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The Thief Fleet

Fourteen hundred and twenty men, women, and children - naval, military, civilians free and in chains - are shipped halfway around the world from England to the South Pacific. Months later, at the end of the longest voyage of its kind in the Age of Sail, the Thief Fleet casts anchor on a shallow bay where a convict camp is hurriedly built. Unwanted and unwilling, these unruly migrants are tough and cunning or they could never have survived eighteenth century England's jails and the famine years that still lay ahead of them. Yet despite every obstacle and hardship, some are destined to become men and women of wealth and power they could never have dared to imagine in their Old Country of inherited class and privilege. Two rivals dominate London's transplanted underworld of muggers and stranglers, whores and pickpockets; the grim redcoat veteran Joe "Tinderbox" Cribb, and the fiery Irish actress "Mrs" Catherine Brandon. Hunger and necessity will force this most unlikely of couples to overcome their deep differences and, as they do, establish a colonial dynasty that will shape Australia's dramatic and inspiring story.
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About the Author

Like many Australians, I was taught that our nation began as a prison camp for failed British criminals, a malignant myth that still distorts the way we see ourselves and how the world views us. From the start I felt this didn't add up, but those were still pre-Google years and much research material was not yet available. However, the question of Australia's original purpose kept troubling me at university and, later, while working overseas. Then, one rainy afternoon, my future wife and I took shelter in a London bookshop. I made a beeline for its Australiana section, at which point the Library Angel swooped and a shabby old volume fell open at the portrait of an un-English looking c18th naval officer. I recognized Governor Arthur Phillip, Australia's founder, but this was the first time I'd noticed him holding the drawn plan of a classic European fortress, clearly inscribed "New South Wales 1787," as if to show the real purpose of his voyage the South Seas. Option one: a major fortification would be built to confine the transported convicts, pointless given that the colony itself was a vast open prison, walled in by dense forests and the world's largest ocean. Option two: the transported convicts were, in the language of the time, "White Niggers" sent to build a strategic outpost on a new Far Eastern trade route. Intrigued by this possibility, I studied the manners and morals, language and politics, religion and street life of Georgian England, getting inside the minds of those shadowy figures who'd ordered the Thief Fleet to Botany Bay in 1787. Three critical issues emerged from the gossip and conspiracies of two centuries ago. Britain was bankrupt after seven years of war against France and Holland, Spain and the American Rebels; parliament was in turmoil over the King's mental state, the Prince of Wales' debts, and his rumored marriage to a Catholic widow; France was menacing Britain's vital interests in the Lowlands but was herself only months away from revolution. That any government, facing such challenges, could find the time and money to send an armed expeditionary force halfway around the globe, just to get rid of seven hundred convicts, seemed very unlikely. At the end of my work in Europe I returned home to Australia with a young family, took up a small farm and began redefining our nation's dramatic and inspiring story by writing this multi-storied Thief Fleet series.

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