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Gaolbird: The True Story of William Swallow, Convict and Pirate

Simon Barnard

  • awardLonglisted, Picture Book of the Year, CBCA, 2018
  • It’s 23 October 1821 and convict William Swallow stands on the deck of the Malabar for muster. He is wearing a canary yellow convict uniform and his legs are chained. He’s just completed the 121-day sea voyage from London to Hobart Town, but his wild and audacious adventures have barely begun.

    He’ll soon ditch the convict uniform and the chains, take part in a mutiny, become a pirate captain and fool the world in what just might be the most outrageous and unbelievable true story in Australia’s convict history.


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    Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    CBCA Reading Time
    Kids Book Review

    Simon Barnard
    About the Author

    Simon Barnard was born and grew up in Launceston. He spent a lot of time in the bush as a boy, which led to an interest in Tasmanian history. He is a writer, illustrator and collector of colonial artifacts. He won the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year awards for his first...

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    Text publication date:
    31 July 2017
    AU Price:
    NZ Price:
    Australian history, Convicts, True Stories, Tasmania, Sailing, Birds, Pirates, Illustrated
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    Praise for Simon Barnard

    ‘Simon Barnard’s Hogarthian yarn of cunning and hapless convict pirates is no less absurd for being true: the kind of slapstick lunacy that so often passes for actual history. Wonderfully conceived, surprisingly original, terrifically entertaining. Three cheers for Gaolbird!’

    ‘A boisterous slice of Australian colonial history…the visual style will appeal to lovers of Horrible Histories or the ever-increasing range of graphic novels.’ 

    ‘The utterly true tale of escaped convict turned pirate William Walker. There’s grim stuff here but the neat illustrations, regular fact bombs and remarkable tale carry the whole show along.’

    ‘This beautifully told and illustrated story of William Swallow and convict Popjoy is an historical adventure with a difference.’

    ‘This is an exciting book with a lot going on, both visually and in the story. Readers will enjoy this highly entertaining insight into two incredible characters from Australia’s convict history.’

    ‘An unusual book inspired by the truth being stranger than fiction…There is a real sense of humour in the story, which could be described as both farcical and tragic. It is certainly memorable.’

    ‘Barnard manages to use the picture book format to capture the historical in a clever and engaging way… A hugely entertaining look at a moment in our history.’

    ‘Simon Barnard employs his superb artistic flair to illustrate this chaotic, comical and calamitous tale.’