It is not very often after reading a book based on historical facts woven with fictional characters that I feel compelled to tell the world of what I have read. However the book “Among Kings” by Joey O’Connor prompts me to do just that.
Not only is this book a riveting read, even if a little gruesome at times, but the author’s note explaining how he came to write it is itself just as fascinating.
The book is an interesting read. At first one would be forgiven in thinking it was about American missionaries, and racial differences, but persevere as it becomes a consuming page turner.
Reading further one finds out about King Leopold III of Belgium and later his consuming thirst for bringing ivory then the more lucrative rubber to Europe. The atrocities that were inflicted on the various tribes in the Congo, all because of this greed, is described such that one does not need pictures. One is exposed to many images of emancipated human suffering at the various German concentration camps, but images of humans whose hands are severed in exchange for ammunition, because they failed to pay their dues?
I thoroughly recommend this book as it is well written and weaves facts into a believable account of missionaries exposing the atrocities of Congolese people at the hands of the Force Republique under King Leopold III.
There are various other publications that enhance the validity of this book and are themselves interesting reads.
Wow, the remains of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” located in the Weddell Sea in March 2022, was a fantastic find after being ‘lost’ for more than a century.
This successful attempt in 2022 found the wreck, located 6km from the position recorded by Worsley, and at a depth of 3,008 metres. The three-masted sailing ship was lost in November 1915 when it was crushed by Antarctic ice and sank to the ocean floor during Shackleton’s failed attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica. Submersible video, shot by Endurance22 using advanced underwater vehicles called Sabertooths showed the ship to be in remarkably good condition, with timbers very well preserved, due to the lack of wood consuming microbes. Even more remarkable is that the expedition was a few days away from having to be abandoned, as the ice was closing in and the blizzards and storms had started.
Shackleton and his crew remained with the ship for ten months until it was eventually crushed by the ice. Shackleton and his 27 men undertook a perilous lifeboat journey to the uninhabited Elephant Island, with Shackleton and a smaller crew then making an open-boat journey of 800 miles to reach a whaling station in South Georgia, mounting a rescue mission back to Elephant Island from there. This harrowing account of the British explorer can be read in this book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing. It is a remarkable story.
In 2019 Maritime archaeologist and shipwreck expert Mensun Bound, after 2 years of planning and with a budget of $250m sailed south, onboard the Aqulhas II equipped with high tech exploration tools – Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. He was determined to find the ship’s resting place, but was defeated by the icy conditions. Just like Endurance before, Agulhas II became trapped in sea ice. Whereas Shackleton had his men race from one gunwale to the other to try and shake the ship loose, the captain of the Agulhas II achieved the same effect by swinging a 40-ton fuel pod on a crane from one side to the other, gradually shifting the ship out of the ice’s grasp. Technology!
The Weddell sea named after James Weddell, a Scottish explorer and seal hunter, was once difficult to access because of its abundant pack ice and harsh weather conditions. However modern icebreaker ships have begun to explore this area. The Weddell Sea is a site of special importance to the global climate and the circulation of the ocean waters. It is in the densest waters in the Atlantic. The Weddell Gyre, delimited by a clockwise-rotating ocean flow in the Southern Ocean, covers an area more than half the size of the USA. Its characteristics control the physical and chemical properties of large parts of the global deep ocean, and it has the capability of influencing global climate on multiple timescales. Studying this Gyre is challenging, as sea ice covers the ocean surface year around, restricting access by research ships and sensing of ocean surface from satellites. New technology is now available to avoid past limitations, autonomous underwater vehicles, instruments flown by planes, and floats instrumented with sea-ice detection. More information on its importance can be read in this article.
Interested in finding out more about the Arctic and Antartica? The ABC Australia have a television program on the two poles and can be seen on Iview.
Fancy visiting the Wendell sea? One cruise states “with 5 full days in Antarctica, experience the towering tabular icebergs and Adelie penguin rookeries of the remote Weddell Sea, alongside some of the Peninsula’s most popular landing sites further south. Departs once a year, at the height of the summer, aboard a 90-passenger expedition ship”. Another emphasises the Emperor penguins. Just do a search for ‘ cruise Antartica Wendell”
This is a novel by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts featuring the fictitious Evangeline Murray as she challenges the majestic Niagara Falls in 1923. The romantic thriller is entwined with facts of the majestic Niagara Falls, the residents, the jumpers and perhaps answers why people wanted to brave the fall.
The year is 1923 and the Jazz Age is in full swing. Evangeline Murray, a young widow from Ohio, is recruited by the Women’s Freedom Movement to represent the spirit of modern womanhood by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Evangeline eagerly embraces her opportunity to achieve fame and fortune, until she sees the power of the river and begins to understand the risk she is taking. Joshua McClaren, an enigmatic battle-scarred veteran of World War I, and the best boatman of the Canadian shore of the Niagara, reluctantly agrees to launch the headstrong Evangeline. Before the barrel can be launched each of them will have to face their own demons, painful secrets will be revealed and the Niagara River will claim two more lives.
Eileen wrote in her promotion: ” “From the very first time I saw the Falls and visited the Daredevil Museums, I have wondered why anyone would take such risks. However, I have to admit that the rushing water has a powerful pull as it cascades smoothly and endlessly over the edge and down into the churning rapids. I have visited the Falls many times in all seasons of the year and I have seen tourists from all over the world turn to each and ask the same question. “Why would anyone do that?” The Girl in the Barrel is my answer to that question.”
Some historical facts
History records that the first person to plunge over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive was Annie Edson Taylor, an enigmatic school teacher from Michigan who turned up at Niagara Falls on October 24, 1901 with a barrel that she had constructed herself. She was forty-six years old.
She certainly does not endear herself to the animal lovers among us when it is revealed that she first tested the barrel on a stray cat that she named Iagara. It was only after the cat had survived the fall that she decided to take the risk herself.
She dressed for her adventure in a long skirt and a flowery hat and rested her head on a heart shaped pillow. She took the 200 foot plunge at 4:30 p.m. and fifteen minutes later she was retrieved at the base of the Falls. When she was released from the barrel she was heard to say that “no one ought ever do that again”. It is not recorded what the cat said, but it may have been something similar.
Annie Taylor survived the plunge in a barrel, but is it possible to survive without a barrel? It has happened although many would call it a miracle.
On July 9th 1960, seven year old Roger Woodward and his 17 year old sister Deanne, set out on a boat ride through the upper Niagara with family friend James Honeycutt. About a mile before the brink of Horseshoe Falls the motor malfunctioned and ceased running. Unable to restart the engine, Honeycutt began to frantically row in the direction of the shore but the strong current was carrying the boat swiftly towards the Falls. Honeycutt ordered the Woodward children to put on their life-preservers, although he was too busy rowing to put his on.
The boat capsized in the rapids above the Falls separating Deanne from both Roger and Honeycutt. Deanne held onto the side of the boat until a wave forced her under. When she surfaced she was spotted by John Hayes and John Quattrochi who were standing on the shore. Hayes grabbed Deanne by her fingers and called for help from Quattrochi. Together they pulled her from the water.
Roger Woodward was in Honeycutt’s arms until the raging water pulled them apart as they rode over the crest of the Falls. Roger was forced into the deep water at the base of the Falls but quickly floated to the surface, due to his life-preserver. The crew of the Maid of the Mist spotted his orange life-jacket and, after eight minutes and three approaches, they finally rescued him by using a life ring. He sustained only minor cuts and bruises and his sister was treated for shock. James Honeycutt did not survive.
Roger describes the moment he went over the brink. “I fell into a cloud,” he says. “There was no sensation like vertigo, no sensation in my stomach. There was a dense cloud of mist and I could not see anything and only hear the roar.”
The Canadian Horseshoe Falls has a brink of 792 metres and a height of almost 51 metre with 2,271 litres falling every second.
Since 1850, more than 5,000 people have gone over Niagara Falls, either intentionally (as stunts or suicide attempts) or accidentally. After a death in 1951 it is now illegal to go over Niagara Falls, whatever method is used and hefty fines are imposed.
From intrepid explorers like Ernest Shackleton, to a somewhat crazy Australian, Sandy Mackinnon, rowing and sailing a mirror dinghy from England to the Black Sea, or an American putting himself into orbit for a year. These books take you into another world, where you ‘feel the ice cold’ or experience the impending disaster.
Silk Road by Colin Falconer entwines facts with fiction. The story describes the landscape, lifestyles and peoples of the epic 9 month journey across the deserts of Persia and along the Silk road to Xanadu. A similar journey Crusader: By Horse to Jerusalem by Tim Severin recounts his horseback journey retracing the 2.500 mile trek the Crusaders made from France to Jerusalem. A film of this journey can be viewed here.
The search for Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” provides an interesting battle between nature and man’s technology. Read more.
Sometimes I am captivated by the title, or the cover or feel like a gentle dreamy read. Historical novels are of great interest, some are almost biographical, some are fictional with surprising elements of near truth. Take the “Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton, an historical novel set in the late 1600’s, mostly accurate description of life in this era with a few ‘artistic licences’ thrown in to add to the mysteries. “Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma” is a fascinating account of how this brilliant man was instrumental in unlocking the German cipher code and a sad one of how he was treated by the British government for his homosexuality.
The author Eileen Enwright-Hodgettshas for me a style that is so easy to read, entwining facts with a fictional story. There are several stories written in the world war two period such as ”Air Raid”, ”War Bride” and ”Imposter”. Her interests range outside of this period having travelled several countries. She manages to create a compelling read about jumping the Niagara Falls in ”The girl in the barrel”.
Eileen manages to weave a realistic story around facts, Her newest novel, soon to be released is “Girl in a Lifeboat” which is a fascinating story about the cover up over the tragic sinking of the Titanic. Mystery, intrigue, tragic horror, and a little romance are all present. Once started it is difficult to put down.
A series of books by Michael Beashel feature the early days of Sydney, under the title of the Sandstone Series. The immigrants arriving to make their fortunes, the Gold Rush, the wool trade and development of the city buildings. Jealousy, building, romance and historical facts are woven into the series.
Wow, the remains of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” located in the Weddel Seas in March 2022, was a fantastic find after being ‘lost’ for more than a century. It was located 6km from the position recorded by Worsley, and at a depth of 3,008 metres. The three-masted sailing ship was lost in November 1915 when it was crushed by Antarctic ice and sank to the ocean floor during Shackleton’s failed attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica. Submersible video shot by Endurance22 using advanced underwater vehicles called Sabertooths showed the ship to be in remarkably good condition. The timbers are remarkably well preserved, due to the lack of wood consuming microbes. Even more remarkable is that the expedition was a day away from having to abandon the search, as the ice was closing in and the blizzards and storms started. Read more