Any book that features convicts, piracy, tall-ships AND cannibalism will automatically get my seal of approval but to have someone with the experience and ability of Matthew Wright tackle the subject makes this an absolute must have on any reading list.
Trans-Tasman rivalry has often centered on the staple diet of jokes about sheep and retorts about convicts. Well we might need to reassess our standard quips as Australia is home to many a sheep station and it turns out that we here in New Zealand have our share of convict stories. In Convicts Matthew Wright takes the reader on a journey into New Zealand’s lawless days (no not THAT kind of lawless) and introduces some of the more colourful characters that visited our shores.
I’ve always been bemused by how few writers and film makers approach what in my opinion are some of the most fascinating decades in New Zealand’s history. For example the story of the brigantine Venus which n 1806 transited the Tasman with convicts at the helm. During their short visit to New Zealand they kidnapped Māori women, sparked decades of inter-tribal warfare and well, it gets hazy from there as the final fate of the Venus is unknown.
I do wonder though if perhaps the story of the Venus might be the inspiration for the sea shanty ‘Good Ship Venus’, Wikipedia suggests that could be the case. I’d link to the song but it is decidedly R-18 and I don’t want to risk being banned from Word Press. Hunt it out yourself if you must, but you have been warned!
Regardless of any inspiration it may or may not have provided for sea shanties, the story of the Venus is captivating. When you learn about the calibre of some of those early European ‘ambassadors’ who visited these shores you have to wonder why there wasn’t more bloodshed than there was. It is about time that someone shed more light on these fascinating times.
If there is anyone that still clings to the misconception that New Zealand is too young to have any real history then I challenge you to read both Convicts and Wright’s earlier book Guns and Utu (a short history of the musket wars).
Convicts – New Zealand’s Hidden Criminal Past is available here.