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t "ero in "enry Savery#s Quintus Servinton (1$%&), 'ar!us lar(e#s For the Term of his Natural Life (1$)&), *illiam Astley#s Tales of the Convict System (1$9+), and ,rian -enton#s Landtakers (19%.)/
NB: This essay, unpublished until this edition of ! th "u#ust $%%&, 'as ori#inally 'ritten in lon#hand 'hile (li)abeth Simpson *later (li)abeth Sheppard+ 'as a Bachelor of "rts student at the ,niversity of "delaide, South "ustralia, in &--, for the "ustralian Literature course. "ll academic 'ork 'as at that time submitted in lon#hand, usually 'ritten 'ith a /fountain pen0, as students did not usually have access to type'riters, and computers 'ere not available. (li)abeth1s tutor for "ustralian Literature 'as 2r. Brian (lliott, author of The Landscape of "ustralian 3oetry. 4is comments on the essay, and the mark a'arded by him, are noted in red.
The colonial convict hero is a character of extremes. As a convict, he shares common problems with a criminal class, since he is forced to see life through their eyes. He becomes a representative of the most bestial class of society, although he is not necessarily personally degraded. He can be expressive of virtue triumphant despite mental and physical suffering, or he can represent spiritual despair and abandonment to the pressures of “the System.” ither degradation or martyrdom is his fate! there is no middle way. The characters of "uintus Servinton, #ufus $awes, and %illiam Astley&s convicts, exhibit different emphases within this theme. "uintus Servinton is a well'educated businessman who is transported for a fraud which he had unwittingly committed, and who eventually returns to ngland. His sufferings are not those of the uneducated convict. He receives preferential treatment throughout, and endures none of the physical torture that is so much a feature of 4is Natural Life and Tales of the Convict System. A large and important part of this novel is situated in ngland, of which the colonial environment is merely an echo, and the return of Servinton to $evonshire represents his re'acceptance into “respectable” society after the disgrace of transportation. The essential theme of the boo( is "uintus& purification through adversity. He emerges, however, a wea( character, continually frustrated and bewildered by his misfortunes, and indecisive and speculative in crises. His world is nglish society, and his standing in it must be preserved, as can be seen from this extract, ta(en from the letter to his father'in'law before the trial) “And after all, what is the very utmost * can hope for, under the very best of circumstances+ An ac,uittal- A thing, of itself, perfectly useless to me . a thing, which would find me bereft of
home, of character, of property, of almost every thing, desirable in life.”/ Savery is so anxious to appear submissive and repentant that he sacrifices any adverse reaction in "uintus which would have humani0ed him, having naturally arisen as a result of his changed situation in life. "uintus& sole purpose becomes) “to rescue my memory, from disgrace and dishonor”, 1 which, because of its egoistic nature, ma(es the hero only semi' heroic. The dependence upon nglish society which * have remar(ed upon in "uintus Servinton also occurs in #ufus $awes. There is a difference, however, in that $awes is irretrievably cut off from ngland by his experiences as a convict. “2f little use was the heritage that he had gained. A convict' absconder, whose hands were hard with menial labour, and whose bac( was scarred with the lash, could never be received among the gently nurtured 3 All the wealth in the world could not purchase the self'respect which had been cut out of him by the lash, or banish from his brain the memory of his degradation.”4 %hen the horror of this fact is fully reali0ed, $awes is forced to choose between avoiding the truth of it by attempting to escape on his own, or accepting his debasement to save Sylvia. His decision to save Sylvia ma(es him an heroic figure. To his captors on 5orfol( *sland his appearance is that of a bro(en man, but his love fore Sylvia and his initial innocence of crime redeem him in the eyes of the reader. *n %illiam Astley&s 6aptain gerton we see the same theme of inability to reassume the original identity of an honourable gentleman after having endured the physical degradation of a convict. %illiam Astley, alias 7rice %arung, is a vigorous social commentator who presents a somewhat biased view of the convict life on 5orfol( *sland, emphasi0ing the most lurid details of “the System” and showing only the innocent sufferers amongst the convicts. There is nothing to compare with 6lar(e&s 8abbett in Tales of the Convict System or in "uintus Servinton. 9natchbull is perhaps the closest Astley ever comes in these tales to describing a malicious convict. *n 4is Natural Life we are presented with a more realistic cross'section of convicts of all types. Savery, H., Quintus Servinton, /:;1, <risbane, p.1;4. 2p.cit. p.1;4. 4 6lar(e, =arcus, For the Term of his Natural Life, 2.>.7. /:?1, pp.11;'11@.
The temptation of the author to identify himself with the hero is one not easily resisted, and Henry Savery succumbed consciously to it. Quintus Servinton was Savery&s attempt to Austify himself to the world, and as such it is a tragic wor(. As in 4is Natural Life, self'pity is often the dominating passion, and he often lapses into passages of detailed character study of "uintus, which painfully enumerate his faults, praise his virtues and in general rationali0e his behaviour. “Always punctual to his prescribed duties, ever at his post, and easily accomplishing all that was re,uired of him, the hours set apart from business, and which many, circumstanced li(e himself, devoted to idleness, he sedulously employed in obAects, calculated as he hoped, to better his condition! but he did not sufficiently discriminate . he forgot the log that was attached to him, impeding his movements at every step! and that which, would have been proper, nay, praiseworthy, in a person not under the trammels of the law, became imprudence with him, and reached in its effect, both himself and others.”B The first part of this extract shows Savery&s tongue'in'chee( method of praising himself, which dominates the boo(. <ut in writing of himself, Savery could not hide his true character entirely! if one cares to loo( beneath the faCade of bombast that covers "uintus& character, one may discern the serious, bitter vein that runs strongly through the novel. *t can be seen in the reference to “the log that was attached to him”, and in what follows. #ufus $awes is a leader of men! "uintus Servinton, although ambitious to attain leadership, has faults which hinder him greatly. He is eager to atone for his unintentional crime and has the advantage of being educated, but he over'estimates his abilities a second time, and falls. #ufus $awes has an inherent nobility in him, which is the cause of his rescue of Sylvia, and which prevents him sin(ing into the conscienceless depths of vice which surround him. His fault, if it can be called one, is a strong and thwarted sense of Austice, which drives him to brood over his sufferings to the point of near'insanity. The smaller'scale heroes of Astley are much simpler characters, being mere 8ilberts and Sullivans next to $awes& <eethoven. 8lancy symboli0es the rec(less element in the convict character which delighted in frustrating “the System” in small things in spite of the (nowledge that it would be crushed in the end. Absolam $ay is the wea( youth who betrays his mates, as 7ete does in <rian 7enton&s Landtakers. =ayor Tappin is another sensitive man outraged, and is a(in to 6aptain gerton and #ufus $awes in this. D6ounsellor Eoc(& or Eohn Saunders, is a tenacious character who matches his wits against the cunning and duplicity of the officers of the System, and crushes them ethically, if not physically. All of
Savery, H., p.4F:.
these minor characters have a strong sense of the ironic humour of their situation which is lac(ing in #ufus $awes and "uintus Servinton, who can never really accept their fate enough to laugh at it and defy it. The convicts of %illiam Astley, despite their terrible hardships, are a hardy, philosophic group of men who are obviously ideali0ed. *n Landtakers we find a characteristic of the convict hero which is in mar(ed variance with the earlier novels. 8ursey, who is something of a misfit, is glad to sever his ties with ngland and the penal system, and despises 6abell for clinging to his past. The convicts of Quintus Servinton, 4is Natural Life, and Tales of the Convict System all hate the penal system, but do not reAect ngland because of it. *n fact, they clutch at their memories of its security and reAect the harsh land in which they are forced to live. 8ursey, however, sees the potential of the land and wishes to build something permanent out of it. 6abell, li(e #ufus $awes, eventually finds himself tied to his environment by his degradation. The land, li(e the penal system with $awes, has contaminated him, and cut off his connection with his nglish heritage, leaving him only empty dreams on which to exist, without which he would become sub' human. Landtakers emphasi0es the sordidness of the convict existence in the very beginning of the boo(! he describes a passing convict detachment. “There were men of all si0es, in every stage of decrepitude. Shuffling feet, round shoulders, faces prematurely aged by sun, hard wor( and under'nourishment. The soldiers& uniforms were unbuttoned and dirty. $irt and sweat mixed in the lines of their withered faces. 2f the convicts few were unmar(ed by disease or mishap. The scarlet rash of poisoned blood covered their arms li(e long gloves. <lac( stumps of teeth showed through their lax mouths. Gegs dragged heavily that had been bro(en and badly set. Hands lac(ed fingers. And bitten deeply into all, convicts and soldiers ali(e, was the poc(mar( of spirits desolated by ennui and despair.”? Eoe 8ursey&s animal fear of =c8overn ridicules him and points to the inevitable debasement which men undergo under the penal system. %ith the addition of The (scape of the Notorious Sir 5illiam 4eans, by %illiam Hay, and The "dventures of 6alph 6ashlei#h, by Eames Tuc(er, the four boo(s considered in this essay are the main literary exponents of the convict character in Australian literature. They have created a myth that is a contradiction) the suffering, innocent convict who can sin( to horrifying depths of crime and yet remain human and heroic, as do the men who (ill their cell'mate in %illiam Astley&s last Dtale&. The convict character is used as a vehicle for the expression of the author&s personal grievances in Quintus
7enton, <rian, Gandta(ers, /:4B, p.4.
Servinton and to express a personal philosophy in 4is Natural Life and Landtakers. *n %illiam Astley&s wor( the convict is the butt and the expose of the brutality of the penal system.
,iblio0raphy 6lar(e, =arcus, For the Term of his Natural Life. 2.>.7., /:?1. Savery, Henry, Quintus Servinton. Eacaranda 7ress, <risbane, /:;1. Astley, %illiam Hpseud. 7rice %arungI, Tales of the Convict System, Jols. * K **. 7enton, <rian, Landtakers. Angus and #obertson, /:4B. Herhenhan, G., “The #edemptive Theme in His 5atural Gife.” "ustralian Literary Studies, Eune /:;?. #ees, Geslie, “His 5atural Gife . the long and short of it.” "ustralian Quarterly, Jol. /B, /:B1. lliott, <rian #., 7arcus Clarke. 2xford, /:?L. lliott, <rian #., Singing to the 6attle. #oderic(, 6., The Australian 5ovel. =iller, . =orris, “Australia&s Mirst Two 5ovels.” Tasmanian 4istorical 6esearch "ssociation, 3apers and 3roceedin#s, Sept. /:?@ Jol./; 5o.1. Hadgraft, 6ecil, Australian Giterature. Gondon, /:;F. =iller, .=orris, Australian Giterature. =elbourne, /:BF. $utton, 8eoffrey, ed., The Giterature of Australia. 7elican, /:;B.
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