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January 27 , 2009

For the Term of His Natural Life


My Dear Sir Charles, I take leave to dedicate this work to you,

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Australian Tales

Mark Twain Lecture, Melbourne, Oct., 1895 MARCUS CLARKE   I not only regret, but feel surprised that the 'Selected Works' of Australia's only literary genius—a genius such as you will not see again for many a long year—should be out of print. Through the courtesy of his widow I obtained a copy of the work after…

not merely because your nineteen years of political and literary life

in Australia render it very fitting that any work written

by a resident in the colonies, and having to do with the history

of past colonial days, should bear your name upon its dedicatory page;

but because the publication of my book is due to your advice

and encouragement.


The convict of fiction has been hitherto shown only at the beginning

or at the end of his career.   Either his exile has been the mysterious end

to his misdeeds, or he has appeared upon the scene to claim interest

by reason of an equally unintelligible love of crime acquired

during his experience in a penal settlement.  Charles Reade has drawn

the interior of a house of correction in England, and Victor Hugo

has shown how a French convict fares after the fulfilment of his sentence.

But no writer – so far as I am aware – has attempted to depict

the dismal condition of a felon during his term of transportation.


I have endeavoured in "His Natural Life" to set forth the working

and the results of an English system of transportation carefully considered

and carried out under official supervision; and to illustrate

in the manner best calculated, as I think, to attract general attention,

the inexpediency of again allowing offenders against the law to be

herded together in places remote from the wholesome influence

of public opinion, and to be submitted to a discipline which must

necessarily depend for its just administration upon the personal character

and temper of their gaolers.


Your critical faculty will doubtless find, in the construction

and artistic working of this book, many faults.  I do not think,

however, that you will discover any exaggerations.   Some of the events

narrated are doubtless tragic and terrible; but I hold it needful

to my purpose to record them, for they are events which have

actually occurred, and which, if the blunders which produced them

be repeated, must infallibly occur again.   It is true that

the British Government have ceased to deport the criminals of England,

but the method of punishment, of which that deportation was a part,

is still in existence.   Port Blair is a Port Arthur filled

with Indian-men instead of Englishmen; and, within the last year,

France has established, at New Caledonia, a penal settlement which will,

in the natural course of things, repeat in its annals the history

of Macquarie Harbour and of Norfolk Island.


With this brief preface I beg you to accept this work.

I would that its merits were equal either to your kindness or to my regard.


I am,

My dear Sir Charles,

Faithfully yours,



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