The Alexander, a transport ship for convicts has reached New South Wales, Australia after a travelling across the world for majority of the year. William Thornhill, an Englishman convicted to sentence his ‘natural life in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and six’ [pg 3] will serve as a labourer.
During his first night in New South Wales, where their homes are ‘only a flap of bark, a screen of sticks and mud,’ Thornhill digested the new land with its ‘rich dank smells…restless water…no Pole star’; an environment vastly differentiated from England. The unfamiliar situation is overwhelming as ‘he had not cried, not for thirty years….but now his throat was thickening.’ In his despair, Thornhill describes how being sentenced to New South Wales could potentially be worse than dying itself.
Initially, Thornhill believed his tears are clouding his vision since the ‘darkness moved in front of him’ [pg 5]. However, he then realised that a human, ‘as black as the air itself’ stood before him. The unusual appearance of this human struck Thornhill since ‘his skin swallowed the light…[and] eyes were set so deeply into the skull.’ Although clothed, Thornhill ironically felt ‘skinless’ against the other who was completely naked and holding a spear. Thornhill repeatedly demanded that the man ‘be off’, for fear of his family and himself being attacked. Despite his shouting, this only impelled the man to move closer to the point where they almost touched. The ‘black man’ [pg 6] reproduced ‘be off’ in Thornhill’s exact tone. While Thornhill’s fear of this strange human is prominent, he grappled the strength to exert a bold, intrepid veneer, as ‘he was not about to surrender to any naked black man’. When he glanced back to his wife and children however, the man promptly disappeared, leaving only the darkness behind. Thornhill returned to his hut where he laid back down to rest yet ‘every muscle was tensed…the cold moment of finding that unforgiving thing in his flesh.’
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