Already having introduced her readers to the great Australian Outback in her wonderful saga, The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough now brings them even further back in history with Morgan’s Run, a historical fiction novel about the first penal colony settlers on the continent.
The story begins in England, circa 1776. Richard Morgan is educated, middle class, and quietly resigned to honor his family’s designs for his life. He is a tranquil, passive, un-ambitious man, who is dealing with financial ruin and the sorrow of losing his daughter, then his wife, to early deaths.
When his young son disappears, he almost goes mad, and ends up in a compromising situation set up by an enemy to destroy him. Quiet, and maddeningly calm as usual, Richard remains optimistic while awaiting trial in prison. He maintains his health (due to the supplies his cousin brings) while inmates around him suffer and die. Such are the conditions in English prisons at this time, and McCullough depicts the horror explicitly.
Richard keeps his thoughts to himself, but he notices he is gaining the respect of his fellow inmates. They seem to look to him for leadership – a quality he had never aspired to before. The trial goes badly and Richard learns he is to be transported, with hundreds of other convicts, to New South Wales, the newly discovered land everyone calls “the ends of the Earth” because it is so very far away.
The journey will take about a year, Richard knows, and it will be a “run” of hardship, disease, and many deaths—with no possible reprieve at its desolate end. This eye-opening account of the “first fleet” penal colony settlers brings the reader right into the story! From the streets of Bristol, England, to the stench of the hull of the human-cargo ship, through to the arrival in Botany Bay and the building of the settlement.
Morgan’s Run runs deep with human passions encompassing love, triumph, ruin, atrocity, pain, gain, and friendship. It weaves a tale of spiritual, as well as physical survival. Richard Morgan is not the man he used to be—he has become the man he never knew he was.
Tim Curry wonderfully imparts the gruff cockney accents and tones for the rough characters portrayed here, then easily changes rhythm and tone for the females and more- refined men of the story.