Arthur Upfield

Arthur Upfield bigraphy, stories - Australian writer

Arthur Upfield : biography

01 November 1890 – 13 February 1964

Arthur William Upfield (1 September 1890 – 13 February 1964) was an Australian writer, best known for his works of detective fiction featuring Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (‘Bony’) of the Queensland Police Force, a half-caste Aborigine.

Born in England, Upfield moved to Australia in 1910 and fought with the Australian military during the First World War. Following his war service, he travelled extensively throughout Australia, obtaining a knowledge of Australian Aboriginal culture that would later be used extensively in his written works. In addition to his detective fiction, Upfield was also a member of the Australian Geological Society and was involved in numerous scientific expeditions. Upfield’s works remained popular after his death, and in the 1970s were the basis for an Australian television series entitled "Boney".


Upfield was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England on 1 September 1890. (Although some authorities give his birth date as 1888, his birth certificate is reported to state 1890.) His father was a draper. In 1910, after doing poorly in examinations towards becoming a real estate agent, Upfield was sent to Australia by his father.

With the outbreak of World War I, he joined the First Australian Imperial Force on 23 August 1914. Upfield sailed from Brisbane on the HMAT Anglo Egyptian on 24 September 1914 to Melbourne. At the time of sailing he had the rank of Driver and was with the 1st Light horse Brigade Train (5 Company ASC [Army Service Corps]). In Melbourne he was at a camp for several weeks before sailing to Egypt. Copy of article with Upfield’s World War 1 Military Records held by the National Archives of Australia. He fought at Gallipoli and in France, and married an Australian nurse, Ann Douglass, in Egypt in 1915. He was discharged in England on 15 October 1919. Before returning to Australia Ann gave birth to their only child, a son James Arthur Upfield, born in February 1920.

For most of the next twenty years he travelled throughout the outback working at a number of jobs. He learnt much of Aboriginal culture, later to be used in his books.

Upfield created the character of Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, based on a man known as ‘Tracker Leon’ whom he had met in his travels. Leon Wood was a "half-caste" (in the language of the day) Aboriginal man who was employed as a tracker by the Queensland Police. The novels featuring ‘Bony’, as the character was also known, were far more successful than other Upfield writings. 3 Jasmine Street, Bowral, the house where Upfield spent his last years and died

Snowy Rowles, convicted for [[The Murchison Murders, standing beside the car of James Ryan, photographed by Arthur Upfield. Ryan was one of the victims.]] Late in life Upfield became a prominent member of the Australian Geological Society, involved in scientific expeditions. In particular he led a major expedition in 1948 to northern and western parts of Australia, including the Wolfe Creek crater. The Wolfe Creek crater was a setting for his novel The Will of the Tribe published in 1962.

After living at Bermagui, New South Wales, Upfield moved to Jasmine Street, Bowral, New South Wales. Upfield died at Bowral on 13 February 1964. His last work, The Lake Frome Monster, published in 1966, was completed by J.L. Price and Dorothy Stange.

In 1957, his defacto Jessica Hawke, published a biography of the author entitled Follow My Dust!. It is generally held however, that this was written by Upfield himself.


Upfield’s novels were held in high regard by some fellow writers. In 1987, H.R.F. Keating included The Sands of Windee (1931) in his list of the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. J.B. Priestley wrote of Upfield: "If you like detective stories that are something more than puzzles, that have solid characters and backgrounds, that avoid familiar patterns of crime and detection, then Mr Upfield is your man." Others have found Upfield’s prose stilted. Much of the appeal of Arthur Upfield’s stories lies in the depiction of outback Australian life in the 1930s through into the 1950s.