It was announced this morning that THE POSTMISTRESS made the BETTER READING Top 100 list (she comes in at #36!).
This is a reader voted list and includes classics and best selling international authors...so THANK YOU to all those readers who gave her your vote and to my team at Harlequin MIRA who had such faith in this story. I am thrilled.
You can see the complete list HERE
Some awards are extra special and the Australian Romance Readers Awards are just such awards, because the nominations come directly from readers. It doesn't get any better than that...
Which is why I am thrilled by the news yesterday that THE POSTMISTRESS has received a nomination in the historical category. The winner is announced on 7 March, but really this is one award where I am genuinely delighted to receive the nomination itself.
Thank you readers!
(And if, by any chance, you are an ARRA member...voting is open!)
While I hasten to assure everyone that apart from smoke days, I am a long way from the fires but I doubt there is anyone who doesn't know someone directly impacted by the awful bushfires.
It has been amazing how the community, both here in Australia and overseas have responded to the crisis and my own writers community has set up an online Twitter auction under the hashtag #AuthorsforFireys. There is some amazing books and more on offer.
When I wrote THE POSTMISTRESS I set it in beautiful Gippsland and, for those who've read it, you will know that a bushfire plays a huge role in the story. Last year a real bushfire directly impacted the real town (Walhalla) on which Maiden's Creek is based. This year's fires are further to the east so fingers crossed Walhalla stays safe. Just to give you some idea of the scale of these fires... Below are some images from the fire that nearly took Walhalla last year...(reproduced with consent of the photographer)
If you would like to bid on a signed copy of THE POSTMISTRESS (bids are currently at Aus$100), the link is: https://twitter.com/AlisonStuart14/status/1213965230662799360 .
Auction ends Sat 11 at 11pm Australian time.
“You have been made aware that we have been visited by the plague of small-pox,and that the case has resulted in the death of the patient…" So begins an article in the Gippsland Times dated 30 March 1869.
Today smallpox has been eradicated (existing only in a secure vault somewhere in a far off land, never to be released), but in the nineteenth century it was the plague. Highly infectious and in 30% of cases, fatal, it was no respecter of social station. It was spread by contact and despite vaccination being available (thank you Mr. Jenner), in the 1870s not everyone would have been routinely vaccinated as they are now.
The introduction of smallpox into a small closed community such as the township of Walhalla in Gippsland, Victoria, could have had devastating consequences. In researching THE POSTMISTRESS, I came across the following tragic tale, which I incorporated into my own story
In late 1868, smallpox came to Melbourne, resulting in the infection of 42 people and the death of at least 9. In February 1869 A young bride, 21 year old, Sarah Ann Hanks, recently married in Melbourne, returned to Walhalla with her new husband, a miner, Thomas Hanks. She and her husband stayed for a few days in one of the hotels in town but on 14 March, feeling unwell, the town’s resident doctor, Henry Hadden was sent for. Dr. Hadden had some first hand experience of smallpox and when the first tell tale signs (spots around the mouth) appeared, he acted fast. The town authorities were alerted and the hotel where the Hanks were staying was locked down.
The police located an empty house some way out of town where the patient could be placed in isolation, but her husband refused to co-operate. Instead he spirited Sarah out of the hotel to his own residence, a cottage just north of the township. On the advice of the doctors (Dr. Boone and Dr. Hadden), the town authorities erected an eight foot high palisade around the house, effectively isolating the inhabitants. In the meantime the doctors set about a radical vaccination programme to ensure everyone in the town was protected from the disease. Only Dr. Hadden was permitted to enter the infected house and despite the best care he could give the woman, she died in agony (her screams could be heard throughout the town) on the 23rd March.
The authorities faced a dilemma. The cemetery was to the south of the town and they could not in all good conscience, permit the carrying of her coffin through the major population centre so Sarah Ann Hanks was interred in a ten foot deep grave on top of the hill above her home. Her lonely grave can still be seen today near to the Walhalla Cricket Ground.
Her husband and his son had by this time contracted the disease. They were removed to the temporary hospital well out of town and the house and everything in it was burned to the ground. The surviving Hanks family did not succumb to the disease and left town shortly after being cleared.
From The Leader (Melbourne 3 April 1869): “A correspondent at Walhalla, writing on the 25th of March, relates some additional particulars connected with the death of Mrs Hanks from smallpox, near that township : — ' Drs.Boone and Hadden say that this case was one of thd worst they ever met with, and Dr. Boone was a medical inspector to a smallpox hospital in America. The building in which Mrs Hanks died, and that adjoining it, were burnt to theground, and Mr Hanks, his child and nurse, have been removed by the police to some empty buildings at the Britannia Ree , three miles from Walhalla, approaching the end of Stringer's Creek.'
Dr. Hadden, the hero of the hour, did not live long to enjoy his moment. On 29 May, returning from Melbourne to Walhalla, he was found dead on the coach between Buneep (Bunyip) and Shady Creek. No cause was established, but it is widely assumed he died of alcohol poisoning.
In an odd twist of life imitating art, at the time I began writing THE POSTMISTRESS, and the characters of Caleb and Doctor Bowen came to life, I hadn’t read the story of the smallpox scare. I had no idea that Walhalla’s real life doctors during that period were an alcoholic Irishman and a dissolute American… sometime fiction mirrors fact in the oddest ways!
For a detailed account of the Smallpox scare: A tale of Old Wallhalla - How we fought the smallpox in Wallhala by Henry Thomas Tisdall
Trove (for contemporary newspaper accounts of the smallpox scare) and Henry’s Hadden’s Eventful Life and Unusual Death
THE POSTMISTRESS is out now and available at all good booksellers around Australia and as an ebook at your favourite store. Click HERE to purchase
If you are familiar with my earlier books, you may be wondering why the move from the trouble and strife of the English Civil War to the wilds of the Australian bush.
Growing up my head and heart were firmly in English history and like, I suspect, many Australians, I considered Australian history a bit ho hum… no castles, kings, civil wars. Just dust and dirt and convicts!
However like Australia itself, I have grown up. I have travelled to the remote and lonely corners of this country in the company of my husband who has a passion for the Australian bush. Together we have stood in ruined homesteads and wondered about the life led by the people who settled a country that had no softness to spare for the weak. I have also explored my own family history - convicts, sailors and entrepreneurs.
What tipped my passions was reading a very badly researched historical romance set in my own home town of Melbourne. The story was so inaccurate, it was funny, but what upset me were the comments of reviewers on Amazon thanking the author for introducing them to this hitherto unknown history of Australia.
This got me thinking and over a good bottle of red wine, while camping on the Snowy River, my husband and I started to mull over what sort of Australian story I could tell.
We decided that a small town with a set cast of characters offered the greatest scope for a series of historical stories, but where?
On our way home from that camping trip we stopped, as we often do, in Walhalla - a tiny town deep in the valleys of the Great Dividing Range. A pretty, peaceful place with a permanent population of only twenty people. Following the discovery of gold in Stringers Creek in the 1860s, Walhalla became a gold mining town and at the time of Federation one of its mines was the highest yielding gold mine in Australia (and was honoured with being shown on one of the first stamps of the new Commonwealth). It ticked all the boxes for my fictional town.
And why a fictional town? Quite simply I didn’t want to be constrained by the geography and history of a real town, but there are strong elements of Walhalla in my fictional Maiden’s Creek that anyone knowing the town may recognise and I have had fun researching some incidents in the early history of the town that fitted uncannily into my own narrative (more on those in future posts).
So I had my town, the next step was to build the world of Maiden’s Creek. Who were the people who inhabited the town? What did the geography of the town look like?
What I loved about creating this world is the mix of nationalities (English, Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, Americans, Italians, Germans, Russians…) and personalities that were drawn to the gold fields. Shopkeepers, brothel owners, bakers, general stores, undertakers, livery stables and of course the gold miners all coming together against incredible physical odds to scrape a living from the earth.
So take yourself back to 1871...when the Sale coach leaves Melbourne and stops at a genuine stop on the old coach road called Shady Creek, the Maiden’s Creek coach driven by Amos Burrell arrives, ready to whisk you over the hills, across the Thompson River and down the steep, treacherous roads that will take you to Maiden’s Creek…
THE POSTMISTRESS is on sale now in all good booksellers and retailers...
Images of present day Walhalla and surrounds...
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