Botany Bay (1953)

 

 

Director:     John Farrow.

Starring:     Alan Ladd (Dr. Hugh Tallant),  James Mason (Capt. Paul Gilbert),  Patricia Medina (Sally Munroe),  Cedric Hardwicke (Gov. Phillip),  Murray Matheson (Rev. Mortimer Thynne),  Dorothy Patten (Mrs. Nellie Garth),  John Hardy (Nat Garth),  Hugh Pryse (Ned Inching),  Malcolm Lee Beggs (Nick Sabb),  Anita Sharp-Bolster (Moll Cudlip),  Jonathan Harris (Tom Oakly),  Alec Harford (Brig-keeper Jenkins),  Noel Drayton (Second Mate Spencer),  Branden Toomey (Guard),  Ben Wright (Deck Officer Green).

in 1787 prisoners are shipped from Newgate Jail to a new penal colony in Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  bellow is a summary of the entire film.

"The laws of 18th century England were so cruel and unjust that a man could be prosecuted for the theft of a crust of bread.  In consequence the prisons became impossibly overcrowded.  The solution:  the deportation of many convicts to a recently discovered land half-way around the globe called New South Wales --- today known as Australia.  By order of his Britannic Majesty, George the Third, the First Fleet sailed May 13, 1787.  Its destination: Botany Bay.  Its passengers: some eight hundred convicts selected from the prisons of all England."

Newgate Gaol, London.  A group of prisoners learn that their sentences have been changed to life terms in New South Wales.  Most of the men don't even know where that is.  The almost Dr. Hugh Tallant says who cares where it is, as long as they are out of jail. 

The men, two women and a boy are rowed out to a British ship headed for New South Wales.  The pretty Sally Munroe asks who will look out for her and Tallant immediately volunteers.  Sally causes a row about getting aboard the ship, so the sailors grab her, put her in a net and have her hoisted aboard ship.  Two sailors fight over who saw Sally first.  Captain  Paul Gilbert comes on deck and the fighting stops immediately.  The Captain looks over the new crop of criminals.  He tells a sailor to take Rev. Mortimer Thynne below to his cabin and strike off his chains.  Sally immediately tries to get in good with the Captain, but he resists her charms.  The women are put in one area and the men in another. 

Nick Sabb, a very wealthy crook, asks to see Ned Inching and  Tom Oakly.  Sabb wants the two men to join in with him.  Tom says he wants to bring Hugh Tallant into the group.  Sabb tells Ned to fetch him.  Along with Hugh comes the boy Nat Garth.  Sabb reads from the paper that Hugh has been pardoned and also he has received a small fortune from an inheritance.  Hugh must speak to the Captain about getting off the ship.  Nick says it can be arranged for some money. 

The Captain speaks with the Reverend.  The voyage of the Charlotte to New South Wales will take eight months.  The Captain has called Sally up to his cabin and she arrives now.  Hugh also arrives to speak to the Captain.  The Captain starts with Sally.  He says she is listed as an actress.  Yes, she's an actress.  He tells Sally that he will put her up in a good room and allow her a certain amount of freedom if she will remain somewhat aloof from the men.  He fears she will start a ruckus with the 148 men on board.  She agrees and her shackles are taken off. 

Now the Captain speaks with Hugh.  He has no real interest in letting Hugh off the ship.  He says they don't have a surgeon aboard and Hugh would be a mighty handy man to have around.  And since the man is from the United States, New South Wales should not phase him at all.  He has Hugh sent back down with the others. 

On deck Hugh knocks down a few sailors and jumps overboard.  The men look over the side trying to spot him but there is no sign of him. They figure with those irons still on him he must have sank below water and drowned.  But Hugh is very much alive, except he's still unlucky.  A boat making its way to the ship spots Hugh and the sailors pull him into the boat. Hugh gets 50 lashes for his attempted escape.  Sally doesn't want to watch and goes below deck.  The Reverend soon goes below, followed by the Captain. 

Back with the other prisoners, Hugh offers his little group of criminals one thousand pounds each it they help get him free.  Sabb likes the sound of that. 

Tallant is brought up on deck for a work party.  He has to help scrub the deck.  Sally tells the Rev. that the men of the work party are all crooks.  The Reverend disagrees.  He says many of them are just unfortunate people, convicted by unjust laws.  Sally wonders what awaits her in New South Wales.  The Reverend suggests she find a husband because the Governor will give a married couple land and the freedom to work it.  Now, which one shall I marry, Parson, asks Sally.  Sally hatches a plan to catch Mr. Tallant.  And the first thing she and the Reverend can do is get Tallant to be named the ship's surgeon. 

They bring Tallant up on deck.  Sally tells Hugh that she knows the Captain is going to make him ship's surgeon.  He insults her by suggesting she is having an affair with the Captain.  He gets slapped hard across the face for that.  The sailor watching Tallant, a Mr. Spencer, tells him that he's a fool. 

The women resent Sally and their taunting leads to an all out brawl among the women.  They even take on the sailors in the brawl.  The sailors have to throw a net over the women.  The Captain gets the chief trouble-maker 20 lashes and three women are chosen to have their heads shaved.  Now the Captain makes it clear to Sally that he wants sex in return for all the favors he has given her.  Sally has anticipated this and she drops the name of his brother-in-law. the famous rake Jack Canon, saying she knew him in London.  She says she has been writing him letters because Jack asked her to report everything that happens on board the Charlotte for his sister's sake.  Now he is a bit afraid of what Sally might say to Jack. 

Ned stole the ship's compass and Tallant tells him to return it immediately or they all will be lashed.  Hugh has to leave, because Mr. Spencer needs his help with his bum arm.  Tallant tells the poor man that his arm has been set improperly.  He will have to re-break the arm and set it again and that's going to hurt!  Spencer says he doesn't have much money to pay Hugh.  Hugh says all he wants him to do is turn the other way in Rio when the supply ships come alongside the Charlotte.  Spencer says he ought to report this conversation to the Captain.  Hugh slaps his arm with a chain which ends that conversation (and re-breaks the arm). 

Nat Garth was trying to slip the boat's compass back into the Captain's room, but was caught.  Now he faces the Captain.  The Captain says he will not lash Nat, but he will have to remain confined in a cell  for the rest of the journey.   Tallant bribes the guard watching over Nat so he can speak to the boy.  He provides the boy with some comfort and will report the situation to his mother. 

One of the prisoners is found dead with black spots all over his body.  The guard panics saying it's plague and he goes running up the stairs shouting "plague".  The prisoners are so scared that they are to about to revolt.  They threaten to throw Spencer overboard, if he doesn't cooperate with them, but Tallant intervenes with the men saying that it's not the plague but scurvy (due to no Vitamin C) that killed him.  He would have survived if he had been given one decent meal. say Tallant.  He swears to the men that this is true.  The men go below deck.  The Captain has heard all this and he relieves Spencer of many of his duties.  And he asks Tallant how he knew it wasn't the plague?  He knows because both his parents died of the plague. 

Sally talks to Hugh again and asks him not to try to escape, since the odds are so heavily against escape.  But he is still upset by the thought of Sally being with the Captain and is rude to her.  He leaves.  The Captain sends for Tallant.  He accuses Tallant of plotting an escape with Spencer.  The ship's keys were found on Spencer.  The Captain says he will not put into Rio.  Instead, they will go to the Cape in South Africa.  This will mean shorter rations for all the men.  Tallant will be brought before Gov. Phillip in Botany Bay.  The Captain says they both will be held in solitary confinement for the rest of the voyage. 

A huge storm throws the ship around.  Water starts filling up the bottom of the ship.  Nat's mother and Sally beg the Captain to release Nat.  He absolutely refuses.  It looks like Nat has drowned in all the the water collected in his cell.  Tom knocks out the jailor, gets the keys and opens up Nat's cell.  Tallant is also released.  Tallant examines Nat and has to tell his mother he is dead.    The boy is buried at sea.  The Captain says some things over the body but says them rapidly and callously.  Nat's mother stabs the Captain in the back.  He grabs a pistol and shoots her.  She is still alive and he tells her he will enjoy seeing her hang. 

Tallant and the men are going to try to save Mrs. Garth.  They find out that she is wounded.  They decide to hide her away where she won't be found.  The Captain will figure she went with Tallant when he escaped. 

A guard reports smoke coming from below.  Tallant and his group use the planned confusion to try to make their escape.  They lock the crew below.  Tallant and his crew let one of the boats down over the side.  Off go Tallant and Spencer.  They row and row.  When the fog clears a bit they see they are very close to their ship.  Tallant says Gilbert must still be alive because who else would have pinpointed them this readily.  Or, says Spencer, someone ratted on them.  The men are taken back aboard the ship. 

The two men will be keel-hauled.  Spencer objects that this method of punishment hasn't been used for 50 years.  The captains says the it hasn't been that long ago.  The men will be pulled under and across the boat from one side to the other.  The men are lowered into the sea.  The men are pulled up on the other side.  They are still alive so they will pull them back across again.  The Reverend protests this "barbarous" procedure.  Tallant is alive, but Spencer is dead.  The Captain gives the order to clear the decks.  The Reverend says he will report the Captain and the three deaths to the Governor once they reach Botany Bay.  The Captain doesn't seem concerned one bit. 

The ship arrives at Botany Bay.  Sally tries to talk with Tallant, but the Captain puts a stop to that.  He reveals now that he knows where Mrs. Garth has been hidden all this time. 

The Reverend does report the Captain to the Governor.  The Captain wants to hang Mrs. Garth and Tallant.  The Governor says there are extenuating circumstances in each of the two cases.  For now, he puts Tallant at hard labor.  Soon Tallant is planning an escape with the help of Ned and Sabb.  Sally feeds some eucalyptus leaves to the koala bears (which are really marsupials, not mammals).  She has a plan to get Tallant out of hard labor.  The Reverend will ask the Governor to make Hugh a doctor. 

The Captain wants a word with Sally.  He wants her to go with him on the next voyage.  He said he can arrange a pardon for her.  She refuses to go with him. 

The Governor talks with Tallant about staying in New South Wales and helping him  build it into a decent place to live, just like they did for the United States.  If he will help them, the Governor will drop the charges brought against him by Captain Gilbert.  Tallants says he will think about it. 

And now we find out that Sabb is a spy for Captain Gilbert.  (That's how the Captain so easily found the escapees Tallant and Spencer.)  And Captain Gilbert has decided to have Tallant tried in England.  So Tallant will be sailing with him back to England.  The Governor says he's afraid that there's nothing he can do to stop the Captain.  Sabb sets up a trap for Tallant.  He tells him that Gilbert has gone hunting.  Maybe they could kill Gilbert and escape. 

The Reverend brings Hugh together with Sally.  She warns him that his plan is fool-hardy.  He will be caught and hanged.  Hugh rejects her suggestions.  Now Sally accuses him of only caring about himself.  He has used others in his escape attempts and has gotten people hurt, including her.  Hugh apologizes to her.  She just leaves.  He starts to stop her, but lets her go. 

The men go hunting for Gilbert.  The native Aborigines are following them.  Tallant falls right into the trap thanks to Sabb.  They surround the Captain and two sailors with him, but now they in turn a surrounded by a bunch of Red Coats.  The men realize that Saab has been a spy for their enemy.  Gilbert starts gloating over his victory and Tallant hits him with his fist and knocks him down.  A guard tells the Captain that the natives look like they are ready to attack.  The Captain tells everyone to take cover.  He stands straight up to shoot one of the natives and is hit by a spear in his mid-section.  The Captain tells Tallant to pull the spear out, but Tallant tells him he would bleed to death if he does.  The Captain pulls the spear out himself and now feels much worse than before.  He tells Tallant:  "Perhaps I shan't see you hang."  He dies.

Another Red Coat is hit with a spear and goes down.  Tallant tells everyone that they are too exposed and to get behind the little ridge that is behind them.  Sabb starts running away.  They chase the natives away.  Then Tallant and his men train their guns on the surviving soldiers.  They hold them prisoner until the ship arrives.  Tom comes in to report that he found Sabb's dead body or what was left of it after the natives got through with it. 

While doctoring the surviving soldiers, Tallant notices a lump on the commander's arm.  Some of the other men have lumps too.  This line of inquiry is stopped when the Charlotte arrives.  Tallant tells his men that they are going back to the settlement, but must get there before the Charlotte does.  Tom, Hugh and Ned are brought before the Governor.  Tallant tells the Governor that there is plague on board the Charlotte.  Nobody should be allowed off the ship. 

Tallant goes aboard the Charlotte to nurse the sick.  He is very successful and is greatly praised by the surgeon who comes on board later. 

Tallant goes to see Sally.  The Governor has dropped all charges against him and his associates.  Sally becomes very sad and asks when he will be sailing?  He tells her:  "I won't."  They hug.  Then they walk away hand in hand while the koala bears watch them from a nearby tree. 

 

Spoiler Warning.  Good movie.  It reminds me of "Mutiny on the Bounty" except Hugh Tallant seems unable to get a mutiny going.  James Mason as Captain Paul Gilbert does a good job of being a bad guy.  He has an air of contempt for other scombined with a real mean streak.  He makes a person want to see him receive a severe beating at least.  Alan Ladd plays the part of Tallant and he is good, but his many defeats started wearing on my patience.  Patricia Medina as Sally Munroe plays his love interest and she is good as somewhat of a hellcat. 

The "Mutiny on the Bounty" continues the suspense when the ship arrives in the future Australia where they throw in a couple of koala bears and a kangaroo for atmosphere.  The place is pretty young and wild still and the Governor conducts his business in a huge tent-like structure.  The Governor tries to help get Tallant out of trouble, but it's still an uphill battle for Tallant and Munroe.  The love story is pretty good but I wish they could have had more time together in love with each other.  Here, love is truly a battlefield.  The movie has a nice little twist along the way that caught me off-guard. 

The film makes the point that, although Australia was settled by a great many convicts, most of the "crimes" were more minor, unjust or political.  Or is that their excuse?  (Just kidding.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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