The Secret River


Kate Grenville

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William Thornhill

Thornhill is born in 1777 into a large, impoverished family. As a boy he steals in order to eat, but Mr. Middleton saves him by taking him on as an apprentice to become a waterman… read analysis of William Thornhill

Sal Thornhill

Sal is Thornhill's wife. They meet as children through Thornhill's sister Lizzie. Sal's parents spoil her because she's an only child, though she's haunted by her brothers and sisters that died not long after… read analysis of Sal Thornhill


Smasher is one of the first men that Thornhill meets on the Hawkesbury River. He's a small, mean man who burns oysters to make lime and breeds dogs that he trains to attack only Aborigines… read analysis of Smasher

Thomas Blackwood

When Thornhill first meets Thomas Blackwood in London, he owns a lighter called the River Queen, which has a false bottom for stealing cargo. Thornhill runs into him later in New South Wales, where… read analysis of Thomas Blackwood


Willie is Thornhill and Sal's first baby. He's born in London about a year after they marry. After being relocated with his parents to New South Wales, Willie adjusts to his new life quickly, although… read analysis of Willie
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Dick is Thornhill and Sal's second child, born at Cape Town during their voyage to New South Wales. As a boy he's dreamy and solemn, and Thornhill doesn't recognize himself at all in Dick. After… read analysis of Dick


Sagitty is one of Thornhill's neighbors on the Hawkesbury River. He's great friends with Smasher and is similarly cruel to the Aborigines that live along the river, which he justifies because the natives steal from… read analysis of Sagitty

Whisker Harry

Whisker Harry is the name Sal and Thornhill give to the old Aboriginal man who lives on and around Thornhill Point. When they first meet, Thornhill slaps Harry on the chest and tells him "no,"… read analysis of Whisker Harry

Long Bob (or Long Jack)

Long Bob is one of the younger Aboriginal men living around Thornhill Point. When Thornhill comes upon him teaching children, including Dick, how to make fire, the men introduce themselves to each other. Thornhill… read analysis of Long Bob (or Long Jack)


Spider is another of Thornhill's neighbors on the Hawkesbury River. He's an unlucky man—seemingly always the first on the river to be stolen from or have a crop washed away. He calls his piece of… read analysis of Spider

Mrs. Herring

Mrs. Herring lives alone on the Hawkesbury River with only a few chickens. She smokes a pipe and is the closest thing to a doctor on the river. Though the natives steal from her, she… read analysis of Mrs. Herring

Dan Oldfield

As a child in London, Dan plays with Thornhill and is a famous chestnut thief. As an adult he's sent to New South Wales several years after Thornhill, and Thornhill ends up taking him on… read analysis of Dan Oldfield


Rob is one of Thornhill's older brothers. He developed a fever as a child, and after that loses some of his hearing. Although he's described as "simple," he's exceptionally kind and hardworking. Thornhill loves his… read analysis of Rob


Loveday is one of Thornhill’s neighbors on the Hawkesbury. Like Smasher, Spider, and Sagitty, Loveday despises the natives. Claiming he was once speared in the hip by a native, Loveday spreads… read analysis of Loveday
Minor Characters
Ned is one of Thornhill's convict servants. He offers no last name and reminds Thornhill of Rob. Though he's not particularly skilled or useful in working Thornhill's land, he's surprisingly adept with guns. He's fearful of the Aborigines and suggests using violence against them.
Scabby Bill
Scabby Bill is an Aborigine who hangs around the settlement at Sydney. The Thornhills give him bread and rum when he sleeps outside their hut, and occasionally, he dances for patrons at Sal's rum bar in exchange for rum.
Mr. King
Mr. King employs Thornhill in Sydney, and later lends him money to purchase the Hope.
James (Bub)
John is Thornhill and Sal's third baby, and their first to be born in Australia. He's a sickly child and Thornhill believes he'll die, but he survives nonetheless.
Johnny is Thornhill and Sal's fourth child. He's a sturdy, happy boy and loves to tinker with things.
Baby Mary
Mary is Thornhill and Sal's fifth child.
Dolly is Thornhill and Sal's last child.
Black Dick
Black Dick is what Sal and Thornhill call one of the younger Aboriginal men who lives near them.
Sal dubs one of the native women she sees often “Polly.”
Captain McCallum
Captain McCallum is sent by the Governor in Sydney to deal with the natives on the Hawkesbury River. He's a pompous man and believes the British army can surely deal with the natives, though his plan backfires and he leaves with his military in poor shape.
Lord Hawkesbury
Lord Hawkesbury is the man with the power to save condemned men from hanging in London. He instead sends them to New South Wales for the term of their natural life. In New South Wales, the Hawkesbury River is named after him.
Devine is an Irishman who builds Mr. Thornhill's villa on the Hawkesbury River.
Lovegood is one of Thornhill's neighbors on the Hawkesbury. He was a higher-class man in London, so he knows how to read and uses more sophisticated English.
Collarbone is one of Thornhill's childhood friends. Half his face is bright red and he loves Thornhill's sister, Lizzie. He's hanged after being caught with stolen Spanish brandy, leaving a strong impression on young Thornhill.
Mr. Lucas
Mr. Lucas is a fat ship owner who is rumored to want to be Lord Mayor of London. He employs Yates as a foreman to hire lightermen and doesn't tolerate thievery from his employees.
Yates is Mr. Lucas's foreman. He's a fair man and tries to allow Thornhill to escape when he’s caught stealing from Mr. Lucas.
Mr. Knapp
Mr. Knapp is the lawyer assigned to Thornhill during his trial for stealing Brazil wood.
Captain Watson
Captain Watson is one of Thornhill's regular customers on the Thames. He writes a letter to help Thornhill after he receives his death sentence.
Mr. Middleton
Mr. Middleton is Sal's father. He's a successful waterman who takes Thornhill on as an apprentice. He's kind and generous to Sal, though also sad and stern after many of his babies die within their first month of life. He dies of a fever, leaving his business to Thornhill.
Mrs. Middleton
Mrs. Middleton is Sal's mother. She dies after breaking her hip and seems to refuse to heal.
Mary Thornhill
Mary is Thornhill's oldest sister. She's sharp and torments her younger siblings.
Lizzie is Thornhill's older sister. She's not old enough to work and is put in charge of caring for Ma's babies instead. She's kind and Thornhill considers her more motherly than Ma.
Ma is Thornhill's mother. She sews shrouds with Mary to support her family and dies when Thornhill is very young.
William's father. He dies when William is a young teenager, leaving him an orphan and the family without a head.