Peter Grose, Ten Rogues: the unlikely story of convict schemers, a stolen brig and an escape from Van Diemen’s Land to Chile

Allen & Unwin, February 2020, p/bk, 248pp, ISBN: 978 1 76063 261 8, RRP: AUD$29.99

Any visitor to Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s west coast will have been struck by how peaceful and attractive it is. This was not always so. From 1822 to 1833 Sarah Island was a brutal convict settlement.

Fortunately James Porter, one of its convicts, wrote two autobiographical journals which provide the connecting thread for this engaging and well-written account of convict life. Porter was born in London about 1800. He went to sea in his teens, deserted his ship in Chile, married there and had a family. But he yearned for the sea again and in 1821 sailed for England. Falling into bad company he was sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land for life. In 1830 he was sent to Sarah Island for absconding from the Hobart Chain Gang.

The main industry there was ship-building using the prolific Huon pine found in the area. When the settlement on the island was closed in 1833 and its occupants moved to Port Arthur, Porter and a dozen others stayed behind to finish the last ship, the Frederick, a 2-masted brig. In January of 1834 the Frederick was ready and the convicts seized it and set sail for Chile, about 13,000 km distant. They had no proper navigation instruments, or skills, but after six weeks they reached their destination.

Grose calls this feat ‘a staggering example of seamanship, courage, skill and daring’, more so perhaps than Bligh’s celebrated voyage of 6,700 km following the Bounty mutiny.

Grose finds many discrepancies between Porter’s two journals, and between them and his official convict record. ‘Jimmy is a good storyteller’ he says. One could say the same about Grose, but the difference is that his stories are true and are backed by impressive research, both here and in Chile.

Visit the publisher’s website for a preview of the book here.

Dr Neil Radford
February 2020

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