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Marcus Clarke - "For the Term of His Natural Life"

(These notes reproduced from the web pages referenced below)

Born in London in 1846, Marcus Clarke emigrated to Victoria in 1863. He worked in a bank, on sheep stations, wrote for the colonial press, and later worked as an editor, publisher and in the Public Library in Melbourne. Of bohemian bent, his short life was nevertheless a productive one. However his several novels, plays, and many historical articles and short stories did not keep him from financial difficulty, and he died penniless in 1881.

Between 1865 and 1867 Marcus Clarke worked on a farm near Glenorchy, Tasmania, called Swinton Station, part-owned by his uncle. During this time he wrote and published articles in The Australian Journal under the name of Marcus Scrivener.

Clarke left Tasmania in 1867 to join the staff of The Argus in Melbourne as the theatrical critic. In early 1870, needing a rest, Clarke went to Hobart on commission for The Australian Journal to write "a thrilling serial of convict life." He poured over prison records, (and) visited the Port Arthur prison.

First published in serial form in The Australian Journal, and later published in book form under the title 'His Natural Life', the story spans the period 1827-46. Although principally a story about transportation, it paints a vivid picture of early life in the colonies of Van Diemens Land, not too far removed from the time when our Dr. James and his family arrived in 1822.

Availability of the book

Not readily available in bookstores, I was able to purchase new, inexpensive paperback copies from a stall at Salamanca Market, Hobart (publisher The Tasmanian Book Company 34 St Andrews Circle Launceston, ISBN 1-876095-02-4). A reprint of the first edition is available at greater expense from University of Queensland Press [see below].

Various movies have been made of this story (information from IMDb):

  • 1908: "For The Term of His Natural Life", Director Charles MacMahon, starring Martyn Keith and Rosie Knight Philips. Black and white, silent, 22 min
  • 1927: "For the Term of His Natural Life", Director Norman Dawn, starring George Fisher and Eve Novak. Black and white, silent, 101 min
  • 1983: "For the Term of His Natural Life", Director Rob Stewart, starring Colin Friels and Penelope Stewart. Colour, mono sound, 230 min. This was a made-for-TV mini-series, and is currently available on DVD

Links to external sites

"Since its first publication as a serial story in The Australian Journal (in 1870-71), Marcus Clarke's grim yet profoundly moving account of the colonial convict era has been almost continuously in print.

Revised and condensed by its author for the first edition in book form, (which was) published by George Robertson of Melbourne in 1874, the novel is the most significant Australian classic of the nineteenth century.

However, during its production by various publishers over more than one hundred years, thousands of errors and unacceptable alterations have crept in, making the text progressively unreliable.

... (the book we offer is based on the original 1874 Robertson edition and) eliminates the hundreds of changes made by a publisher's editor for the 1875 Bentley edition - from which most later printings have derived."

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