BOOK CLUB: The Silk Merchant’s Son

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The Silk Merchant’s Son by Peter Burke, is a book that I found to be very thought-provoking.  Based on historical fact, it’s set in WA during the 1840s.

It follows the lives of various members of the clergy, both male and female, as they travel from various locations in Europe to WA, with the intent of introducing religion to the local Aboriginal population. 

This story shows how their involvement in the history of WA had both positive and negative impacts. With the money from the churches invested in local communities, towns grew where there had not been a town before, and schools appeared. 

At the same time, it was believed that the only way to help save the souls of the Aboriginal children was to remove them from their families, and put them in the care of the church. We know from our history they were placed into white Christian homes where they were educated not only in religion, but also taught to read and write. 

They were given clothing and taught our white man’s ways, but even so, they were never really accepted as equals. The children weren’t allowed to visit their families as it was believed that it just upset them and distracted them from their studies. 

Some of the children were placed on boats and taken to Europe, where sadly it seems that many passed away.  Perhaps from deep homesickness, the freezing cold, or exposure to white man’s diseases.

This book left me questioning that if a person does something with the strong belief that they are doing the best for someone, is the act something that’s forgivable? Especoally when it has in fact harmed the very person they felt they were helping?

Is it really OK to remove someone from their family and culture without first taking the time to learn their ways, especially if that person is perfectly happy?  Why do some people have the need to force their belief system on others?

Peter Burke is a doctor and lives in Perth and writes WA historical fiction.  His first novel, The Drowning Dream, was shortlisted for both the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award and the WA Premier’s Book Award.

If you have an interest in the history of the church in Australia and/or WA history then this is a great book to learn from. Not a cruisy read but very thought provoking.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are The Silk Merchant’s Son by Peter Burke. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

5 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Silk Merchant’s Son

  1. The Silk Merchant’s Son by Peter Burke ( Freemantle Press) is an historical novel that gives a colourful account of Western Australia’s colonial past.

    It particularly focusses on the presumptuous religious and secular ‘do gooder’ settlers and missionaries who came to ‘rescue’ and ‘educate’ the indigenous people from the bush.

    The main characters are a motley assortment :- Fabrice Cleriquot, a pampered, French linguistics professor, an apparent atheist, who has the job of distributing a large donation from a wealthy benefactress; Irish nuns fleeing the potato famine; Catholic missionaries including two Spanish monks hoping to set up a Benedictine monastery, as well as an ambitious Bishop hoping to save two million souls for Rome! The phrase, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions,’ is a particularly apt description of what unfolds.

    A lively, well written and obviously well researched account of Australia’s own wild west past!

  2. Fabrice Cleriquot, son of a French silk baron, was sent by his father to take part in a religious expedition to the new colony on the Swan River. His coerced trip aimed to help Fabrice distance himself from some “inappropriate ” acts and his role to help guide funds dispersal to support local indigenous people and guide them to the catholic faith, despite Fabrice having failing faith himself.
    An Irish Bishop along with Spanish, French & Italian Monks, Nuns and Priests and a few lay persons made their pilgrimage with fabrice to settle & convert those they can.
    Grossly unprepared, under funded and poorly organised they were set for new challenges.
    I found this a touching read, showing two signs of a coin and controversial part of Australia’s past. A book to leave you thinking. Thanks author Peter Burke & Beauty & Lace for the opportunity to travel back in time.

  3. The Silk Merchant’s Son was not what I expected.
    I found it very heavy reading in places.
    Usually I love Australian Historical Fiction but this is the first one that I have read that was so heavily religion orientated that I did not enjoy, but did persevere to finish it.
    It was interesting in places and as I have studied Australian History I have some knowledge and agree there is quite a lot of facts included.
    I did enjoy the Historical Figures and Places section in the back.
    This book will appeal to lovers of Australian Historical Fiction that has the Religious Leanings.
    I know not everyone likes every book they read and that is why I love Beauty and Lace Book Club as I get to read books that I would not usually select for myself.
    Thank you Beauty and Lace and Freemantle Press for the copy of this book to read and review.

  4. Thank you for the opportunity to read this novel about WA history. As a West Australian, I found it very interesting to learn about the places that often visit. It is clearly well researched, and well written. The book definitely questions the power of the church and their significance shaping the history of our country.
    I did find it very heavy on facts rather than story, so it would definitely appeal to those who love history more than an energetic storyline. Overall, it was an interesting read.

  5. An Australian history fiction novel, The Silk Merchants Son features alot of religious talk, as a non religious person I found it hard to get into but I persevered.

    Thankyou to Beauty and Lace, Peter Burke and Fremantle Press for the opportunity to read this novel

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