'By setting, by date of publication, and the residence of the author, Quintus Servinton is rightly regarded as Australia's first novel. Printed in Hobart Town in three volumes, in 1830-1, and expressly intended for dispatch to England (where it was re-issued in London in 1832), only a few copies were reserved for sale in Tasmania. Of these, only three are known to survive, and the book has long been inaccessible to any but the most persistent of readers.'
'It presents an invaluable and fascinating picture - first of English provincial life and of contemporary business dealing, and then of convict life as experienced by an educated convict, a contrast and complement to the Ralph Rashleigh picture of the convict of humble birth and little or no education crushed by brutality and manual labour.'
'In his introduction, Cecil Hadgraft traces the author's own chequered career - an amazing sequence of misfortunes and miscalculations both before and after his twenty-four hour reprieve from the gallows, and particularly significant for the assessment and appreciation of a novel known to be largely autobiographical.' (Source: Online)
'Crime fiction started early in Australia, emerging out of the experiences of transportation and the convict system at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The first Australian (that is, locally published) novel is generally agreed to be Quintus Servinton (1832), written by Henry Savery, a convicted forger who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1825 and—convicted once more of forging financial documents—died as a prisoner in Port Arthur in 1842. Quintus Servinton is a kind of semi-autobiographical fantasy that imagines its entrepreneurial protagonist’s redemption: surviving his conviction and jail sentence in order to return to England with his beloved wife. We can note here that it does four important things in terms of the future of crime narratives in Australia. Firstly, it presents colonial Australia as a place already defined by an apparatus of policing, legal systems and governance, where ‘justice’ can at least potentially work to restore an individual’s status and liberty: for example, through convict emancipation. Secondly, it insists that the experience of incarceration and punishment is crucial to that character’s reintegration into respectable life: ‘the stains that had marked him’, we are told, ‘were removed by the discipline he had been made to endure’ (Savery, vol. 3, ch. XIII, n.p.). Thirdly, the novel ties the colonial economy to financial investment and growth on the one hand, and fraud or forgery on the other. These apparent opposites are folded together at the moment of settlement to the extent that the phrase ‘forging the colonial economy’ is a kind of potent double entendre. Prominent transported forgers included the colonial artists Thomas Whatling (transported 1791), Joseph Lycett (transported 1814), Thomas Wainewright (transported 1837) and of course Henry Savery himself. In Savery’s novel, Quintus Servinton is ‘thunderstruck’ when someone explains the conventional distinction between legitimate financial deals and forgeries: ‘You surely do not mean, Sir, it can be a forgery, to issue paper bearing the names of persons who never existed….If that be the case…many commercial men innocently issue forgeries every day of their lives’ (vol. 1, ch. III, n.p.). This takes us to the fourth point: that crime fiction in Australia is also about imposture, where characters do indeed adopt ‘the names of persons who never existed’. The mutability of colonial characters—the question of how real (authentic) or fictional (fraudulent) they might be, and the impacts this has socially and fiscally on the colonial scene—soon becomes a tremendous problem for emergent systems of policing and governance in Australia. As Janet C. Myers notes, ‘the linkage between emigration and crime forged through convict transportation continued to evoke anxieties….The atmosphere in which such anxieties were nurtured was one of rapid social mobility and shifting identities in the Antipodes’ (2009, p. 83).' (Introduction)