Want to Read a REAL Thriller? Then Read this Shipboard Diary …

The year is 1838, and James Bell a young man from Scotland has said goodbye to his family and the love of his life, and has made his way to Southampton to embark on the voyage of a lifetime. He was one of more than 90 passengers who boarded the “Planter” ship on 23 November 1838, all eager to reach their new homeland South Australia in a few short months.

Little did they know what was in store. And if it wasn’t for James Bell writing in his diary, we wouldn’t have known what would have happened on the one of the most adventurous, tragic, exciting, and exhausting voyages ever.

Sound intriguing? It is … Titled “A Journey To Australia: A Journal by James Bell“, the book is the diary of a guy who migrated to South Australia in 1839, and in my opinion it’s is just as exciting as any thriller book I’ve read. I would go as far to say that it is one of the most AMAZING books I’ve ever read in my life. In fact I wrote about this title a little while ago when I actually discovered that Mr Lonetester’s 3x great grandparents were on this voyage. Anyway I’ve now finished this book, and what can I say, but WOW!!!

It is truly phenomenal, and yet this is no work of fiction. James Bell was one of the passengers on the voyage of the “Planter”, and fortunately for us he was well-educated, and decided to record his voyage. The voyage was long (six-months-long), and tumultuous in every way possible, and James recorded what turned out the be a voyage from hell.

He wrote about the condition, the drunken parties, the captain’s “incompetence”, the women bribing the the crew to get better conditions, the hot days and nights, the boredom of life at sea, the mutiny, detouring to get a new crew and supplies, missing home, “missing” a island, wondering with hope about new the new life ahead, personality clashes, the births and deaths on board, the stops at various islands along the way, not to mention the storms, seasickness, the weather, and the broken sails and mast! It’s all there, and as I said, it is NOT fiction.

old ship 2 - 510

The picture above is not that of the “Planter” but it would have been something similar, as in it was an old wooden boat with sails. James even writes about the days when there “wasn’t a breath of wind air” and his frustration of not progressing on their journey! It’s had to imagine isn’t it.

It’s commonly mentioned in genealogy seminars that that if you want to know more about I’ve sat in on that shipboard diaries are an amazing resource. And even if you can’t find one that happens to relate to your own family, see if there is one written by another passenger on the same voyage, or if that’s not possible, look for a diaries that might relate to a similar type of ship in a similar timeframe to get an idea of what the voyage was really like … Because NO-ONE can tell you what the voyage was like, except those who were on it.

A Voyage to Australia Private Journal of James Bell

James Bell, the writer of the diary, was obviously very well educated and was a great writer. He even goes into a lot of detail including the conditions on his cabin, and mentioning various other passengers. I was fortunate that he was good friends with Mr and Mrs Elphick (Mr Lonetester’s relis), so they get mentioned numerous times throughout, including that Mrs Elphick taught him how to play chess. I thought that was very cool. Just a random anecdote you’d otherwise never ever know.

Everyone who has connections to who who emigrated out on the “Planter” ship in 1839 to South Australia, I would say this book is a must. And for anyone who is simply interested in what people endured to even get to this barely 3 year old colony is beyond our comprehension. But I found it to be a serious page-turner. Anyway I think the title simply doesn’t do it justice, though it is an accurate one, for what it is.

The diary finishes abruptly when they reach South Australia, and you are left wanting more. But one thing that has been added by the compilers which is most welcome, is mini biographies on many of the passengers mentioned throughout the diary, giving details of what happened to them.

For a list of the passengers on the “Planter” 1839, click here.
And for more information, or to buy a copy of this title check it out at Gould Genealogy & History.


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