Crawford House Publishing
Fortunes of Fire A historical saga

The saga opens in 1799 with with our hero’s mother, Mary Barsden, who is sentenced to seven years transportation to NSW. She is transported on the Speedy, and on that vessel is also Lieutenant Philip Gidley King and his family as well as Sarah and John Castleman, a young lieutenant posted to the New South Wales Corps. After giving birth to her son, William, Mary Barsden dies on the Speedy. Soon after birth, the child is pronounced dead, and is about to be buried at sea but is saved from a watery grave by Anna King. Young William Barsden is brought up in the shadows of Parramatta’s Government House and Governor King grants him land, as a guarantee for his future welfare.

The ambitious John Castleman, a John Macarthur-type character, prospers in colonial NSW. He is involved in the hunting down of Pemulway, the notorious and infamous Aborigine. The reader is taken into the early social and political life of the colony, as the Castlemans tread a careful path between the ambitions of the officers of the NSW Corps, and their desire to gain the recognition of Governor King and so receive a land grant.

With the departure of the Kings, and the arrival of the infamous Governor Bligh, young William’s fortunes decline, and the land that was granted to him by King is taken from him by Castleman. William Barsden is left with an insatiable hatred for the Castlemans. As a young man, William Barsden goes to sea on a vessel engaged in the South Pacific sandalwood trade,whaling first toTasmania.

Meanwhile, John Castleman is decommissioned, and prospers as a pastoralist in New South Wales and gains property to the west of the Blue Mountains close to Bathurst. William Barsden quarrels with the captain of his vessel, and decides to abscond when it visits Tahiti. On the Tahitian island of Eimeo, William falls in love with a Tahitian princess, and is eventually brought into a civil war. William is instrumental in the victory of the Christian army in the Tahitian civil war, and is rewarded by being given permission to marry his Tahitian princess. But soon after, in the belief that his young pregnant wife has been killed in a rebel reprisal raid on the island, he flees in an American vessel. However, he has managed to escape with a bundle of precious black pearls.

Through their murderous treatment of the Wiradjuri people, the reader loses sympathy with the Castlemans as they build up their pastoral empire on the Western Plains. Windradyne nearly kills Augustus Castleman who declares that he will kill the Aborigine. The ruthlessly ambitious Augustus controls the Twin Rivers property on the Western Plains & is dedicated to the breeding of the best merino sheep in the colony. While poisoning Windradyne’s clan with arsenic, Augustus is foiled in his quest to destroy the great Wiradjuri warrior. Windradyne survives and has a burning hatred for Augustus Castleman.

After selling some of his black pearls in London, William Barsden returns to NSW and buys Gregory Blaxland’s property in the Fish River Valley near Bathurst. His neighbour is Augustus Castleman, who has recently married the beautiful Esther.

Early in their marriage, Esther discovers Augustus in bed with their priest, and she eventually falls in love with William. The hatred between Augustus Castleman and William Barsden is intensified. Because of the discovery of his homosexuality, Augustus leaves a foreman in charge of Twin Rivers and returns to Sydney. Here he invests heavily in the Australian Agricultural Company and the Bank of Australia. He uses his influence on the boards of these establishments to attempt to destroy his arcenemy, Barsden.

William, on the invitation of William Wentworth becomes a member of the Board of the Bank of NSW. This bank also is suffering from the fierce competition from the Bank of Australia and the Australian Agricultural Company.

Through Esther’s contacts with the Wiradjuri, William learns of an impending fierce drought. William sells off his stock, but the Castlemans continue to over-extend their investments. Financially over-exposed, the Castlemans are destroyed by Augustus’ reckless borrowing. Faced with an impending future in the Debtor’s Prison, the Castlemans retreat to their property on the Western Plains, but bushfires eventually destroy them.

Nearby, Esther and William have survived the fires. William goes off to see if Windradyne and his fellow Wiradjuris are safe. In the burning bush, Augustus, who has lost his horse, and is attempting to escape the terror of the fires, sets upon William. He wounds William, and is about to kill him, when Windradyne appears out of the smoky morn and wracks his revenge on Augustus, and at the same time saves William’s life.


Grant Rodwell


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Hard cased & jacketed


225 x 150mm



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