Review Blog

Feb 12 2020

The secret of the youngest rebel by Jackie French

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The Secret Histories Book 5. Angus and Robertson, 2019. ISBN: 9781460754801. pbk., 110pp.
French's historical novels present an area of history readers know little of, but by the time they read her books, they will have gained an overview of the period in which the book is set, a glimpse into the lives of people their own age and a strong feeling for the setting of the incident.
Based on eyewitness accounts, this fifth title in The Secret Histories series reveals a time of rebellion amongst the disenfranchised in the early years of Sydney Town. The Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804 is given scant attention in history books, but French fleshes out the rebel Philip Cunningham, the reasons for the uprising, its failure and consequences for the colony.
Like the four other novels in this fine series, a young person is at the centre of the action and we see this doomed riot against the government through his eyes.
Homeless in Sydney Town sees Frog stealing for a living, waiting at meetings to pick pockets and one day he meets Mr Cunningham, an Irish convict, sent to Australia in irons for his part in the anti British uprisings in Ireland in the late eighteenth century. Told to watch out for the fire at Parramatta, the signal for the rebellion to start, Frog is taken up with the cry, Death or Liberty, and sets out to join Cunningham and his army of rebels.
But the series of fires set as the signal to join in do not eventuate, spies and traitors within the camps having given them away. Wounded and watching from his vantage point in a tree, Frog sees the rebels killed, captured and taken away, the rebellion put down.
He is taken in by a family who look after him and he hears of the wider problems within the social structures in Sydney Town, caused by the power and influence of the NSW Corps or Rum Corps as it was known. French adds several pages of information at the end of Frog's story filling in details about Sydney Town at the time and why people were so unhappy they were willing to fight.
A piece of Australia's history is made known to a wider audience through this well told story of Frog. French does not overtax her readers with facts, leaving them at the end for people to read after the story has finished, but unbeknownst to them, readers will have gained more than they realise through the story.
Fran Knight

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