Richard Devine, on discovering the secret of his true parentage, is disinherited and driven from his home in England. After changing his name to Rufus Dawes, he is falsely accused of murdering his father and transported to the notorious Port Arthur penal colony in Van Diemen's Land for the term of his natural life. His jailers, including the brutal Lieutenant Frere, gradually transform the bright and witty young Englishman into a hardened and desperate convict suffering cruel and violent treatment. Revenge gives him a reason to escape. Love gives him a reason to live.