The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
Check out this review by Robert Becker...
The book, the Lieutenant, is an unforgettable story by Kate Grenville. It is rife with issues of morality, ethics, and legality. These play out in the life of Daniel Rooke as he discovers friendship, self-understanding, and the power of language on the shores of 1788 New South Wales.
Daniel Rooke began life as an outsider. As a child he was a mathematical prodigy, ridiculed in school because he was different and lower middle class. Misunderstood by his parents and most others who knew him, Daniel felt out of place in 18th century England. Only mathematics and science made the world seem tolerable. He hoped that one day they would help him find his place in life.
He becomes a marine and travels to Australia as a lieutenant and navigator/astronomer on a ship containing hundreds of exiled convicts. Their landing is called New South Wales. Daniel is transfixed by the beauty and the exotic nature of the place. Can he find a new beginning here?
Daniel constructs an observatory to chart the stars and begins the work he hopes will make him famous. In an isolated spot some distance from the new settlement, Daniel comes to know the local Aborigines. This experience is transformational, as he establishes a remarkable connection with one Aboriginal girl. Their friendship transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. And the experience further solidifies Daniel's growing belief in the interrelationship of all things. In time, Daniel realizes the course of his life will never be the same. Ultimately this discovery influences his subsequent behavior.
The coexistence between the Englishmen and the natives becomes strained and ultimately results in conflict between the two groups. Daniel is torn between his oath and loyalty to king, country, and fellow Englishmen and his affection for a native girl and her people. As he has throughout his life, Daniel tries to find a middle way. Ordered to go on a mission to capture or kill natives, Daniel warns the natives, and still goes on what comes to be a failed endeavor. Rather than feeling good about what he has done, he concludes that since the intent of the mission was to do what he describes as evil, and he participated, he was morally wrong. For him, there can be no compromise with evil. He thereupon informs the military leadership of his conclusion and says he will refuse to participate in any such future activity.
He is ordered to leave Australia. He never returns.