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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why people sailed to New Zealand

A Passage from No Simple Passage

On my bedside table at the moment is Jenny Robin Jones's account of a family that migrated to New Zealand in 1841.  Right now, I am still enjoying the daily account of the voyage on the ship London, told from JRJ's own perspective -- she has used the unusual and rather beguiling device of putting herself into the story, by placing herself at the skirts of her great-great-grandmother, Rebecca Remington.  As it begins:

First, introductions.  I'm your great-great-granddaughter, Jenny. You begat Mary Ann who begat Eva who begat Barrie who begat me.  So I'm creeping onto the London with you, Rebecca, hiding under your skirts, a wraith of the future.  I'm sidling up the gangplank, glad to leave these murky London waters.

Through diaries, journals, and a host of other records, Jones also brings Rebecca's shipmates to life, often with an intriguing background story, such as the reason this or that family head made the brave decision to uproot and resettle on the far side of the globe.

One such is Thomas Chamberlain, who was one of that privileged species, a landowner, with a few acres in Daventry in Northamptonshire.  Let's quote:

However, he was being pressured to sell by his wealthy neighbour, Sir Charles Knightley ... When Thomas refused to sell, Sir Charles sent two agents who persuaded him to lease it 'just long enough for one crop to mature'. It ws an offer too good to refuse.  Cabbages or swedes, the Chamberlains didn't enquire, but when the first young leaves appeared, they recognised oak saplings and realised the one crop would take hundreds of years to mature.  The English oak, symbol to the people of faithfulness, loyalty and perseverance, had been subverted into betrayal.

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