1788 – Discussion Notes from 1st Wed Reading Group

The 1st Wednesday Reading Group had their monthly meeting this week. They have discussed the book ‘1788: the brutal truth of the First Fleet’ written by David Hill.

This book is about the First Fleet and Australia Council For the Arts describes it as ‘The story of the First Fleet is one of courage, short-sightedness, tragedy and resilience. Most of the First Fleeters made it to Sydney Cove only to be confronted with conflict, starvation and despair. Combining the rigour of a vigilant journalist with the skills of a master novelist, David Hill brings the sights, sounds, sufferings and joys of the First Fleeters to life. Journals, letters and reports are all interwoven to create a narrative history that is surprising, compelling and unforgettable. ‘

The group has presented their own reviews in the following points 

  • Interesting on concept of sending a large number of people to found a colony based on a few days ‘layover’ by Captain Cook and Joseph Banks.
  • It was interesting that many officers had fought in American War and that several officers returned a few times to the colony.
  • The insights into several characters are very fascinating, such as Arthur Philip had German heritage and spoke English with a German accent.
  • The success of Norfolk Island Settlement is a pleasant surprise. It enabled food to be sent back to the Sydney colony.
  • The tolerance of the Aboriginal people was brought out very well. Their willingness to help the colony was rejected by the white superiority mentality, unfortunately.
  • The number of ‘mercy missions’ to bring extra food to the colony was amazing. The 6-8 month voyages made in very small ships, with the success rate that they managed was incredible and made fascinating reading.
  • Demarcation of duties came very early – marines only wanted to guard the convicts, not perform any other duties. Was this the beginning of the union movement?
  • The gap between convicts and officers was brought out clearly. The officers had no concept of the life of poverty experienced prior to committing crimes which led to transportation. All convicts were considered immoral and vile.
  • There was no system to care for children, not even clothing provided for women and babies, and no plans to rehabilitate. Convicts were not expected to return to England but remain ostracised in the colony.
  • As the book concludes, it is a miracle that the colony survived at all.

All members agree the book is very well written and makes for interesting and fascinating reading of that period of history.