Fourteen hundred and twenty men, women, and children - naval, military, civilians free and in chains - are shipped halfway around the world from England to the South Pacific. Months later, at the end of the longest voyage of its kind in the Age of Sail, the Thief Fleet casts anchor on a shallow bay where a convict camp is hurriedly built. Unwanted and unwilling, these unruly migrants are tough and cunning or they could never have survived eighteenth century England's jails and the famine years that still lay ahead of them. Yet despite every obstacle and hardship, some are destined to become men and women of wealth and power they could never have dared to imagine in their Old Country of inherited class and privilege. Two rivals dominate London's transplanted underworld of muggers and stranglers, whores and pickpockets; the grim redcoat veteran Joe "Tinderbox" Cribb, and the fiery Irish actress "Mrs" Catherine Brandon. Hunger and necessity will force this most unlikely of couples to overcome their deep differences and, as they do, establish a colonial dynasty that will shape Australia's dramatic and inspiring story.