Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book review: 1788 - The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet

Two sailing history book reviews, both of which have read recently.

First up is 1788: the brutal truth of the First Fleet, which got from Kat (thanks!) after a flying visit to catch up during the down under trip that finished not so long ago.

It tells the story of a fleet of eleven ships that took fifteen hundred people, of which about half were convicts, from Portsmouth in England to the far off Botany Bay.

I really enjoyed it. It was one of those books you think "hmm.. just another couple of pages" and later on "oh, better slow down as it will be finished soon".

It helped I was in Australia in the time so was able to look at the landscape south of Botany Bay (which is now where the international airport is) which is pretty unspoilt and imagine the boats sailing along the coast after their 8 month voyage.

And it was initially a hard and unforgiving landscape. Despite early promises and despite the move round the corner into Port Jackson, the land wasn't that fertile and so the colony was often close to starvation. The rescue ship sent packed with provisions alas hit an iceberg deep in chilly Antarctic waters.

It was only when land to the west of the new settlement in near Parramatta was openned up for farming the new colony became secure.

The book is well written and structured so that it flows nicely. It mostly takes a no nonsense linear with time just tell the story approach, and the tale benefits from it. It covers the many angles of these dramatic years, from the convicts stories to the impact on the existing inhabitants, the Aboriginal people.

Its interesting to see how it was political pressure to solve the problem of over-crowding in jail led to such drastic actions, and so the key figure was the home secretary. His name was a certain Lord Sydney!

My only complaint was the scarcity of maps. I don't know why some people can write about sailing voyages and not put in detailed maps of the routes taken.

But that is a small point, overall if you'd like to find out more about what brought the first Brits to Australia this is a very rewarding and readable book.


Katinka said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book, and had the opportunity to read it while in Sydney - would be really interesting to visit the areas (eg. Botany Bay) described in the book. If you're down this way again, will have to pursuade you to give me a tour of the Sydney area next! *g*

ps( had no idea that Sir Admiral George Young was mentioned in the book. All part of the Young's World Domination plan!)

JP said...

It was great to be reading it on the plane as flew from Canberra to Sydney so looked down at Botany Bay and imagined those boats so long ago

(and the Sydney plan is a very good one :)