A Kayena author's literary re-creation of a major Australian convict uprising was launched in Launceston last week.
Jeanette M Thompson's new book Bone and Beauty: The Ribbon Boys Rebellion tells the story of Ralph Entwistle, a loyal government servant who was drawn into a conspiracy of Irish convict rebels known as the Ribbon Boys. The idea to write the book came to Thompson while she was in Bathurst, NSW, on sabbatical leave with her husband.
"I was writing children's television scripts and I'd heard that some bushrangers were buried under the school in Bathurst," she said.
"I spent the years of my doctorate researching the archives and writing the story.
"I like to think of it as stripping the bushranger myth because when I started out some things just didn't ring true about this narrative about a man who was unfairly punished, took up arms against a government and was captured and punished."
Elements of the Entwistle and the Ribbon Gang story did not make sense to Thompson.
"It didn't make sense that 80 people would have taken up arms to join him if the whole thing was a revenge plot centred around him being flogged," she said. "Everyone was flogged, it was common."
"He [Entwistle] had been swimming naked in the river so the story was passed around in a comical sense.
"I wanted to really understand what it was about the conditions of the time that would make 80 or 80 to 100 government servants walk off and risk their own execution to be part of this insurgency."
Thompson said another motivator for writing the book was the lack of historical focus on people other than Entwistle, who were also involved in the uprising in 1830.
"The other thing about the story that intrigued me was that, because it was always told as one man's journey, no one had ever asked about the nine men who were hanged alongside him and what their backgrounds where, or why they were thought of as the ringleaders." Thompson said.
"They were called Ribbon Boys by the convicts at the time, but nobody had ever looked into the meaning of that term beyond it being a nickname in Bathurst.
"I started to do some research in Irish Secret Societies and I found that a lot of the traits they displayed through the court records and the witness statements, were the traits of ribbon societies."
The discovery prompted Thompson to delve deeper.
"I realised it was a much richer web of interconnected stories than just the story of one man who went swimming and was flogged," she said.
"There's a big gap in our knowledge, between the Castle Hill Rebellion and Ned Kelly, nothing much is said about other convict insurrections or what the Irish were doing in that period of time."
Thompson said the story contained connections to Launceston and George Town.