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The Lieutenant

by Kate Grenville

Following the success of THE SECRET RIVER, the story of the transportation of the Thornhill family to New South Wales, Kate Grenville has taken a step further back in time and created a new adventure inspired by the diaries of William Dawes a young second-lieutenant of the marines who arrived with the First Fleet at Botany Bay in 1788.

Daniel Rooke is a solitary, precocious child, gifted in mathematics, music and science. Through benefactors he receives a first-class education and finally comes to the attention of the Astronomer Royal. With no position open to him in the civilian world, Rooke enlists in the marines and is taken on board the appositely named Sirius as a lieutenant and ship’s astronomer. On their arrival at Botany Bay, Rooke is absolutely astounded by the clarity of the night sky where he marvels at constellations unknown in the northern hemisphere. He gradually detaches himself from the group of sailors and convicts and creates a makeshift observatory where he can study the stars in solitude.

Rooke becomes increasingly aware that he is not alone. A group of natives has been watching him. As they become more sure of each other the Aboriginals regularly visit him in his strange quarters. One young girl in particular stands out from the others. Her name is Tagaran and she and Rooke form a special friendship. With Tagaran as his guide Rooke tries to learn and record the local language, realising that communication is the key to a peaceful co-existence with the indigenous people. However, the relative peace is short-lived and Rooke refuses to take part in a hunting party to go after one of natives who, allegedly, speared one of the men.

Once again Kate Grenville tackles the subject of the settlement of Australia in her thoughtful, intelligent and articulate prose. She states on her website:

“This is a novel, then, not history. But I hope that it might encourage readers to seek out the history of those extraordinary years of first settlement, and to see the continuities and discontinuities between that time and our own. The past may be a foreign country, but we can all try to learn its language.”

Readers might also be interested in DANCING WITH STRANGERS Inga Clendinnen’s wonderful historical account of the arrival of the First Fleet.

Read our interview with Kate Grenville.

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