by Matthew Kneale
Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year 2000
English Passengers is an historical novel, set in the 1850s, which relates the story of a voyage to Tasmania. The purpose of the voyage is to realise the vision of one man who believes Tasmania to be the true site of the Garden of Eden.
This book is a true ripping yarn told with compassion, drama and, above all, incredible wit. The characters, who are all beautifully drawn, include the self-righteous Reverend Geoffrey Wilson, geologist and organiser of the voyage; Dr Thomas Potter, a racial theorist; Peevay, a Tasmanian aboriginal and his astonishing mother, Walyeric, a female warrior who is raped by white seal hunters and who wreaks her terrible revenge. The ship’s Manx crew provide comic relief while the opulently named Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley observes the shenanigans of his misguided passengers with an ironic eye.
Matthew Kneale has the amazing gift of effortlessly giving a historically accurate and interesting account of the period, which includes a perceptive insight into Victorian mores and the horrendous genocide of Tasmanian aboriginals, without once making the reader feel "instructed".
This is tale of adventure worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson. Breathtaking!