Bone and Beauty (UQP 2020) is an imaginative combination of history and literary fiction by Jeanette M. Thompson about the convict uprising at Bathurst in 1830, an event mostly forgotten but brought to life through Thompson’s highly accessible approach to history.
In October of 1830, a band of Ribbon Boys, rebelling after years of mistreatment, starvation and low morale, liberated over 80 convicts from Bathurst farms and led them towards freedom. In response, Governor Darling ordered the 39th Regiment in pursuit, fearful that insurrections might follow. Battles occur, lives are lost and chaos reigns.
This is a very fine example of an author using meticulous research and archival evidence to reimagine and retell a gripping story that has been forgotten in the dusty past of history. The rich detail and evocative settings come direct from research, but the characterisations and motivations behind the main players have been reconstructed by Thompson’s lively imagination. The story is centred on the life of the leader Ralph Entwhistle but so many characters are brought to life in this reconstruction. For readers that love historical faction – reimagined history, based on real facts but with literary interpretation woven in to complete the story – this is a fascinating read. Subjects include: ‘the influence of Irish secret societies, the scale of oppression and corruption, and the complex web of criminal and family relationships’ behind the events.
Each chapter, and each section within chapters, is broken up and identified by a place and specific dates, moving in chronological order. There is a most interesting postscript that includes true known facts about the fates of many of the characters in the book, and other historical detail.