The front cover of the book 'Marion and the Forty Thieves'.
by Sarah Luke

Marion’s life is anything but ordinary. The daughter of the principal, Captain Neitenstein, she is the only girl aboard a magnificent floating boys’ school, anchored permanently in Sydney Harbour in the late 1800s. Her best friend has boarded a steamship to France and now it’s just her and this ship full of ragtag schoolboys. One night, Marion discovers that a new student, Alexander Walker, is escaping the ship to meet up with his vicious gang, the Forty Thieves. Marion bravely follows Walker into the frightening Rocks neighbourhood to investigate …What are the Forty Thieves up to and will Marion be able to stop them before it’s too late?

Based on the real life Marion Neitenstein, this middle-grade ‘faction’, which offers an immersive and historically accurate experience of an unusual nineteenth-century institution for neglected boys. Marion’s middle-class life is contrasted with Sydney slum life and wharf culture. Other important real characters appear, including businessman Quong Tart and the head of the Forty Thieves gang Joseph Bragg.

The author used primary sources to research the story, such as old gaol inmate records and even Quong Tart’s original menus, and delves into these sources at the back of the book, covering topics such as the nautical school-ships Vernon and Sobraon and their captains, the Rocks, Quong Tart and more. The text is accompanied by real photographs from the ship, portraits of 3 Sobraon boys from the admissions book and images of Sydney street scene from the period.

About the author

Sarah Luke is a teacher and historian. She likes researching in archives, finding information about people from the past, and writing nonfiction books about them. At other times she is inspired to write historical fiction stories, so that people who merely ghost through archives also have a chance to be remembered. Sarah likes exploring old places in Sydney—particularly sandstone palaces and mossy, dark graveyards. Marion and the Forty Thieves is her first children’s book.