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Scandal in the Colonies.

A number of Australian writers have taken up the 'scandals' of Sydney Town in the past but here we are given some of them in contrast with some even more scandalous tales of the sister colony of Cape Town.

Cape Town was an integral part of our history since the time of the First Fleet which called there for supplies on their way to Botany Bay in 1788. It continued to play a part in the development of New South Wales throughout the nineteenth century partly because it was on the sea route to Sydney until the Suez canal changed all that. What this book demonstrates is that there were more similarities and connections of a different character. It starts off with 'Dubious Reputations'.

The interesting aspect of this book is that it is not simply a retelling of various scandals. It intertwines them within the growth of various social end economic developments in both colonies. Tales of sex and seduction as well as marriage become a focus for comment on class and economic advantage. Sometimes this is lost in the detail of the actual cases like that of the young Miss Rule and her actions for breech of promise. It this case there arises the perennial question of the reputation of the young woman.

The book also demonstrates the way in which it was possible to create a new persona for yourself in the new British colonies. This is taken in conjunction with the colonial's desire to mix with the nobility, which is a characteristic which continues to the present day. One of the stories of interest, from the Australian point of view, is about an ex-convict who passes himself off as Viscount Lascelles the eldest son of the Earl of Harewood. He managed to live the 'life of a Lord' with a number of colonial squatters and bought horses with a cheque made out in the Viscount's name. He even tried to draw on money from England. When he was finally arrested he maintained his adopted title and demanded to be tried by his 'peers'. The colonial judge was not taken in and he was tried for forgery. He went back to Van Diemen's Land as a convict again. It was a clever attempt because the real Viscount had been disowned by his father for marrying a 'fast' woman.

These tales interesting in themselves have been used by Kirsten McKenzie to underline her argument about the shaping of colonial society. A new society was wide open for men and women to adopt any new role they wished. Many a convict adopted another name and a new character and managed to hide his or her past. The book also speaks of the important desire and claim for status in the colony

Scandals in the Colonies is entertaining reading as well as containing thoughts and suggestions about the beginnings of the Australian character.

McKenzie, Kirsten Scandal in the colonies. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 2004
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Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Words:494
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