Evelyn, still pursuing her goal of studying medicine, a man has no place in her future. For two such self-reliant people, relying on someone else for happiness may be the hardest challenge of all.

From the casualty tents, the fever wards and the operating theatres of the palace; through the streets of Cairo during Ramadan, to the parched desert and the grim realities of war, Pamela Hart, beloved bestselling Australian author of THE WAR BRIDE, tells the heart-wrenching story of four years that changed the world forever.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1911, Evelyn Northey has just turned twenty-one – the age she believes she will receive her inheritance from her long-dead mother and be able to go out into the world and make her own life, and her own decisions – away from the controlling home of her father. When she finds the conditions of the will – and her father’s ruling – prohibit this – she spends the next three years training to be a nurse in secret – a step towards her goal to becoming a doctor.

When war breaks out in 1914 in Europe, she enlists as a nurse in the army – and is sent to Egypt, and the tragic, and disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Prior to her departure, she meets Dr William Brent at her physical assessment, a polio survivor whose disability has prevented him from enlisting and heading to the battlefront – yet he finds that he is able to serve in another way – in the hospitals of Egypt and Cairo with Evelyn.

Together and apart – they work in casualty wards, fever tents and the operating theatres, and William tutors Evelyn in Latin and medicine, preparing her for her plans to attend medical school in Edinburgh. Through four years of war, Evelyn and William drift in and out of each other’s lives, their friendship and relationship develop along the way, with the ups and downs of life in war time. Both are determined to forge their own paths and not be reliant on another – Evelyn wanting to become a doctor, which means making sacrifices in her life – marriage, a family – to achieve her dreams, whilst William is hesitant to enter into a close relationship with anyone and burden them with having to care for him later in life due to his disability. But the friendship between William and Evelyn that blossoms into more is based on respect and understanding for each other.

Pamela Hart again positions a woman in a man’s world- that of war, and this time, the medical world – and gives her a voice that the doctors and matrons she works with respect – especially William and Dr Fanous, who were like a balm to Evelyn’s harsh father. This contrast showed the spectrum of attitudes based on gender during this time, and I felt that poor Evelyn was treated quite unfairly by her father at the start of the novel, and through her stories of what had happened after her mother’s death – all of which was dealt with very well, and I enjoyed William’s response and the way he made sure he tried not to be like this – a true friend.

The historical backdrop to the novel was made more authentic with the inclusion of the real desert nurses – Evelyn and Hannah were the only fictional ones in Pamela’s story, and her inclusion of Connie Keys, Selina (Lil) MacKenzie, Alice Ross-King, Mabel Pilkington, and Dr Agnes Bennett – the first female doctor in the British Army who was in charge of the hospitals in the Serbian theatre of war. In doing this, Pamela has ensured the recognition of what these women did during four awful years for the world and for the Anzacs who left their homes in Australia to assist Britain against Germany – more information on these women can be found on Pamela’s author website.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The historical story, and Evelyn’s story and journey towards independence were my favourites, with the touch of romance on the side, which added to the story, and gave it a touch of humanity and hope amidst the death and destruction of World War I. Equally enjoyable were the inclusion of Rebecca Quinn and her brother, Linus from A Letter from Italy as good friends of Evelyn and her brother, Harry. Seeing two women who wanted more than what was expected of them was wonderful. Also, having a main character with a disability, who didn’t let it stop him doing what he set his mind to, was excellent to see as well. William didn’t let his polio stop him, nor did Evelyn let his disability colour her perspective of him – rather, she respected him and looked out for him when necessary, just as he did for her. An excellent representation.

A wonderful read that evokes the gravitas of war, nursing and expectations of women in the early twentieth century alongside a love story that evolves throughout the novel to reach the conclusion readers hoped for.

Booktopia

Advertisements

Book Bingo 14 – A Book by an Australian Man

Book bingo take 2

Another week, another square to check off for book bingo. This time, I’m checking off a book by an Australian man, with a new historical fiction book by Anthony Hill, who has written many historical stories about war and animals in war. This time, he has turned his hand to writing about the voyage that led Captain Cook to discovering the east coast of Australia and Pacific Islands for England and colonisers in 1770 – with 2018 marking the 250th anniversary of Cook’s journey on the Endeavour which was a three year trip, starting in 1768, and ending in 1770.

A book written by an Australian man: Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

Book bingo take 2

Captain Cook's Apprentice - cover imageAnthony has taken an interesting tack with his book – using a young sailor named Isaac Manley to tell the story, and how Isaac sees encounters with Indigenous people of Australia and the Pacific Islands throughout the journey – which includes the various understandings and misunderstandings that occur when two cultures clash, and attempts made by the crew of the Endeavour to ensure respect is given to these people. As Anthony said in an interview, he did his best to balance the story, to show that the stories told in the history books are not as black and white as they appear. but more nuanced. Through this story, Anthony hoped to show this – and I hope it opens up conversations about lesser known aspects of history that should be known, and the nuances that go with them to improve upon and contribute what is missing from the current historical records.

Going off available source material, Anthony created a story that whilst seen through a European lens, has balanced what is known, what is taught and what is sometimes hidden or not included. Had stories with more of the facts Anthony wove into his work been available when I was at school, this period of history might have been more balanced – a big might because even if the information had been there, it might still have been dismissed for inclusion.

Export-0135

I think this is an important story because it shows just how easy it is to misunderstand people, and to react without thinking when these misunderstandings cause friction. It shows how curiosity and uncertainty can contribute to assumptions and understandings, and what can be achieved when two er different cultures make attempts to get along.

So thus ends my 14th book bingo for the year – a very interesting and nuanced book about a period of Australian history often only taught in absolutes – from my own experience, where instead, the nuances should be taught and all those involved in the connection of two cultures should be given a voice in the history books. This would allow for a greater understanding of the development of Australia as the nation it is today.

Booktopia

Interview with Anthony Hill – 2nd July 2018

Hi Anthony, and welcome to The Book Muse.

 Export-0135.jpg

First, I really enjoy your historical fiction books, and have read a few. What is it about historical books and historical fiction that interests you?

From childhood I have always been fond of history and stories from the past. As a journalist for some 40 years my interest has necessarily been with the world around me and how it came to be. What events from the past shaped today’s society … our outlook, sense of place, social and political values? As a novelist I am deeply involved with individual men and women – their emotions, desires and motivations. The techniques of historical fiction allow me to explore all these facets of human society in a way that is both personal and true to the facts so far as I can determine them.

Previously you’ve written books set during World War One – Young Digger, Soldier Boy and Animal Heroes about animals throughout all the wars that Australia has been involved in. What inspired you to write Isaac’s story this time?

I’ve written five military novels about Australians and their involvement in the First and Second World Wars, and I think that’s enough. I’ve nothing more to say on the subject – although if the right story came along I might well have another look at it… In a sense Captain Cook’s Apprenticeis a military novel since it concerns the Royal Navy, but it is of course much more than that. The Endeavour voyage was a pivotal event in the history of our nation and the region we inhabit. It opened the Pacific to European trade, incursion and settlement for both good and ill. I’d long wanted to write about it with the immediacy it would have had to people at the time – and finding Isaac Manley mentioned briefly in Beaglehole’s Life of Cook gave me a way into it. He was a servant boy on the ship making his first voyage. Everything was new to him. He rose to become an Admiral and lived to the ripe age of 82, long enough to see some of the consequences of that voyage bear fruit with settlements in faraway places that he was among the first Europeans to see as a boy.

Captain Cook's Apprentice - cover image.jpg

I learnt the basics of the Endeavourvoyage of 1770 at school – and this book delved into it a bit more and gave it some more depth and character, making it much more interesting. Is it your hope that it will do this for other Australians and history students?

Yes, this is exactly my hope. The great thing about historical fiction is that it allows you to concentrate on a single individual; and by seeing historical events unfold through their eyes, with all the fears, joys, hopes and emotions that involves, the reader may feel much more engaged and empathetic with the characters, and the story itself become far more memorable. The Endeavour voyage is such a great adventure … death in Tierra del Fuego, the seeming paradise of Tahiti, the warlike Maori, Botany Bay and near destruction on the Barrier Reef, the horrors of Batavia where a third of the crew died of fever. We Australians know only little bits of the tale. We deserve to know it all, for it’s one of our key foundation stories.

It was an account that I could have used in high school, to help piece some of the facts together rather than just being told what they are – is this something that good historical fiction should do for readers?

This is certainly the aim of good historical novels, and they can be far more entertaining for the general reader. Of course, we must always remember that the inner lives of the characters we write about are fictional and can only come from the author. We don’t know what they really felt and thought unless, like Cook or Banks, they kept full journals. For myself, I have always tried to make the external facts of my books as accurate as I can by reading, researching and travelling widely. I never alter a known historical fact to suit my story: the story must change to suit the facts. Where I have to make an assumption when the historical record is silent, I mention it in the quite full Chapter Notes. Yet I would hate to think that historical fiction would ever supplant traditional history which is grounded entirely on verifiable fact. Academic historians provide the real bones which writers like me clothe with fictional flesh.

 

In reading books like this and seeing history through the eyes of ordinary people who were also there, not just the ones whose names made it into history books, I feel it gives a well-rounded view of the history of a country. Is this something you hope to achieve when writing?

Yes, indeed. As I mentioned above, historical fiction writers attempt to humanise the past – to bring the characters in the academic histories to life using all the techniques available to a novelist. We have the advantage – denied to a traditional historian – of imagining the thoughts and emotions of our characters, together with the godlike gift of perfect hindsight and foresight which mere mortals never have as we live day to day through historical movements over which we have scant control. But of course, it is all fiction: my version of the Endeavour story may be quite different to the next one.

You dealt with Isaac’s interactions with indigenous people in a way that felt respectful – did these fictionalised interactions arise from imagination, from personal accounts of Captain Cook, or a combination of both?

I felt it important from the beginning to give a balanced account of the meetings between the Endeavourcrew and the indigenous peoples they encountered. It means including, as they say, a view “from the other side of the beach”. Cook’s instructions were to treat the native people with kindness – although it didn’t always work out like that. His first meetings with the Maori resulted in five or six native deaths, something he sought strenuously to avoid when he reached the east coast of New Holland and met his first Aborigines. I drew closely on the accounts of both Cook and Banks in their journals for my description of these events, and also had valuable insights from several Maori people, a Gweagal man from Botany Bay (Gamay) and Guugu Yimithirr people from the Cooktown area, who gave their perspective on these interactions and the misunderstandings that arise when any two quite different cultures meet.

When you were writing about the interactions of Cook, Isaac and the rest of the crew from the Endeavour, how conscious were you of how to portray these interactions to be fair and equal to both sides?

It was a very important consideration. For example, there was a clash over taking turtles between the Endeavour men and the Aborigines of what is now Cooktown, where the ship was repaired after striking the reef. From Cook’s point of view the sea turtles were there for the taking. From the Aboriginal perspective, the turtles belonged to them, and while they were happy for Cook to have some he should share them with the local people. The people I met impressed me strongly with the importance of the “sharing code” to this day: the culture demands you share food even with an enemy, for it might be you who’s in need tomorrow. I tried to reflect this in my account of the incident.

When you came to these sections, how important was it that you incorporate Indigenous and immigrant/coloniser narratives and stories, and what impact do you think this would have had on our history if this practise had happened from the start, as opposed to our current and historical approach?

As mentioned, it was important to try to incorporate both perspectives on these events … and to be fair, Cook and Banks and other members of the crew did try to understand something of the different cultures they encountered. They recorded many indigenous words for the first time – “kangaroo” entered the language from the Guugu Yimithirr, “tattoo” and ‘Taboo” from Tahiti. They recorded at great length different customs, beliefs and religious practices, especially in Tahiti. Banks and his scientists collected artefacts, weapons, items of clothing and veneration, and laid the foundations for what became the discipline of anthropology. To be sure these insights were often flawed (like their view of the turtles), but the intention was there. It would have been good if these high principles of the Enlightenment were adopted by everyone during the period after 1788; but under the imperatives of convictism, land, wealth, expansion, resistance and the use of force, they were too often forgotten, and we are still living with the sad consequences of that. But the British also brought their notions of political and economic liberalism and the rule of law, and the country became a free, self-governing democracy much sooner than might have been the case had some other nation become the colonisers.

How many years did it take you to first, research the book, and second, to write it?

I took about four years of fairly solid work from the time I began the first serious research to publication. I spent about 18 months gathering the material. It included four hours with Cook’s EndeavourJournal at the National Library of Australia in Canberra where I live, a 10-day sail on the Endeavourreplica from Melbourne to Sydney, which I loved and want to do again before I’m too old, and a six-week research journey to Sydney, North Queensland, New Zealand, Tahiti and the UK. The actual writing took about a year, with detailed research continuing throughout, six months for redrafting, and the last year with the editorial and production process.

What difficulties did you experience during the researching process in terms of available sources, especially any that might have been by or about Isaac?

The real difficulty was finding anything of substance about Isaac and his views of the great adventure. He lived to be 82, he was the last survivor, you’d think he’d have written something down for his posterity. But I could find nothing, and I was in contact with his direct descendants who provided information about the family but not Endeavour.  Still, I did stay for three nights in the lovely house he built for his wife and family in Oxfordshire, and you can tell a lot about people — their taste and worldview — when you live for a little in the rooms they made for themselves.

How often was he referenced or spoken about in sources about the voyage and Captain Cook?

Isaac is not mentioned at all in Cook’s Journal, although he appears on the muster roll and in the pay books. Cook referred to him explicitly in a letter to the Admiralty when they returned in 1771 as one “whose behaviour merits the best recommendation.” His death was reported in the Gentleman’s Magazinein 1837, which states he was the last survivor of the Endeavourcrew. He is mentioned in Beaglehole’s definitive Life of Cook and in the annals if the Captain Cook Society, but until recently nothing of substance has been done on Isaac Manley.  Now I have published Captain Cook’s Apprentice,and Isaac features in a book by Jackie French – The Goat that Sailed the World.

When writing your historical fiction, what do you find is most important – the facts and figures that inform your plot and research, or extracting the story and creating characters around these facts?

As I mentioned earlier, I regard the known facts as sacred. I never sacrifice them to the story: it is always the other way around for me, although I know other authors may take a greater licence with them. Perhaps it’s my background as a journalist. For me, however, when reading any novel that contains what I know to be a factual error, the whole artificial fictional edifice begins to weaken, and if it happens too frequently the structure will collapse and fall to the ground. 

Captain Cook, as you mentioned in your author’s note, has been immortalised as great and humane navigator. Do you think this idea came through testimonies from the time, or interpretation of the sources by modern historians?

Cook’s greatness as a navigator was well recognised by his contemporaries. The Admiralty was so struck by the accuracy of his charts, his care for the health of his crews, that when Endeavourreturned they immediately set about preparing for a second voyage to the Antarctic to determine whether a great southern continent really did exist. It did: but so far south as to be uninhabitable by humans. And on his return, when Cook should really have rested, he was persuaded to undertake a third voyage to find the north-west passage over the top of America. It seemed too much. His judgement became increasingly severe and questionable, and ultimately, he was killed in an altercation with indigenous people in Hawaii. On his death, however, Cook became immortalised in popular culture no less than in the world of science and seamanship. Even today, you can place a satellite image over a chart of the eastern Australian coast mapped by Cook with his sextant and rule from the deck of a sailing ship, and the accuracy is remarkable.

Finally, what would you like to see future historians and authors of historical fiction exploring when they look into Australian history?

There are endless possibilities – and not just with new themes but finding new perspectives on an old story, as I did with Isaac and the Endeavour voyage. Tales from other voyages, the inland explorers, pioneering days, the great wars of the 20th century and more recent times can always be told afresh for a new audience. One significant theme of recent times has been relations between European and Aboriginal Australians. I’ve touched on it in several of my books, including Captain Cook’s Apprentice and especially The Burnt Stick. Relations between older Australians and the new wave of migrants and refugees is another important theme for contemporary writers. But really, I think it all depends on the story and the metaphors it contains. The tale is everything for an historical novelist: meaning comes afterwards. Do it the other way around – have a point of view and then try to find a story to fit it – and you’ll usually end up writing a polemic.

Thank you for joining me on my blog today, Anthony, and thank you also for writing such informative and interesting books.

Booktopia

Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

captain cooks apprenticeTitle: Captain Cook’s Apprentice

Author: Anthony Hill

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin-Viking

Published: 2nd July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The enthralling story of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia, as seen through the eager eyes of a cabin boy.
When young Isaac Manley sailed on the Endeavour from England in 1768, no one on board knew if a mysterious southern continent existed in the vast Pacific Ocean. It would be a voyage full of uncertainties and terrors.

During the course of the three-year journey, Isaac’s eyes are opened to all the brutal realities of life at sea – floggings, storms, press-gangs, the deaths of fellow crewmen, and violent clashes on distant shores.

Yet Isaac also experiences the tropical beauty of Tahiti, where he becomes enchanted with a beautiful Tahitian girl. He sees the wonders of New Zealand, and he is there when the men of Endeavour first glimpse the east coast of Australia, anchor in Botany Bay, and run aground on the Great Barrier Reef.

Acclaimed and award-winning historical novelist Anthony Hill brings to life this landmark voyage with warmth, insight and vivid detail in this exciting and enlightening tale of adventure and discovery.

~*~

250 years ago, Captain Cook, on the Endeavour, set out on the journey that would lead to his discovery for the British of the East Coast of Australia, and several Pacific nations, and mapping the Pacific region as he went. He was accompanied by a vast crew, including a young boy who would become his apprentice on the journey and rise through the ranks – Isaac Manley. Through Isaac’s eyes, the voyage that begins in 1768, to explore the Pacific and find out if the mysterious southern continent existed.

On their journey, they would stop in Tahiti, New Zealand and Batavia in the Dutch East Indies – now known as Jakarta, and encountered the indigenous people of these lands, whose reactions varied – to Cook and his crew, the Tahitians in the novel were welcoming, whereas other islands and people met them with more hostility and wariness as they approached and mapped the islands. As the novel is set in the eighteenth century, Anthony Hill has done an exceptional job of balancing attitudes of the eighteenth century, the mythos surrounding Captain Cook as what Hill says in his Author’s Note as a great and humane navigator – illustrated by the way Cook is seen to interact with locals on the islands through Isaac’s eyes, and the way the local populations of the islands Cook discovered for England. This balance is not always easy to achieve, but Hill has done it in an educational and authentic way, ensuring the complexity of this history is revealed.

Though this book is fictional, it has a nice balance of fiction and fact, the imagined based on research, and seamless insertion of facts into the narrative, that read almost as non-fiction but that work equally well in the fictional setting of the book. In Isaac’s world, he is discovering lands previously unknown to England, and encountering people he never thought he would ever meet or know about.

The focus of the novel is the voyage, and what happened, rather than the implications and impacts of colonialism on Indigenous populations. However, Hill does hint at this through the actions of Cook and his men, and a few incidents that are the result of cultural misunderstandings, and how each group sees the world. It is an interesting look into the voyage that led Captain Cook to circumnavigate the east coast of what became known as Australia – called at the time of the voyage Terra Australis Incognito due to the crew being unsure if the land existed, and what happened on this voyage.

 

Booktopia

We see The Stars by Kate van Hooft

we see the stars.jpgTitle: We see The Stars

Author: Kate van Hooft

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A haunting and deeply moving novel with a brilliant voice in the tradition of The Eye of the Sheep and Jasper Jones.

‘Mysterious, compelling and almost unbearably tender.’ Danielle Wood, award-winning author of The Alphabet of Light and Dark

‘Is that the Big Dipper?’ Mum asked. Her eyes were bright from the light in them, and they shone in the darkness more than any of the stars in the sky. 

Simon is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a world of silence, lists and numbers. He hasn’t spoken for years and he doesn’t know why.

Everyone at school thinks he’s weird and his only friends in the world are his brother Davey and Superman, who’s always there when he needs him.

One day Simon shares his Vita-Weats with Cassie, the scary girl from his class, and a friendship starts to form. And the new teacher Ms Hilcombe takes an interest in him, and suddenly he has another friend as well.

When Ms Hilcombe goes missing, only Simon knows where she is. But he has made a promise to never tell, and promises can never be broken. So now Simon is the only one who can save her.

A haunting and deeply moving novel with a brilliant voice in the tradition of The Eye of the Sheep and Jasper Jones.

~*~

Simon lives in a world of silence – it has been years since he has spoken, and the reason why is a mystery to the reader, though it is hinted at throughout. Even his family don’t say outright what it is, nor do they mention what caused it – they comment on it from time to time, and his Dad and brother, Davey, are always ready to help with his puffer when his asthma gets bad. But at school, Simon is alone, and has no friends. Until his new teacher, Ms Hilcombe takes an interest in him, and does her best to understand him and work with him, and then Cassie, the girl everyone is scared of, with her mangled hand, becomes his friend. Simon also has Superman, who acts as an alter ego and gives him strength when he needs it.

AWW-2018-badge-roseSet in the 1970s, not long after the end of the Vietnam War, We See the Stars is a mystery about family and those who care for us, and about ourselves. Simon never articulates why he doesn’t talk, nor does anyone else – they hint at it being like his mother, who is referred to and seen in flashbacks, but his reason for silence and isolation is never made clear. But this makes the mystery interesting, trying to work out all the possible reasons for his silence – some of which, in the 1970s, which is when I think the book was set, were not understood in the same way they are today. So perhaps this is why the reason for his silence isn’t defined.

Simon lives with his dad, his brother, Davey and his grandmother. His grandfather is in hospital, and the door to his mother’s room is always closed, and throughout the novel, there is the mystery of where is mother is and why she is so silent – Simon hopes that she can hear his Morse code taps through the door, and waits for her to respond.

Also, as the story is filtered through Simon’s perspective, it is as though we don’t need him to define it for us, it’s his thing and he doesn’t appear to want to talk about it – not in the same way he counts colours, or makes lists of good and bad things, manages his asthma and feels the angry that comes and goes, and the honey dripping inside of him. He describes his feelings as tastes and sensations of food but within his own body – making him an interesting character. His struggling sense of self and feelings are impacted when Ms Hilcombe goes missing, and he loses one of the only adults who really understands him – Dad tries, but it is really Ms Hilcombe Simon connects with.

His friendship with Cassie, and eventually with Jeremy, is perhaps one of the most unique and genuine friendships. They know they are different, and Cassie knows communication is hard for him – and when a new teacher tries to force him to speak, it is Cassie who stands up for him, who defends her friend and in everything she does, wants to protect him from the wrath of her mother, and does all she can to understand him – as does Jeremy as the story moves along and Simon begins to speak – with Cassie, with Ms Hilcombe, and his father and brother, and at least once with his Grandmother.

Simon is an intriguing character. I’m not sure how I would define him as a narrator – maybe somewhat unreliable because we’re seeing the world through his eyes and the consequences of things that happen through his eyes, memories and imagined scenarios. The memories hint at Simon knowing where Ms Hilcombe is – it is her disappearance that forms the main mystery. Unlike other mysteries, some things are hinted at, and not explicitly defined – indicating that anything could have happened, that anyone could be responsible.

The story is moving and the ending answered a couple of questions, in a rather odd way for a first person narrative, but given the character perspective of Simon, it made sense, and fitted in with the novel. Perhaps the ending allows for the reader to imagine what happened themselves, and how it happened – a similar style of ending to Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf. An intriguing novel where things aren’t always clear or what they seem from a new Australian voice.

Booktopia

The Ship That Never Was: The Greatest Escape of Australian Colonial History by Adam Courtenay

ship that never was.jpgTitle: The Ship That Never Was: The Greatest Escape of Australian Colonial History

Author: Adam Courtenay

Genre: History, Non-fiction

Publisher: ABC Books/HarperCollins

Published: 21st May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:
The greatest escape story of Australian colonial history by the son of Australia’s best-loved storyteller

In 1823, cockney sailor and chancer James Porter was convicted of stealing a stack of beaver furs and transported halfway around the world to Van Diemen’s Land. After several escape attempts from the notorious penal colony, Porter, who told authorities he was a ‘beer-machine maker’, was sent to Macquarie Harbour, known in Van Diemen’s Land as hell on earth.

Many had tried to escape Macquarie Harbour; few had succeeded. But when Governor George Arthur announced that the place would be closed and its prisoners moved to the new penal station of Port Arthur, Porter, along with a motley crew of other prisoners, pulled off an audacious escape. Wresting control of the ship they’d been building to transport them to their fresh hell, the escapees instead sailed all the way to Chile. What happened next is stranger than fiction, a fitting outcome for this true-life picaresque tale.

The Ship That Never Was is the entertaining and rollicking story of what is surely the greatest escape in Australian colonial history. James Porter, whose memoirs were the inspiration for Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of his Natural Life, is an original Australian larrikin whose ingenuity, gift of the gab and refusal to buckle under authority make him an irresistible anti-hero who deserves a place in our history.

~*~

There are many stories within the realms of national and international history that are not known, or where there might not be as much known about them as some, usually for a variety of reasons. One of these is the escape of ten convicts from the worst convict prison in Australia in the 1830s. James Porter was transported in 1823, for stealing a sack of beaver furs. He was sent to what was then known as Van Diemen’s Land – renamed Tasmania in 1856. He made several attempts to escape from the penal colony, and as a result, was sent to the notorious Sarah Island.

It was not long until Governor George Arthur declared Sarah Island would be closing, and the inmates moved to the infamous Port Arthur prison. Porter and a band of inmates took this chance to take control of the ship they were on – the Frederick, and escaped across the seas to South America, where they lived in Chile for many years as free men, before being sent back under the authority of the British colonial government at the time.

Told in a style that is engaging, whilst dealing with the historical facts and vents of a little-known convict and mutiny, I found this interesting to read, as it expanded upon what I have previously been taught and have read about Australian history. Whilst much is known about colonial era history, there are still stories that haven’t been told about various aspects – and having access to these stories allows us to wholly understand where Australia came from in the years of penal colonies and convict arrivals from 1788 until the transports ended in 1868, though different colonies stopped their transportations at different times.

It reads as both non-fiction and fiction – not overly embellished, but still capturing the spirit of the times and adventure that Porter wrote about in his journal. The author, Adam Courtenay, writes about Porter with fascination, yet allows himself to see the flaws and exaggerations that Porter wrote of, explaining in the text that the facts found in historical records about floggings and the details of how far punishments could be taken or were taken alongside Porter’s experience. What this does is show that even first person accounts that historians rely on are not always reliable, and I felt, even though I have only read the uncorrected proof, that Courtenay took what he had from Porter with a grain of salt and compared it to other accounts, and historical records to create his book.

In doing so, Courtenay has created a work that sparks an interest in this person and era, but also shows that good research is crucial – I would be interested to see if the final copy includes a bibliography, for further reading, and to show what sources he was able to find, as I imagine a little-known story such as this might not have as many sources as stories and legends that are well-known within the national consciousness.

As someone who has studied history, I know to examine various sources and accounts, just as it appears Courtenay has done. I will be looking for more information on Porter where I can, to supplement this book and build a larger picture of this man who managed to escape from Tasmania to Chile and live for several months to at least a year or two without being sent back. An intriguing book that shows that Australian history is more complex than we are originally taught.

Booktopia

Book bingo nine – a book of short stories, and an award-winning book.

book bingo 2018

This week, I’m knocking off two more squares, leaving me with two more before I embark on a second card for the second half of the year – which will include new reads and some previous reads from this year that had several categories to fit into, but I ended up choosing one. In this week’s bingo, I have also completed two more rows across,

Row #2 – BINGO

 

A book with a yellow cover: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier – AWW2018

A non-fiction book: Spinning Tops & Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood by Edwin Barnard

A collection of short stories: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng – AWW2018

A book with themes of culture: The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Row #3:  BINGO

A book written by an Australian woman:The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale

A prize-winning book: Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe – AWW

A book that scares you: The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

A book with a mystery: Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen – AWW2018

And one row down, Row three, the middle row:

Row #3: – BINGO

A memoir: Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard

A non-fiction book:Spinning Tops & Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood by Edwin Barnard

A prize-winning book: Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe

A book with non-human characters: Monty the Sad Puppy by Holly Webb

A book everyone is talking about: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – AWW2018

Australia DayThe square for a book of Short Stories in row three across and down, was filled by one that is also an award winner and has a yellow cover – but that I had not read in time to fill the yellow cover square, is Australia Day by Melanie Cheng. It won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards this year for the fiction category. It is a series of short stories about Australians from various backgrounds and walks of life, full of diversity and difference, and the attitudes towards people in each of these groups. It is a reflection on who we are as a nation as well, digging into the Australia that is perhaps less laidback, more complex and at times, not as ideal as the image of Australia we want everyone to have is – whether it is race, gender, socioeconomic status or a combination of those. It is bookended by two stories that take place on Australia Day itself and the clashing of cultures and ideas about the day and the nation that illustrate the day is not the same for everyone, in a myriad of ways.

Miles Franklin Short BioMy second, and 23rd book of this book bingo card, is an award-winning book. Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe – an abridged version of her longer one, which won three awards in nine and eight years ago:

Queensland Premier’s Literary Award – 2009

South Australian Prize for Non-Fiction – 2010

Australian Historical Association Magarey Medal for Biography – 2010

The interesting story of Miles Franklin’s life fills this category, because I thought it was rather fitting that the biography of a woman who has two literary prizes named for her – one endowed upon her death in her Will – The Miles Franklin Literary Award, and the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing, which was inaugurated in 2013. Miles Franklin is primarily known for her literary prowess and the awards named for her – and for being a feminist. This biography shows much more of her life and what she did over her lifetime for literature and politics.

I’ve been enjoying doing this book bingo with Mrs B and Theresa Smith – I perhaps let my enthusiasm get away with me in marking off squares but in doing a second round, I at least will have some of the books read already and can space them out a bit more.

Until next time!

Booktopia