History reports 16-year-old Grace, along with Aboriginal stockman Sam Isaacs, rescued shipwrecked passengers off the stricken Georgette, on December 1, 1876.
However, Van Zeller, after seeing how treacherous the surf off the beach was, questioned the accuracy of the much-loved West Australian tale and started her own research, culminating in the historical novel The Capes.
�This incident made heroes of Grace Bussell and Sam Isaacs for reportedly riding into the sea and rescuing 50 passengers from the sinking hull of the ship,� Van Zeller said.
�The Bussell family was credited with looking after the survivors after the incident, but on visiting Redgate Beach many times over many years, I have doubted that this horseback rescue really took place as popular accounts would have you believe.�
A journalist and writer of more than 30 years, Van Zeller researched and wrote the book as part of a PhD in creative writing.
�I have discovered eyewitness accounts of the rescue, written by passengers who were on the hull of the ship, waiting to be rescued, and those accounts suggest that Grace and Sam did not save the passengers.
�I tell the story from several viewpoints, including George Leake, who was then a young law student, and a passenger aboard the Georgette on her ill-fated voyage.�
Leake went on to become Premier of WA.
The Capes, set in Fremantle and the south-west of WA, is available in paperback and e-book formats, and through the WA Maritime Museum bookshop at Victoria Quay, Fremantle.