Hal Porter on several occasions acknowledged that he lacked the ability to invent and that, as a consequence, he took characters and plots from contemporary or historical sources. The result is that the characters are seldom well developed psychologically and the plots are rudimentary. A consideration of the plot of The Tilted Cross will illustrate this.
Lady Rose Knight and her husband’s cousin, Asnetha Sleep, prepare to receive the recently released forger and suspected murderer Judas Griffin Vaneleigh, who is to make a crayon portrait of Rose. Vaneleigh is accompanied by Queely Sheill (“a fantastic stranger”), who has insinuated himself as a companion. Asnetha has a sensual response to Queely; her houseboy, Teapot, places a chain with seven gold coins on it (“the gift, the offering, the bribe”) in Queely’s hand. Asnetha then, by a note, arranges an assignation with Queely. Walking back from Cindermead, an estate outside Hobart Town, Vaneleigh has a stroke, which occasions a flashback of his former London life, which was marked by associations with the wealthy and artistic and by a trial for the murder of his sister-in-law “because she had thick ankles.”
Rose intercepts a note from Queely arranging another assignation but gives it to her groom to deliver to Asnetha. When Queely arrives, both Teapot and Rose attempt to witness the lovers’ tryst but collide in the dark and are observed by Queely as he leaves. Teapot indicates his jealousy of Queely and tells Rose that he gave him the gold chain and coins, whereupon Rose confronts her husband, Sir Sydney, with Teapot and, using leading questions, has him state that Queely stole her chain and coins and refused to return it.
Queely is arrested, tried, and sentenced to seven years in the dreaded convict settlement at Port Arthur. He agrees, reluctantly, to an escape scheme arranged by a friend, Polidorio Smith, and a jailer, but falls from a wall, breaks several bones, and has a leg amputated before dying of gangrene on Christmas day. Asnetha celebrates her birthday by becoming engaged to Queely’s surgeon, and Vaneleigh enters the hospital to die.