By Sea and Stars by Trent Dalton is the story of the voyage of the First Fleet which brought the convicts from England to Australia between May 1787 to January 1788. This was an interesting novella size historical piece of non-fiction. Dalton, a journalist, used the eleven journal manuscripts still in existence today to bring characters to life, giving voice to some of the men and women who sailed a voice. We have convicts and commissioned officers that made up the 1420 people who endured the trip from England to Botany Bay. We meet the youngest criminal – John Hudson who at 9 is transported for
At times the narrative is poetic “Sometimes history is only a question of size and space. The size of a pox sore on a young father’s forearm. The space between two kneecaps when the working girls of Drury Lane open their legs… The 17,000 nautical miles and 252 days at sea separating young John Hudson from a great southern prison about 7.6 million square kilometres wide and long with vast blue oceans for walls.” Sometimes journalistic style writing takes over. At other times the actual voice of the person long dead is heard via journal entries. The narrative shows the different view points shifting from convict to officer, Australian aboriginal to future Sydney (as it now is) and back to past again.
The overall wonder of this book is that we learn what a humanitarian Arthur Phillip was. Although slavery had not yet been abolished he had no intention of letting it be part of Australia’s history. He had a vision of creating a new type of society – one without class based on actions and equality. King George III also ordered that the indigenous people were not to be harmed and anybody doing so would suffer the harshest of penalties. A conversation between the locals and newcomers was to be established with the aim of having them contribute to the new colony.
Would I recommend this book: Yes I would particularly for those who enjoy history, those who would like to do a comparision of their own country’s settlement and how the way it was carried out effected the psyche of the nation. The structure was interesting and it was highly readable. All Australians should read it and it should become part of the history curriculum in high schools around the nation.