BOOK REVIEW: ‘‘D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 ‘


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 

Author: Martin W. Bowman

Total Number of Printed Pages:  335

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6


The Douglas DC-3 (Especially in its military guise of the C-47) is one of the most famous aircraft of all time. Its fame rests largely on its military activities during World War II; during which-time it saw widespread use in many of that combat’s theaters of operations. Of all these the C-47 is most-closely associated with D-Day; the Allied invasion of Europe. This volume looks at both that use, and the experiences of the military personnel involved with the C-47 on 5-6 June 1944.

Within the volume, a poem titled Tribute To The DC-3 follows its Contents page, and is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section, within-which the author thanks those who assisted with the volume’s creation. The 15 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear.  While primarily-focused on the C-47 and its part in the D-Day invasion, these also provide background to that operation and relate the individual personal experiences of the personnel who were involved; both as aircrew and paratroops (the latter being C-47’s primary passengers on 4-5 June 1944). An Epilogue placed after Chapter 15 (‘Galveston’ and ‘Hackensack’) provides analysis of the operation, and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; it’s final section.  The volume contains numerous quotes, some accompanied by citations indicating their source; the majority not.  It also contains two separate Images sections. The images they contain are monochrome and, in addition to various aircraft, also showing different aspects of the C-47’s D-Day operation, and, where applicable, individuals mentioned within the volume. While being informatively captioned, the majority carry no source citations and are not mentioned on either the Contents page or in the Index. It was noted however that at least one caption (That of the ‘supposed’ Chalk 43 in the second images section) was incorrect in its statement; the aircraft in this instance carrying a very obvious No.44. Whether other, similar, errors exist is unknown. Where additional information and source details are required, this is presented in the form of numbered Footnotes placed at the bottom of the appropriate page.  The numbers are sequential and volume rather than chapter-focused. The book contains no Maps, and despite the various acronyms and unique terminology within it, is not provided with an interpretative Glossary. What (for example) is a ‘Serial’ (page 60 and Chapter 7) an SOP, a DZ or an AEAF, these latter (along with others of a similar nature) being terms widely used throughout the book? Although the author evidently believes that the meanings of such terms are well-known, the average reader, especially one with no prior knowledge about such things, cannot be expected to have such information. The volume also contains no Bibliography or list of the books quoted throughout it.

Although this volume is both well-researched and written, various ‘technical’ difficulties meant that this reviewer found it very difficult to read. Of these, the most troublesome concerned the inordinate use of unsourced quotes; page after page after page of them. While to some this may be unimportant, their sheer volume and ‘convenience’ to the narrative being presented, eventually reached the stage where they became totally unbelievable and raised questions as to their origins. This is not to say that some quotes weren’t referenced; the occasional one was, with that from one Ben Ward on page 294 being one such example. Yet on the same page an unsourced quote from Major Francis Farley commences, and was followed in turn (on page 295) by even more unsourced quotes from one ‘Bob’ MacInnes and from Howard ‘Fat’ Brown. These are but two examples of a practice pervading the volume, a practice not helped by poor punctuation and the lack of the necessary ‘closing’ quotation marks at the end of a Quote.  Paragraphs 2 and 4 on page 184 are but two of many similar examples. In addition to the foregoing, the Index leaves much to be desired. It appears to be predominately ‘People’-focused, to the exclusion of almost everything else. As an example of this latter contention, a random Index search for such text-mentioned geographical locations as Portland Bill, ‘Hoboken’ marker, Contentin Coast, Portbail, Guernsey and Alderney (All mentioned on page 58) found no Index entries. As this was on a single, randomly-selected page, and similar results were found for other (also randomly-selected), subject searches, for this reviewer, the authority and veracity of the Index became extremely doubtful.

This volume fills an important gap in knowledge about the D-Day operations, and as such it may appeal to Military and Aviation Historians, while aviation enthusiasts of all persuasions and aviation modellers may also find it of use and interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this book a 6.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘‘D Day’ Dakotas: 6 June 1944 ‘

BOOK REVIEW; ‘The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow’


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow

Author: Nicholas Jellicoe

Total Number of Pages: 351

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9


The possibility that a defeated enemy may have a final ‘victory’ even after surrendering would seem, at first glance, to be a ludicrous one, yet what if it actually occurred? This is the premise that this volume is based on; that what was, on first sight, a major ‘defeat’ was in fact a ‘victory’; in that it removed a substantial part of the defeated nation’s military hardware from the grasp of its erstwhile enemies.

This book recounts both the prior-events and aftermath of the mass, carefully planned and very deliberate sinking (scuttling) of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow (Orkney, Scotland) on 21 June 1919. It is a very well-written, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable book about a supposed ‘defeat’ which (it could be reasonably-argued), was in fact a ‘Victory’.

The volume opens with an extended Contents section, the Contents page itself being immediately-followed by additional pages titled List of Illustrations, Abbreviations and Rank Equivalency. While the titles of the first two of these are self-explanatory, the third concerns the similarities and differences between the two volume’s main protagonists: The (British) Royal Navy and the (German) Imperial Fleet. A subheading titled A note on ships’ name spelling within the section, clarifies the spellings used in respect of German naval vessels mentioned within the book. The Rank Equivalency section is followed by the book’s Foreword, which is in turn followed by both its Acknowledgements and Introduction sections; the former thanking those who assisted the author in its preparation, the latter providing background to what is to follow within the 13 Chapters forming the main part of the volume. These take the reader from the origins of the Imperial German Navy, to the Twenty-first Century (specifically 2019), and while so-doing provide in-depth and highly-detailed narratives about the events that form the basis for this volume; the mass sinking of the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet. Where necessary, Subsections within each Chapter provide additional information about specific aspects of the narrative. However (and in addition the latter), owever 9and (Hh within some Chapters, borders have been placed around certain blocks of text. These are item-specific and elaborate in detail on those items; The Salvage Men (pages 279-80), being but one example of this practice. Where relevant to the narrative, Tables have also been used to list both events and quantities. Chapter 13 (Scapa Flow in History and Today) is followed by a section that the Contents page states is titled Bibliography and Notes. However, according to its actual Title Page (on page 293), the section’s specific title should be Bibliography & SOURCES, yet even that is problematical, as unlike its compatriots on pages 297 and 299, on page 295 the page header merely carries the word  Bibliography. Why this should be is unknown. A section titled Appendices follows. The section is 25 pages long, and contains 10 subsections. These are numbered sequentially and cover a range of subjects. These range from lists of vessels sunk (Appendices 1-2), to President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points (Appendix 5) to Von Trotha’s 9 May Letter to Reuter (Appendix 10).  Whether the Appendices should have been lumped together within a single section or been treated as ‘Stand-alone’ items, could be debated. Within the volume, Endnotes are used to provide both information sources and, where necessary, additional details supra the main text. The associated citations are Volume rather than Chapter sequential, and appear within a designated Notes section placed after the Appendices. The Index follows; it is the volume’s final section. The book contains 36 informatively-captioned images. These cover a variety of subjects relevant to the narrative, are largely monochrome in format, and are placed in two separate sections. Curiously, two additional images appear on page 175, evidently placed there in support of the subsection relating to a specific vessel. Where known, the sources for these images accompanies the image caption. The volume contains numerous Quotes, and while many carry the necessary source citations, it was also noted that a large number were uncited. The reasons for this is unknown. The volume contains no Maps; a surprising omission.

This is undoubtedly an excellent book, but this reviewer found it to be let down by ‘the little things’; the small but important details.  Chief offender in this area was the Index, with random searching finding surprising omissions. Amongst these (for example) was New Zealand (the country). While the Index certainly carried a reference to New Zealand and indicated that these appeared on pages 27 and 86, investigation found that the reference was to the warship HMS New Zealand and not the country. Similar entries and omissions were found for both Australia and Canada, while entries for Naval Division and RNAS (both on page 120) were similarly noted as being missing. Why there should be entries for the Four Power Treaty on pages 241 and 246 but not 132 is also unknown. With such evident omissions it cannot be known what else might be missing, and as a result the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably suspect. The lack of Maps was also unfortunate, while the ‘mislabelling’ of both the Bibliography & SOURCES section and a page header within it, did not engender confidence.

The ‘little things’ detailed above notwithstanding, this is an outstanding book of the sort that is difficult to put down. It is very well written and researched, is an easy read, and begs fair to become the Standard Reference Work on its subject. It is likely to have broad reader appeal and to be of interest to Naval and Military Historians and enthusiasts. Readers with an interest in World War I and the Royal Navy may also find it worthy of their attention, while warship modellers may find the images informative.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 9.


BOOK REVIEW; ‘The Last Days Of The High Seas Fleet: From Mutiny To Scapa Flow’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’


Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations

Author: Erminio Bagnasco

No. of Pages: 288

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ¾


In what is effectively an introduction to what is to follow, the author states that ‘This book deals with thee submarines of the navies engaged in the Second World War and includes those boats or classes which had been laid down, but which never entered service, or which had not been completed until after hostilities had ceased’. As a summary it is clear and concise.

This volume was originally published in Italy in 1977, a detail which has a bearing on the way that it is laid out. It opens with a multi-columned Contents page, which is in turn followed by a multi-functional section titled Data Key / Abbreviations/ Bibliography. This clarifies the volume’s purpose and contains both a Glossary and a list of the abbreviations used throughout the book. Although what is described as a Bibliography also appears within this section, this is a somewhat-loose term to classify what a note accompanying it describes as a ‘…List of books [what] may be of value to the reader who wishes to pursue specific subjects further’ rather than a list of titles and sources used when writing the book. By way of explanation the same note states that ‘In the original Italian edition of this book the author did not furnish a bibliography’. A Preface follows. This elaborates on the statement made at the start of this review, with the author further stating that he has ‘…Endeavoured to furnish the reader with…enough material to compare the technical and operational histories of all the submarines that took part in the war’. It is an ambitious aim. The book’s Introduction is next. While primarily a highly-detailed history of both submarines and submarine warfare from the time the craft was invented, to the end of World War II, a sub-section within it details post World War 2 developments in both submarines and submerged warfare. The main part of the volume follows.  This is arranged alphabetically, and consists of eight named ‘Sections’ (somewhat analogous to ‘Chapters’) of varying size, each devoted to submarine users. Seven of the Sections are devoted to ‘major’ submarine users with the title of the final section (The Lesser Powers) being self-explanatory. According to the author each Section / Chapter’ is divided in turn subdivided into two sections. ‘The first treats of naval policy, preparations for undersea warfare, types of wartime operations undertaken and the characteristics’. The second section…gives a detailed description of the various classes of submarines…lists the names of the boats, description, principal technical characteristics, a brief history of their wartime careers and the fate of each member of the class’. It is an excellent precis. In most (but not all) instances, at least one photograph of the class under discussion is provided. Where appropriate, a profile drawing of the vessel may also (but not always) be provided; in some instances these being expanded to a three-view format. While these are not to a constant scale, the scale to which they are drawn appears alongside the individual drawing. Where there are significant differences between individual vessels within the class, smaller ‘thumbnail’ illustrations may also appear together with any modifications undergone by the specific vessel. Typically, these may include alterations made to armament, or structures. In addition to the previously-mentioned specifications etc., additional information is provided through the use of tables, technical diagrams, plans, graphs, charts and ‘detail’ photographs of equipment. The volume contains numerous unsourced photographs of individual submarines. Although all are captioned, the amount of information presented varies in quantity from image to image. Although submarines operated in a wide range of areas during World War II, no Maps are provided to indicate where these might have been.  An Index placed at the rear of the book is its last section. This lists all vessels mentioned within the volume.

For this reviewer this volume was let down by the very narrow focus of its Index. As previously-noted this section ostensibly lists all the vessels that appear within this book. In fact it doesn’t, and only lists the location of the vessel’s Class / Specifications entry, not the locations of relevant text or photographs outside that section. To use the French submarine Surcouf as but one example of this practice, that vessel’s Index entry indicates it appears on page 53; and, there is indeed an entry and technical specification for Surcouf on that page. That there are in fact other entries for that vessel on pages 42, 43, 54 and 55 is not however mentioned. As this was but one of several examples noted while reviewing this volume, this practice would seem to be widespread. In addition, the section contains no references to individuals, theatres of operation or geographical locations; ommissions which serve to limit its usefulness. Should a reader seek an individual submarine they will find at least a reference to it. However, should they wish to know why it was constructed, who commanded it, where it served or what it did, they will search the Index in vain. This is unfortunate, as it considerably reduces the volume’s usefulness and value as a research tool, removing it from the ‘Work of Standard Reference’ category as a result.

There is no doubt that this volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject, and, despite the ‘limitations’ listed above,  is, indeed, encyclopaedic in its coverage. On that basis it is likely to have wide appeal to readers interested in submarines, submarine warfare and general ‘things naval’. Military historians interested in submarine operations may find it of use, while warship modellers and war-gamers with an interest in submarines may find it to be a useful reference source.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ¾.





BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’


Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century

Authors: Joanne Major, Sarah Murden

Total Number of Pages: 170

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7


When describing the contents of this volume, its Dustjacket notes that it is a ‘…Collection of twenty-five true tales‘…’In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era’. It also notes that within it, the reader will ‘Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals…’ It is an accurate summary of what follows.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section is placed immediately after the Contents page. As would be expected, it thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted the authors in the preparation of the volume. This is in turn followed by an Introduction. Within this, two sub-sections provide both historical background to the era and of the Hanoverian royal dynasty which so-dominated the United Kingdom during the time under discussion. A section titled Timeline of Events Relevant to the Long Eighteenth Century follows; its title is self-explanatory. The 25 Chapters which form the main part of the work now appear. As previously-noted these comprise 25 stories relating to the activities of various notorious and well-known individuals within Eighteenth Century Britain and Europe. It should be noted that of the 24 tales presented (Chapter 25 being a summary of the era) 19 could be described as ‘Female focussed’. The reasons for this are unknown. A section titled Notes and Sources follows Chapter 25. As indicated by its title, it is equivalent to a Bibliography. The final section of the volume is an oddity, and consists of three pages listing books written by the authors, together with accompanying reviews. The section is unashamedly self-promotional and whether it is appropriate for the volume is something that only the reader can decide. There is no Index. The volume is well illustrated with both monochrome and colour images including plans and other images relevant to the narrative. Where possible the individual being discussed within each Chapter, is also depicted. However, a lack of such images has meant that at times these are of the ‘supporting cast’ to the tale. Although the images are certainly captioned and carry the appropriate citations, for a large number, the captions are single-sentence in format and can best be described as being ‘adequate’. It should be noted that, in several instances, although there was no ‘cross-referencing’ between the two sections, (text and image) it appeared that the reader was expected to associate the image with the text they were reading. The volume contains numerous Quotes. However, these do not carry supporting citations and in the absence of the latter, the authenticity of said Quotes must inevitably be questioned, together with their value as a research tool.  The volume contains one Map. This is an outline of the British Isles, and carries the names of various locations that are apparently mentioned within the volume. It does not however have a formal title, leaving the reader to guess at its function and usefulness, while its existence does not rate a mention on the Contents page.

As previously-noted, the volume has several ‘mechanical’ shortcomings, including the lack of an Index, unsupported Quotes, an untitled Map and Captions which are, at best, ‘adequate’. These are not unexpected. However, when requesting this volume for review purposes, and on the basis of its title (All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century) this reviewer expected to find a social history of the period. To a limited degree that is what he received, with the qualification that such information was an adjunct to the narrative rather than its focus. He did not however expect to meet the ‘… Actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals’ previously mentioned, to the extent that the endless repletion of the activities of such individuals became monotonous and (eventually) boring. The writing and research was excellent, but the basic topic (humankind’s largely-sexual failings), when repeated over and over again, deprived the volume whatever literary charm it might have held.

Undoubtedly this volume will appeal to those with an interest of any kind in the lifestyles of the Eighteenth Century’s rich and famous. Social historians might also find it useful, while readers with an interest in the art and architecture of the era may also find it worthy of their perusal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this book a 7.



BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914’

92. Analogue Technology

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914

Author: Simon Webb

Total Number of Pages: 158

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½


In this volume’s Introduction, the author observes the ‘The roots of our modern Information Revolution are to be found in the Edwardian Era’. With that pronouncement made, he then proceeds to provide reasoned and well-considered argument to support his case, using the Twenty-first Century’s Digital Revolution as a reference point for what follows. The result is a well-written, well-researched, highly informative and eminently-readable volume

Within the volume, a List of Plates immediately behind the Contents page lists, in abbreviated form, the captions carried by the 20 images appearing within an eight page images’ section in the book’s centre. The ‘List, is in turn followed by an Introduction. Within this the author precis’ what is to follow within the 10 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume.  The Chapters take the reader from the Victorian-era to the start of World War I and, in Chapter 10, to The Enduring Legacy of the Analogue Revolution, in which he discusses the ‘The astonishing durability of the physical manifestations of the information technology perfected during the Edwardian period’ and the reasons why such machinery is still ‘earning its keep’ over a century after it was originally constructed. An Endword follows. In this the author considers the similarities and differences between the current Digital Age and its Edwardian predecessor, and presents his thoughts as to what the future might hold. A two-page Bibliography follows, and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. As previously-noted there is a small (eight page), ‘images’ (Plates) section at the centre of the volume. In addition to the usual photographs, the images appearing within it include postcards, advertisements, plans and etchings. All are monochrome, informatively and clearly captioned and are alluded to within the volume when appropriate to the narrative.

As already noted, this volume is well-written, well-researched, highly-informative and eminently readable. For this reviewer however, it is let down by its Index. While reviewing a volume, this reviewer randomly looks in its Index for words which interest him. When reviewing this volume however, he found that, in many instances, the words being sought did not appear within the Index. While numerous examples could be presented, those found on page 52 will suffice.  With words such as Port Arthur, Alan Moorhead, St Petersburg, and Petrograd appearing on that page it would be reasonable to expect to find them in the Index. Such was not the case, while the omission of Frederick Lee (on page 57, and despite appearing in the same sentence as Edward Turner; his fellow patentee) is even more curious. The omissions were both widespread and random, to the extent that this reviewer eventually ceased to rely on the Index as a reliable source of information. He now has serious reservations about the Index’s authority and veracity. Unsourced Quotes have been used throughout the volume. In the absence of verifying citations, they have little research value and authority and, indeed, could well have been written by anyone.  How important such things might be will, of course, depend on the reader / purchaser’s requirements.

Due to the width of its research, and despite the ‘limitations’ previously described, this volume bids fair to become an authoritative work on its subject. As it combines both technology and social history, this volume is likely to appeal to Historians with an interest in either or both of these subjects, particularly in the context of Great Britain in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.  Those with a specific interest in the invention and use of such things as Cinema, the Telephone, Radio /Wireless etc. may also find the volume of interest, while due to its easy-to-read style layman-readers wishing to learn more about the origins of both ‘Digital’ and Analogue’ technologies, and their inter-relationships, may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s’

91. Scottish Steam

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s

Author:  Kevin McCormack

Total Number of Pages: 168

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 7


In the opening paragraph of this volume’s Introduction,  the author states: ‘’This colour album covers steam in Scotland…and uses, to the best of my knowledge, images which have not previously appeared in print’. With that established, he then states that ‘Most of the pictures used have been sourced from the Online transport Archive’ and that ‘…There are even some of my colour slides included…’  He concludes by saying: ‘I hope readers will enjoy this nostalgic glimpse of the Scottish railway scene…before the Beeching axe was wielded…’  As a precis it cannot be faulted.

The volume contains no Contents page, its first section being a three page Introduction. Within this the author details his personal railway-related story, introduces the reader to Scottish railways (the subject of this volume), and provides details about the origins of the photographs that have been used within it. The 159 pages of colour images which comprise the majority of the volume then follow. The author notes that ‘The pictures…have been arranged on a roughly geographical basis, starting on the eastern side of Scotland upwards from the English border, proceeding around the top of the country and ending on the western side near the border’. Unfortunately the absence of any Maps makes the statement rather pointless, especially to those readers who are neither local residents, or who live off-shore. All images are in colour and, as indicated by the title, the volume is predominantly of photos of steam locomotives of varying shapes, sizes and classes in a variety of Scottish settings and conditions. Sometimes the locomotives are attached to trains, but most of the photographs are of single units. Curiously, two stations (Broomhill and Arrochar and Tarber on pages 108 and 138 respectively), make appearances in their own right sans steam. The photographs are from a variety of sources, are largely single-paged in format and have informative captions placed underneath. However, and where appropriate to the narrative, smaller images have been inserted into the larger and two or three smaller images appear on a single page. The sources of the images are acknowledged. A single page Index completes the volume. As previously-noted no Maps are provided.

In this reviewer’s opinion (and given the book’s title), this volume’s Index is woefully inadequate.  Although the volume is (supposedly) concerned with Steam In Scotland, the Index carries absolutely no mention of either locomotives or trains within its entries. It is totally ‘station focused’. As a result, were the Index to be the first section consulted by a potential reader, it would be easy to conclude that steam locomotives and trains were not present when the volume’s photographs were taken. Yet even with that focus, not every ‘caption’ mention of a specific station is recorded. Boat of Garten (for example), while mentioned on page 106, according to its Index entry appears only on pages 102-104. All and any references to such items as Railway Companies, Events and Geographical Entities (despite being mentioned within the captions) are also absent. The lack of Maps has already been noted. A Glossary providing quick interpretation of the various ‘Company’ acronyms within the volume would have been helpful.

For readers seeking ‘Pictures of British steam trains in a Scottish setting’ this volume will be a delight, as they are there in quantity. Due to the Index, those seeking photographs of specific Scottish railway stations are also likely to find their desires met. Enthusiasts and railway modellers seeking images of specific locomotives and / or classes (and assuming that these have even been included) may also find this volume of interest. It should however be noted that, due to the previously-noted inadequacy of the Index a lot of searching may be required with no guarantee of success. Some may not deem it worth the effort.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

Had the Index been more indicative of the volume’s content, the rating would have been higher.





BOOK REVIEW: ‘Steam In Scotland: a Portrait of the 1950s and 1960s’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.

90. Oz Convicts

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia

Author: Lucy Williams

No. of Pages: 202

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 5


Writing in this volume’s Introduction, the authors states that, over a four-year period, ‘…She spent almost every day banished beyond the seas, out of time and space, in convict Australia’. She continues ‘This book is a collection of the tales I found there’. While an admirable precis of what is to follow, it must however be qualified by two of the author’s subsequent statements, both of which appear on page xiii of the volume. These are:

‘All the stories related here are based on original records’.

‘Using my knowledge of the period, places and criminal justice system, I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario…but…cannot know for sure’.

After reading these statements, this reviewer found himself asking ‘How much of what appears within this volume is in fact true (with ‘true’ being defined as ‘An accurate representation of what actually occurred’)? To state that ‘All the stories related here are based on original records’, implies very strongly that in fact ‘truth’ may be absent from the majority of the tales that are related, with the ‘original records’ have been used only as a foundation; the key word in this instance being ‘Based’. This is a definition supported by the Oxford Dictionary when it states that ‘Based on’ is as the foundation or starting point for something’, while the author, by then stating that ‘…I have in some cases made suggestions for the most likely scenario but cannot know for sure’, compounds the problem further. Against such a background, to question ‘How much of what is within the volume is true?’ is not unreasonable, and indeed, this reviewer found himself asking that question repeatedly during the review process. He believes that what has resulted from these two statements is a work of ‘Faction’ (defined as ‘A plausible mixture of fact and fiction’), but as there is no way to know which is which, and with ‘Scepticism’ now attending every word, the volume’s reputation and authority has inevitably suffered.

The volume opens with the expected Contents page, this is in turn being followed by an Acknowledgements section within-which the author thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted her in the creation of the work. The previously-mentioned Introduction follows. Subtitled The Lives of the Lagged, this summarises the narrative presented within the main part of the volume, while providing additional background concerning the records accessed during its writing, the individuals involved and the political and social circumstances which resulted in the ‘Transportation’ phenomenon. Where necessary, subheadings within the section deal with specific aspects of the story being presented.  The five Chapters which constitute the volume’s major section now appear. These take the reader from the process and reasons by which prisoners became ‘Transportees’, to descriptions of conditions within the penal colonies themselves. As with the Introduction, subheadings within each Chapter are used to detail specific individuals and events. A Conclusion section placed after Chapter Five (The Hothouse of Humanity on the Swan River) acts as a summary to what has gone before while presenting the author’s thoughts on the process. The Conclusion is in turn followed by a three-page Appendix. Although no background information is provided, its content appears to be three letters written by one Margaret Catchpole to two separate individuals in 1802. The Appendix is in turn followed by a five–page section titled Tracing Transportees: Resources for the Reader. The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Suggested Reading placed after that section is analogous to a Bibliography, and is followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Twenty four Images appear in an eight-page section placed in the book’s centre. These are both colour and monochrome in format and contain reproductions of individual portraits, advertisements, documents, structures and ephemera relevant to the narrative. While each image is informatively captioned, not all carry citations to indicate their origins. Neither the Contents page nor the Index acknowledges the existence of the images section or its contents. The numerous Quotes that appear throughout the volume carry no authenticating citations and as a result could well be imaginary; there is no indication to the contrary. Curiously, and despite the immense distances involved in both the transportation process itself and on the continent of Australia, the volume contains no Maps.

As previously-noted (and by the author’s own admission), this volume is a work of faction; ‘actual’ history ‘embroidered’ and ‘imagined’ to create a pre-determined narrative. As such, it cannot be considered to be an authoritative historical work. The previously-mentioned lack of citations for any of the numerous quotes appearing within the book only serves to re-emphasise the point. The result is a potentially-valuable resource reduced to little more than a collection of interesting tales, some of which may actually be true. Regrettably, the Index does not help, being best described as ‘incomplete’ in its entries. When reviewing this volume, and in the course of random searching, this reviewer had occasion on to seek Index entries for  Millbank, Pentonville and Portland (all on page 21) and Ned Kelly (page 181). Nothing was found and subsequent equally-random searches, returned similar results. What other, similar, information may be missing cannot be known. The absence of Maps has already been alluded-to.

The difficulties’ mentioned above notwithstanding, while this volume may have little to offer for serious researchers, it is still a collection of ‘Convict Stories’, and as a result may appeal to readers seeking ‘Human interest’ tales about the transportee’s experiences. Readers seeking descriptions of ‘lower class’ life in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Great Britain, may also find its contents of interest, these suggestions being made with the qualification that what is appears before the reader may not in fact be true.

This is undoubtedly a ‘sincere’ book, written to explain a complicated situation and doing it well, but to present a narrative as ‘true’ when it is patently not, comes at a cost. Were that it was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 5.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Convicts in the Colonies: Transportation Tales from Britain to Australia’.