January 2022 History Reads


A Voyage to Port Phillip and Van Diemen’s Land with Governor Collins by A.W.H. Humphrey

A Voyage to Port Phillip and Van Diemen’s Land with Governor Collins gives an account of Adolarius Humphrey’s journey from England to Port Phillip and Van Diemen’s Land, via letters he wrote to his family.

Humphrey’s purpose on the boat was as Minerologist, though his correspondence has limited reference to the specimens he collected. His account, rather, detailed the voyage from England (spoiler alert; he was not a natural sailor) and the exploration of Port Phillip and Van Diemen’s Land. Humphrey’s account of the latter is particularly fascinating with him detailing the voyage down the Tamar River as far the Cataract Gorge; the chiselling of his name on a rock as Supply River, which I wrote about in my post here; climbed Table Mountain in the South, and witnessed the settling by Europeans of what was to become Hobart Town.

Humphrey briefly touches on interactions with Tasmanian Aboriginals. Humphrey states that gestures of friendship were made by the Europeans, though this always seemed to end with shots being fired into the air to frighten them away.

The account by Humphrey is bookended with an introduction and an epilogue by editor John Currey which provide interesting context of Humphrey’s life before and after the events of 1803-4.

I read this book to research a blog post, but I genuinely enjoyed it. Humphrey’s writing is clear and eminently readable. I found his accounts of his travels in Van Diemen’s Land, at the very commencement of settlement of Hobart by Europeans interesting, though of course this is only from the perspective of his own world view.

My one gripe with this book is that it is not only out of print, but it has proven impossible to find even a used copy to buy.

I have a post on Adolarius Humphrey here if interested in knowing more about him.

Bygone Days on the Tamar – Hilda Archer Johnson

This slim paperback is a memoir of Hilda Archer John’s childhood growing up on the Tamar River in Northern Tasmania. Johnson was a descendant of the Archers of Longford from Panshanger and Woolmers. She was also related, as she tells us, to the Grubbs of the Beaconsfield mine.

Johnson skips from memory to memory. As such, she doesn’t go into great depth with her recollections. She speaks though of families she was connected to throughout the Tamar Valley, well-known buildings, and of the events that has most stayed with her. Most enjoyable to me were the stories of the childhood mischief she and brother Bernard got themselves into. Clear is her love for her brother. Interspersed through the memoir are poems written by Bernard and published after the Great War.

Whilst only a very short book, more novella than book, it provides a peek into what are indeed bygone days on the Tamar. I’ve enjoyed following up and reading more about some of the things Johnson speaks about further. For an example, see this post here which started with a photo included in the book by Johnson.

A Pirate’s Life for She – Laura Sook Duncombe

A Pirate’s Life for She is an anthology of 16 profiles of female pirates through the ages. They include well-known figures such as Mary Read and Anne Bonny, as well as lesser known women. The profiles are spotted with feature boxes providing historical context and other information that enhances understanding of the time period of each pirate.

I don’t have enough information about any of the pirates other than Charlotte Badger to comment on historical accuracy. In regard to Charlotte, research appears limited. The accuracy of the information presented is therefore flawed and the author has bought into the mythology of Charlotte Badger, rather than the facts. The author mentions in her introduction the general challenge in researching the pirates due to limited information. Australia, however, has substantial written records from the earliest period of English colonisation which are digitised and easily accessed. If you’d like to know more about Charlotte Badger, see my post here.

This may make it sound as though I didn’t enjoy this book. That isn’t the case – I enjoyed it a lot. This was the type of book I loved as a teen, and I still have some similar style anthologies from that time period. It was important to note though, that although this is a fun read, the accuracy in at least one profile is flawed.

From the tone of writing, this is most suited to an early to mid teen.


The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings – Dan Jones

The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings is a spooky short-story authored by Historian Dan Jones. The story is set in the time of King Richard II, with a tailor being accosted by a ghostly presence while riding home…

The tale, while not really similar at all, reminded me of the spirits appearing to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, albeit without the Victorian moralising. Whilst well-written and duly evocative at times, as with most short-stories I found the tale too short to be wholly satisfying. What I actually found juicier and more intriguing, was the story of how Jones came across this story (and others). Indeed, half of this small book is information on how Jones came across a small collection of tales from the collections in Byland Abbey, and then of the history of Byland Abbey itself.

The original Latin version of the story is also included.

All up, an interesting read and one I’m sure I’ll go back to.

Charlotte Badger – Buccaneer by Angela Badger

Angela Badger has written a fictional account of Charlotte Badger, who is sometimes referred to as Australia’s only female pirate. Though there is no author’s note, I wonder whether the author may have ancestry tracing back to Charlotte given the surname.

Each chapter opens with a snippet from a historical record, whether that be correspondence, newspaper accounts and so forth. These aren’t all directly related to Charlotte, but also related to the locations she journeyed to. This was a nice touch and it has led me to add some additional narratives to my list of books to read.

The facts of Charlotte’s life are followed reasonably closely, up to the point where Charlotte leaves New Zealand. Badger uses the little that is known as building blocks to create a narrative for how events may have come to pass for Charlotte. The story takes a departure when Charlotte departs New Zealand. The events from this point are more aligned with the fantastical tales spun by Te Matan (Louis Becke) and Roy Alexander, than what we now know happened to Charlotte. The novel was published in 2002 though, before the readily available digitised records we take for granted today.

This book would be most suited to those who a desperate for more of glimpse into what could have been for Charlotte. The writing style wasn’t to my particular taste, but may suit others.

If you’d like to know more about Charlotte Badger, see my post here.

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