On the night Parliament burnt down, a child was conceived out of wedlock, a baby was abandoned, and another thrown into the Thames.
The year is 1834 and J.M.W. Turner is sketching Parliament in flames. Unnoticed, a hackney cab drives past, heading for a dark alley in London, home to a notorious baby farmer – where the passenger abandons an innocent baby girl. She will end up on the Victorian stage. At the mercy of men she’ll trust nobody.
Another child is conceived that same night but will never know that the man she loves as a father is not her real parent. She gives up her dreams for him, abandoning the talent she inherited from her artist father – to the disappointment of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who had admired her work when she exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Also that night a newborn baby is thrown into the Thames by his forsaken mother, leaving a mystery for those who find his little basket floating down the river, a mystery he will try to solve years later as a journalist.
The lives of the three children interweave with those of famous people of the era including Turner, Millais, Holman Hunt and the self-styled greatest historical artist of the time, Benjamin Haydon. Not to mention the intriguing He-Sing who cons the establishment enough to let him meet Queen Victoria at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the year in which the Pre-Raphaelites make their name.