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.
Anyone who reads my blog occasionally knows that I have a deep love of non-fiction and adore being introduced to stories from the past that I haven’t heard of before. We Scots do have a bit of a tradition of being intrepid explorers and our Botanic Gardens in both Edinburgh and Glasgow bear witness to the many brave travellers who sailed off to distant lands to seek unknown species of trees and rare plants. I was absolutely delighted when Anne Cater wrote to me to ask if I’d like to be on the blog tour for Green Gold by Gabriel Hemery – and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it every bit as much as I was anticipating.
This book tells the epic story of Victorian plant hunter John Jeffrey told through a re-imagining of his incredible adventure sailing from Scotland to North America in the 19th century in search of the unknown, bankrolled by a group of wealthy plant collectors. John’s adventure begins as he leaves Scotland bound for the rocky shores of Canada and takes him as far away as the legendary land of California with all its rich unknown vegetation and things that chilly fellow Scots can only have imagined.
He adventures across a wide range of terrains – from the frozen shores in Canada to the lush riches awaiting him on the west coast where oranges and fruits grew in abundance. John reports back to his sponsors regularly – sending them rare specimens of plants and wildlife and expanding our view of the known world at a time where everything was changing. Because I am a huge fan of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanical Gardens, I was so excited to read about the origins of so many of its specimens that I’ve actually walked past and know that through reading John Jeffrey’s account I could connect with its history in a very real way.
What I loved about the book was the feeling of getting to know John the man, through being able to turn the pages of his journals and hear his inner thoughts and feelings as his journey wound on. As is quite common for Scottish adventurers, things never really ‘panned out’ the way that John expected them to when he boldly set sail – his detailed reports and updates never actually transpired and his sponsors rapidly became disenchanted with their intrepid adventurer John Jeffrey. Before they could complain to him, however, all traces of John and his expedition vanished and no more was heard from him again.
Although there are several theories which extrapolate about what might have happened to John Jeffrey, we still do not have the answers t this day – was John a victim of sabotage, did he disappear into the wilderness to lead a quiet life, did he find the love of his life or perhaps meet with misadventure or betrayal – unfortunately we will never really know…
I absolutely loved this intriguing and original book that transports you back in time on an epic adventure with a long-forgotten character from history. You do not have to be a horticulturalist to get drawn into John’s story and you will be amazed at some of the adventures that this man encountered in search of his green-gold treasures.
I love doing my research after finishing a book I’ve enjoyed and if you are intrigued by John’s story, you could find out more here. You will be able to see real extracts from his papers and read all about the man himself as well as get details of an exhibition there about John’s life and adventures that I’m already planning on taking Mr OnTheShelf to visit as he is a history teacher
If you are intrigued by my research about John and would like to read more about his epic adventures then follow the blog and definitely buy yourself a copy of this fascinating read.
Writer On The Shelf