A ripping yarn about convict life in early Australian history and in particular Rufus Dawes, an innocent man convicted of murder. The book conveys the inhumane treatment of convicts and graphically describes the conditions of the convicts. The novel was based on research by the author as well as a visit to a penal settlement in Tasmania.
The plot is based on the escape of Alexander Pearce, who ate his companions during two different escape attempts from the Macquarie Harbour Penal Settlement on the West Coast, Tasmania.
The book is a series of semi-fictionalised accounts of events during the era, along with the tragic story of its hero. Most of the incidents and many of the individual characters are easily identifiable from historical sources including Marcus Clarke's own non-fiction work Old Tales of a Young Country.
Typical of Victorian-era convict novels, Rufus Dawes, is a wrongfully convicted gentleman. Under the prevailing morality of the time, a murderer would have been inappropriate for a hero in popular fiction.
Marcus Clarke’s ‘For the Term of His Natural Life’, was published as a novel in 1874 and remains the best-known novelisation of convict life in early Australian history. The fictional story follows the life Rufus Dawes, a young man wrongly transported for murder.