The Convict and the Aborigine: The Quest for Freedom in Ralph Rashleigh


However silently or intermittently James Tucker may have hoped for redemption he had given himself to death in 1845 when he placed the final touches on the manuscript of Ralph Rashleigh. His escape fantasy took the form of a life among the aborigines as a white blackfellow. Yet he regards this life only as paradise on trial, and during the sojourn of Rashleigh with the tribes the terms of that life are constantly in question. Eventually, it becomes clear that life among the aborigines is a fool's freedom. Rashleigh rejects it, reasserts his whiteness, only to be finally speared to death by hostile blacks. Between the rehabilitation and the end there is an asserted glimpse of the white cliffs and the Devonshire cottage of Savery. Tucker cultivated the sweet illusion of respite at the same time that he recognized the futility of the indulgence. It is of interest that Tucker directed the hatred of his final despair, not at the white authorities, but at the aborigines. After Rashleigh has been speared his companion returns: 'but the unhappy Ralph had long been dead, his remains having been cruelly maltreated by these blood thirsty barbarians, whom the mock philanthropy of the age characterizes as inoffensive and injured beings'.5 This emotional indictment comes without warning, and is quite inconsistent with his previous attitudes. In this early novel the position of the aborigine is much more central and complex than has been usually conceded.

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Published 1 October 1968 in Volume 3 No. 4. Subjects: Aboriginal Australians - Literary portrayal, Convict literature, Convicts.

Cite as: Healy, J. J.. ‘The Convict and the Aborigine: The Quest for Freedom in Ralph Rashleigh.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, 1968, doi: 10.20314/als.1acd69639b.