To the Ends of the Earth

Last updated

To the Ends of the Earth is the title given to a trilogy of nautical, relational novels—Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989)—by British author William Golding. Set on a former British man-of-war transporting migrants to Australia in the early 19th century, the novels explore themes of class and man's reversion to savagery when isolated, in this case, the closed society of the ship's passengers and crew.[ not verified in body ]


The first of the books, Rites of Passage, was awarded the Booker Prize in 1980. The trilogy as a whole was adapted by the late Leigh Jackson and Tony Basgallop for a 2005 BBC drama mini-series of the same name, directed by David Attwood and starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It aired in the United States in PBS' 2006 season of Masterpiece Theatre . It became available in 2016 on Netflix and Hulu streaming.

Plot summaries

Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage, first edition cover by Cathie Felstead RitesOfPassage.JPG
Rites of Passage, first edition cover by Cathie Felstead

Rites of Passage (1980) is an account of a six-month voyage to Australia in the early 19th century by an assorted group of British migrants on a converted man-of-war. It is in the form of a journal written by Edmund Talbot, a young aristocrat. His influential godfather has arranged for him to be employed with the Governor of New South Wales, and presents Talbot with a journal to record the significant events of the journey. He considers it a time of reflection for the young man. Talbot begins by describing the passengers of all classes (getting a tour of the ship) and crew members, who encompass a motley yet representative collection of early 19th-century English society. He becomes concerned with the downfall of passenger Reverend Colley.

Talbot has a somewhat ambiguous role in Colley's fall; although he quickly assumes a mediator's role between the Reverend and Captain Anderson, initially he had presumed on his status by going on the quarterdeck without the captain's express invitation, about which the latter man was protective. Colley dies “of shame” after getting drunk and performing a sex act on one of the ship's crew. When one of the crew suggests officers were involved, the captain ends his investigation of Colley's death, as "buggery" (homosexual intercourse) is punishable by hanging. Talbot comes across Colley's journal, and feels guilty for seeing how eager Colley was to know him better. Colley is given a formal burial at sea. As the novel closes, Talbot is ambivalent about presenting his own journal to his godfather, as he fears it may not show him in the best light. He concludes that he does not have a choice, and eventually he seals the journal, in order to protect what he has written.[ clarification needed ]

Rites of Passage won the 1980 Booker Prize. [2] [3]

Close Quarters

Golding begins Close Quarters (1987) from Talbot's point of view and soon after he completed his first journal on the 6-month voyage to Australia. Talbot starts a new journal in a different tone, as this volume will not be presented to his godfather. He describes his romantic feelings for a young woman whom he meets on a different ship they encounter, HMS Alcyone. Feeling ill, he expresses his fears about the seaworthiness of his own ship and its ability to complete the journey. The book has a more traditional structure, with chapter breaks at dramatic moments (rather than the day-by-day account presented in Rites).

Fire Down Below

Fire Down Below (1989) closed the trilogy with a description of the ever-more perilous voyage (given the old ship and old charts); of Talbot's maturing and his growing admiration for the Prettimans, a married couple; of the rivalry between the two principal officers, Summers and Benét, for Captain Anderson's respect and trust; and of the conclusion to Edmund's affaire de coeur with Miss Chumley. Much detail is given to the increasingly frantic measures to repair the ship and reach Australia.

Literary themes

Rites of Passage is characterized by the theme of class division, in particular, the assumption of a higher status by individuals than is warranted.[ citation needed ] The leitmotiv of proper gentlemanly conduct is explored in the often stormy friendship of Talbot with Lieutenant Summers, who presses him to live up to his responsibilities as an aristocrat after he has taken advantage of its privilege. Summers sometimes feels slighted by Talbot's ill-considered comments and advice.[ citation needed ]Rites explores the cruelties of men in groups, and the tensions as they struggle over status and place in their artificial society on the ship.[ citation needed ]

Miniseries adaptation

In 2005 the books were adapted as a BBC drama serial starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Named To The Ends of the Earth, the series was directed by David Attwood and received a very good critical reception. The series went on to be nominated for six BAFTAs, and won both the Golden Nymph prize for best actor in a mini-series (awarded to Benedict Cumberbatch) and the winner of the Satellite Award for best mini-series. [4]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Cook</span> British explorer (1728–1779)

James Cook was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the British Royal Navy, famous for his three voyages between 1768 and 1779 in the Pacific Ocean and to New Zealand and Australia in particular. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Golding</span> British novelist, poet, and playwright (1911–1993)

Sir William Gerald Golding, was a British novelist, playwright, and poet. Best known for his debut novel Lord of the Flies (1954), he published another twelve volumes of fiction in his lifetime. In 1980, he was awarded the Booker Prize for Rites of Passage, the first novel in what became his sea trilogy, To the Ends of the Earth. He was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Edward Parry</span> Royal Navy officer and explorer

Sir William Edward Parry was an Royal Navy officer and explorer best known for his 1819–1820 expedition through the Parry Channel, probably the most successful in the long quest for the Northwest Passage, until it was finally negotiated by Roald Amundsen in 1906. In 1827, Parry attempted one of the earliest expeditions to the North Pole. He reached 82° 45' N, setting a record for human exploration Farthest North that stood for nearly five decades before being surpassed at 83° 20' N by Albert Hastings Markham in 1875.

<i>The Love Boat</i> US romantic comedy/drama television series

The Love Boat is an American romantic comedy/drama television series that aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986; in addition, four three-hour specials aired in 1986, 1987, and 1990. The series was set on the luxury passenger cruise ship MS Pacific Princess, and revolved around the ship's captain Merrill Stubing and a handful of his crew, with passengers played by guest actors for each episode, having romantic and humorous adventures. The ship's regular ports of call were Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Mazatlán. The series was part of ABC's popular Saturday-night lineup of the time, which also included Fantasy Island until 1984.

The line-crossing ceremony is an initiation rite that commemorates a person's first crossing of the Equator. The tradition may have originated with ceremonies when passing headlands, and become a "folly" sanctioned as a boost to morale, or have been created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long, rough voyages. Equator-crossing ceremonies, typically featuring King Neptune, are common in the Navy and are also sometimes carried out for passengers' entertainment on civilian ocean liners and cruise ships. They are also performed in the merchant navy and aboard sail training ships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Benedict Cumberbatch</span> English actor (born 1976)

Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch is an English actor. Known for his work on screen and stage, he has received various accolades, including a British Academy Television Award, a Primetime Emmy Award and a Laurence Olivier Award, in addition to nominations for two Academy Awards, two British Academy Film Awards and four Golden Globe Awards. In 2014, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and in 2015, he was appointed a CBE at Buckingham Palace for services to the performing arts and to charity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement</span> Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle

"J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" is an 1884 short story by Arthur Conan Doyle. It is in the form of a first-person testimony by a survivor of the Marie Celeste, a fictionalised version of the Mary Celeste, a ship found mysteriously abandoned and adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872. Conan Doyle's story was published anonymously in the January 1884 issue of The Cornhill Magazine.

<i>Carry On Cruising</i> 1962 film

Carry On Cruising is a 1962 British comedy film, the sixth in the series of 31 Carry On films (1958–1992). It was based on an original story by Eric Barker. P&O – Orient Lines were thanked in the credits. Regulars Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor appear in the film, whereas Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey do not. Sims took ill shortly before filming began and was replaced by Dilys Laye, making her Carry On debut, at four days' notice. Hawtrey was dropped for demanding star billing, but returned for the next entry, making this the only entry during Hawtrey's 23-film run which he missed. Sims returned two years later in Carry On Cleo. Liz Fraser notches up the second of her four appearances here. Lance Percival makes his only appearance in the series in Carry On Cruising, playing the ship's chef, the role originally designated for Hawtrey. The Australian actor Vincent Ball also makes his first, of two, Carry On appearances. This was the last film to have its screenplay written by Norman Hudis. This film was notable for being the first in the series to be filmed in colour.

"Passage on the Lady Anne" is an episode of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. In this episode, a couple whose marriage is struggling travel aboard an aging ocean liner, unaware that the ship is on a final voyage into the afterlife. The cast features Lee Philips, Joyce Van Patten, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Cecil Kellaway and Alan Napier and the script was written by Charles Beaumont.

<i>The Survivors of the Chancellor</i> Book by Jules Verne

The Survivors of the Chancellor: Diary of J. R. Kazallon, Passenger is an 1875 novel written by Jules Verne about the final voyage of a British sailing ship, the Chancellor, told from the perspective of one of its passengers.

<i>Cabin Pressure</i> (radio series) BBC Radio show

Cabin Pressure is a radio sitcom written and created by John Finnemore and directed and produced by David Tyler. It follows the exploits of the eccentric crew of the single aeroplane owned by "MJN Air" as they are chartered to take all manner of items, people or animals across the world. The show stars Finnemore, Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam and Benedict Cumberbatch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Khan Noonien Singh</span> Fictional character from Star Trek

Khan Noonien Singh is a fictional character in the Star Trek science fiction franchise, who first appeared as the main antagonist in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed" (1967), and was portrayed by Ricardo Montalbán, who reprised his role in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness, he is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

<i>Memnon</i> (clipper)

The Memnon was the first clipper ship to arrive in San Francisco after the Gold Rush, and the only clipper to arrive in San Francisco before 1850. Built in 1848, she made record passages to San Francisco and to China, and sailed in the first clipper race around Cape Horn.

<i>Parades End</i> (TV series) Television series

Parade's End is a five-part BBC/HBO/VRT television serial adapted from the eponymous tetralogy of novels (1924–1928) by Ford Madox Ford. It premiered on BBC Two on 24 August 2012 and on HBO on 26 February 2013. The series was also screened at the 39th Ghent Film Festival on 11 October 2012. The miniseries was directed by Susanna White and written by Tom Stoppard. The cast was led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall as Christopher and Sylvia Tietjens, along with Adelaide Clemens, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, Anne-Marie Duff, Roger Allam, Janet McTeer, Freddie Fox, Jack Huston, and Steven Robertson.

Anthony John Basgallop is a British television writer best known for writing Inside Men (2012), What Remains (2013), Servant (2019–present), and the miniseries To the Ends of the Earth, an adaptation of William Golding's trilogy.

To the Ends of the Earth is a three-part BBC television miniseries adaptation of the trilogy of novels of the same name by William Golding. It premiered in the United Kingdom on BBC Two in July 2005, and in the United States on PBS as part of Masterpiece Theatre in October 2006.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nautical fiction</span> Literary genre

Nautical fiction, frequently also naval fiction, sea fiction, naval adventure fiction or maritime fiction, is a genre of literature with a setting on or near the sea, that focuses on the human relationship to the sea and sea voyages and highlights nautical culture in these environments. The settings of nautical fiction vary greatly, including merchant ships, liners, naval ships, fishing vessels, life boats, etc., along with sea ports and fishing villages. When describing nautical fiction, scholars most frequently refer to novels, novellas, and short stories, sometimes under the name of sea novels or sea stories. These works are sometimes adapted for the theatre, film and television.

<i>Schomberg</i> (1855)

The SS Schomberg was a clipper built in Aberdeen by Alexander Hall & Co. for "the Black Ball line" for carrying large cargoes and steerage passengers, and to "outdo the Americans". When built, she was regarded as the most luxurious and well-built clipper of the period.

<i>Charles Eaton</i> (1833 ship)

Charles Eaton was a barque, launched in 1833 for use as a merchant ship. Whilst under the command of Captain Fowle, she was wrecked in 1834 among the Torres Strait Islands, off the northern coast of Queensland, Australia, and her passengers and crew attacked and nearly all killed by Torres Strait Islanders on Mer Island. A cabin boy and small child survived and lived with the islanders until being rescued by Captain Lewis and crew on Isabella in June 1836, who also found skulls of some of the murdered people on a nearby island and took them back to Sydney for burial.

<i>Tejuca</i> Clipper ship

Tejuca was a small 470-ton clipper ship built in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1854. After only eighteen months of service, she was lost in a hurricane on the North Atlantic, with most of her crew rescued through a daring maneuver carried out by the ship Excelsior.


  1. "Modern first editions". 23 December 2010. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  2. McCarron, Kevin (2004). "William Golding" . Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/52079 . Retrieved 23 January 2017.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. Jordison, Sam (15 April 2009). "Booker club: Rites Of Passage". The Guardian . Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  4. IMDB, 'To the Ends of the Earth (2005) Awards', Accessed 29th Nov 2020.