The Lieutenant (novel)

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The Lieutenant
The Lieutenant (novel).jpg
AuthorKate Grenville
Published2008 (The Text Publishing Company
Grove Press
Media typePrint
Pages307 (Grove paperback edition)
ISBN978-0-8021-4503-1 (Grove)
Preceded byThe Secret River 
Followed bySarah Thornhill 

The Lieutenant is a historical novel by Kate Grenville, published in 2008. The novel loosely follows historical facts based on the experiences of William Dawes, an officer of the Royal Marines who was on the 1788 First Fleet from England to the New South Wales colony. His position was astronomer, though he took an opportunity to observe and record the language of the Australian Aboriginal people (Eora) of the immediate area. It is implied that the events of the book connect to Grenville's other novel, The Secret River.


Daniel Rooke (loosely based on Dawes) is a self-possessed boy whose parents seek to better his prospects in life by having him brought to the attention of important people and thus given opportunities others of his station in life may not have had. Among them is the Astronomer Royal. He is a mathematical prodigy but must keep this to himself or else be victimized by adults and fellow students.

After graduating from the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, he takes up a commission in the Royal Marines. During the American Revolutionary War, he is almost killed by a falling spar, and takes several years to recover.

Just before the First Fleet sails for what is to be the penal colony of New South Wales, he is invited by the Astronomer Royal to take instruments and observe the passage of a predicted comet. He accepts, and is also in the company of another officer (Silk) who he had known during the war.

As the astronomer, Rooke is given considerable freedom and establishes an observatory on a headland outside the colony's camp, and remains there in a hut except when required to be at the camp or on routine, weekly meals to remain in contact with other officers.

Rooke establishes contact with the local Aboriginal people, and a young girl in particular who teaches him words while also learning English. Rooke keeps several books with grammar and meanings of words. Silk finds the books, and wants them to become part of his reports on the colony to a publisher in London.

A member of the colony is speared by aboriginals after what may have been an attempt to kill aborigines. The Governor of New South Wales orders Silk to lead a party to take six aboriginals. Rooke is ordered to accompany the party however he disagrees with the decision, and shares the intent of the party to the girl to warn the aborigines.

On the first night of the expedition, after Rooke found out their true intent was to behead six aboriginals, he left the party in horror. Upon arriving back, he makes it clear to the governor how wrong his orders were and as a consequence for refusing to follow them he is sent back to England for a trial.

In England Rooke is spared and for the rest of his life he spends it in Antigua to he frees slaves.

Publication history[edit]

2008, Australia, The Text Publishing Company ISBN, hardback

Explanation of the novel's title[edit]

The main character is a lieutenant in the Royal Marines at the time of the majority of the novel.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

The Lieutenant was very favourably received.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • shortlisted:[1]
    • NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
    • Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards
    • WA Premier’s Awards, 2008


External links[edit]