Arguably the most outrageous case of legal injustice in Britain’s history.
The book tells the true story of a conspiracy to misuse the law, which made martyrs of six English farm labourers — today the heroes of the trade union movement.
They worked on farms in Dorsetshire in the days when land owners could pay whatever they liked for wages. However, in 1832, when the labourers were told their pay would be cut from nine shillings a week to seven shillings, they decided the only hope for them and their near-starving families was to form a union and stand up to their masters.
But this was seen by the land owners as almost as sinister as the seeds of the French Revolution and the Government lent a hand to have it stopped.
The six men regarded as the ringleaders were arrested and charged under an obsolete Act, that of administering illegal oaths. They were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia as convicts.
In England there was much uproar. Thousands marched through London in protest and a flood of petitions was sent to the British Parliament, where several members took up the case, which they won several years later by comparing the treatment of the Dorchester labourers with the fact that oaths were administered in the Loyal Orange Lodges, whose head was a prince of the royal blood.
Only then were the Dorchester labourers pardoned and returned home.
This story of what happened to them in England and Australia is researched as much as possible from official records. The debates in the House of Commons and the Lords are from the Hansards.
Man Is Never Free was first published in Australia in 1946, and it was hoped that it would also be published in Britain and also made into a British film.
But the British publishers refused to proceed unless given the right to alter the British part of the story.
Then the film studio wrote saying it would not go on with the production of the film for reasons which it would not go into.
Admittedly, England was in industrial turmoil in these postwar years and may have harboured fears of the effects of glorification of union heroes.
Yet today the wheel has turned full circle and in the 1990s some unions have proven themselves to be almost as unreasonable in their demands on their employers as were the Lords of the 1830s on their farm labourers.
However Man Is Never Free does not sit in judgement of either the English Lords or the trade union movement. It is an accurate, thoroughly researched and truthful account, a graphic snapshot of life in the Australian penal colonies and an exciting and inspirational story. It is written as a novel and is therefore very involving and entertaining to read.
In fact, Man Is Never Free is a case in itself of the truth being stranger than fiction, because very few fictitious stories could be more enthralling than this true saga of intrigue and conspiracy.