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In 1787, Britain banished its unwanted citizens – uneducated petty thieves, streetwalkers, orphan chimneysweeps and dashing highwaymen – to the fringes of the known world. So remote was Botany Bay – the destination to which the overcrowded, disease-ridden convict ships were bound – that only one European expedition had ever before anchored there.
Yet the rejects of Britain, accompanied only by a flimsy complement of soldiers, marines and officers, were expected to start a settlement and flourish. It was an audacious social experiment, unparalleled before or since.
To the indigenous inhabitants, the white men came as ghosts through cracks in the cosmos, rudely seizing the bounty of land and sea. On the swampy shores of Botany Bay, and by the sandstone coves of Sydney Harbour, the clash of civilisations was inevitable, intense and often tragic. From this improbable beginning, through famine, drought, escapes and floggings, the glory of modern Sydney was born. Britain’s penal experiment succeeded against all odds.
Impeccably researched and told in the inimitable Keneally style, The Commonwealth of Thieves is the compelling tale of a nation’s beginning, its unforgettable people and their quest for identity.
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