Book Review: A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

50993145Summary

“What if Elizabeth Macarthur – wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in the earliest days of Sydney – had written a shockingly frank secret memoir? And what if novelist Kate Grenville, had miraculously found and published it? That’s the starting point for A Room Made of Leaves, a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented.
Marriage to a ruthless bully, the impulses of her heart, the search for power in the society that gave women none, this Elizabeth Macarthur manages her complicated life with spirit and passion, cunning and sly wit. Her memoir lets us hear – at last – what one of those seemingly demure women from history might really have thought.
At the centre of A Room Made of Leaves is one of the most toxic issues of our own age, the seductive appeal of false stories. This book may be set in the past, but it’s just as much about the present, where secrets and liws have the dangerous power to shape reality”. – from the blurb

My Thoughts

This fictional account of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur seemed very real to me. I would love to believe that the real Elizabeth Macarthur had the spirit and confidence of this fictional version. The story of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur starts at the beginning, in England when young Elizabeth met John Macarthur and how she came to marry the pompous and arrogant man. We followed them during their hellish voyage to Australia, and as they began their life in the new country, that, at first, was far less comfortable than expected.

As is usual for Kate, this book is well researched and very clearly tells the story of life in Sydney, in the very early days of settlement. I very much enjoyed reading about these times through the eyes of a strong female.

Historical fiction is my favourite genre and especially Australia historical fiction. I’ve read Kate Grenville’s books Secret River and The Lieutenant, and have been a fan ever since. This book didn’t disappoint at all. I found it totally engrossing and felt sad when I had read the last page. My opinion is that this wonderful novel is historical fiction at it’s best.

Next on my ‘to be read’ pile is the real biography of Elizabeth Macarthur which I’m keen to read.

Recommendations

‘This story, told through Grenville’s sharp lens, is one that will stay with the reader for a long time.’  – Readings

‘An ingenious tapestry of history and invention, A Room Made of Leaves is a novel of womanhood, motherhood, secrets, lies, obsession, transformation and the loss of innocence. It’s a true pleasure to read Grenville’s writing, and this one’s been well worth the wait!’ Booktopia

“Grenville’s prose is elegant and meticulously crafted…Despite the trappings of history in A Room Made of Leaves and Grenville’s impressive use of the archive to conjure the novel, her achievement here is not a historical one. A Room Made of Leaves questions,  rhetorically, how to live ethically with a history that is unfair.  Saturday Paper

 Published in 2020 by Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, Australia
Hardcover, 317 pages

My Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. Her international  bestseller The Secret River was awarded local and overseas prizes, has been adapted for the stage and as an acclaimed television miniseries, and is now a much-loved classic.
In 2017 Grenville was awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. She lives in Melbourne. – kategrenville.com.au

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Aussie Author Challenge

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australian reading challenge

K:Kin by Nick Brodie #AtoZChallenge #aussieauthor20

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Kin: A Real People’s History of our Nation by Nick Brodie

Summary

From convicts, goldminers and sailors, to high country horsemen, nurses and soldiers – and almost everyone in between – KIN is about generations of real people living real lives. Join historian and archaeologist, Nick Brodie, as he traces his family back to their first arrivals in Australia. As their lives intersect, KIN provides a unique historical insight into Australia’s past: colonies grow and wars are fought as Nick follows his people and their children across land and sea, in their everyday occupations and through their hardships and most memorable events. Follow Nick’s journey to discover how his kinfolk lived, the bigger story of the history of Australia, as their stories become both his and ours. – blurb

My Thoughts

The author uses stories about his own ancestors to create a full and thorough explanation of Australian history. I really enjoyed this book, but as family history and Australian history is my passion, be aware that I could be biased. I loved the ancestry charts included and really enjoyed following the lives of the author’s ancestors. Even though Kin is a very thorough history of Australia and of his own ancestors, it is very easy to follow.

Kin is based on very thorough research, both ancestral and historical. My only criticism would be that I’d have liked to have seen a list of sources at the back of the book. But this is addressed by the author at the end, where he gives his reasons for not including them.

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Nick Brodie is a historian, archaeologist, writer and university lecturer. Born in country New South Wales, his fascination with the past dates back to when he was old enough to dig in his parent’s backyard. The rusty objects and broken bottles he uncovered have since been lost, but his tenacious curiosity and a passion for exploring history remain – back cover

Published in 2015 by Hardie Grant Books
Softcover, 370 pages including index, acknowledgements and authors notes.

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2020 Aussie Author Challenge

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B: Burke & Wills by Peter FitzSimons #AtoZChallenge #aussieauthor20

Burke and Wills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Australia’s Most Famous Explorers

Summary

‘They have left here today!’ he calls to the others. When King puts his hand down above the ashes of the fire, it is to find it still hot. There is even a tiny flame flickering from the end of one log. They must have left just hours ago.

MELBOURNE, 20 AUGUST 1860. In an ambitious quest to be the first Europeans to cross the harsh Australian continent, the Victorian Exploring Expedition sets off, farewelled by 15,000 cheering well-wishers. Led by Robert O’Hara Burke, a brave man totally lacking in the bush skills necessary for his task; surveyor and meteorologist William Wills; and 17 others, the expedition took 20 tons of equipment carried on six wagons, 23 horses and 26 camels.

Almost immediately plagued by disputes and sackings, the expeditioners battled the extremes of the Australian landscape and weather: its deserts, the boggy mangrove swamps of the Gulf, the searing heat and flooding rains. Food ran short and, unable to live off the land, the men nevertheless mostly spurned the offers of help from the local Indigenous people.

In desperation, leaving the rest of the party at the expedition’s depot on Coopers Creek, Burke, Wills and John King made a dash for the Gulf in December 1860. Bad luck and bad management would see them miss by just hours a rendezvous back at Coopers Creek, leaving them stranded in the wilderness with practically no supplies. Only King survived to tell the tale.

Yet, despite their tragic fates, the names of Burke and Wills have become synonymous with perseverance and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. They live on in our nation’s history – and their story remains immediate and compelling.
– Goodreads

My Thoughts

This was a trip that was undertaken foolishly primarily due to lack of planning. But there was also what could be called a comedy of errors from when the trip was first brought up through all the planning stages and during the actual trip. Fitzsimons tells the story without  holding back on telling exactly what happened and who was to blame for the events that occured before and during this iconic exploration of Australia  I have had this book on my bookshelf since 2017 and was looking forward to reading it, but the time commitment to get through what could be called a ‘door stopper’ had me leaving it until another time. When I finally got to it, I read all 623 pages in just a few days. Fitzsimmons has a chatty conversational way of telling the events of history. This book is definitely not a dry text book style account of this important event in Australia history. He tells the story in the present tense which makes his accounts of historical events much more entertaining.

Burke and Wills contains many archival photos and maps, which really did add to my enjoyment of this book.

 Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

About the Author

Peter FitzSimons is one of Australia’s most prominent and successful media and publishing identities. His busy professional life involves co-hosting the breakfast program on Sydney’s Radio 2UE, writing weekly columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald newspapers, appearing on Foxtel’s Back Page television show and, when time permits, authoring best-selling books. A correspondent for London’s Daily Telegraph as well, he is also in high demand as a guest speaker and presenter
– Goodreads

Published on 31 October 2017 by Hachette Australia.
Hardcover 623 pages plus Endnotes and Index.

This review is linked to 2020 Aussie Author Challenge

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Book Review: The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

Summary

After his father’s death, young William is cast upon the charity of an unknown great-uncle, John McIvor. The old man was brought up, expecting to marry the heiress to Kuran Station—a grand estate in the Australian Outback—only to be disappointed by his rejection and the selling off of the land. He has devoted his life to putting the estate back together, and has moved into the once-elegant mansion.

McIvor tries to imbue William with his obsession, but his hold on the land is threatened by laws entitling the Aborigines to reclaim sacred sites. William’s mother desperately wants her son to become John McIvor’s heir, but no one realizes that William is ill and his condition is worsening.

Issues covered are Native Title legislation, the Mabo decison and Australian politics.

My Thoughts

When I first began to read this book, I had no idea what it was about. I wasn’t far into it when I realised this was the perfect book for me to read, in the week of Australia Day.

The setting is the Darling Downs in Queensland, spanning a time frame of 150 years. I really enjoyed the sense of place and landscape that this novel evoked. I loved it’s Australian-ness.

The publicity material describes this book as ‘part family saga, part history and part gothic thriller’. I agree with that completely. I do love a family saga and a historical novel, but the mention of gothic really had me intrigued. I’m not really interested in gothic or ghost stories, but I found the story to be entirely believable.

There is so much to this novel, including multiple themes but I would prefer to say less rather than more for fear of spoiling the reading experience for someone who picks up this book.

William was a lovely, beautiful, innocent young boy, but he was surrounded by very unattractive and flawed characters. This gave a dark and sinister feeling to the story. The characterisations by the author, I felt were brilliant.

I listened to this as an audio book. It didn’t lose any of the tension of gothicness in that form at all. The narrator, Edwin Hodgeman, an actor of many decades, was able to portray the darkness of certain characters and events in the story.

Recommendations

Winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 2005.
Winner of The Age Book of the Year Award in 2004

“…..The White Earth has all the trappings of a classic supernatural tale, and McGahan seamlessly blends the factual elements with the preernatural dimensions – the ghosts of black and white that haunt the landscape”  – The Age

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Andrew McGahan, was an Australian novelist, born 1966, in Queensland, Australia. He passed away in 2019 at age 52. He is  best known for his first novel Praise, and for his Miles Franklin Award-winning novel The White Earth. His novel Praise is considered to be part of the Australian literary genre of grunge lit.

This review is linked to lovelyaudiobooks.info
#2020 AussieAuthorChallenge

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#AtoZChallenge V: Voyage to Australia – Private Journal of James Bell

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

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

 My Thoughts

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

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

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#AtoZChallenge Q: The Queens Colonial by Peter Watt

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

The Queen’s Colonial is the first in Australian author, Peter Watt’s new series featuring Captain Ian Steele, commander in the British Army, in the mid 1800s.

The story starts in Sydney in 1845, where Ian Steele, is supporting his frail and widowed mother, while dreaming of how much he yearns to live a life in uniform, in Queen Victoria’s army.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Second Lieutenant Sam Forbes, a gentle soul and a poet, from a wealthy and aristocratic, but treacherous, English family, wants nothing more than to leave the army, and live a more gentle life. Due to his family and his upbringing, he knows that is not likely to ever happen.

Later, these two men happen to meet in Sydney, and realise there is a striking likeness to their appearance. They very quickly devise a plan for Ian to take Sam’s identity and go to England, convince the family that he is their son that they haven’t seen for many years, and accept a commission into the British Army, who are about to face the Russians in battle.

My Thoughts

 At first I thought the story line about the swap of identities was ridiculous and unbelievable, but the author quickly convinced me that it made sense and it would work.

I have a love of history and war history, so this book was a pleasure for me to read. Even though The Queen’s Colonial is a novel, Watt has based it on thoroughly researched archival information. The battle scenes are taken from the actual eye witness reports of a newspaper journalist who posted war zone reports from the battle front via telegraph. These reports titled Reports From The Crimea were published frequently in The Times of London.

This is the first of Peter Watt’s books that I’ve read, and it seems that I’ve found a new favourite author. I will be watching out for the second book in this series.  I love the title, The Queen’s Colonial and very much look forward to the title chosen for the second book in the series. The book is beautifully presented with extremely beautiful artwork on the front cover.

My Rating: 4.5 star

About The Author

Peter Watt

 

Peter has been a soldier, articled clerk to a solicitor, prawn trawler deckhand, builder’s labourer, pipe layer, real estate salesman, private investigator, police sergeant and adviser to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. He has lived and worked with Aborigines, Islanders, Vietnamese and Papua New Guineans and speaks, reads and writes Vietnamese and Pidgin. He now lives at Maclean, on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales. He is a volunteer firefighter with the Rural Fire service, and is interested in fishing and the vast opens spaces of outback Queensland. – Pan Macmillan

Published in 2018 by Pan MacMillan. Paperback 396 pages, including author notes.

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#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary badge

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1788: The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet

Title:  1788 The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet
            The biggest single overseas migration the world had ever seen

Author: David Hill
Publisher:  William Heinemann
Date of Publication: 2008
Genre: Australian History
Number of Pages:  400, indexed with a chronology, bibliography and research notes. Photos and charts ;included.

Summary

Hill starts at the beginning, where he describes in great detail, the circumstances and events of life in Georgian England, that led to the decision to send convicts to start a new Colony in an unknown far away country. He conveys the excitement that must have been felt by the officials behind the biggest mass migration scheme ever seen. He sets the scene of life in England at the time that transportation began and the reasons for the decision to transport the convicts to a new land.

The agonizingly long preparations for the journey are covered in great detail, along with the effect this had on the convicts, and the fear they felt at setting out on an unknown journey, to the other side of the world, knowing that it was unlikely they would see their loved ones again. While waiting for the journey to begin, prisoners were being housed in ships at sea, close to land, due to the overcrowded conditions in the gaols. The conditions and hardships on these temporary prisons were also overcrowded and unhygienic.  As a result, many of the prisoners were in a poor state of health when the journey began.

We follow the First Fleet on the long arduous voyage of eight months, over very rough seas to the new unknown land. The 11 ships that transported the convicts, marines and officers in what were atrocious, overcrowded and mostly unbearable conditions. We get to know many of the convicts with outlines of the crimes they committed and their sentences. There were over 1500 people transported with food that was expected to last two years, along with equipment needed to build the new Colony.

We learn more about why they took the particular route they did and their experiences at their various stop-overs enroute. The political arguments of the day are also outlined so that we can understand the reasons for such long protracted preparations and the many delays that occurred.

The book also contains information about how Australia was settled after the arrival of the First Fleet, and the hardships, problems and deprivations that were encountered, which seemed to be insurmountable and caused much despair and conflict. Conditions of famine, after failure of crops to survive caused rations to be continually cut, until the new arrivals were surviving on very meager starvation rations. Hill outlines the struggle for survival in the early days and years, which led to many deaths and finally to the settlement of Norfolk Island.

The Aboriginal people are not forgotten in this book. To read of the interactions of the marines and officers with the Aboriginal community in the context of today’s standards and understandings, is quite startling. However we must remember this was a different time with a different set of values.

We meet Governor Phillip and the officers who were consigned to set up and govern the new country. The insight into Governor Phillip is far more personal than any I have read previously. After reading this book, I feel I understand him more, and why he chose certain actions and outcomes that are sometimes criticised.

The author has included a chronology of events surrounding the First Fleet, from 1717 until the death of Arthur Phillip in England in 1814. Research notes are also included along with a comprehensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading.

Many text books have been written about this subject, but David Hill has used diaries, manuscripts and newspaper reports from the time, along with characterization, to bring the story to life, and to cause the reader to feel empathy for the convicts, and those given the task of starting settlement. This is a story of courage, tragedy, survival and the endurance of all involved. It is also a story of the short sightedness and uncaring attitude of the decision makers in the planning stages. In effect the First Fleeters were dumped in a new land, and left to make the best of i,t and survive the best way they could.

My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as I am a lover of history, with a particular interest in the settlement of Australia. However, I was a little disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be any new information given at all. The information in this book could be found in many of the textbooks and histories currently available, if the reader could be bothered to look.

However, the author has written in such a way that this historical tale doesn’t read like a text book. It is written in the style of a novel, and is definitely a page turner. We meet many of the convicts and marines, and come to feel the pain they are suffering with the dreadful degradations and privations that they faced. The reader comes to understand and feel the hardships that the convicts and first settlers faced.

Recommendation

I would recommend David Hill’s book as an easy read and an introduction to Australian history for the new researcher. The subject matter can often be very dry and tedious to read, but the way the author brings the characters and events to life, makes it enjoyable and a page turner.  I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history, Australian history, genealogy or family history. My recommendation also extends to anyone interested in just a good read. Even without a special interest in the subject, this book would be worthwhile to read.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About The Author

David Hill has had a successful career as Chairman and Managing Director of  the ABC, Chairman of the Australian Football Association, Chief Executive and Director of the State Railway Authority of NSW and Chairman of Sydney Water Corporation.  This is his second historical book. The first being The forgotten Children, which told the story of the children in England who were sent to Australia after World War 2, mostly without the consent of their parents.

Have you read this book. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I really appreciate the time it takes for you to comment and promise to reply to all comments.

 

Hell Ship by Michael Veitch

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The true story of the plague ship Ticonderoga, one of the most calamitous voyages in Australian History.

Title: Hell Ship
Author:  Michael Veitch

Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Date of Publication: 2018
Genre:  Historical
Number of Pages:  260

Summary
This very well researched book tells the story of the dreadful voyage of the Ticonderoga, which left England in 1852, with a record number of passengers on board. The story of the Ticonderoga has been told for generations in Veitch’s family, as his great great grandfather James William Henry Veitch, was the junior doctor onboard.

As the ship sailed towards Australia, there was a huge outbreak of disease onboard, which took the lives of many passengers, and made the voyage a hellish one for those who survived. When the senior also became gravely ill, the authors great great grandfather was required to take over caring for the sick and dying.

As the ship sailed into Point Nepean, after it’s long and disastrous voyage, the yellow flag was flying, a universal sign that there was an outbreak of disease onboard. During the voyage, more than one quarter of the travellers lost their lives to typhoid. At the time of arrival, there were hundreds onboard who were very ill, and the ship wasn’t given permission to pull into port and disembark for days. Meanwhile many more died, while the ship was waiting for permission to dock and unload.

Most of the emigrants onboard the Ticonderoga, were victims of the Scottish clearances and the potato famine, travelling to Australia with hopes of finding a better life, after being victims of dreadful circumstances in Scotland. It seems very cruel, that these people who had already suffered so much, then had to face more suffering and sadness on this voyage.

My Thoughts
Hell Ship gives a very detailed account of the voyage, from official records. This voyage, was one of the biggest stories of the time, that is now almost forgotten. Not only is this account about the voyage and the disasters the emigrants faced, it is also about the people who were on the ship, and the tragic losses they faced, as the huge Ticonderoga made it’s way across the ocean, with it’s numbers of passengers decreasing quickly, as they were buried at sea.

Hell Ship is much more than the story of Michael Veitch’s family history. The book gives a remarkable insight into the hardships and horrors endured by emigrants on all ships, as they travelled to the other side of the world in the hope of starting a new and better life for themselves and their families.

Recommendation
I’m sure that anyone with an interest in history and especially 19th century history would really enjoy this book. Family historians and genealogists would find it extremely helpful in illustrating the conditions that the early settlers had in the long voyage to the new land.

This extremely well researched and historical document will now enable the story of the Ticonderoga to live again, and not be forgotten.

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Michael Veitch

This review has been reposted from my other blog Tracking Down The Family

Have you read this book. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I really appreciate the time it takes for you to comment and promise to reply to all comments.