Marcus Clarke is best known for his classic novel of the convict system, For the Term of His Natural Life, although he also wrote numerous essays, stories and plays and edited literary journals.

Born in London, educated as a gentleman and expected to enter diplomatic service, his father’s mental and financial collapse in 1862 saw the young Clarke shipped off to relatives in Australia. After experiencing both city and country life, he returned to Melbourne to try to succeed as a writer. He wrote theatrical criticism for the Argus before commencing a regular column for its weekly, the Australasian.

In 1870 Clarke was sent to Tasmania to research the history of the convict system for the Argus. After producing a series of historical articles for the Australasian, he began writing For the Term of His Natural Life, which began its serialisation in the popular fiction magazine, the Australian Journal.