Synopses & Reviews
English Passengers presents the diverse and often conflicting perspectives of a remarkable cast of characters -- including British convicts, government officials, missionaries who impose their European standards and self-serving rules on the native population, aboriginal Tasmanians caught in a desperate struggle for survival, and members of a bizarre expedition searching for the Garden of Eden. The narrative begins in 1857, as Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley of the Sincerity, thwarted in his plans to smuggle tobacco and brandy into England, is forced to put his boat up for charter. He soon finds himself bound for the Pacific, carrying not only his well-hidden contraband but also the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson, an eccentric vicar out to prove that the Biblical Garden of Eden lies in the heart of Tasmania; Dr. Thomas Potter, an arrogant scientist developing a revolutionary and sinister theory about the races of mankind; and Timothy Renshaw, a diffident young botanist. Each man offers a highly personalized record of the high seas adventures and internecine feuds that mark the voyage.
The situation that awaits them in Tasmania is brought to life in narratives exposing the dark history of British and aboriginal relationships since the 1820s. Peevay, the son of an Aborigine raped by an escaped convict, describes the subjugation of his people by English invaders who are as lethal in their good intentions as they are in their cruelty. His impressions, ironically confirmed by reports from white officials, schoolteachers, and settlers, chronicle the destruction of a thriving, self-sufficient community in the name of God, science, and civilization.
Based on historical facts, English Passengers is an epic tale, packed with swashbuckling adventure, humor, and memorable characters. Matthew Kneale renders the prejudices and follies of the Imperialist Age with dead-on accuracy and captures -- through the voice and destiny of Peevay and his tribesmen -- the irreversible tragedies it wrought.
This novel tells two parallel stories: one of three eccentric Englishmen who set sail for Tasmania to find the garden of Eden; the other of a young Tasmanian aborigine and his tribe, struggling against the invading British, who prove as lethal in their good intentions as in their cruelty.
Published to rave reviews all round, this novel is set in 1857, with the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson setting out for Tasmania, in the hope of locating the Garden of Eden. "Breathtakingly good... funny, savage, compassionate... a big, mind-expanding book in every respect" "The Daily Mail". **STOP PRESS** The winner of the Whitbread Novel Award 2000.