The Lieutenant


Kate Grenville

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The Lieutenant Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Kate Grenville

Grenville's father was a Sydney barrister and judge, and her mother was a pharmacist. Grenville completed her BA at the University of Sydney and then began working in the film industry editing documentaries. She lived briefly in Europe, where she wrote and supplemented her income by editing films. Grenville then attended the University of Colorado Boulder to complete her MA in Creative Writing. After returning to Sydney, Grenville wrote her first short story collection, Bearded Ladies. Grenville became most famous for her 2008 novel The Secret River, as Aboriginal and white Australians alike questioned if she had the right to write about the colonization of Australia like she did in the novel. Regardless, the novel is now widely read in high schools and colleges throughout Australia. Grenville currently lives in Sydney with her husband.
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Historical Context of The Lieutenant

The basics of the story told in The Lieutenant are factual. Lieutenant Daniel Rooke is based on Lieutenant William Dawes, a young man who in 1787 accompanied the English First Fleet to New South Wales as their astronomer. Patyegarang, the young girl on whom the character of Tagaran is based, was anywhere between twelve and fifteen years old when she met Dawes. Accounts of the nature of their relationship differ. While some believe they were lovers, others, like Grenville, believe that their relationship was purely platonic. After the gamekeeper, John MacIntyre, was speared, Dawes initially refused Governor Arthur Phillip's command to participate in the punitive expedition, which was tasked with decapitating six Aboriginal Australians and bringing back their heads. Although Dawes finally agreed to participate, he afterward said publically that he regretted his involvement. He wished to stay in New South Wales, but Governor Phillip insisted that Dawes could only stay if he apologized for his statement about the punitive expedition, as well as one other offense. Dawes refused to apologize and returned to England. He served briefly as the governor of Sierra Leone, though his strong religious beliefs kept him from being an effective or well-liked governor. In 1813, he moved to Antigua in the Caribbean to work against the slave trade, and primarily opened schools for the children of slaves. Dawes died there in 1836. Sometime before 1800, Dawes gave his notebooks to the linguist William Marsden, who later left the entirety of his library to King's College London. The notebooks were transferred to the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1916, but weren't recognized as being particularly important until the 1970s. The originals are still at the school of Oriental and African Studies.

Other Books Related to The Lieutenant

The Lieutenant is the second book of Kate Grenville's Colonial Trilogy. The Secret River, which precedes The Lieutenant, takes place about twenty years after Rooke's time in New South Wales and follows the story of an ex-convict attempting to settle the Hawkesbury River and figure out how to interact with Aboriginal Australians. The third book in the trilogy is Sarah Thornhill, and it's somewhat of a sequel to The Secret River. It follows the titular protagonist as she learns about her family's dark and violent past and its relationship with Aboriginal people. Jane Rogers's 1998 novel Promised Lands uses similar source material, as it's partly about William Dawes (the character on whom Rooke is based). Many novels explore how individuals learn languages and create friendships as they do so, including Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. The Lieutenant mentions that Rooke read Captain Cook's journals from his voyage to New South Wales, and complete scans of those journals (as well as of William Dawes's journals) are available in full online.
Key Facts about The Lieutenant
  • Full Title: The Lieutenant
  • When Written: 2005-2008
  • Where Written: Sydney, Australia
  • When Published: 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: Portsmouth, England and New South Wales, Australia, 1767-1790; Antigua, 1836
  • Climax: Rooke abandons the punitive expedition
  • Antagonist: British colonialism, the system of slavery, and the racist views that fuel those systems
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for The Lieutenant

Success! The First Fleet is considered one of the greatest and most successful sea voyages to date. All eleven ships in the fleet completed the 15,000 mile journey to New South Wales in 252 days, and the death rate was just over three percent.

The Real Thing. William Dawes's notebooks are now available online for anyone to view as high quality images of the original notebook pages, with an accompanying transcription of the text. While conducting research for The Lieutenant, Grenville was allowed to handle the original notebooks in London.