Great Australian Historical Fiction

There was great excitement yesterday when the postman arrived with a book shaped parcel. Inside was a second-hand copy of Jamberoo Road by Eleanor Spence. It is the sequel to The Switherby Pilgrims which we read last year. Both books are published by Bethlehem Books and both books are historical fiction set mainly in Australia.
The Switherby Pilgrims

Miss Arabella Braithewaite of Switherby knows there is no future for the ten orphans—a remarkable mix of genteel and working class children—she has gathered together in these years of England’s grim factory growth in the early 1820s. Her plan, quite outrageous in the eyes of most, is to take the children to Australia to take up a land grant. Thus, one day the townsfolk gather to watch a line of departing “pilgrims” led by the fearless “Missabella.” On a new continent, and after a daunting ocean voyage, the challenges begin. To the orphans it becomes a life-giving adventure, even when serious unexpected threats must be overcome. Australian author Eleanor Spence, writing with keen personal insight, sketches each child and adult’s engagement with the new land and its people and with one another. From their courage we glimpse the futures of this unlikely band beginning to emerge with hope and personal dignity.

Jamberoo Road

Five years ago, in 1825, Missabella and her ten orphans—the “Switherby Pilgrims”—had voyaged from England to New South Wales, in primitive Australia. By dint of tough pioneering work they had turned their coastal land grant into a true, if rustic, home. Missabella, now, is determined to provide for the future of her orphans according to each one’s character. Not an easy task, with such a varied, ragtag, yet lovable set of personalities and backgrounds as they represent. Selina will train in Sydney to be a milliner; Paul may become a midshipman; Francis loves to farm. But what will satisfy clever, independent Cassie, who has ambitions to be a writer? The “Jamberoo Road” leads her inland, to the discomforts and enticements of being governess in a wealthy colonial family. There restless Luke, likewise employed by the family, as a stable boy, will create his own troubles. Cassie’s story, interwoven with Luke’s and that of all the other orphans’ and their former farmhand Eben’s, is both an account of personal growth and a vivid journey into early-day Australia.

We really enjoyed The Switherby Pilgrims and were delighted when we found Jamberoo Road in our local library. I borrowed it and started reading it out loud. For some reason we didn’t finish the book before it was due back at the library. When we next went looking for the book we discovered that it had been ‘lost in transit’. We were all really disappointed. Would we be ever find out how the story ended?
A week or so ago, I ordered a secondhand copy of Jamberoo Roadfrom Better World Books and yesterday it arrived! I was going to start reading the book today but Gemma-Rose told me she’s forgotten so much of The Switherby Pilgrims, will I read that book again first?
We are particularly interested in these books as they are set in a part of Australia we are familiar with: the Illawarra, south of Wollongong, NSW.
The Switherby Pilgrims and Jamberoo Road are both available from Bethlehem Books and The Book Depository and Amazon.
I only saved several dollars by buying my second-hand copy through Better World Books but I think it was worth it. For every book bought on this site, Better World Books donates a book to someone in need. BWB are dedicated to promoting literacy and saving books from becoming landfill. And postage is free worldwide! There are 8 million new and used books to choose from. Maybe this is a good site to search for all those out-of-print books you’d really like to own.
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  1. Reply

    Looks like more good reading. Therese opened these at Christmas and we have both enjoyed them. The Wollongong connection was good as we also know this area well.

    Happy Reading.

    P.S After the post about Meriol Trevor, I've started to reread "Sun Slower, Sun Faster".

    1. Reply


      I remember reading about the Blowhole at Kiama in one of these books. It was very interesting to see how the hole 'blows' differently nowadays. It isn't so active as it once was. I think whenever we read a story where we are familiar with the setting, it feels like 'our' book. We have a connection with the book that other people don't have.

      I can't wait to read more Meriol Trevor!

  2. Reply

    I didn't know that Bethlehem Books published Eleanor Spence novels. Did you know that she lived 10 minutes from us and used to go to the school up the road? She died 4 years ago.

    We're reading 'A Waltz for Matilda' by Jackie French. It's sad how hard life used to be for orphans, but it's a good story, so far.

    Thank you for sharing your book finds:-)

    1. Reply


      I bought "The Switherby Pilgrims" from a homeschool camp stall. It was the first Eleanor Spence novel we read. I searched our library catalogue and found some more of her books. These books had been moved to 'the stacks' or back room storage. We borrowed quite a few. Yes, I seem to remember some of Eleanor Spence's novels were set north of Sydney on the coast. They were set in the 1950s and 1960s. I didn't realise Eleanor Spence lived near you. That is interesting! Is she remembered as a local personality?

      I saw "A Waltz for Matilda' in our library. Jackie French's stories are always very involving and informative. Do you find her use of swearing in dialogue, and sometimes adult or less than innocent themes, to be a problem? I always read her books out loud so I can edit as I read which works well!

  3. Reply

    I haven't come across Eleanor Spence locally. Yes, I read Jackie French aloud, too. I wouldn't give the books to the children to read because I edit, like you do. It's a shame because they would be great books otherwise.

    1. Reply


      Yes, the coarse language does spoil the books. I guess Jackie French was aiming for realistic dialogue but it is not realistic for our children, and I don't really think it is necessary. So saying… her books are wonderful stories!

  4. Reply

    We LOVE The Switherby Pilgrims and Jamberoo Road! They are a part of our home library. I am a bookaholic! I would love to find more books from the author…

    1. Reply

      Hi Cheyenne,

      We live maybe an hour and a half's drive away from the places mentioned in these two books. It is so interesting to read about how this area used to be and contrast it with how it is today.

      I think it is likely that most of Eleanor Spence's books are out of print but you might be able to buy them second-hand, maybe online. We particularly liked "The Family Book of Mary Claire". We have learnt so much about Australian history by reading Eleanor Spence's books. The best way to learn history!

      Do you have any favourite fiction books about American history?

      Thank you for stopping and saying hello!

  5. Reply

    Oops! Hi Sue, I didn't realize I commented as my daughter, Cheyenne. Hee hee. I'll have to ask her what her favorite American historical fiction is. Hold on a sec'…( calling for Cheyenne) She says her favorite is the Texas Panhandle Series by Loula Grace Erdman "the Wind Blows Free", "The Wide Horizon", and "The Good Land". Have you read any of them? I quite liked them too!
    God bless!

    1. Reply


      I just did some quick research. Two of the books you mentioned are available as Kindle books. I could buy the other one from The Book Depository. All these wonderful books. Thank you for sharing Cheyenne's favourites.

      God bless!

    2. Reply

      Another favorite book is The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. True story written by the mother…about multi-racial adoption in the United States in the 40's-50's. I re-read it every year…I think it inspired me to want to adopt when I first read it when I was eleven!

    3. Reply


      I love reading memoirs. We can learn so much from them and as you said, they can be very inspiring. I have added this book to my list of books I want to read. The list is growing! I will have to stop writing and spend some time reading instead.

      Thank you for your comment!

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