Our Country’s Good


Timberlake Wertenbaker

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Our Country’s Good: Act One, Scene One Summary & Analysis

On a convict ship bound for Australia in 1787, Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark counts softly and dispiritedly as a prisoner named Robert Sideway receives fifty lashes. When Sideway is let go, he falls into a heap on the deck, and a fellow convict named John Wisehammer delivers a brief monologue about the loneliness and fright of the grueling passage, talking about how he and the other criminals have been “spewed” from England and “bound to the dark edge of the earth.” As he speaks in this poetic manner, he points out that the only way to comfort oneself is by taking pleasure in sex. “Take me,” he says, addressing an imagined woman and telling her that they can “remember England together.”
Timberlake Wertenbaker establishes several of Our Country’s Good’s main interests in this scene. As convicts like Sideway and Wisehammer are transported from England to a penal colony in Australia, they find themselves suffering from brutal physical punishments and a sense of hopelessness, since they’re leaving behind everything they know. Because the prisons in England became overcrowded after the American Revolution and during the Industrial Revolution, criminals were transported to British colonies in Australia, where they were forced to serve time with little hope of ever returning. Faced with this bleak future, then, the convicts had limited sources of joy or pleasure, which is why Wisehammer speaks in this scene about sex, framing it as one of the only things the criminals can use to distract themselves from harsh punishment and isolation.
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon