Tag Archives: Convicts

Pirate Boy of Sydney Town – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

ISBN: 9781460754795

ISBN 10: 1460754794

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

May 2019

RRP: 16.99 AUD

pirateboy

Just a few weeks ago I reviewed the third in Jackie’s Miss Lily series and now it’s another superb historical fiction, plus I have two others on my review shelf. I begin to wonder when the woman sleeps! Her prodigious output, the diversity of her works and the unsurpassed quality of her narratives are just truly awe-inspiring.

I know a modicum of Australian history but Jackie always provides so much deeper knowledge and indeed, revelations about our past which I for one have entirely missed.

In this case it is the piracy that was not uncommon in our waters during the 19th century.

Young Ebenezer (Ben) Huntsmore has had an idyllic life, growing up in his mother’s ancestral home, Badger’s Hill, and has loved his interaction with the farming tenants and the contented continuity of their community.  When his mostly absent and ne’er-do-well shipowner father loses everything in a gambling debt their life is turned upside down and Ben and his mother are forced to leave their much-loved home to journey to the far off new colony of Australia. Huntsmore Senior has a plan to restore the family fortune with his one remaining ship as a privateer, with the good grace and commission from the Prince of Wales. Who knew? Certainly not me!

The sea voyage is marred by the ill-treated human cargo of convicts – mere chattels to the owner – and the death of Ben’s mother from typhoid. Ben barely survives the deadly illness himself. The ensuing chapter of the narrative finds little improved for young Ben when the piracy begins in earnest with scant regard for human life or any kind of mercy. With poetic justice the first act of robbery on the high seas a success has a bad ending for Ben’s father and Ben himself is castaway but with his only two ‘friends’ – the Aboriginal sailor Guwara and the convict Higgins  – who form an alliance and commit to returning Ben to safety.

Complex and confronting at times but with redeeming hopefulness, courage, unexpected friendship and loyalty and the perfect illustration that ‘class’ does not maketh the individual, this is a wonderful study of human nature at its best as well as its worst. The references to Jackie’s previous books with the appearance of an adult Tom Appleby (Tom Appleby, Convict Boy) and the mention of Nanberry (Nanberry Black Brother White) are cleverly inserted. As always Jackie’s indefatigable research enables her to embed historical fact into her narrative seamlessly, allowing the reader to truly ‘live’ in the experience.

Readers who are keen on Australian history or those who are studying this period of history will find this intriguing and intense. Again, Jackie has given us an absolutely cracking read!

Highly recommended for mature readers from around mid-primary upwards.

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel (The Secret Histories #5) – Jackie French

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rebel

Harper Collins

Available: 21st January 2019
ISBN: 9781460754801

RRP: $14.99

 

If you have not yet set about acquiring Jackie’s enthralling Secret Histories series it is definitely time to catch up to it. As this school year peters out and we limp towards the finish line, some are already thinking about 2019 and our support of our classes.

For the past two years I have shared Birrung the Secret Friend with our Year 4 classes to build their field of knowledge before their First Contact HASS studies. In particular this first in the series addresses directly their inquiry into short- and long-term effects of European settlement on the local environment and Indigenous land and water management practices.  Not only were the students completely engaged with the narrative with much lively discussion, prediction and astonishment (“the piece of meat was HOW big?”) but were already well prepared for their unit of work and receptive to even more delving into history.

Joyfully many of them have continued on with the series and love to tell me which one they have just read and recount the highlights. They all certainly love following the continued story of Barney and Elsie.
Now the series has moved onto to the early 1800s and Sydney Town has developed into an actual town although with dubious quality and is not the only growing settlement. While Barney and Elsie have now built their farm and are happily thriving out at Parramatta things are far from stable in the colony. The recent influx of Irish rebels transported for their part (whether actual or assumed) in the Vinegar Hill uprising has added an extra layer of fomenting discontent in the new colony where poverty, cruelty and injustice abounds. One small orphan, just one of many, is caught up in this. Frog has never known a mother or father and is, instead, a pickpocket in the rather dubious care of a slatternly innkeeper. When young Frog encounters both Elsie Bean and one Phillip Cunningham, momentous events are set in place.

The Castle Hill uprising was an unsuccessful attempt to redress the balance of justice in the corrupt environment of the colony despotically ruled over by such (now) dimly viewed personalities as Governor King, Rev Marsden and the local rabble of soldiery. Betrayed by spies the convicts’ rebellion is not only thwarted but cruelly crushed with merciless reprisals.

Frog, hero worshipping Cunningham, casts the die and joins the rebels, as a small but determined supporter and is injured in the skirmish. Rescued by Barney Bean, Frog’s future unravels into something not to be dreamed of – with the littlest rebel’s deepest secret revealed.

The twist in the tale is brilliant and little Frog, unloved and unwanted, finds a family worth having and along with them moves forward to building the colony into a bigger and better place for all-comers.

This is a story long untold and Jackie French, with her passion for Australian history, has revealed it to readers through her intensive research into eyewitness accounts as well as her imagination.  I for one, cannot wait to introduce this to my students as their next foray into the troubled history of our country. Their fierce sense of justice will be inflamed by the story and they will love to hear the next episode of Barney and Elsie and their growing family.

As if you can’t tell, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Aside from its readability it is easily one of the most valuable adjuncts to teaching primary children real history.

Recommended for readers from around eight years upwards.