American readers may be vaguely aware that the British first settled Australia with convicts, but that some of these prisoners were not even in their teens may come as a shock.
In an import that is well-stocked with period illustrations, Brennan throws a telling sidelight on this massive penal experiment. From the arrival of the “First Fleet” in 1787 to the final “cargo” of 1868, about 162,000 men, women, and children were involuntarily “transported.” Though the author frames their experiences as, ultimately, a triumph over adversity, there are enough references to famine, violence, harsh punishments, hostilities with aboriginal populations, wife “shopping,” and even cannibalism to color the picture other than rosy. Actual children rarely get more than a mention here, but swift biographies of prominent early figures add considerable color to each thematic spread. These include Thomas Barrett, the first transportee to be hanged; the Europeanized Aborigine Bennelong; “James Borrow,” aka Mary Haydock Reibey, who adorns the Australian $20 bill; and Mary Wade, who was sentenced to hang at 10. As Brennan notes, a combination of popular outrage back in Britain and a huge influx of free colonists brought the practice of transportation to an end, but it created a national foundation of which modern Australians can be proud.
A captivating introduction to a history that’s not so well-known on this side of the Pacific. (timeline, bibliography of non–U.S. titles, index) (Nonfiction. 9-14)