My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things tours for having me on the blog tour. Thanks also to publisher Unbound for my copy of Green Gold, the epic true story of Victorian plant hunter John Jeffrey, and to author Gabriel Hemery. Green Gold is available as an ebook and paperback.
About the Book
In 1850, young Scottish plant hunter John Jeffrey was despatched by an elite group of Victorian subscribers to seek highly prized exotic trees in North America. An early letter home told of a 1,200-mile transcontinental journey by small boat and on foot. Later, tantalising collections of seeds and plants arrived from British Columbia, Oregon and California, yet early promise soon withered. Four years after setting out, John Jeffrey, and his journals, disappeared without a trace. Was he lost to love, violence or the Gold Rush? Green Gold combines meticulous research with the fictional narrative of Jeffrey’s lost journals, revealing an extraordinary adventure.
Green Gold is highly original in how it interweaves fact and fiction. It is written from two time points the present day and the 1850s, using emails (modern research), genuine historical evidence (letters and specimens collected) and fictional diary entries (imagined expedition journals). The letters written by the expedition organisers and luminaries including Prince Albert’s private secretary and Charles Darwin, are fascinating. The modern-day research helps to set these letters in context and show their historical significance. The specimens collected include snippets of information about the specimen itself, date collected and the location; Hemery uses these factual details and meticulous research to weave the fictional story of the expedition through diary entries. The overall effect is a captivating story of adventure in very different times to our own.
Scottish ‘plant hunter’ John Jeffrey was at the age of 23, dispatched by a group of Victorian sponsors to find and collect highly prized North American trees. It is these trees that the title ‘Green Gold’’ refers to. His contract specifically states that he was to keep journals of his travels in duplicate and send them in separate consignments back to Edinburgh. Despite reminders from his Patrons these journals did not materialise, so in one respect Hemery has closed the circle by completing this ‘assignment’ albeit nearly 170 years later. I enjoyed the details of the committee meeting minutes, in their preparation for the expedition (e.g. how much should be spent on a compass); but whilst he might have had the requisite field gear, nothing could have prepared Jeffrey for the danger and hardship his expedition would entail. The story is a fantastic account of pioneering adventure in what was then Civil War era USA. The timescales involved in those days are staggering, the journey from Britain to his first field site took him almost a year. Any communications he sent back took at least 6 months to arrive. During the four years of his expedition, Jeffrey collected at least 400 specimens and seeds from 199 species. His legacy remains both taxonomically (in naming the species he discovered) and in the landscape, as some of his pines now grow in Britain. What became of the man himself, we will probably never know, but Hemery tells us an extraordinary tale.
This book will appeal to anyone who is a fan of adventure stories, historical fiction or nature. Plant collecting still occurs today, although there are fewer new species being discovered than in Victorian times. It remains an important contribution to our knowledge of the natural world and many plants have inherent value (notably as food or medicine). Many collection aspects remain the same, e.g. field notes and preservation methods (finessed but not radically different). Other aspects are vastly different, e.g. timescales, technology and the moral and legal constraints applied. This makes the book of particular interest for anyone with an interest in natural sciences. There is an excellent appendix at the end which includes: botanical notes, outmoded glossary, a reference list of archival materials, mini biographies of the real-life historical characters, suggestions for further reading and useful links.
About the Author
Dr Gabriel Hemery is a silvologist (forest scientist), author and tree photographer. In 2009 he co-founded the Sylva Foundation an environmental charity. Hemery is also a founding trustee of Fund4Trees and writes a popular forestry blog at: www.GabrielHemery.com.
His first book the award-winning The New Sylva, was published by Bloomsbury in 2014.