Research is perhaps one of the most fun parts of writing, and can lead to fresh inspiration from unexpected sources. As part of the side research for a current project, I experienced the perils of mining information on a subject who lived a life of subterfuge.
Case in point: Frank Gardiner, the notorious 19th century bushranger. Given his history, it’s perhaps not unexpected to encounter contradictions in his life story. But it’s amusing nonetheless.
Most sources, both primary and secondary, agree on the most significant points. Gardiner and his gang were responsible for one of the biggest gold robberies in Australian history. After a couple of years on the lam, he was captured and sentenced to thirty two years hard labor, but was ultimately released when he agreed to leave the country. (Too criminal for Australia! How great is that?)
His illustrious career as a bushranger is well documented. What happened before and after remains in contention. Some sources identify him as an emigrant from Scotland under the surname Christie. Others claim he was born in New South Wales and used Christie as an occasional moniker. His death appears to have occurred between ten and thirty five years (!) after leaving Australia. Documentation supports his arrival in San Francisco, but details are sketchy. According to various news sources on multiple continents, he may or may not have married a rich widower, sired two sons, retired to a ranch in Colorado, and had his skeleton sold at auction.
One interesting note is that the Wikipedia article appears to include some of the most accurate, if sparse, information. At least the uncorroborated rumors are spelled out as such. It’s hardly comprehensive, but doesn’t support the derision the site often receives from academia. Let’s hear it for peer review!