The Fatal Shore

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The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding
Author Robert Hughes
Subject History of Australia
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
Media type hardback
Pages 688
Awards Duff Cooper Prize 1987[1]
WH Smith Literary Award 1988[2]
ISBN 0-394-50668-5 First Knopf edition

The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding is a history of the birth of Australia which came out of the suffering and brutality of Britain's infamous convict transportation system, first published in 1986 by Robert Hughes. It also addresses the historical, political and sociological reasons that led to British settlement.

Literary significance[edit]

This book has been reviewed favorably for the depth of its coverage of the founding of Australia. In his review in 1999, Brian Smith described the main themes of the book[3]

  • "the historical, political and social reasons that led to transportation to Australia
  • the hardships of the voyage and of the early years of the colony
  • the make-up of the convict population
  • the secondary detention centres such as Norfolk Island
  • established colonies and the moves toward abolition of convict transportation".

Smith describes conditions in Britain when Australia was discovered by Captain Cook in 1770, focussing on the rapid growth in population, the more rapid growth of London's population, because "the growth of the Enclosure system forced more and more people off the land."[3] Smith concluded that the book's strength is to "provide a vivid portrayal of the human cost of Britain's colonial venture and how these experiences have helped shape modern Australia." rather than a comprehensive study of the origins of Australia as a British colony.[3]

Hughes was a native of Australia who became a well-known art critic, living in Europe and then New York when he became art critic for Time Magazine. Hughes' interest in Australia's convict era history began in the early 1970s when he was filming an Australian art history documentary that took him to Port Arthur in Tasmania.[4]

Author Patrick O'Brian mentioned and commended this book in the Author's Note for The Nutmeg of Consolation, the fourteenth novel in his Aubrey-Maturin series, published in 1991. Fictional Captain Aubrey stops at Sidney Cove for refitting, and to see a shipmate sent to the penal colony. Doctor Maturin ultimately takes him away from there.[5]


Publication history[edit]

It was originally published in 1986 by Alfred A. Knopf in the USA and by William Collins in the UK, and subsequently published in the UK by Collins Harvill in 1987. The Folio Society in the UK published a slipcased premium edition in 1998, extending to a 4th printing in 2006.


  1. ^ a b "Past Winners of Duff Cooper Prize". Duff Cooper Prize charity. Retrieved November 1, 2017. 
  2. ^ "WHSmith Literary Awards". Book Awards by J M McElligott. 2002. Retrieved November 1, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c Smith, Brian (21 June 1999). "A superb history of Australia's founding A review of The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Keneally, Thomas (25 January 1987). "Rogues' Continent: The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes". New York Times Books. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  5. ^ O'Brian, Patrick (1991). "Author's Note". The Nutmeg of Consolation. W W Norton. ISBN 0-393-03032-6. 
  6. ^ "Book awards: WH Smith Literary Award". Retrieved 8 November 2012. 

External links[edit]