The Naturalist’s Daughter by Téa Cooper

‘We must always record our evidence.  It’s the only way.’

In 1808 at Agnes Banks in NSW, a young Rose Winton is fascinated by her father’s work.  Charles Winton is a naturalist, studying the platypus (or mallangong, as it is known by the local indigenous people).  Charles Winton has been corresponding with Sir Joseph Banks, then President of the Royal Society, about the mysterious animal.  Charles Winton’s ground-breaking research, accompanied by sketches, provides much more information about the platypus than anyone else has yet documented.  Charles Winton is invited to present his findings to the Royal Society but becomes ill and is unable to sail to London.  He sends Rose in his place: there are family connections Rose can turn to.

‘‘Ask all the questions you can think of and remember the Royal Society motto—Nullius in Verba.’

Take no one’s word for it.’’

In 1908 in Sydney, NSW, Tamsin Alleyn is a young woman working at the Public Library.  She’s sent to Wollombi in the Hunter Valley to retrieve an old sketch book which has been gifted to the Library by an elderly woman.    The journal is said to belong to Charles Winton, and if it’s genuine, it may be of great significance.

Two stories, separated by a century.  Two young women, much more independent than is usual for the times.  Two mysteries to be explained.  While the reader will quickly understand where the sketchbook came from, the question of ownership needs to be resolved, as does how the sketchbook ended up in Wollombi.  For part of the story, the reader has more information than Tamsin.  I was engrossed by this stage: I wanted to know how Tamsin would trace the history of the sketchbook.  I wanted to find the links between 1808 and 1908: what happened to Rose, and what about the presentation to the Royal Society?

To write more about the story could spoil it. There is more than one mystery in this novel (in both 1808 and 1908) as well as an occasional melodramatic flourish to hold the reader’s attention.  I really enjoyed the characters of both Rose and Tamsin, and the way in which Ms Cooper presented this story.

This is the first of Ms Cooper’s novels I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last!


Jennifer Cameron-Smith