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English Passengers

English Passengers

Book rating: 04 Paperback

By (author) Matthew Kneale

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  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Format: Paperback | 480 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 194mm x 34mm | 358g
  • Publication date: 1 November 2005
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0140285210
  • ISBN 13: 9780140285215
  • Sales rank: 48,345

Product description

'A big, ambitious novel with a rich historical sweep and a host of narrative voices. Its subject is a vicar's ludicrous expedition in 1857 to the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, [as] meanwhile, in Tasmania itself, the British settlers are alternately trying to civilise and eliminate the Aboriginal population ...The sort of novel that few contemporary writers have either the imagination or the stamina to sustain' - "Daily Telegraph".

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Author information

Matthew Kneale was born in 1960. He is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, including SWEET THAMES (1992), which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. He lives in Oxford.

Customer reviews

By Bridget Dadds 04 Nov 2011 4

I'll be the first to admit that this book was hard going at times, but the story is a fantastic one and the characters are all just so good that I found myself unable to leave it for fear of never knowing how it would all end. I was roaring with laughter picturing the scenes on the long journey from England to Tasmania. The expedition is indeed ludicrous, but quite imaginable also. The storyline did become even more fantastic towards the end which was a bit of a shame (I was willing the author to hang in there, but felt an overriding sense that he just wanted it finished).
All in all, I would give this book a high rating ... the characters are just so wonderfully developed I couldn't put it down.

Review quote

"'A big, ambitious novel with a rich historical sweep and a host of narrative voices. Its subject is a vicar's ludicrous expedition in 1857 to the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, [as] meanwhile, in Tasmania itself, the British settlers are alternately trying to civilise and eliminate the Aboriginal population... The sort of novel that few contemporary writers have either the imagination or the stamina to sustain' - Daily Telegraph"

Editorial reviews

Setting sail in the summer of 1857, the sharp coast of Tasmania is the destination for Captain Kewley's English passengers. To a practical Manxman they seem a strange lot but their passage is the only way to hide his smuggling activities from customs. Among the passengers is the Reverend Wilson, who is confident of proving the bible's literal truth by discovering the Garden of Eden in the Tasmania. Lurking behind his pompous clerical back is the sinister Dr Potter, formulating a disturbing new scientific theory of racial superiority. Their southward journey is a hilarious affair as the wily Manxmen unsuccessfully attempt to sell their illicit cargo at ports-of-call without their feuding passengers noticing. Interwoven within this wonderful comic novel, though, is a more serious intent. Peevay, the last Tasmanian Aborigine, recounts the barbarisms inflicted on his people by the invading British. Massacre, disease and depredations by escaped convicts take their toll on the aborigines but none is as deadly as the Victorians' absurd attempts to convert and improve his people; genocide in a velvet glove. The complex narrative is confidently welded together by this prize-winning author. It is superbly researched but most effective is the convincing construction of a range of different voices. (Kirkus UK)

Flap copy

English Passengers presents the diverse and often conflicting perspectives of a remarkable cast of characters -- including British convicts, government officials, missionaries who impose their European standards and self-serving rules on the native population, aboriginal Tasmanians caught in a desperate struggle for survival, and members of a bizarre expedition searching for the Garden of Eden. The narrative begins in 1857, as Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley of the Sincerity, thwarted in his plans to smuggle tobacco and brandy into England, is forced to put his boat up for charter. He soon finds himself bound for the Pacific, carrying not only his well-hidden contraband but also the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson, an eccentric vicar out to prove that the Biblical Garden of Eden lies in the heart of Tasmania; Dr. Thomas Potter, an arrogant scientist developing a revolutionary and sinister theory about the races of mankind; and Timothy Renshaw, a diffident young botanist. Each man offers a highly personalized record of the high seas adventures and internecine feuds that mark the voyage. The situation that awaits them in Tasmania is brought to life in narratives exposing the dark history of British and aboriginal relationships since the 1820s. Peevay, the son of an Aborigine raped by an escaped convict, describes the subjugation of his people by English invaders who are as lethal in their good intentions as they are in their cruelty. His impressions, ironically confirmed by reports from white officials, schoolteachers, and settlers, chronicle the destruction of a thriving, self-sufficient community in the name of God, science, and "civilization." Based on historical facts, EnglishPassengers is an epic tale, packed with swashbuckling adventure, humor, and memorable characters. Matthew Kneale renders the prejudices and follies of the Imperialist Age with dead-on accuracy and captures -- through the voice and destiny of Peevay and his tribesmen -- the irreversible tragedies it wrought.