Review and more: For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke


9-23-2013 10-15-13 AMTitle: For the Term of His Natural Life

Author: Marcus Clarke

Genre:  Classic/Historical Fiction

Publication Date:  1874

Description: **Warning** Contains Spoilers

The story starts with the tale of young British aristocrat, Richard Devine, who is the son of a shipbuilding magnate, Sir Richard Devine. In an incidence of domestic violence, Richard’s mother reveals to Sir Richard that his son was fathered by another man, Lord Bellasis. Sir Richard proceeds to threaten the mother’s reputation if Richard does not leave and never come back. When Richard leaves, he comes across a murder scene: his biological father, Lord Bellasis has been murdered, and Richard witnesses Sir Richard walking away from the scene of the crime. The police come and lock up Richard, who now gives his name as Rufus Dawes (which is used for the remainder of the book), for the murder of Lord Bellasis. Rufus is found not guilty of the murder but guilty of the robbery of the corpse and sentenced to transportation to the penal colony of Australia.

In 1827, Dawes is shipped to Van Diemen’s Land on the “Malabar”, which also carries Captain Vickers, who is to become the new commander of the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour, his wife Julia and child Sylvia, Julia’s maid, one Sarah Purfoy and Lieutenant Maurice Frere. It turns out that Sarah is on the vessel only to free her lover, John Rex. She organizes a mutiny that fails because Dawes warns the Captain.

In 1833, at Macquarie Harbour, Maurice Frere has come to deliver to Captain Vickers the news that the settlement there is to be abandoned and the convicts to be moved to Port Arthur. He also attempts to befriend Sylvia, but the child resents him ever since witnessing his treatment of the convicts. At the moment of Frere’s arrival, Rufus Dawes is in solitary confinement on Grummet rock, a small island before the coast. Dawes has managed to recognize Frere at the harbor and now, seeing the preparations for the abandonment of the settlement, mistakenly assumes that Frere has taken command. Rather than suffer Frere’s treatment upon his return, he attempts to drown himself.

Meanwhile, it has been decided that Vickers should sail with the convicts and Frere follow with the brig “Osprey” with Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia, the pilot, five soldiers and ten convicts. Among the convicts is John Rex, who has again plans for mutiny. The convicts succeed in taking the boat, killing two soldiers, wounding one, and marooning him with the Vickers, the pilot and Frere. The pilot and the wounded man die shortly afterwards. One night, a man reaches their makeshift camp. It is Rufus Dawes, who has managed to swim to the settlement only to find it deserted. Although initially wary of him, the little community soon accepts Dawes, especially since he knows all kinds of ways to make their life more agreeable. Sylvia takes to him and Dawes soon does everything to please her, despite Frere’s jealous attempts to win Sylvia’s affection. It is also Dawes, who plans and succeeds in building a boat out of saplings and goat hide.

By 1838, in Port Arthur, Mrs. Vickers has died. Sylvia has lost all her memories of the incident at Macquarie Harbour and knows only what she has been told about it. She is now a young woman of sixteen and engaged to Frere, who has told the story of the mutiny in his own way: making himself the hero and claiming that Dawes attempted to murder all three of them. News arrives that the surviving mutineers of the Osprey have been captured and are to be tried at Port Arthur. Sarah Purfoy calls on Frere and begs him to speak in Rex’s favor, saying that he left them food and tools. She threatens to expose Frere’s previous affairs to Sylvia. Frere consents to her demands. Rufus Dawes is also brought down from Hobart to identify the captured men. At the trial, he sees Sylvia again and realizes that she is alive: he had been informed of her death. He tries to speak his case but is not allowed to. The mutineers get away with life sentences.

John Rex seeks Dawes and tries to persuade him to join him in an escape, organized by Sarah Purfoy. Dawes refuses. Through luck, Rex starts talking about the Devines and about how he was once employed to find news of their son. Dawes, appalled, asks if he would still recognize the man and Rex understands all of Dawes’ story. When shortly afterward a warder confuses them both, commenting on how much they look alike, Rex hatches another plan.

A few days later, Rex and another group of eight, led by Gabbett and Vetch, escape. It soon becomes apparent that Rex used the other men only as decoys. They get hopelessly lost in the bush and start eating one another, leaving only Gabbett and Vetch to struggle for not being the first to fall asleep. Later, Gabbett is found on a beach by the crew of a whaling vessel, with the half-eaten arm of one of his comrades hanging out of his swag. This part is based on a true story, that of Alexander Pearce.

Rex reaches Sydney and, soon becoming weary of Sarah, escapes her to go to London, where he presents himself as Richard Devine. Lady Ellinor accepts him as her son. Eventually, it is found out that he was also the son of Lord Bellasis and when he confronted him and his father laughed at him, he murdered Lord Bellasis.

In Norfolk Island, by 1846, Reverend James North, who had been chaplain at Hobart, has been appointed prison chaplain. Shortly afterward, Captain Frere becomes Commandant of the Island, resolved to enforce discipline there. North, appalled at the horrible punishments inflicted but not really daring to interfere, renews his friendship with Dawes and also takes to Sylvia. Her marriage is an unhappy one. Dawes has also been on the Island for five years and again becomes Frere’s target. Frere is resolved to break his opponent’s spirit and finally succeeds after inflicting punishment upon punishment on him for several weeks.

North, in the meantime, has had to realize the true nature of his affection for Sylvia. One day, Sylvia has gone to see Dawes. She has not been able to stop thinking about him as she feels that there is more to the story than she knows. She finds Dawes on the “stretcher” and orders his release. Frere is furious when he learns about it and strikes Sylvia, despite North’s presence. Sylvia and North admit their feelings for one another but decide to keep quiet until they can sail. North visits Dawes and learns the true story of the mutiny and rescue. He promises to tell Sylvia Dawes’ story but does not.

Shortly before leaving, North visits Dawes to confess that he never talked to Sylvia because he is himself in love with her. He also confesses that he is the one who robbed Lord Bellasis, and leaves. Sylvia, seeking comfort from the reverend, finds Dawes in his place, and now remembers the past as the gale reaches its greatest force.

The next morning finds their entangled corpses on a piece of planking from the sunken ship.


I received a copy of this book for an honest review.

For the Term of His Natural Life is an interesting story full of history and drama. The characters are unforgettable. You feel sorry for Dawes, an innocent man who seems to attract bad fortune in every situation. When things finally do seem to go his way, when he helps Frere and the Vickers’, he is betrayed by Frere and things get worse for him.

While For the Term of His Natural Life is interesting and historically informative, I also found it to be depressing. The dark side of human nature is abundant in this novel. Dawes and Sylvia are bright spots in the darkness but things just aren’t meant to work out for either of them.

For the Term of His Natural Life is available not only in book form but there is also a DVD and, for the first time in a classic, an app for the iPad. 


Q&A with the writers of the original mini-series :

1. Why did you decide to create the novel “For The Term Of His Natural Life” into an eBook app?

Patricia Payne/Producer of the app: I realized the unique opportunity I had to extend the life of this epic classic story written by Marcus Clarke.  I own the rights to the six-hour miniseries which I wrote and produced with my partner Wilton Schiller, and had access to the novel which is in public domain. Together with my colleague and project director, Todd Norwood, we explored the new electronic platforms and chose the iPad to best present a seamless story by integrating segments from the mini-series with the condensed novel.  Developers Ryan Stoner and Drew McAuliffe had designed a template which worked best for our ideas, and Ryan and Drew tailored it for our presentation.  Jason Wissinger, Content Director, created the bonus material and laid out the abundance of material included in the app.  It was truly a collaboration.  It was designed to appeal and engage today’s tablet audience by condensing the novel yet taking care to retain the integrity of this historical epic.    

2. What has the response been since the app has launched?

Patricia: We’ve been greeted with immediate excitement and enthusiasm.  To my knowledge, it’s the first classic novel to be presented in this interactive manner with such a range of multimedia components.  Our PR firm, Lexicon, have a wide reach and are giving us the opportunities to trumpet our creation.    

3. Why should people read this novel?

Todd: The reason the novel has never been out of print for over 130 years is that it’s a great story with universal appeal.  It is literature, based on history, and it is entertaining.  When Patricia first gave me the DVD for the six-hour miniseries I expected to watch it over a period of a week.  It was compulsive viewing and my girlfriend and I watched it in one sitting.  I think the user will enjoy the app journey of this story relayed in a linear fashion with novel, film and bonus material integrated throughout. Other eBooks have bonus material but ours is incorporated as part of the immerse experience.     

4. Why should people download the app?

Jason Wissinger, Director of Content: I’d download it because I could learn about Australia’s history as well as be entertained by a gripping story that intertwines text, video and imagery to allow the reader to experience the tale with more than just their imagination. 

5. What do you find most intriguing about the storyline in this book?

Patricia:  I first read the book when I was 14 and never forgot it.  I knew very little about the convict transportation system from Britain to Australia and later was fascinated to learn the British transported their convicts to the American colonies before the War of Independence. The author, Marcus Clarke, placed an empathetic hero against the background of convict transportation, escapes in the rugged wilderness of the island state of Tasmania, ship mutinies, the goldfields and a romance.  I have remained in the clutches of this story ever since.  

6. Do you think in the future all novels will be done online and through apps, instead of on paper? Where do you see the future of books heading?

Ryan Stoner/MoPix/Development Company: There will most likely always be people who enjoy physical books, but I predict the great decline in actual physical books bought.  On, books for its Kindle already outsell its paper books and the movement is towards enhanced books, particularly as apps allow for the creation of incredibly immersive reading experiences. There is infinite opportunity to increase the value provided to a reader within an app based novel, enhanced story and character development, weaving in videos, photos and pretty much any immersive story plot an author can think of. 


I don’t have an iPad but if I did I would definitely get the interactive app to go along with the novel. It would have enhanced an already good read. For information about the story, the dvd, and the app, click here.

2 thoughts on “Review and more: For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

  1. Bianca September 26, 2013 / 12:03 pm

    Ummmm, the author’s name is MARCUS Clarke…where in the world did y’all get Andrew from? Did you even read the book or is this a cut and paste from Wikipedia?


    • sleepygirl2 September 26, 2013 / 12:18 pm

      Thank you for pointing out my error on the author’s name. I fixed it and I have no idea where Andrew came from. I checked and rechecked this before I posted it but I’m not perfect (just ask my husband).

      I do sometimes do a cut/paste of the goodreads or amazon description because I review books, I don’t write a synopsis that is readily available all over the internet. I also often get a description from the author that I can use. What a waste of time that would be! I always read the books I review and every word of the review is mine.


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