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The Voyage of the Shuckenoor
Erica Bell

An historic novel threaded with love, truth and innocence lost.

An adventure story depicting the fate of women on the tall ships of the 19th Century.

Sailing from Queensland to Melanesia in 1903, 17 year-old Hilda Kofke accompanies her beloved father, Gustave, a government officer on his final ‘labour recruiting’ voyage through the South Seas.

Far from the pacifist and champion of Pacific islanders’ rights she believed him to be, Hilda learns that her father was once ‘the butcher of New Guinea’ who believed in the ‘perfect logic’ of the pre-emptive strike.

ISBN 9781921479045
RRP AU$32.95
Historical fiction
PB, 448pp


Erica Bell

Erica Bell was born and grew up on the islands of New Guinea: New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago and Misima in the Louisiade Archipelago. As a child she could understand two of the hundreds of languages of New Guinea.

As an adult she lived in Queensland, in Moreton Bay across the water from Peel Island where she often anchored her sailing boat. She gained a PhD in Australian poetry and language theory from Queensland University.

In 2002 she went to live in America where this book was written. 

She writes now on the island of Tasmania where she also works as a health sciences researcher. She has published widely in health and medical journals; however, The Voyage of the Shuckenoor is her first novel.


‘My last orders put me in charge of this old lady,’ the shipmaster said, nodding at the ship by the pier. A young koala ambling past started and stared at the three of them—Hilda, her father and him, Mr Woulfe, as they stood under the leichhardt tree by the wharf. ‘She’s beautiful in her own way.’ The shipmaster turned so the barbed shadows of tree branches moved over his face. ‘A two-masted brig come sailing straight out of history, eh, with that square-rigged foremast and a gaff-rigged main. See how well she sits in the water?’

Hilda pressed her lips together as she looked at the ship. It had been floated into the town of Mackay to pick up stores from its anchorage at the mouth of the river, for the harbour waters were too shallow to risk its keel on anything but a high tide. A vessel such as that was no object of beauty to Hilda. She saw only a tall ship such as buccaneers once loved, an 80-foot instrument of crime, with a high poop deck, painted slate-grey and stained with iron, the name Liberty in flaking red letters on the stern.

Liberty… what a name for a kidnapper’s ship! Hilda thought. And that black streak running fore and aft just beneath the covering board; everyone in the town of Mackay knew the regulations forced blackbirders to paint their vessels in that manner—a most degrading mark. And, as her papa had explained, sometime on their voyage, when the ‘recruiting’ of islanders began, a black ball announcing that shameful intention must be hoisted to the mainmast.

Hilda turned back to the shipmaster to find him grinning broken-toothed at her. He enjoyed being a slubberdegullion, with that battered felt hat pushed back and his shirt hanging out at one end. He stood like an oversized black bulldog listening with head cocked to the warbling and carolling of magpies in the leichhardt tree above. He’s every bit the cruel boy catcher of little black birds implied by that horrid name for slave-traders, she thought. A blackbirder!

[Read More on Google BookSearch]


eNews 39: Lauren Danies' interview with Erica Bell about The Voyage of the Shuckenoor



A book that may have bypassed some
Tasmanian readers is Erica Bell's The
Voyage of the Shuckenoor. This is a 19th
century story of women who suffered the fate of blackbirding from Queensland to Melanesia.

It is a book both confronting and oddly
uplifting. The reason is the growth in the central character, Hilda Kofke, a 17-year-old girl who accompanies her father on a labour recruiting journey to the north of Australia.

Available in Hobart Bookshops.

- Christopher Bantick, Sunday Tasmanian