Years ago I read “The Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes and felt like reading again about the beginning of the great British experiment that became Australia. This caused me to pick up this book.
While not as detailed as Hughes effort, Thomas Keneally does a very good job of addressing the first four years of the non-aborigine history of the continent. He focuses more time on the time in England than Hughes, but uses it to describe the squalid conditions on the prison ships parked in the Thames and elsewhere.
Keneally also reveals the horrible conditions under which the prisoners were transported to Port Jackson, after discovering Botany Bay was unsuitable for habitation, and the establishment of the settlement that eventually became Sydney.
The book centers on Arthur Phillip, the navy captain who led the first convict expedition to Australia and became the first governor. It addresses the personality and the challenges facing Phillip in a colony that is isolated from the rest of the British Empire for extended periods of time. Among these were food shortages, disease, the native aborigines, and relations between convicts and soldiers. Also, it addresses how individuals, when removed from their current environment, can adapt to change and become worthy citizens of the crown when given the opportunity.
I recommend this book if you are looking for an interesting read on the early development of Australia. It is well written and well documented. I would recommend “The Fatal Shore” instead if you are looking an in-depth treatment of the subject.