Secret River Summary and Coflicts
The Alexander, a transport ship for convicts has reach New South Wales, Australia after travelling across the world for almost a year - Secret River Summary and Coflicts introduction. William Thornhill, an Englishman convict is sentence to serve there as a labourer. During his first night in New South Wales, Thornhill digested the new land with ‘its rich dank smell… restless water… no Pole star’; a place that is very different from England. In his despair, Thornhill describes how being sentence to New South Wales could potentially be worse than dying itself. Thornhill believes his tears are clouding his vision.
However, he then realised that a human, ‘as black as the air itself’ stood before him. The unusual appearance of his human struck Thornhill. Although clothed, Thornhill 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. His shouting only impelled the man to move closer to him where they almost touched. The ‘black man’ reproduced ‘be off’ in Thornhill’s exact tone. Thornhill glanced back to his wife and children, however, the man disappeared, leaving only the darkness behind.
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He returned to his hut where he laid back down to rest. Environmental Conflict Thornhill spent his lifetime in England, the confrontation of a new environment evokes a powerful sense of unfamiliarity. The unknown land presents him an intrapersonal conflict, one of which is the difference between England and Australian stars. Cultural Conflict The conflict between two cultures is shown through the initial encounter between Thornhill and an Indigenous Australian. Without any conversation, the tension between the two is clear, in each other’s presence.
Thornhill notes the Aboriginal tattoos as a scars since he is unaware of their culture. Even before this man, Thornhill is still infused with a sense of nakedness because of his unfamiliarity. Part One: London As a child growing up in poverty, William Thornhill, one of the 10 members of the Thornhill family, lived in an overcrowded low-browed home. The Thornhill’s did not regularly attended church unlike many other families. Thornhill regarded the church as a place with ‘no kindly shadows anywhere’ due to the ‘merciless light’, streaming in from windows. Thornhill knew only of a life of constant starvation.
In order to survive, stealing was a part of life for the Thornhill’s. On rare occasions when food was present, he would always fight his brothers for a piece of bread. He often resulted to eating bedbugs during the night to relieve the pain in his stomach. When his parents died from health illnesses, Thornhill, being the oldest, was left to care for his siblings. He was shifting between available jobs. Unfortunately, these jobs never saved the Thornhill’s from starvation. It was Mr Middleton, Sal’s father who offered Thornhill to be his apprentice on the river that changed his course in life.
The apprenticeship was to be seven years long. Thornhill secretly planned to marry Sal at the end of the apprenticeship and inherit the business because he was son Mr Middleton never had. At the end of his apprenticeship and in spirit of his plans, he and Sal married. Since William was now a freeman of the river, Mr Middleton offered Thornhill his second-best wherry as a wedding gift. The couple soon welcomed a baby boy also named William Thornhill, but nicknamed Willie. For once, Thornhill experienced great satisfaction and went smiling about nothing.
During the winter of Willie’s second birthday, things turned for the worst. Both Mr and Mrs Middleton died within a week of one another. With the river covered with ice, William had no work to provide his family income. The moved to smaller house they could afford. Sal began to steal foods from stalls. Thornhill had to work for Mr Lucas to pay their debt. After three years of working, he had reverted to his old ways, stealing. One night, William attempted to steal Brazil wood worth 50 pounds; Lucas caught Thornhill during the incriminating act. The punishment for larceny was severe during that time.
His sentence was to be ‘hanged by the neck until you are dead. ’ While he accepted his fate, that there was nothing ahead but death, Sal never ceased to give up. They sent a letter to Captain Watson, which then spawned other letters until reaching Lord Hawkesbury who would decide whether or not William’s plea would call for a reprieve. William had been granted pardon from his death on the condition that he is transported to New South Wales along with his family. Lifestyle Conflict Thornhill’s life was harsh growing up. His love for Sal was an escape from his destitution.
He is proud and grateful that ‘another life would be waiting for him’ when he completed the apprenticeship and fulfilled his dreams. Everything in his life fell into place. He married Sal, was given a wherry and lived their own place as newly-weds. However, their comfortable life was stripped when Sal’s parents died. Thornhill’s life went back to poverty but this time with Sal. Sydney Thornhill was destined for Sydney Cove. The environment was visibly contrasted from England. In Australia, the sun was harsh and powerful unlike any sun he had ever felt.
After a solitary nine months apart from his family during the voyage, Thornhill was finally reunited with his family. Willie, now a five year old, failed to recognise his father. During their time apart, Sal gave birth to another child, named Richard. Sal was assigned as Thornhill’s master, in a penal system where the convicts work as slaves. The ticket of leave was a pardon for slaves when they demonstrated long-term good behaviour. Through this model, the British colony would successfully develop under people’s free will. Thornhill soon found employment ‘to convey… casks from ships to bay’ with Mr King, who was a ‘cheerful sort of a man.
’ Thornhill maintain his stealing habits in the night. The Thornhill’s opened a grog-shop that Sal named ‘Sign of the Pickle Herring. ’ Unlike the settlers, the natives had given no sign that they owned the area, but on occasion men were speared. Thornhill secretly appreciated working on the water, since on land, ‘he was always within the range of spear. ’ After a year under Sal’s service, Thornhill was granted the Ticket of leave. Three years after the Thornhills had settled into their new home, Mr King hired a new clerk who was more fastidious and soon began to look sideways at Thornhill.
Thornhill decided it was the best to leave Mr King. Thomas found an old friend, Thomas Blackwood from Thames. Blackwood had received his pardon and was making a legitimate living with a new boat ‘Queen. ’ It was a common knowledge that the Hawkesbury River, as Blackwood named, was the place where people ‘might get rich there, and for once, a lighterman had a better chance at riches than gentry. ’ He began to work for Blackwood as a replacement job. While with Blackwood, Thornhill met Smasher Sullivan. At Smasher’s residence, Thornhill was shocked to see a dead black man hung like a scarecrow.
With the new dream of owning land, he tried to convince Sal of their potential futures in Australia. Sal was reluctant, however, intent of returning home in England. For the first time they disagree for something important. Yet Thornhill continued to preserve his dream. As the years passed, his family grew larger, with Willie, Dick, baby Johnny and another on its way. Thornhill established himself as a waterman on the Hawkesbury with his vessel, Hope. Fearing that another settler would take his desired land if he failed to act soon, he attempted to persuade Sal once again.
Sal finally gave in and agreed but as a compromise, they agreed that they would only remain for another 5 years, after which they could return to England. Interpersonal Conflict Sal and Thornhill Although Thornhill eventually began to find a passion towards possessing land, Sal continued to experience conflict with the environment. Her intention to return to England when the family had enough money was motivation for her to begin their liquor store. Knowing that she would return home someday was a comforting thought that she cherished. Sal disagreed to the idea of Thornhill’s point.
Later on, Sal only agreed to Thornhill’s pleas as ‘long as it ain’t for the term of my natural life. ’ Blackwood and Smasher Their values were completely different. Smasher had no respect for the native since he brutally dismantles their bodies without regret, ‘they were hands cut off at the wrist. The skin was black against the white of the bone. ’ Blackwood shows more compassion and appreciation towards the natives, ‘ain’t nothing in this world just for taking…a man got to pay a fair price for taking… Matter of give a little, take a little.
’ This is the difference between their perspectives. A Clearing in the Forest In 1983, the Thornhill family move to Thornhill’s Point. In their first day, Willie and Thornhill began to plant a cornfield in their territory. When they realised that the soil had been already dug, Thornhill’s dream collapsed, believing that someone else had already taken the land. He noticed that the dirt didn’t seem like dug by a man but maybe some wild hogs. However, Thornhill and Willie silently acknowledged that it very might well have been a native’s work. Later that day, two natives were watching Thornhill.
Although there was a language barrier, it was clear that the Thornhill’s were unwelcomed on their land. Thornhill offered them pork as a piece offering but the natives throw the food in disgust. Thornhill slapped one of the men but the consequential sound of spears lifted in the forest frightened the family. Despite the native’s warning, Thornhill’s build a home for themselves. Thornhill noticed that Sal was suffering from loneliness. For Sal’s sake, he invited other neighbours to visit. Their conversation revolved around the natives, with the visitors sharing their personal encounters. Smasher began
to reprimand the natives for thieving, yet Blackwood, who had just arrived, pointed out the hypocrisy of Smasher who had `ain’t never done no thieving… Oh, my very word no. ’ The mood of the crowd changed from sociable to solemn. Knowing that he had a large sum to pay off his vessel, Hope, Thornhill applied for convict servants to be assigned to him. When the new fleet of convicts arrived, Thornhill chose Ned and Dan; the latter was pleased to see Thornhill since they had worked together back in England. However, Thornhill was uninterested reuniting his friendship with Dan as he wished to distinguish himself from the convicts.
As a result, he blankly rebuked Dan to call him, Mr Thornhill, thus respecting his new employer. Everyday Sal would mark the same tree, counting the days until they could return to England, as Thornhill promised. Soon after, Sal fell ill. No doctor would come and inspect her regardless of Thornhill’s ability to pay because she was ‘only the wife of an emancipist. ’ Only their neighbour, Mrs Herring, came to care for her. Sal, who did not appear to fear death, informed Thornhill to face her towards England if she were to die. Fortunately, after many visitors and remedies, Sal recovered.
Thornhill was grateful but disappointed to know that her first thoughts were whether or not the marks on the tree had been kept up to date. A Hundred Acres After almost a year of settling in, stories of the natives’ violence continued. Thornhill back from Sydney, he saw trouble had reached his home when Willie ran ‘down towards him from the hut, his hair wild, his face twisted with yelling. ’ Sal explained that the natives had come the day before, but no one was harmed. Yet he was determined to settle the feud and went towards the smoke where the natives isolated themselves from the foreigners.
He saw two naked women by the fire and a group of men were watching him. He asserted that ‘this is mine now. Thornhill’s place. ’ One of the natives illustrated through his body language that Thornhill was an intruder on their land. Thornhill understood that both sides would be unfaltering. Although the native’s men never came close to Thornhill and his men, the women befriended Sal. Sal shared Thornhill that Mrs Herring had advised that they should anticipate frequent visits from the natives. Thornhill went to Blackwood’s place. Blackwood was in a loving relationship with a native, they had a son together.
Blackwood explained that ‘I find them quiet and peaceable folk. ’ Thornhill only shared his encounter with Sal, who came to the conclusion that they were on their own in figuring out how to deal with the natives. Compared with natives, the Thornhills were unfamiliar in hunting, resulting to a routine meal of dry pork. One day out of desperation, Thornhill presented the natives with a bag of flour in exchange for some kangaroo. The natives offered that kangaroo’s foot for the flour. Thornhill’s trade had success in the six months he had resided at Thornhill’s Point.
He had regular customers like Smasher Sullivan. Smasher shared an oyster with Thornhill. A native intruded on their privacy and caught their attention by opening an oyster ‘with a twist of his thumbnail. ’ Seeing the man’s mockery of the men, who found it considerably hard to open an oyster, Smasher whipped that native with his belt. The native left without a word. Smasher only stated that ‘they’ll get you one fine day’ knowing that Thornhill and Blackwood were ‘cosying up to them bastards. ’ Conflict with the land Although the settled in Australia for a few years, they had not truly adapted to the land.
With an absence of hunting skills, they resulted to consuming dry pork each night for dinner. The settlers had been accustomed to a civilised society. As a result they possessed a lack of knowledge about the natural world. Drawing a Line Things had changed in Thornhill’s Point. More natives were visible compared when they first moved to the area. Thornhill bought a gun in fear of any potential encounters with the natives. Knowing that one gun was not enough to protect his family, he bought three more guns for Dan, Ned and Willie.
They practised defending themselves with spear. Even Dick, who was not yet 8 years old, could throw the spear a great distance. As each day passed, Thornhill found comfort in seeing how a mere fence could protect a home inside. After work one day, Thornhill found Smasher, Sagitty and his neighbour George Twish, Loveday, Mrs Herring and Blackwood with Sal in their home. The group shared the story of Spider, who had his corn field stripped bare by the natives. Other settlers had also been robbed. Smasher abusive, ‘only thing them savages is good for is manuring the ground.
’ As Smasher intended, this provoked Blackwood, ‘one of them blacks is worth ten of a little brainless maggot like you. ’ Once again, the group at Thornhill’s hut had converged. This time, Smasher showed the others a pair of black ears. Another violence disagreement between Smasher and Blackwood occurred. Later that night, Sal proposed that they move to Wilberfoce, a town where ‘blacks don’t come. ’ Thornhill told her that if the natives were to hurt them, they would have done so already. In his own thoughts, he wondered ‘how could he bear to go on passing in the boat and see some other man (on his land)?
It would feel like giving up a child. ’ Conflict between natives and settlers There had been many failed attempts between both parties to assert that the land was theirs, desperation and fear lead to a change of atmosphere. The natives formed groups in numbers that multiplied; it could be assumed that they were preparing for some great events. The settlers prepared themselves to defend their homes. Thornhill’s fear leads him to use spears as protection, even with four guns at hand. The Secret River After the attack on Spider’s home, the family had abandoned the area returned to Sydney.
During a trip past Spider’s old home, Thornhill visited the area. He heard a groan of a boy who was choking on his vomit. Thornhill however stated that ‘ain’t nothing I can do for you, lad. ’ Walking away from the bodies, ‘he knew that he would not tell anyone what he had seen. ’ When he arrived home, the natives were stealing their corn. Even with his presence, the native ignored him, continuing to break off cobs. He pointed the gun and the natives began to run back into the forest. Thornhill fired a shot. Then, Dan dragged across a native boy who struggled against Dan’s grip.
Dan urged Thornhill to use the native boy as bait so they could lure the natives and kill them. Seeing that the boy may be the brother of the one at Darkey Creek, Thornhill refused and let the boy go. The next day, the assessed damage was six months of hard work. Saggity’s place was burning down. At Saggity’s, Thornhill, Dan and Ned quickly realised that something was terribly wrong. They found Saggity’s dog whose throat has been slit. Saggity’s home had been completely burnt. They found Saggity, a spear had pierced through him in a way that his fate was already determined.
Nevertheless, they rushed him onto the boat to take him to hospital. Saggity died soon after. A crowd of settlers had gathered at Maid of the River. Words had spread quickly, and Smasher insisted that the settlers sorted out the natives once and for all that very night. While everyone agreed, they needed Hope to get to that natives’ ground. Even all his friends were relying to Thornhill to provide the vessel, he hesitated. Dan whispered that Sal would only stay at Thornhill’s Point if the natives disappeared. Thornhill agreed. That night, the men approached the native’s camp, hidden by the forest.
When the first native was spotted, the first shot was taken. Everyone simultaneously began to shoot as more natives were identified. The natives retaliated using their spears as weapons. Blackwood aimed his own gun at Smasher, demanding that Smasher ‘back away. ’ Smasher instead propelled Blackwood with his whip. A spear struck Smasher in his chest. Smasher refused help from the others throughout his painful death. Cultural Conflict The fact that the natives had lived on the land, intruders had little to no right to eliminate the natives. Thornhill’s Place
Although ten years has passed since the massacre, much of the natural environment around Hawkesbury River remained the same. Since there was ‘no more trouble from the blacks’, new settlers began to develop along the river, populating the bank. With many faces on the river, only Mrs Herring from the old group remained. During the past decade, Thornhill became the wealthiest man in the area. He had changed the river’s name from Darkey Creek to Thornhill’s Creek. He also completely owned Hope and a new vessel, Sarah. Thornhill and Sal were commonly known as the ‘king’ and ‘queen’ of the river.
Sal stopped making marks on the tree, realising Home was only a distant idea, something that neither she nor Thornhill would return to. Instead, she made Australia her home, with the help of Thornhill who showered her with furniture, clothes and, a girl to cook and clean. Thought the massacre scared off majority of the blacks, Long Jack still remained. Smasher’s shot had left him disabled. Overcome with guilt for the pain they inflicted upon the natives, Sal attempted to shelter Long Jack by providing him food, utensils and clothes. However Long Jack refused to accept Sal’s offerings.
Instead he declared the land as ‘his place. ’ At each sunset, Thornhill would sit on a wooden bench and observe the environment around him. He felt that although white settlement had increased dramatically, the natives had retained their connection with the land, a place where ‘in the intricate landscape that defeated any white man. ’ Each night, he ‘sat on, watching, into the dark’ in a desperate search to find some ‘measure of peace. ’ Inner Conflict Despite all his success, Thornhill began to feel a sense of unforgiving guild for his treatment on the natives.
Thornhill’s unresolved conflict with the natives is conveyed through his encounter with Long Jack. He offers Jack for help in hope of reconciliation between the two. However Jack ‘never put on the britches or the jacket…the clothes lay decaying into the dirt. ’ The exaggeration of time interpreted through the words ‘never’ and ‘decaying’ forebodes that the time for reconciliation has yet to come for Thornhill. Cultural Conflict The divide between settlers and natives was prominent and after the massacre, only drew them further apart. The conflict between the two is still present and unresolved.