It is 1849 and Jack Wainwright lives with his wife and son in Queen Victoria’s London. His family suddenly become desperately ill and Jack pawns his wife’s gold necklace to buy medicine. After their deaths he walks the streets looking for work and food. Starving, he steals fruit, he is arrested, and transported to Port Arthur.
Oliver, a liver and white King Charles Spaniel, belongs to Miss Emma Poldark, the cossetted teenage daughter of Port Arthur’s Commandant. When they sailed for Tasmania on her father’s posting she refused to be parted from him, and Oliver sailed on the long journey with the family.
Around her neck Emma wears a delicate gold necklace. It was a gift from her father – something he bought from a pawn shop in London before they left England. Emma is head over heels with the newly arrived doctor, Hugh Chilcott. Alas, the handsome Hugh Chilcott is not all he seems to be. Emma learns that Hugh is to be married, and suffers a mental breakdown.
At Port Arthur Jack is consigned to the terrible ‘centipede gang’, carrying massive logs down to the shipyards, until an accident to his leg removes him to the invalid gang, to work in the gardens. One afternoon he hears a dog howling, and sees a body floating in the bay. He hobbles down the hill and swims out to retrieve the body, where he discovers that it is the Commandant’s daughter, Emma, who has tried to drown herself.
After being falsely accused of ‘lustful thoughts’ and theft, witnesses finally trickle forward. Jack is given his freedom with an Absolute Pardon, and a reward, by Emma’s father, the Commandant.
Emma’s parents send her to Hobart to take up a position as governess to two small girls. At a party she meets Charles Blair, and they fall in love.
With his reward Jack starts a goods store in Hobart, assisted by the feisty Mrs Maggs and her niece Abigail.
Jack knows that he will only ever be a “freed” man in Hobart, not a “free” settler. Each day he is in constant fear of being denounced by the population of Hobart, particularly by Hugh Chilcott who has turned up in Hobart.
Abigail runs away with Jack’s escaped convict mate Amos who has unexpectedly turned up on Jack’s doorstep. She returns a year later with a baby following Amos’s tragic death in a pub brawl.
On Christmas Eve, the door of Jack’s store opens and an elderly and arthritic dog is ushered inside, wearing something metal around his neck. It is the necklace. The couple and the dog disappear into the crowds before Jack can hobble to the door to speak to them.