Norfolk Island Pentagonal Prison Gate 1847 showing ruins of cells
Although I was part of a crowded guided tour of the Pentagonal Prison on Norfolk Island a few years ago, I suddenly felt completely alone. I found myself staring at the crumbling stone ruins of a cell and inexplicable tears filled my eyes.
Sleep eluded me that night; instead a story began to haunt my dreams – told to me by three very different characters.
One was a convict, one was a soldier and the other was a young lady.
The convict named himself in my dreams that night, Michael Hanlan. It was a name I had never heard before. He felt so real and I could see him so clearly that I spent many months trawling convict websites to see if I could find him. So convinced was I that he existed that I went down to Sydney from Brisbane to visit the Mitchell Library and spent hours staring at microfilmed records of convict arrivals and other registers for Norfolk Island but all to no avail.
Lieutenant Edmund Thornton was a name I made up. It actually changed a few times during the course of writing the novel. It was a name that had to rhyme with another (you’ll find out why when you read Heart of a Beast). After much deliberation I decided to name him Edmund Thornton. Research told me that Her Majesty’s Eleventh Regiment of Foot was serving on Norfolk Island during the time of Heart of a Beast and so he became Lieutenant Edmund Thornton of the Eleventh Regiment.
Imagine my surprise when, during my most recent visit to Norfolk Island, my girlfriend, Karen, and I were traipsing through the Norfolk Island Colonial Cemetery when we came upon this tombstone:
Norfolk Island Colonial Era Cemetery Grave number 40
Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Michael Mansfield Pt in the HM XI Reg of Infantry who died September 13 1847 from the effects of a fall from his horse the 22 year of his age.
This stone was erected by Wm H Thornton Cap of his company as a small mark of his regret for a good and promising young soldier.
I could not believe that there really was an officer serving in Her Majesty’s Eleventh Regiment of Foot with the surname of THORNTON stationed on Norfolk Island exactly the year and only the month before Heart of a Beast begins – spooky!
While I was trying to decide upon a name for my heroine, my own family history research led me to discover that one of my great, great, great grandfathers had been murdered in Cheshire, England in 1840. The newspapers of the time reported the crime in great detail including that he had left behind a heavily pregnant wife and five children. Subsequent articles reported that within a month of the murder his wife had given birth to a son – and then reported that she had died of a broken heart only five months later. I thought it only fitting to give my heroine her name, Sarah Henshall. I believe she must have been a very special woman who loved her man with all her heart.
There is one last minor character I would like to mention. I named the Superintendent of Convicts, George Vessey, after another one of my great, great, great grandfathers who had spent a short time in jail doing hard labour and then deserted his family. Truly I have no idea who my George Vessey really was or anything about his temperament – but it just felt right to name this character after him. I hope I have not done my grandfather an injustice, after all there are two sides to every story and then there is the truth!
Of course, as all books say, all my characters are completely fictional and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is completely coincidental!
BY THE WAY have you noticed the new widget on the left hand side of the page?
Only 25 days until the ebook is released – but who’s counting? ME!
And hopefully YOU.