For the Term of His Natural Life
"The classic novel of convict Australia, For the Term of His Natural Life is a narrative of enormous power, but also great suffering and inhumanity. There is no attempt made to soften the truth of degradation and cruelty of the convict existence, yet the novel is filled with life and peopled with unforgettable characters: Frere, the magnificent barabarian; Sara Purfoy, aglow with colour and vitality, attracting men as moths to light; John Rex, the consummate villain... And woven through the story is the golden thread spun from the faith and hope of Sylvia, the innocent child who loves the luckless Rufus Dawes, condemned to transportation for life for a crime he did not commit.
"First published in book form in 1874, For the Term of His Natural Life has been widely translated and adapted into film. It has appealed to successive generations of readers and is still regarded as Australia's most significant colonial novel."
On the evening of 3rd May, 1827, the garden of a large red-brick bow-windowed mansion called North-End House, which, enclosed in spacious grounds, stands on the eastern height of Hampstead Heath, between Finchley Road and the Chestnut Avenue, was the scene of a domestic tragedy.
Three persons were the actors in it. One was an old man, whose white hair and wrinkled face gave token that he was at least sixty years of age. He stood erect with his back to the wall which separates the garden from the Heath, in the attitude of one surprised into sudden passion, and held uplifted the heavy ebony cane, upon which he was ordinarily accustomed to lean. He was confronted by a man of two-and-twenty, unusually tall and athletic of figure, dressed in rough seafaring clothes, and who held in his arms, protecting her, a lady of middle age. The face of the young man wore an expression of horror-stricken astonishment, and the slight frame of the grey-haired woman was convulsed with sobs.
These three people were Sir Richard Devine, his wife, and his only son Richard, who had returned from abroad that morning.
From the Angus & Robertson hardback edition, 2002.
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Last modified: January 22, 2008.