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Deeper than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer

Wednesday 6 April 2016

1 Hour


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Ticket price

Writer, artist, traveller and indigo expert Dr Jenny Balfour-Paul explains how she came across the 19th-century writer and traveller Thomas Machell and how, as she delved deeper into his life, she realised it echoed her own.

Balfour-Paul’s quest began after she was shown a page of a handwritten diary by Machell containing a sketch, Indigo planters after tiffin. Machell set off on a merchant ship at 16 and travelled through the Middle East including India, Polynesia and China. He witnessed The Opium war at 17, became an indigo planter in Bengal, fell in love with a Polynesian chief’s daughter and returned to Europe dressed as an Arab merchant. As she researched his life for her book, Balfour-Paul kept coming across coincidences – their shared passion for indigo, visits to the same area of Bengal and threat of pirate attack in the Red Sea. And the most extraordinary and strangest experience of all came as Balfour-Paul tried to fill in Machell’s missing final years.

“One of the most remarkable books I have ever read” A N Wilson.

Balfour-Paul is the author of two books on indigo. She is an honorary research fellow at Exeter University and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Here she talks to novelist and biographer A N Wilson.

This event is part of the festival’s leadership programme sponsored by HSBC.