One fine March day in 1868, gunshots rang out at a society charity event in Sydney's harbourside suburb of Clontarf. In the aftermath, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh - son of Queen Victoria - lay close to death, while the assembled crowd seized and beat his attacker, Irish-born Henry James O'Farrell. Who was this character who began the day a complete unknown and ended it as the young colony's most hated man?

A Man of Honour is a richly textured, lyrical reimagining of O'Farrell's life, before and after the would-be assassination. Simon Smith paints a portrait of a very modern anti-hero: a man whose love for his family, his God, his birth country and his Fenian brotherhood is strong, but whose life is ultimately skewed by illness and by the cruelty of some of those closest to him. Drawing on contemporary newspaper accounts and on O'Farrell's actual words as revealed in gaol-cell interviews, court transcripts and his own writings, Smith asks: What makes a charming, sensitive and erudite man want to arm himself and shoot the son of the world's most powerful ruler? Is he a terrorist, a patriot, a hero?