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The Secret River (Thornhill Family #1)

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  12,958 Ratings  ·  1,346 Reviews
In 1806 William Thornhill is transported for life from the slums of London to New South Wales. His arrival with wife Sal and their children at first feels like a death sentence. But Thornhill discovers the colony can turn a person into a free man and 80 years later he sales up the Hawkesbury and claims his own patch of ground.

However, the moment he sets foot on this land h
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Paperback, 334 pages
Published September 28th 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (first published 2005)
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George Rife Yes Secret River is #1. The other 2 are (#2)The Lieutenant and (#3)Sara Thornhill. I found that out by clicking where it says series then- "Thornhill…moreYes Secret River is #1. The other 2 are (#2)The Lieutenant and (#3)Sara Thornhill. I found that out by clicking where it says series then- "Thornhill Family #1" in very small type in the description.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Kim

I am an Australian of Anglo-Celtic and Northern European background, meaning that my ancestry is English, Cornish, Irish, German and Danish, with a bit of Scottish thrown in for good measure. I was born in Sydney, where I still live. More than five generations of my ancestors on both sides were born in Australia. This takes my roots in the country back to the early 19th century, which in white Australian terms is a long time. One of my ancestors was a convict transported from Ireland because he
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Rod
Mar 04, 2011 Rod rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, this book is admirably researched and yes, the basic premise is interesting. But no, it is not particularly absorbing and no, it is not well written. I have a particular bias against writers that spend an inordinate amount of time on painstaking (read painful) descriptions of setting. The novel is 334 pages long - about 80 per cent of that is taken up with environmental minutiae (or at least it felt like it). Pages and pages of it - then perhaps a couple of lines of dialogue, hidden away in ...more
Trish
For years I’d wanted to have a go at this, and when Grenville was again nominated for an Australian Prime Minister’s Award for the third book in the trilogy (Sarah Thornhill) of which this novel is the first, I finally decided to begin at the beginning. This novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and won numerous other awards when it came out, for good reason. It is old-time storytelling, whose characters who begin life poor and grubby on the streets of London early in the ninete ...more
Sharon
From a young age William Thornhill knew what it was like to live rough and go with out and to feel hungry all the time. Living with his family in the slums of London along the Thames River he is forced to steal as a means of survival. He is only thirteen when his parents die which is when things start looking increasingly grim. William gets friendly with one of his sisters friends, Sarah (Sal) Middleton who is an only child. She may not have been the prettiest girl, but William thinks things loo ...more
Peter
The Secret River explores human instinct on a level that is visceral, honest... and depressing.

Or perhaps it is just Western instinct, rather than human instinct--and that is even more depressing.

The novel tracks a family of Brits at the turn of the 19th century as the family is deported to Australia for crimes committed by William Thornhill, husband and father, and as it engages the challenges of the wilderness. At its core, The Secret River is the story of the family's interactions with the a
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☼♄Jülie 
I was given the box set of these three books for Christmas a few years back and though I liked the writing very much...they are not very big books ...I thought there was room for a bit more in-depth story about the Thornhills as a family and as individuals. I felt they were ultimately portrayed in a more villainous light than they actually appeared to be. Given the circumstances I believe it would have been an equally frightening experience for all concerned and that they (the Thornhills and th ...more
Carolyn
This book already feels like such a classic to me even though it was published only 11 years ago. I have already seen the play and TV series based on it and now finally in reading the book, the story seems an even more powerful one of the cultural clash that happened all over Australia with the coming of the white man to this ancient continent and culture.

Kate Grenville is a very accomplished author and the tells this story of the ignorance and arrogance of the colonialists in invading the land
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G.G.
There is much that is good about Kate Grenville’s novel, but what impressed me most is her ability to get so deeply inside a character that she can show what the world looks like through his eyes. (Forgive the “he”: Grenville’s central character in this novel is a man.) Here is William Thornhill, Thames River lighterman:
After a time the mud-choked water and the ships it carried, thick on its back like fleas on a dog, became nothing more than a big room of which every corner was known. He came t
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RitaSkeeter
Jun 21, 2015 RitaSkeeter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
This is one of those books I've meant to read for a long time, but never felt a strong urge until I saw the recent mini-series on TV. Sadly for me, it must have created an urge for just about everyone else to read the book as well so I had a couple of months waiting impatiently for a library copy.

I can't imagine how difficult life was for my early ancestors. Transported to new colony that very little was known about, and finding things all upside down. The seasons were different, the wildlif
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Judi/Judith Riddle
There is no way to sugar-coat the shocking adventures of this novel. The hardship and horror of the Australian released prisoners trying to make a life for themselves and the Aborigines who want to keep their land will take your breath away. It is moving, emotional and also a distressful look at a slice of Australian history.

In late 1700s England, William Thornhill’s family slowly slide into a bleak life of destitution causing him to steal food to keep his family from starving. He is caught and
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Teddy
Aug 11, 2007 Teddy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2005
It was my pleasure to review this excellent book for Harper Collins Canada. Here's what I said:

The Secret River by Kate Grenville is historical fiction at it’s finest. It starts off as a quiet pondering story of the toils in poverty-stricken 19th century England where most must resort to stealing to survive. Here Grenville focused on her central character, William Thornhill who got caught thieving to feed his family. He was sentenced to death, however that was commuted to life in New South Wales
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Brenda
When William Thornhill was a child in the slums of London, his family was incredibly poor…stealing just to survive. His sister Lizzie’s friend lived in Swan Lane, and she became like a sister to William. Sal Middleton became central in William’s life, and when his parents died, first his Mum, then his Dad soon afterwards, and left him and his siblings orphaned, he was able to spend time with Sal, in the warmth of her home, within the love of her parents.

Mr Middleton took William on as an apprent
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Cherie
What a contrast in stories from my last read!

This book was a great story from the first moment to the last. I listened to this book via Blackstone Audio, narrated by Simon Vance.

The story begins early in 1800 and follows the life of Will Thornton from London to Sydney, Australia. He and his family are sent to live there. He goes because he was caught stealing. His wife and baby went because they had no where else to go and no one to support them.

It is a very complete story with great characte
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Phrynne
Having read a lot of five star reviews for this book I was hoping for something great but for me it turned out just ordinary. I really feel I have read this same kind of story so many times and some of them were better told than this one. It was a fairly short book and the story moved along well. Kate Grenville is like Bryce Courtney in that she seems to revel in the dirt and grime of that age and she was very into describing the atrocities committed between the settlers and the indigenous peopl ...more
Rusalka
Dec 04, 2012 Rusalka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rusalka by: Top Aussie Books Before You Die
This book kicked me. I was sitting there thinking about the human condition, and why we are such scared arseholes, and a baby chicken jumps up next to me, snuggles down and wraps her head around into my lap. Some times we aren't I guess. Some times chickens, who are a bit naive, love you to bits. So I think this book should be sold/lent/issued with a chicken. So you have something fluffy to love you while you read it.

That being said, the book was great. It was a book that tells you the story of
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Ron Charles
Dec 26, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most remarkable quality of Kate Grenville's new novel is the way it conveys the enormous tragedy of Australia's founding through the moral compromises of a single ordinary man. "The Secret River" reminds us that national history may be recorded as a succession of larger-than-life leaders and battles, but in fact a country arises from the accretion of personal dreams, private sacrifices and, often, hidden acts of cruelty.

The special power of this novel took me off guard because several years
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Renita D'Silva
Apr 10, 2017 Renita D'Silva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful. Haunting. A book that makes you think and question. Loved it.
Kathryn
This was a very interesting read. I have, naturally, heard stories of violence between the early settlers from Britain and the the native Aboriginal people and deplored it from both sides, but after reading this, I can certainly see how it came about. There were such different attitudes between the British and the Aboriginal people - from one group who work hard for possessions that appear to offer security and comfort to another group who tread gently on the earth, leaving little, if any, footp ...more
Ana Ovejero
Feb 16, 2016 Ana Ovejero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is a narration of immigration, building your HOME in another place, leaving behind life to travel to the unknown. This is what happens to the Thornills.

William Thornill was born in one of the poorest places in England, seeing himself forced to steal in order to survive. Sal is his neighbour, who is truly his soulmate and who becomes his wife once he finishes his intership as a boatman with Sal's father. The river Thames is his life. However, he gets used to stealing parts of the shipm
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Judy
Nov 14, 2012 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating but sometimes disturbing story. This book deals with a young man in London who is condemned to death for stealing. His life is spared, and he is sent to New South Wales, the penal colony that England founded on the Australian continent. The first part of the book is about the hard life of a river man on the Thames. It's difficult to believe that people could endure such circumstances. Life is good for awhile, and Will Thornhill and his wife, Sal, look forward to a better life for t ...more
Janelle
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
PattyMacDotComma
Jun 07, 2014 PattyMacDotComma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers of Australian fiction, historical novels, Aboriginal history
More special than I expected. I have always liked Kate Grenville's writing, but this book struck a chord with me because I'm familiar with the Hawkesbury area where the Australian part of the story takes place.

It is also particularly apt because our Prime Minister just said today that "I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled, or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land." His "scarcely settled" comment seems to have be
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Kendra
Jan 31, 2013 Kendra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Thornhill is the poorest of the poor in early 1800's London. He manages to barely survive his childhood only to continue the struggle into adulthood. Eventually he is convicted of a crime and in lieu of hanging, he (and his wife and child) are sent to the penal colony of New South Wales (Australia). The book is supposed to be more about Thornhill's life in early Australia so I was a bit taken aback by how long it took the story to get there.

I'm having a difficult time with this review b
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Connie
Jun 29, 2011 Connie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This award winning novel by Kate Grenville tells the story of the settlement of the New South Wales colony which becomes Australia. William Thornhill, a boatman in London in 1806, gets convicted of robbery. He and his family are deported to New South Wales. The author writes wonderful descriptions of the colony, the new settlers and the native Aborigines, and the conflicts over the land. She has created characters that come so alive on the page that they are hard to leave at the end of the book.
Text Publishing
Exciting times! Only a few weeks until the adaptation of The Secret River hits your screens on Auntie ABC...

and, if you think being surprised by plot twists is overrated, we've released an accompanying book of spoilers. We even have a cover specially for it: textpublishing.com.au/books/the-secre...
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Beginning in 18th Century London, The Secret River tells the story of William Thornhill who becomes a waterman on the Thames and eventually in New South Wales. Kate Grenville has woven a story that should become a classic.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Australians have an interesting relationship with our colonial history: part pride, part shame, part love, part wince. Until fairly recently, we were taught little about "Australian history" (meaning, always, white colonial history, not Indigenous-Australian history), and what we were taught was mostly the myths. James Cook was a captain (he wasn't, not at the time) and a Great Man (he was okay, but no different from anyone else of his era in his attitude towards indigenous peoples), and that he ...more
Glorialaihuang
This book was like a good piece of toast - you appreciate it and enjoy it while you're consuming it, but you know that you're going to forget about it afterwards. It's not that it isn't a good story, or that the writing isn't capable - it's more that I was never fully engaged by either. The story follows an English man who is caught stealing and has his sentence commuted to exile in Australia in the 19th century. In Australia, the man and his family struggle with setting up a new life, finding t ...more
Elizabeth Ashworth
To say that I enjoyed this book would not, perhaps, be the most adequate description - but it was compelling enough to keep me reading into the early hours of the morning, although the subject matter was at times difficult.

The book records the experiences of William Thornhill, reprieved from death on the gallows for a petty crime in London, he and his wife and baby are transported to Australia where they struggle to make a life for themselves. They eventually take possession of a parcel of land
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Donna
This was historical fiction. I found some of this fascinating. In the early 1800's, England condemned criminals to death, (even for minor offenses). Then as a reprieve, they were granted life and shipped off to Sydney, Australia. And if they had a family that would then become a burden to England, they were shipped off too, but then given their husband as a slave to eek out some kind of living in the untamed area of Sydney. So, financially speaking, the government was off the hook.

I liked the c
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Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-known authors. She's published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works are the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, The Lieutenant and Lilian's Story (details about all Kate Grenville's books are elsewhere on this site). Her novels have won many awards both in Australia and the UK ...more
More about Kate Grenville...

Other Books in the Series

Thornhill Family (3 books)
  • The Lieutenant
  • Sarah Thornhill

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“How short a time a person had to be alive, he thought. How long to be dead.” 4 likes
“it crossed Farren's mind that although death seemed big, life was even bigger” 3 likes
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