Deeper Than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer
By Jenny Balfour Paul
2015, Medina Publishing, 978-1-90933-953-8, 22.99 hb
Reviewed by Caroline Stone on September 12, 2017
Englishman Thomas Machell set off to seek his fortune in the East in the mid-19th century when he was just 16. He traveled widely in India, where he became an indigo (and later a coffee) planter; Polynesia, where he fell in love with a cheiftain's daughter; China, where he witnessed the First Opium War; and the Middle East, where he had numberous adventures from Yemen to Suez. This strange and compelling recounting of Machell's life by probably the world's foremost expert on indigo is based in large part on five illustrated diary volumes covering the years 1840–1856 that lay half-forgotten in the British Library until they were brought to the author's attention because of their link to indigo. In this tour de force, Balfour Paul interweaves her own travels and adventures in search of Machell into the story, bringing her subject back to life as she identifies ever more closely with him. The book's many illustrations—his and hers—add a great deal to the narrative.