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Private Journal of James Bell
Edited by Richard Walsh with an introduction and epilogue by Anthony Laube
This book is the personal diary of James Bell, who took the long voyage to Australia in 1838, leaving his family and friends, and not knowing what to expect of the new country, so far away.
The story of how this diary came to be published is incredible. Firstly, it’s very survival is worthy of mentioning. The original diary turned up at a country bookstall in England, 150 years after it was written, and The State Library of South Australia managed to raise the necessary funds to buy the diary at auction.
James Bell , aged 21, set out in the sailing vessel, the Planter, from St. Katharine Docks in London to travel to Adelaide, Australia, an infant colony, half a world away and not yet two years old. He left behind family, good friends and the mysterious C.P, a young woman with whom he hoped one day to be reunited.
The voyage that James Bell undertook was meant to take about 130 days, but due to the incompetence of the Captain, and many misadventures along the way, it actually took six months to arrive in Australia. The many unforeseen events and dramas that occurred along the way, made the voyage extremely difficult. There was a mutiny, drunken fights, orgies and a storm resulting in the loss of the ship’s sails.
It is obvious in reading his words, that James Bell has a great sense of adventure. He also has a love of poetry, great religious faith, and is very nostalgic about his memories of those he left behind.
More than a century after the diaries were written, the reader can’t help but be reminded of the dangers of such an adventurous voyage. I am also reminded how lucky we are, that adventurous people like him, and like my ancestors, were brave enough to take the long voyage to a land that at the time was little known.
An excerpt from the preface written by James Bell:
“The following is not merely an account of the Ships course, and a mere mention of the places passed during my voyage to South Australia, but a noting down from day to day of the thoughts and ideas that occupied my mind at the moment – and my reason for this was that I might bring my observation of the events, as well as manners, to be more directly upon my own conduct, and in this way correct any thing that might be amiss, as well as tending to the strengthening of those principles, with which my mind has been imbued, as I am convinced that this is the best way of fixing occurrences upon the memory” – James Bell
The story of how the diary came to be published had me intrigued. I couldn’t wait to get into this book and when I did, I found it hard to put it down.
I really enjoyed James Bell’s descriptions of the other passengers and his very detailed account of their comings and goings. He doesn’t hold back at all, in expressing his opinion of most of them.
My interest and passion for genealogy and Australian history also contributed to my enjoyment of this book. I’m not really sure if readers without those interests, would rate this book as highly as I do. Perhaps I am slightly biased towards the subject matter.
For those who decide to read A Voyage to Australia, I hope you enjoy this beautifully presented book, as much as I did.
The epilogue traces the lives of many of the passengers after they reached Australia, with information of how they coped with life in the new, unknown country. There is also a passenger list with names of all passengers and crew.
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Published by Allen & Unwin in 2011.
Hardcover with dustjacket – 202 pages including bibliography
Have you read this book. If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I promise to always reply to comments made in the section below.
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