The Naturalist’s Daughter
Tea Cooper’s seventh historical fiction novel set in colonial Australia, The Naturalist’s Daughter tells the stories of two young women one hundred years apart: the challenges they faced and how they both discover unexpected family ties and true love.
Rose Winton has led an unconventional rural life in Agnes Creek, New South Wales assisting her father, Charles, with his scientific observations of the platypus. In 1808 botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, summons Charles to England to present his findings to the prestigious Royal Society. Charles is unable to go due to ill health, so it falls to Rose to make the long journey. In London, Rose comes up against the full force of the elitist scientific community. Fleeing London, Rose embarks on a dangerous journey to Cornwall, where she learns about her mother’s mysterious past.
It’s 1908 in Sydney, and Tamsin Alleyn is a librarian tasked with researching the missing papers of Charles Winton. She travels to country New South Wales to examine a sketchbook believed to be Winton’s, but encounters severe obstacles to her quest. She pairs up with a solicitor with a passion for antiquarian books, and together they attempt to piece together the mystery of Charles Winton and his daughter Rose. In doing so, Tamsin uncovers secrets about her own family. Past and present converge in an unexpected twist.
Cooper skillfully weaves historical fact through the two stories, creating a sense of atmosphere and suspense. Both stories are engaging, and the transitions back and forth work well. She has created two determined and feisty young women of their respective times and interwoven a compelling storyline about scientific discovery and colonial secrets. Whilst there’s enough love interest to satisfy fans of historical romance, it doesn’t detract from the novel’s primary function, that of historical fiction with a mystery plot.