Australian – Convicts/Early Settlement

Picture Books

An Uncommonly Fine Day- John Anthony King

The story of Governor Phillip and crew sailing into Sydney for the first time, and “finding the finest harbour in the world, in which “a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security”.. First flag rising etc.   Popular with many, personally we found this book rather boring. We read on Australia Day.

Children Chapter Books

Surviving Sydney Cove; The Diary of Elizabeth Harvey – Goldie Alexander (My Story)
A picture of life for the convict during the early European settlement of Sydney. The story stays reasonably true to fact however it isn’t too grim for children. I enjoyed the story.

No Beat of Drum.- Hester Burton

It is 1830 and 16yr old Joe and his brother Dick inadvertently become involved in a sequence of events during an uprising against landowners, which changes their lives, and that of their sister Mary, who is incarcerated in the notorious penal colony Van Diemen’s Land,

This following series is based on actual events that occurred during the beginning of the English occupation of Australia.  Following the adventures of a young boy, John and his sister Sue we learn early Australian history effortlessly, the sign of true living history.  I suspect the author has based the books upon The Diary of Watkin Tench  written by a marine stationed in Australia in 1788, adapting the horrific for young minds. Whilst the subject of convicts is indeed glossed over it, this makes the novels suitable to read to a five year old (and older).

In “John of the Sirius”, we are introduced to John and Sue, who depart from England for Australia on the ‘First Fleet‘!  John’s father is a Captain of the Marines and the children belong to the small group of marine’s children who emigrated to Australia.  Along the journey we learn of life on a ship, the diet and  monotony.  We ‘visit’ the various places the First fleet ‘put into’ on the long voyage to Botany Bay. John always manages to become involved in adventures.  The book concludes with the Fleet’s arrival in Australia and the raising of the flag in Sydney Cove, 26th January 1788.

In the sequel “John of Sydney Cove” we immediately follow on from the first book.  This is the story of the first settlement, a very hard existence although John still has time for adventures.  Issues such as convicts, chain gangs, starvation and hangings are mentioned but very sensitively.  First settlers like James Ruse are ‘introduced’.

The third title “John of Nanbaree” is based 18 months after the First Fleet’s arrival, and the settlers and convicts are in desperate straits and awaiting for the supply ships from England.

*In Ruth’s review she shares meeting Doris Chadwick!!

House by the Water- Nance Donkin

James Reibey, 13 years old and the son of Captain Thomas Reibey, lives in his father’s warehouse near Sydney Harbour. Based on true events in Sydney of the 1800’s.

Johnny Neptune – Nance Donkin

Set in early Sydney harbour, the story of an orphan boy, Neptune and his career.

Menace at Oyster Bay- Vivienne Rae Ellis

Set in Tasmania, an Antelope Reader.

Escape to Eaglehawk – Vashti Farrer

Tom Appleby Convict Boy – Jackie French

Tom Appleby, eight year old chimney sweep is convicted of stealing and sentenced to deportation to Botany Bay on the First Fleet. This book tells of a colony that, despite its natural abundance, cannot offer what the colonists want. While the people’s health is better than ever, their morale is low as they wait for news from home. It is for those aged 10 and above. ** I haven’t yet read this, I recommend pre-reading any of Jackie French’s books**  


Daughter of the Regiment – Jackie French

Harry doesn’t really want to leave the farm to go to High School.  And if he does go, will he want to come back to the farm?  And then he finds a hole in time in the corner of the chook shed and discovers another world – his world, 150 years ago! Based on a true story, of an orphaned child in the 1820s.

Grim Crims and Convicts : Fair Dinkum Histories – Jackie French

A collection of short stories, both historical and contemporary, based on real people and real events.

The Rum Rebellion:The Diary of David Bellamy- Libby Gleeson (My Story)

The diary follows the immigration of a young newly orphaned boy who comes out to join his uncle’s farm. His uncle George Suttor Rum Rebellion (Note the differing opinions on Governor William Bligh) Through his was a real figure in Australian politics and the early settlement of Australia. Through David’s diary we follow the troubled period of the eyes we see the leading events up to the night of when the officers storm on Government house and the subsequent events after. George Suttor his uncle who is opposed to the actions of the Rum Corp and John Macarthur is gaoled and upon his release sails for England to attend the legal proceedings there.
Although like every Australian school child of the 80s I had studied the Rum Rebellion at school it was informative and interesting to read this ‘diary’ and learn more about this time period

Anna Yesterday – Ellen Miller

Set in Tasmania in the 1800s, the story of a young girl left to fend for herself, like many children during the convict era. Anna is trying to escape the attentions of a gang of children who want her to steal.

Come Danger, Come Darkness – Ruth Park

Realistic portrayal of life on Norfolk Island under convict habitation. The story is told through the eyes of two young boys whose stern uncle is the Superintendent of the island. Prisoners on Norfolk Island suffered a harsh and inhumane life.

Cousins-Come-Lately – Eve Pownall

Set in Sydney Cove in 1832, two newly arrived cousins are taken around by their two Australian cousins to see the town. During their many adventures, you  glimpse long ago Sydney

Crusoe Boys- Vincent Serventy

Two young boys must fend for themselves on a deserted island whilst their father is away. They run into trouble with the arrival of sealers. There is a rather disturbing scene where the boys are in physical/moral danger due to the attentions of some of the men. All is averted.** I suggest this book to be read by a parent first.**

Family Book of Mary Clare- Eleanor Spence

Verity of Sydney Town- Ruth Williams

A great adventure book set around the Tank Stream of early Sydney. Verity is awaiting the return of her sea captain father. She sets out for the Parramatta district where she encounters bushrangers and bushfires. A great book set in the time of Governor Macquarie.


For the Term of His Natural Life – Marcus Clarke

Charged with murder, but fearful of causing his family a scandal, Rufus Dawes declines to prove his innocence and submits to transportation to the penal colony in Australia.

Ralph Rashleigh – James Tucker

An account of a penal exile – from the busy streets of the London underworld, to the harsh realities of the penal colony of New South Wales. Here, in horrifying detail, are the English prison hulks; the crowded hell of the transport vessels; the cruelty of the gaolers and of the overseers at the agricultural settlement at Emu Plains; the privations of the early settlers; brushes with marauding bushrangers and confrontations with tribes of ‘murderous blacks’. What makes this colourful and dramatic story unique, and gives it its important place among novels of its time, is that ‘Ralph Rashleigh’ was, in fact, the author of the original manuscript from which this book is taken – a convict, later identified as James Tucker, transported to Botany Bay in 1827. The author’s own experiences of convict life.

The Canary Jacket – Ann Sheed

Set in 1830s colonial Australia, the key character is fourteen-year-old Cornish lad Richard Jago, transported, and sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour in the penal colony of New South Wales. Brutality, starvation, bound to a master, no redress , savage punishment – what fate awaits him?.

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