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

Simon Barnard

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.


ABC Radio Hobart, Your Afternoon (35.30)
Triple R, Smart Arts (21:30)


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 now lives in Melbourne. He won the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the...

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

‘A big, beautiful, funny, fascinating thrill-ride of convict esoterica.’

‘A lively, detailed and richly illustrated account of the lives of convicts sent to Van Diemen’s land.’

‘Barnard’s impressive craftsmanship has produced a truly handsome book design that pays loving homage to its 19th century sources…School students often complain about the dullness of Australian history. Barnard’s highly entertaining book is the perfect antidote to the usual sober textbook treatment of the convict era.’

‘In a time when we, as descendants no longer wish to wash away the ‘convict stain’, this book is a wonderful history for as wide as possible an audience.’

‘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.’