Private Journal of a Voyage to Australia by James BellPrivate Journal of a Voyage to Australia

by James Bell
published by Allen and Unwin
RRP $24.99 (224pp; 205mm x 135mm)
In 1838, James Bell set forth from England aboard the ship, The Planter, bound for South Australia as a migrating free settler. About 150 years later, James Bell’s diary was discovered in a London market, auctioned and purchased by the State Library of South Australia.
Bell penned a daily account of his voyage, setting a condition in the preface to his work that the friend to whom he would send the journal would appreciate the mention of his own affairs “... and that it must never be read by a third party”.
The Library’s Anthony Laube has written an Introduction explaining the context of the trip that James Bell undertook.
At age 21, Bell left his native Scotland as part of a scheme set up to attract respectable immigrants to South Australia, which was led principally by Colonel Robert Torrens. Torrens’ media blitz to attract likely candidates in various occupational groups was supplemented by “emigration agents” throughout the home countries.
Young Bell, therefore, risked his fortune on a politician’s promise that Adelaide would meet his expectations for success. His diary is only of his journey to Australia and is a day-by-day account of life aboard The Planter. And there was much to tell. The voyage, normally just over four months, took close to six months. The ship was badly managed, in poor condition and filled with crew and passengers who would fail to live up to the standards that Bell’s Scottish, Protestant upbringing would have expected.
Yet Bell did not let the ills of the voyage get him down. Rather he reflected more positively through his love of poetry and his connections with family and friends left behind. Quoting Byron, Goldsmith, Coleridge and others, James Bell hoped for a grand outcome for his travels and ultimate re-connection with the mysterious “C.P.” – the love he left behind. Regrettably, a year after Bell’s arrival in Adelaide he died “from a brain infection”.
Anthony Laube speculates that the stories of the diary’s return to Scotland and its survival are yet to be told. But here, at least, is a first-hand account of a journey by a very young adventurer, James Bell.

Last Voyage First by Joseph HalsteadLast Voyage First

by Joseph Halstead
RRP $12.95 (326pp; 203mm x 150mm)
Joseph Halstead is a first time author whose book, Last Voyage First, combines a number of interesting themes. First, it is an historical fiction centred on the American Revolution, particularly events that occurred in 1777. Second, it has more than a touch of Back to the Future about it, transporting some modern-day sailors and their boat back a couple of hundred years. And third, it takes relatively unexplained events in the War of Independence and tries to put a modern spin to them.
Telling the story of a father, daughter and her fiancé, Last Voyage First drops the trio into a hurricane in the Bermuda Triangle. They and their ultra-modern yacht are launched into 1777 not far from a New York City that bore none of the landmarks they were used to. The daughter, knocked overboard during the hurricane, falls into the hands of the English and schemes her escape, while the father and groom-to-be meet the locals and ponder their future. Each of them leaks out only a little of their histories, to the fascination of those around them.
It is an entertaining read that romps along with sometimes unbelievable segues. But that is part of the fun. Unfortunately, Joseph Halstead not only took on the authorship of the book, but seems also to have tried his hand at editing. Someone else’s “blue pencil” would have corrected the small mistakes that our author’s blind spot missed.
It looks a bargain on Amazon.