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A Sailor's Story.

Robert Holden is an author who cannot resist a good yarn and his latest book The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, certainly falls into that category. It is an extremely entertaining book which weaves fact and fiction. However, from an historical point of view there is certainly more fact than fiction. Holden has been meticulous in his research and has filled out the lacunae in Chamberlain's life convincingly and without self-consciousness.

The book tells the remarkable story of the life of William Chamberlain who was abducted from Sydney as a young boy, to serve on the Frederick, a whaling ship, who saw action at the Battle of Algiers as a powder monkey, was re-united with his family in Sydney and went on in later life to become a captain of a whaling ship.

Robert Holden paints a vibrant picture of life in the 19th century, in colonial Australia, in the Royal Navy and aboard the whaling ships of the time. Essentially the book is divided into three distinct sections, each dealing in detail with the different aspects of Chamberlain's life. The first part of the book starts with an amazing interview with Chamberlain aged 12, in 1816 before the Navy Board in Portsmouth. He was asked where he was born and the answer was Port Jackson, New South Wales, and he then goes on to outline how he arrived there and some of the incredible adventures he had along the way.

The language in the early part of the first section is the language of the early 19th century and I was pleased that this was not continued for the whole book. Nevertheless it does set the scene and allows the reader to become immersed in the atmosphere of the period.

Holden's coverage of life on whaling ships is particularly evocative and he has captured the horror of this vile trade in a compelling fashion--all that is missing the stench of boiling whale oil and rotting whale flesh. I particularly enjoyed the section which retells the story of the Essex, a whaling ship apparently sunk by a whale and the inspiration for Hermann Melville's masterpiece Moby Dick.

The book succeeds as great history because it is factual, well researched and because it is, at the end of the day, a ripping yarn!

Detailed notes and sources for each chapter are provided.

Alan Ventress

Associate Director, City

State Records Authority of NSW

HOLDEN, Robert

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Sydney, Harper Collins, 2003 $29.95 ISBN 0 7322 7557 1
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Title Annotation:The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author:Ventress, Alan
Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:422
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