Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: Private journal of A voyage to Australia 1838-39 by James Bell

Private Journal of A Voyage to Australia
For those of us with pioneer ancestors to Australia in our family tree many generations back, we often admire and wonder at the tenacity of our forebears to board a sailing ship for weeks at sea to an unknown land. Not many personal accounts survive from ordinary people who did just that, but in recent years a journal has seen the light of day, and thankfully purchased by the State Library of South Australia. It has been transcribed and edited by Richard Walsh , with an introduction and epilogue by Anthony Laube.
For all intents and purposes I planned to only skim this book but was immediately engaged by the narrator and his day to day activities and observations aboard ship.
From the State Library South Australia media release: - "James Bell, a free settler migrating to Adelaide on the good ship Planter in 1838, discovered in a London street market and then auctioned through Bonham’s, sold for $22,000 to the State Library of South Australia, provides a unique insight into the experience of sailing to Australia.
On 19 November 1838 James Bell, then aged 21, set out in the sailing vessel the Planter from St Katharine Docks in London to travel to Adelaide. His intentions were to begin a new life in the infant colony, not yet two years old, half a world away. He left behind family, good friends and the mysterious ‘C.P.’, a young woman with whom he hoped one day to be reunited.
The journey usually took 130 days, but due to the incompetence of the captain and the many misadventures encountered it took the Planter almost six months to reach its destination. Along the way it lost a crew member, several passengers and much livestock; it gained new crew and at least one extra passenger. The drunken brawls and licentious couplings horrified James Bell who, to while away the time, penned a detailed account of all the comings and goings for the eyes of ‘C.P.’ only, sternly advising her that ‘it must never be read by a third party’.
Sustained by his sense of adventure, his love of poetry, his faith in his Presbyterian God, his nostalgic memories of rural Scotland and, particularly, by his affection for ‘C.P.’, James Bell maintained a vivid and astute record of his historic journey. His voice travels down to us, more than a century and a half later, and reminds us of the dangers and joys of such an adventurous leap into the unknown."
Extract: 20 February 1839, Wednesday
This morning it is calm, but with such a swell as I have never seen. The Ship rolls very heavily indeed, and we have had such a morning with casks, coops &c &c rolling about to the great danger of breaking legs, necks &c &c before they could be secured, and cockery of every description was crashing in every Part of the Ship. Therese were at least secured, but the rolling increased towards evening and became so exceedlingly great that it was with much difficulty I could make myself believe that the Laws of gravitation ensured the Ship from capsizing.
For more about this book visit ABC Blog

1 comment:

Jill Ball said...

Another title for my "to read" list. Thanks.