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In 1846, linguistics professor Fabrice Cleriquot is despatched from Lyon to the Swan River Colony, sent away with a box full of silkworms to stop him from bringing more disgrace upon the family. Accompanying him on board the Elizabeth are twenty-eight mismatched and misguided Catholic missionaries including Dom Salvado, who seeks to create a Spanish Benedictine monastery deep in the bush, and the Irish Sisters of Mercy, who are fleeing a dreadful famine.Given the job of distributing a huge donation from a wealthy benefactress, Fabrice bears witness to the folly of his travelling companions whose presumptuous attempts to rescue the colony and the original inhabitants from themselves, can only lead to tragedy.