My Friend Tertius

‘One question kept echoing in my mind — if I had to leave, what would I do with Tertius?’

This is the true story of a WWII code-breaker named Arthur Cooper and his pet gibbon, Tertius.

Cooper is working in intelligence for the British Government in Hong Kong when he rescues the little gibbon that he names Terrius. There is unrest in the city as people flee the encroaching rumbles of war. Cooper continues his work, but knows that he, too, must leave. But what would happen to his pet if he were to go?

When the time comes, Cooper takes Tertius with him. Hijinks abound as Cooper travels a circuitous route from Hong Kong to Melbourne and endeavours to keep Tertius by his side. But several brushes with the law, and a home at the Melbourne Zoo, offers an acceptable compromise for them both.

My Friend Tertius

My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton illus by Owen Swan hb 9781760113827 $24.99

This is a charming, simply written true story told from the perspective of Arthur Cooper, a young British Intelligence Officer who rescued a baby gibbon in a busy Hong Kong market in 1941. He called the gibbon Tertius and it became a much loved affectionate and mischievous companion. When Arthur Cooper was instructed to leave Hong Kong because of the threatening war, he determined he couldn’t leave Tertius behind and so he took the gibbon first to Singapore and then with the war even closer, to Jakarta finally escaping to Fremantle.

Tertius knew he had to keep quiet and out of sight in these escapes. However, when they were confronted by customs officials in Melbourne, they could no longer stay together but a compromise was made and Tertius was put into the zoo where the zookeeper’s wife took him home with her each evening. The understated simplicity of this story is perfectly matched by the softly muted colours of the illustrations faithfully recreating details of the historical period of the story. It brings to life an aspect of life in the 1940s in Hong Kong and Singapore and then in Australia through this story of the friendship between a man and his gibbon. (5 – 8 years)

— Kate Shepherd, International Teacher Magazine

‘MY FRIEND TERTIUS by Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan (Allen & Unwin). Enthralling and heartwarming, this is based on a touching true wartime story. Muted and delicate illustrations set the mood of history, friendship and love. Highly recommended.’

— Margaret Hamilton


‘Unique, fascinating and engaging. Swan’s illustrations will have you swooning.’
— Dimity Powell (GoodReads)


This is a cracking story… exquisitely illustrated by Owen Swan, right down to the Gladstone bag.
— Stephen Romei, The Australian


This is a heartwarming, true story, told by award-winning writer, Corinne Fenton, and superbly illustrated by Owen Swan. This talented duo have beautifully told Arthur Cooper’s story of companionship, loyalty, and the importance of holding on to love during times of war.
—Daniela Andrews, Buzz Words


Friendship comes in many forms and, as this delightful book makes clear, a friend does not have to be human! This is the kind of story which lends itself well to the picture book format. It will work well as a story to be read aloud and discussed as well as being enjoyed by beginning readers, who may also need some discussion on the themes of biodiversity, war and history.


A slice of history, delivered in a heartwarming picture book. Great story and well told. Loved the gorgeous Tertius and his loyal human companion.
— Jaq (GoodReads)


A beautiful story about a WWII code-breaker and his best friend – his gibbon, Tertius. Who doesn’t love a story about a man and his monkey? Tertius is funny, cheeky, sometimes naughty, but also clever and loving. Despite the horrors of war, this is a gentle and tender story. The illustrations beautifully convey the streets of Hong Kong, Singapore, then Australia in soft colours mirroring the gentleness of the story. I loved it.
— Tina (GoodReads)


Building on Corinne Fenton’s heartwarming story, Owen Swan’s beautiful illustrations help draw an evocative picture of Arthur and Tertius and their life together.
— Sarah Steed, Kids’ Book Review


This is a true story written by the author of such memorable picture books as Queenie: One Elephant’s Story and The Dog on the Tuckerbox. It’s a love story about a man and his pet gibbon and it’s beautifully presented with soft, wistful illustrations.


Until I’d open the sepia hued covers of My Friend Tertius, I had no clue this zoo/war time story even existed. Fenton has, however not just written an historical, fact based picture book. She has encased the true-life story of a British Intelligence covert living in pre-war Hong Kong with that of Tertius, a small-orphaned gibbon into a kind of love story. A fascinating picture book for older readers revealing yet more amazing wartime alliances thoughtfully illustrated by Swan.
— Dimity Powell, Boomerang Books


Today during our library time we explored the story “My Friend Tertius”. What we really liked about this story was the detail that the author presented the readers. It was great that the students recognised this as we have discussed as a class the importance of detailed description of both setting and characters in our own writing. After the story was read as a class we worked on writing a book review. Have a look at some of the responses we had to this book.
— The Students of 5/6MN & 6/7NB at Holy Family Catholic School
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