The story is set in the city of Melbourne in the latter half of the 19th century, when it was growing rapidly, due to the gold flowing from Ballarat and Bendigo in mid-Victoria. It concerns Dr James Beaney, a very colourful and controversial surgeon, who amassed a fortune from his practice, and displayed it in the jewellery he wore, the mansion he had built (which still exists today) and in his social life. He was, however, a generous benefactor to the Melbourne University and hospitals in Melbourne, as well as to his birthplace, the city of Canterbury in Kent.
Having weathered two harrowing court cases a decade before, Beaney, shortly after his re-appointment to the Melbourne Hospital in 1875, was implicated in another court case following the death of a patient he had operated on for a large bladder stone. Unwisely he had a facsimile of the stone made and placed in the window of a Collins Street book shop. An inquest was called for following correspondence in the press, particularly one letter from an unknown surgeon, which was highly critical of Beaney. The inquest is outlined in considerable detail and the skill displayed by James Purves, the brilliant young barrister who defended him, will be evident to the reader.
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