Heroes, Rebels and Radicals of Convict Australia by Jim Haynes

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

History can be interesting when the right book comes along. All too often we are offered books that contain good facts but whose prose can be very dry and droll. We feel the need for a good story or two to liven things up. This is where Jim Haynes’ latest book makes a timely contribution.

Heroes, Rebels and Radicals of Convict Australia contains stories that puts more meat on the bones of the early days of European settlement in Australia. Before the characters are introduced, Haynes offers some background to the decisions to send people to the shores of the southern land that went by the title of New South Wales.

This includes a brief examination of the crimes that could see a person, no matter what age, sentenced by a court to transportation to a foreign land. Some of the offences were, by our standards, quite trivial. The consequences though would be life changing especially if the person was unable to return to England after serving the sentence that had been meted out on them.

Haynes begins the lineup of characters with the story of Sir Joseph Banks whom he terms “the Father of Australia”. Banks was a member of James Cook’s first expedition and was able to bring back to England examples of flora and fauna taken from the three places along the East Coast where Cook landed. He also provided a description of the land he saw especially the area that was called Botany Bay. It was due to his lobbying and writings that English authorities began to look more closely at Botany Bay as a place where people sentenced to transportation could be sent. It would be both a place of punishment and a deterrent to the designs of France who was also sending expeditions into the area.

Each story offers fascinating insights into those who came after European settlement began in 1788. Some were soldiers sent to guard the prisoners, others were convicts who decided to remain and build a new life once their sentences had ended while others were government officials who brought their families as well. It is not an exclusively male list since Haynes includes the stories of Mary Reiby, Sapy Lovell and Lady Jane Franklin in the book.

First Nations people are not left out. The story of Pemulwuy the Bidijal Freedom Fighter is particularly poignant since the reactions of the local tribes to the arrival or, as they saw it, invasion of the first and later fleets have rarely been explored by historians.

Haynes brings to the table a very readable book containing the stories of ordinary people who found themselves being thrust together in a land that was foreign and alien to many of them. It not only adds to the growing corpus of Australian history. It gives voice to the stories of those who were regarded as not very important but whose contributions have given Australian society the flavour it enjoys today.

Jim Haynes OAM is one of Australia’s most successful and prolific authors. Before becoming a professional entertainer, song writer and verse writer in 1988, Jim taught writing, literature, history and drama in schools and universities from outback New South Wales to Britain and back again. In 2016, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for ‘services to the performing arts as an entertainer, author, broadcaster and historian’.

Heroes, Rebels and Radicals of Convict Australia

by Jim Haynes


Allen & Unwin

ISBN 9781761470370

$32.99; 322pp

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

Scroll to Top