Scarcely out of print since the early 1870s, For the Term of His Natural Life has provided successive generations with a vivid account of a brutal phase of colonial life. The main focus of this great convict vel is the complex interaction between those in power and those who suffer, made meaningful because of its hero's struggle against his wrongful imprisonment. Elements of romance, incidents of family life and passages of scenic description both relieve and give emphasis to the tragedy that forms its heart.
Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke was born in London on April 24th 1846. His mother died when he was still an infant. His father, William H. Clarke, a barrister and literary man of retired and eccentric habits, took very little interest in his upbringing, with the result that the boy grew up in the uncongenial society of older men who formed the circle of his father's friends - a circle, as he put it later, 'in which virtuous women were conspicuous by their absence.' As was inevitable, this lack of parental guidance and general emotional neglect produced an unstable and disharmonious temperament. Having received a good education (at Chomley School, Highgate), and having been led to expect an economically secure upper-class life, Marcus Clarke found himself on his father's sudden death in 1863, alone in the world and without resources. He emigrated to Australia, where his uncle, James Langton Clarke, a county court judge, secured for him a clerkship at the Bank of Australasia in Melbourne. Being temperamentally quite unfit for an office career, he left after a few months to take up sheep-farming near Glenorchy on the Wimmera river, a hundred miles inland. Here he made the acquaintance of Bush tribes and soon began to send literary sketches to the Australian Magazine under the pen-name of 'Mark Scrivener.' In 1867 a Dr. Lewins whom he had met at the sheep-statio