A Collaborative Chronicle: The saga of Kable, Convict Extraordinaire

Review of Damned Rascals?  by  Ron Withington

Founders  (FFF magazine) July August  2008


The lives of Henry and Susannah Kable have been extremely well documented in the publications of the Fellowship of First Fleeters and elsewhere – perhaps most comprehensively, if with some novelist’s licence, in the trilogy by June Whittaker, The Raking of the Embers, The Flame in the Morning and The Fire in his Eye.

So what further insights are to be gained from reading a new 2007 publication by two Kable descendants, Paul Kable and June Whittaker, Damned Rascals? – A Chronicle of Henry & Susannah Kable, 1764 – 1846?

In terms of the general ebb and flow of their fortunes and those of their early descendants, and the impacts on their lives of their private and business associates very little fresh material is brought to light. But Damned Rascals? is nevertheless an astute biographical record.

The book is set in A4 portrait format with a gloss cover and immediately has the feel of a standard coffee table publication. However, it is as far from that genre as Norwich Castle prison is from St Matthew’s Windsor graveyard.  On opening it is revealed as a collation of primary documents text, maps, newspaper reports, family trees and photographs copied and pasted across the pages in scrapbook style, making full use of the page size, fair typed where needed, but with no particular regard to layout.

This unorthodox treatment conceals a highly sophisticated methodology. The material is presented in strict chronological sequence, but with little recourse to any overbearing linking commentary. The effect is that we ourselves seem to be conducting the historical and genealogical research and will slowly but surely be led to a pretty full grasp of the Henry and Susannah story. We are constantly surprised as one after another the pieces slot into the Kable jigsaw. So pervasive is this phenomenon that ultimately we can believe that we ourselves could launch into the writing of June’s trilogy!

So much for the presentation and the method — but the power of the publication rests finally with the incredibly high standard of the research, and how fortunate it is that the material was not left to fade forlornly in filing cabinets.

It is a veritable master class in what can be achieved if one has the time, the patience and enthusiasm to access all available material,including public and family records held both in Australia and in the UK. Just browsing through the Reference Index is a revelation.


“It is a very well researched and beautifully presented study of the Kable family in Australia. I was most impressed by the depth and breath of the research, as well as by the many connections made to aspects of Australian history through the Kable family. I have no doubts that the book will be of use to both local and family historians.”

(Robin McLachlan. Adjunt Senior Lecturer History and Cultural Heritage, Charles Stuart University)



“When my copy arrived I found it impossible to put down. Now, each time I dip back into it, another fresh understanding [of Australian history] jumps out.”

(Prof. Jim Kable, Yamaguchi University of Science)             

 “This meticulously documented and lavishly illustrated account of the lives of two   enterprising first fleet convicts is a fine example of family history.  It shows just what a fascinating story family history can be.”

(Dr Ruth Frappell, Past President, Royal Australian Historical Society and contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography)

“More vividly than anything to be found in the Historical Records of Australia or in any narrative of the day of any officer in the colony, this story of a family of convicts brought to Port Jackson in the First Fleet tells us of the signal contribution they made to the economy of the colony. For without Henry and Susannah Kable’s cheek in claiming their rights of property at law in the first civil suit in the legal annals of Australia, the whole venture would very likely have failed. They were felons, their blood attainted by ancient rule. They stood outside the shelter of the courts. But no one took the point against them. They won damages for themselves, and security of contract for all convicts working ”off stores”.  In that isolated and beleagued community nothing would have been ventured without security of promise and property. The colony did not fail and for that we are in no small part indebted to Henry and Susannah Kable.” 

 Mr Justice Jim Staples