Emperor’s treasure

Emperor’s treasure

Life & Style
Gillian Ingall admiring Napoleon Bonaparte's drinking glass which has been in the Reading family since 1830

Gillian Ingall admiring Napoleon Bonaparte's drinking glass which has been in the Reading family since 1830


The gift of a drinking glass used by Napoleon Bonaparte to the Reading family is the basis of Gillian Ingall's latest novel.


The inspiration for a story, as every author is aware, can occur at any moment and in any given situation: nor is it necessary for the contemplative author to have formal training or even prior experience if they feel strongly about the need to write.

Gillian Ingall grew up in Sydney, and after a successful professional career she now resides with her partner on a cattle property in the Muttama Valley north of Jugiong.  

Living in the country, Ms Ingall’s motivation to write was simply a desire to test herself against a self-imposed standard.

“It was purely to challenge myself,” she said.

“I had been a career person for most of my life until I moved to the bush in 2000 and I always thought once I had time I would see if I could actually write a book.”

There are many who can empathize with Ms Ingall’s situation, having the ambition to write sitting in the back of their mind.

Ms Ingall readily admits she had no previous training but she does have a love of words and especially the English language.  

“I love poetry … I return to Banjo Paterson often and I do keep up with a lot of fairly modern poetry,” she said.

During her professional career, Ms Ingall worked in the fashion and executive search industries in Australia and Hong Kong: and she has long held a fascination for the history of the world’s oldest civilization, its culture and people.

Based in Hong Kong during the pro-democracy movement in China in the late 1980s, she and her son lived through the horrors of the Tiananmen Square massacre, seeing firsthand the devastating effects on the region. 

“My son was there at the time, studying in China and it did have a major impact on both of us,” she said.

“He kept all the clippings from the Chinese and Hong Kong newspapers and I just wanted to write about what a tremendous and frightening thing it was.”

Gillian Ingall reading an excerpt from Napoleon's Glass

Gillian Ingall reading an excerpt from Napoleon's Glass

Her first novel, The Invitation - A Tale of Greed, Adultery andPolitical Turmoil, was written about her experiences in China and Hong Kong during the pro-democracy movement of 1989.

“The sub-title was suggested by the publisher,” she said.

Set in a turbulent period of China’s history beginning in 1989, her novel depicts the repressiveness of life in China versus the decadence of life in Hong Kong, and the harshness and raw beauty of the Australian outback. 

The spark for her second novel Napoleon’s Glass was more prosaic; based upon a drinking glass used by the late Emperor during his military campaigns and which has been held since the late 1830’s in the family of Jay Reading, Ms Ingall’s partner.

In the dining room of the country homestead, a well-loved but time-worn leather box hold’s pride of place among the various plates and silver accumulated by the Reading family.

In the box and wrapped in early 19th century wool, is ‘Napoleon’s Glass’: a cut crystal drinking glass which has been passed down through generations and accompanied by faded letters dated 1831 which have provided the background to this compelling story.

Ms Ingall said the letters confirmed it was used by Napoleon as part of his carriage equipment when he was campaigning during the Peninsular War.

The glass has been intricately carved and although it is not a very elegant thing it is a sturdy vessel and obviously easy to hold when riding in a rough carriage.

“It has been handed down from Jay’s great-great-great grandfather through each generation and cared for,” she said.

“We found some letters which accompanied the glass and the letters dated back to 1831 … much to my joy.

“There wasn’t a lot of information but they told of a French woman who obviously met Grant Reading and gave him the glass as a gift.”

From that rather slender collection of material, Ms Ingall has wrought a fine novel in the historical genre which follows the life of a tragic French heroine who was born into a noble family at the outset of the French Revolution.

“The letters gave an outline of her life, but there was not a lot to go on,” she said.

“I had a wonderful time filling it in with fiction.”

Ms Ingall said her heroine was filled with a passion for social equality and an independent spirit, she moved from royal courts to battlefields, from country manors to dirt hovels never giving up her fight against social injustice and the hope of finding her missing aristocratic father who had fled the French Revolution.

  • Please note this book is not available through The Land Bookshop.
Gillian Ingall proudly presenting her latest publication, 'Napoleon's Glass'.

Gillian Ingall proudly presenting her latest publication, 'Napoleon's Glass'.

It has been handed down from Jay's great-great-great grandfather through each generation and cared for - Gillian Ingall


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