This book is a fictionalised account of Australian convict history, based on true historical records from colonial times in Tasmania. Clarke began researching it in 1869, and it was published as a serial in an Australian journal in 1871. At the time it was published, it would have been read by free settlers and ex-convicts alike, and it was also published in England, so that those who were not aware of the truth behind the penal settlements were for the time able to access such information, albeit in a fictionalised manner.
The story follows the lives of many characters, although the main character being that of the 'infamous' Rufus Dawes, and English gentleman who is accused of committing a murder he did not commit and is transported to Tasmania as a convict, sentenced to hard labour. I wont spoil the plot at all, it is suspenseful and surprising at every turn, right up to the end. It exposes true human nature and true human compassion.
There's mutiny, escapes, cruelty, lies and love. The lives of the various characters all intersect in ways that you couldn't guess throughout the book and which cleverly unfold until the very end when the truth behind each persons story is revealed. Although the story is tragic, it is romantic too.
This book comes with the highest recommendation from me. Not only was it a beautiful story that is constantly surprising and raw, it is an interesting way to learn about an important stage of Australia's history.