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“Mandragora” written by David McRobbie

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  • Pages: 13
  • Word count: 3105
  • Category: Books Novel

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David McRobbie’s Mandragora (Mammoth Australia) is another contemporary novel with links to a historic shipwreck, the sinking of the Dunarling. Adam and Catriona have found a cache of four small dolls made from mandrake roots. The dolls were left in the cave by two other teenagers, Jamie and Margaret, who had survived the wreck of the Dunarling. Transcribing a diary from that same voyage, Adam and Catriona learn the power of the cursed mandrake roots, power that destroyed the Dunarling in 1886 and that is resurfacing in the town of Dunarling today.

Chapter One. Here we are told of the trecherous journey of the ‘Dunarling’, it’s crew and passangers.

Not much information is actually given here on the ‘Dunarling’ as such, more of the two survivors.

James Ramsay, a sailor aboard the ship, and Margaret Colquhoun, an immigrant bound for Adelaide escaped the wreck of the ‘Dunarling’ and rested in a small cave until morning when they brought the first news of the fate of the ‘Dunarling’, it’s crew and passengers.

When returning to the beach at which the cave was situated, they were unable to find the cave. Over many years, the cave still remained buired, and many beleived it was just ‘a delusion on their part’, and people used it to describe a strech of the imagination.

When the four discover the tiny coffins, some have doubts about the coffins;

*Catriona and Adam suggest to leave the coffins as they are.

*Catriona, whilst supporting Adams arguments, Adam is “suprised to see how pale she was”.

*After discovering the contents of the coffins, “Relief was evident in his (Richards) voice”.

*”Adam found himself looking not at Richard but at the doll’s face and he shivered briefly”.

*”It’s (the dolls) expression seemed to have changed to one of triumph”

Chapter Two. Hamish Leckie was a relative newcomer in the Dunarling community. Hamish was a former sergeant in the Royal Engineers and an explosives and demolition expert.

On page 11, Hamish is first mentioned by Catriona, “We should go and get Hamish Leckie from the museum before we do anything, in case we find – you know – artefacts and stuff”, after Catriona’s breif explaination, Adam explains to Richard, “he’s the curator”.

Further into the book, Adam talks more to Hamish as he continues to work on the diary of Ewart McColl. “He’d always regarded Hamish as an ally”.

Tam Dubh was the doll Adam and Catriona managed to salvage from Richard and Mike. When he first introduces himself to Adam, he is lying in his coffin on Adam’s bedside table.

Tam Dubh was described by Adam as;

*Having “Quite a nice expression”.

*Also having, “The mouth painted off to one side; as if whoever made it wanted to give it a wry, cheerful look”

*Being different to the one Richard had taken, “There was a brightness about this one”.

Tam Dubh effects Adam, when Tam Dubh is around, Adam has dreams about the future. As if Tam Dubh is showing him what will happen so that Adam can do something about it.

Tam Dubh is able to use Adam to prevent situations and (as on the bus) when Adam doesn’t, Tam Dubh can take over.

Chapter Three. According to Hamish Leckie, the dolls have many different purposes;

*”Some of them were supposedly made for good purposes – they were sort of ship’s spirit, carried by the captain and looked after, you know, bedded down in the captain’s cabin and given a box to live in, even food to eat and the captain would talk to it and consult it on ship matters. In return. the wee mandrake would protect the ship against dangers”.

*”Then there’s another theory that says these little figures were revenge dolls. Bought and sold to people who belived in such things and set to work in retaliation for real or imagined grievances”.

*From page 105 – 106, “These tiny figures were fashioned out of mandrake roots (Mandragora Juss) and were almost certainly brought to Australia aboard the ill fated immigrant ship ‘Dunarling’ which was shipwrecked off the coast in the storm of Monday 14th June, 1886. Their exact purpose is unclear but it is thought they were used by sailors as talismen or good luck charms. In other cases, they were brought and sold for evil motives, probably to exact revenge for a real or imagined grievence. The plant itself was also used to concoct love potions or to make women fertile. The mandrake has been mentioned in the Bible and has appared in the works of Shakespeare and John Donne. Throughout the years, many superstitious beleifs grew up about the mandragora plant. Some people thought it was certain death to pull a mandrake root from the ground so a rope was teid to a dog and the unfortunate animal, on being chased, pulled out the root and died. Mandrakes were also supposed to utter a shriek when they were uprooted from the earth. These present examples were found in the recently discovered cave in which James Ramsay and Margaret Colquhoun, the ‘Dunarling’ survibors, sheltered after the drama of the shipwreck”.

In town, there was a deliberately lit fire at the Dunarling museum. On the ‘Dunarling’ there was another deliberately lit fire, on Sunday 4th of April 1886.

In the Dunarling News, this story appeared;

‘Arson Attempt Fails’

Late last night an attempt was made to set fire to Dunarling Museum. Mr John Morrison, a night shift baker on his way to work, discovered the fire in the alley between the railway station and the adjoining museum.

Mr Morrison raised the alarm and the fire brigade arrived soon after and managed to bring the blaze under control.

Mr Hamish Leckie, curator of the museum said that the damage was superficial and confined to a small area of the museum near the brick wall which formed the back of the strong room. ‘Had the fire been lit against the wooden part of the wall, it might have been a different story,’ Mr Leckie said.

Dunarling Station-master Mr Charles McKew said damage to the station was slight and would not affect preparations for the Railway Centenary Re-enactment which would go ahead next month as scheduled.

A police spokesperson stated that this is the fourth case of arson in Dunarling in the last two weeks. Forensic experts have been called in from Melbourne to assist with the investigation.

There is a lot of arson going around town; the result of the mandrake doll ‘Swith’. Swith has also caused the fire on the ship which Adam found out about whilst transcribing the diary.

Chapter Four. The sergeant came to the high school to inform them about the explosives and detonators stolen during the break-in at the railway works department. The visit was to convince anyone who knew anything about the break-in to come forward to the police.

On Adam’s class feild trip, when the brakes failed, they found out they had been cut with a slender object with a serrated edge. On the Dunarling it was found that when the mizzen broke in the strom, the cables had been cut half way through.

Chapter Five. When the bus crashed, everyone saw an older man in a 19th century sailors costume. When Adam was walking down the aisle to steer the bus out of danger Ms Mullins had said “Who are you and what are you doing man”. Why hadn’t Ms Mullins recognised Adam?

From the family Bible, Adam and Catriona find out that Adam Colquhoun was only 17 when he had Margaret. From this they assume that Margaret is Colquhoun’s illegitimate daughter.

Chapter 6. Adam has a dream of his mother and Catriona drinking poisoned water. In his dream, Adam hears Tam Dubh telling him Smeddum is making mischeif at the place of the water. When he arrives at the water distribution centre (where they had been on an excursion earlier that day), he finds someone pouring white ant killer into the water pump.

Chapter Seven. After Adam brought Hamish his latest transcript of Ewan McColl’s diary Tam Dubh’s expression turned into a listless, downcast face. Yet, Swith, who had caused the fires, seemed to look healthier.

*”Adam paused in front of Tam Dubh’s display and leaned on the rail, staring at the tiny figure; he was suprised to see how plae the doll had become”. “Some of them were supposedly made for good purposes – they were sort of ship’s spirit, carried by the captain and looked after, you know, bedded down in the captain’s cabin and given a box to live in, even food to eat and the captain would talk to it and consult it on ship matters. In return. the wee mandrake would protect the ship against dangers”.

*”There was no sparkle from the eye, just a listless, downcast face”.

*”A little lower in the mound of sand the other doll, Swith, lay in its coffin and by contrast it seemed to have become healtheir in general appearance”.

A passage in the diary shows Mr Colquhoun’s claim about the four demons and the ship’s curse. He begged the captain to go back to Scotland before they all perished.

*”He came upon deck this morning screaming and ranting that his bible said the ship was cursed by four demons and he begged the captain to turn back to Scotland before they all perished”.

Chapter Eight. In the family bible, the passage ‘Four demons I send wi’ ye, Adam Colquhoun. Bleeze, Mischance and Foulness, then All Fa’ Doon.’ that Adam and Catriona found relates to the misfortunes on the ship and in the town.

The passage translates to ‘Four demons I send with he, Adam Colquhoun. Blaze, Mischance and Foulness then all fall down’.

Dunarling TownDunarling Ship


Bus CrashCut Mizzen

Attempted poisoning of the Water SupplyPoisoned Water

Ship Sank

Upon searching Mike’s garage, Adam and Catriona find a saw, clothing smelling of white ant killer and the two mandrake dolls Agley and Smeddum. Agley and Smeddum had possessed Mike two cut the brake line and poison the town’s
water supply.

Chapter Nine. Adam has sinister thoughts revolving around the fifth doll and Richard. ‘What’s the betting he’s still got the doll?’, Adamshivered as a thought came to his mind: Or its got him.

Adam finds it suprising when Hamish comes to his rescue because Adam has said nothing of the connections between the dolls and the mishappenings around the town to Hamish. Hamish didn’t know of the visions or Tam Dubh.

Chapter Ten. The curse set on Adam Colquhoun by his gypsy wife. She gave the mandrake dolls names and in return they dolls would find a servant to do her dirty work. The dolls names were Swith, Agley, Smeddum and Snell.

*”Adam Coluhoun married Marie Catherine DeLairgo, Grove Street, Glasgow, 15th June 1883″

*”Adam waited and the crack opened just wide enough to allow a women to slip in silently and close the door behind her. She wore a shawl over her head from which a strand of untidy red hair escaped. Her face was white and her eyes flashed grim determination and Adam knew he had seen her before, not in a picture, but in words. The look on her face confirmed it; a compound of hate and triumph mixed in one. She was the women of the diary; The gypsy women on the dockside at the Broomielaw”.

*”Quickly and without a sound she crossed the room and knelt by the wooden cases. The smaller one was closed and secured but the larger one opened when she tried the lid. The women had a small cloth bag with her whcih she put on the floor by her side and took from it a small coffin which she held in her hand with something akin to motherly affection. She prised off the lid”.

*”I shall gie thee a name. In return, ye’re tae find a servant tae dae my bidding. I shall name thee Swith”.

*”From her bag, the women produced a second coffin and in the same way, named its occupant Agley. The third she called Smeddum and the fourth, Snell. When all the coffins were hidden in the luggage to her satiffaction, she tenderly smoothed out the clothing as if she’d done such a thing before then put the lid back on the wooden box and crossed to the table”.

*”Adam had seen that Bible and he already knew what she would write so he whispered aloud to her”.

One of the mandrake dolls saved James and Margaret from the shipwreck. James said the doll didn’t do the captain of the ship any luck but it had served them well.

Chapter Eleven. Tam Dubh appeared to be dead and lifeless because while Adam was trying to rescue Richard, Richard had hurt Adam. Tam Dubh felt bad that he has led Adam into trouble.

When Adam was getting beaten up by Richard he had dumped his bike in the long grass by the viaduct. When Hamish picked Adam up and Hamish told him to get his bike. How did Hamish know it was there?

When Hamish first came to town an newspaper article had described him as a explosion and demolition expert.

The sergeant that came to the school told them about the explosives that had been stolen. Adam thought that Hamish was going to blow up the viaduct when the train went through it.

The train will contain all the people from the town because they are making a re-enactment for a play.

Chapter Twelve.

*Swith was brainwashed people to start the fires.

*Agley was responsible for the bus crash and the mizzen mast breaking off.

*Smeddum was responsible for the poisoning on the ship and in town.

*Snell had sunk the ship and was responsible for making Hamish attempt to blow up the viaduct.

The paper didnt feel the town could handle the news of the dolls along with the fright of the arson. The news would have been too disturbing for the town to handle so the paper didn’t publish it.


Research nineteenth century shipwrecks on the Vicorian south coast, including that of the ‘Loch Ard’. Present your findings wither in a written paper, or as a talk to the class.

More than 6 500 wrecks lie just beyond Australia’s surf-worn shores. Few of us will ever see them, but each has its own unique story and forms an important part of our heritage.

The treacherous coasts of Australia have claimed thousands of lives of those aboard ships bound for new futures.

Amoung these wrecks is that of The Loch Ard.

In 1878, the Loch Ard set sail from England for Melbourne, with 18 passengers and 36 crew. Many of the passengers were from the Carmichael family, who were migrating to the colonies because their father was sick.

After thirteen long weeks, the ship was finally within days of arriving in Melbourne. One night, there was bad weather, and a thick mist off the coast. When the mist lifted, the captain saw that they were only two kilometres from the jagged cliffs at the edge of the water. The Loch Ard was way off course.

The captain tried very hard to avoid the cliffs, heading out to sea, and dropping anchors, but it was no good. There was a terrible crash, and the ship ran into a small island, Mutton Bird Island, just near the coast. The Loch Ard sank in only fifteen minutes.

In that time, people desperately clambered for the life belts, but there were only enough for six people, so the Carmichael family members were the first to grab them. The captain went down with his ship, which was the honourable thing for a captain to do when his ship was wrecked.

However, the seas were still very dangerous, and it was almost impossible to get to shore.

18 year old Eva Carmichael clung to some wreckage from the ship, and was alone when she finally came near the shore. Drifting through huge twin cliffs, she found herself in a small bay, but she was too exhausted to make it to shore herself, and was ready to collapse.

Luckily for her, Tom Pearce, also 18, was on the shore already. Exhausted himself, he swam out to rescue her, and brought her safely back to land.

Then Tom climbed the cliffs to search for help, not seeing the steps that were already cut into the cliff face. In time, he found people to help them, and Eva could begin to recover from her shocking ordeal.

Tom and Eva soon discovered that they were the only survivors from the wreck. So did the Victorian public and the newspapers. Tom was given medals and money for his bravery.

People all through the colony saw the situation as romantic. They wanted Tom and Eva to fall in love and be married, saying that God had brought them together for a reason.

Tom and Eva, however, did not feel the same way, and after three months, Eva went back to Ireland, to be with the rest of her family – one brother, William. In 1884, Tom married another woman, related to a man who died in the shipwreck, and started a family.

The small bay, surrounded by cliffs, was named after the ship that met its end there. Nowadays, if you drive down the Great Ocean Road to Loch Ard Gorge, you can see the place where Tom rescued Eva, see the graves where a few victims were buried, and find out more about the story.

Loch Ard Statistics

*The Loch Ard was a three-masted square-rigged iron clipper ship.

*Built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1873.

*It was 262 feet 7 inches long and had a beam of 38 feet 3 inches.

*It had left Gravesend, England, on March 1, 1878, with 54 passengers and crew and cargo valued at more than $100,000.

*Three months into what had been an uneventful trip, disaster struck early on June 1, 1878.

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