‘Beyond All Seas’ is historical fiction, tracing the adventures of George Tamsill, a young shipbuilder from Whitby, who is unjustly accused of smuggling. George is transported to Australia on the Second Fleet. His experiences on HMS Guardian and the transport Neptune are based on historical fact, as is his time at Rose Hill.  

Given a pardon by Governor Phillip for his efforts to save the Guardian from shipwreck, George establishes a small boat building yard in Sydney. He builds a cutter and with four other ex convicts sails it back to England. These events, the adventures of his return journey, and his revenge on those who accused him are fiction but could have happened. 

Romance, adventure and history blend to provide a lively tale of Australia’s early years. 

In Store Price: $23.95 
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ISBN: 978-1-921574-97-9   
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:164
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover :  Clive Dalkins

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Author: John Lambert
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English



John Lambert was a teacher of history who began writing historical fiction when he retired. He has now written a number of historical novels. 

His stories provide the opportunity to show how the past influences the present and how history illustrates the best, and the worst, of human behaviour. While the characters in the stories are mostly fictional, their actions are based upon the historical context. The events either did happen or could have happened. History is about people; fiction and history combine to make believable and interesting studies of human achievement. 

John lives on the Blue Mountains of New South Wales and his stories focus on the early years of the British colony in Sydney.  


 A Land of Plenty also published by Zeus Publications – 2009






The ruins of the abbey on the headland seemed to guard the town like the skeleton of a giant prehistoric animal. While their guardianship role may well have been perceived by the good citizens of Whitby as just symbolic, for those who used the ruins as a convenient meeting place, the role was very real. The walls most effectively cut off from prying eyes those who sought seclusion. It was possible to climb the steps from the town to the headland giving the appearance of being a visitor to the ruins, or one seeking to admire the view, or perhaps just a person wishing to benefit from a period of quiet reflection, and then, purely by chance, to meet someone else who, with similar intent, had also climbed the steps.

So it was that on one fine Sunday afternoon late in June 1789, I stood inside the broken walls of the north transept and was joined by Miss Melissa Saxbury, a very beautiful young lady, who had accepted my invitation to spend a quarter of an hour reflecting upon the joy that two people might find in each other’s company, a joy greatly magnified by the fact that we were forbidden to meet in any circumstances at all.

The smile upon Melissa’s face and the twinkle in her blue eyes made words of greeting unnecessary. She was dressed in a long, dark green, form-fitting gown with white frills at the wrists and the neck. At her throat was a brooch with a glorious emerald in a silver setting. She removed her bonnet, allowing her golden hair to fall free around her shoulders. Then she slipped her hand into mine as I gave her an informal kiss on the cheek.

‘I have permission from The Fox to visit the headland for a quarter of an hour while she has tea with her cousin. The truth is that she couldn’t manage the climb. Nevertheless, I must not be late back at the chaise.’

‘The Fox’ was our not very affectionate nickname for Melissa’s official chaperone, Lady Agatha Wilson, whose task it was to ensure that the fourth, and youngest, daughter of the Earl of Thorburn did not become linked with an inappropriate gentleman, and particularly not with me.

‘Does she seem at all suspicious that there might be some unrevealed reason for your visits to the ruins? This is the third time that you have persuaded her to come into town, and have then climbed the steps.’

‘I don’t think so, but we should not arrange to meet like this again for some time. Perhaps we could meet somewhere in the grounds of Thorburn Park. It might not be questioned if I went for a walk to the woods on the eastern border of the estate, and you happened to be waiting there.’

‘I could manage to slip away from the boatyard about four next Thursday and meet you at four-thirty.’

‘There is a large oak about the centre of the woods and not far in from the boundary wall. You will need to climb the wall.’

I nodded, and having arranged the next assignation, that always being a major item on the agenda of illicit meetings, we talked of other things. I explained with enthusiasm that the building of the collier brig was nearing completion and that I would then be able to make the final repayment on the loan of five hundred pounds that I had taken out to buy the timber. Melissa gave an enthusiastic description of the dress she had bought for the County Ball in two weeks time, and hoped that although I was not officially recognised among the gentry, I might still be able to attend as one of the successful businessmen of the town. I replied that I was not sure whether that would happen, though I was seeking the support of the mayor to be among the gentlemen who would represent Whitby. The conversation then moved to my next building project, another full size herring fishing boat. Again I would have to borrow but not as much as for the previous ships.

All this took several minutes and we both realised that our time was running out. A quick glance around to see that we were unobserved was followed by a not very expert real kiss. After all, it was only the second time I had been allowed a kiss on the lips. My heartbeat accelerated rapidly. I slipped my arms around her waist and hugged her. She did not withdraw and returned the embrace. I could feel the curves of her body against me and my heart was indeed racing. Then, with reluctance, her right hand, which had held the ribbons of the bonnet throughout our time together, turned to the task of placing the bonnet back upon her head.

Another, more passionate kiss and she was walking briskly towards the steps. ‘I’ll be there on Thursday,’ she said over her shoulder.

If I had stayed where I was for a few more minutes, my whole life might have been very different, but I walked slowly after her. By the time she reached the bottom of the steps, I was at the top. I stood and watched as she entered the chaise that was waiting for her. The Fox, who was already in the chaise, just happened to choose that moment to look up. I noticed the jerk of her head before the chaise moved off and I was left with the distinct feeling that I had been recognised.


* * * * * *



Now before I describe the consequences of that moment of recognition, I need to tell you a little more about my life in Whitby.

I was born on 6 May 1768, the first son of Belinda and Charles Tamsill. At my baptism in the parish church of St Mary, I was given the names George William. My father was a staunch monarchist and supporter of the established church. He felt these attributes enhanced his status in the town.

More important in contributing to his status was the fact that my father was a successful boat builder specialising in the fishing boats that brought in the herring for which Whitby had become famous. He also built some of the colliers that were used to carry coal from Tyneside to London, and two sloops for general commerce along the east coast. He had three master boat builders and two apprentices working for him. At the time of my birth, the family was not wealthy but comfortably well off. As the years went on, my father’s wealth increased and he became one of the three or four leading boat builders in Whitby. In due course, my arrival was followed by that of five other children. One died in infancy but five healthy children, two boys and three girls, together with regular pregnancies and caring for the family home, gave my mother a very busy life. My brother Andrew played an important part in my life; my sisters, Judith, Mary, and Gertrude, a lesser role, but over the years of my childhood, we were a close-knit family.

When I reached the advanced age of four, my father was able to employ a housekeeper. This gave my mother some free time to begin my education, in which she was quite successful. Perhaps the task was made a little easier by the fact that I seemed to have natural ability with numbers. Mother was well qualified to be a teacher for she came from a comfortable middle-class family which owned several ships engaged in trading around the North Sea. She was competent in music and languages as well as literature and history. By age seven, I had progressed sufficiently in the three ‘R’s’ for my father to decide that I should become another apprentice in his boat-building yard. It was time for me to do something useful to repay his generosity in feeding me. Two years later, Andrew joined me to make his due contribution to the family income.

Father regarded food, lodging and clothing as being sufficient payment for our services, so we received only six pence per week, some of which generally went on sweets at the corner shop. Even in those youthful years, however, I developed the habit of putting three pence a week into a bottle which I kept under a loose floorboard in my room. At twelve pence to a shilling and twenty shillings to a pound, it took a long time to save a pound.

We worked six days a week, starting at five-thirty in the morning. Each afternoon we had one hour before dusk when we could meet with other children of the town. At dusk we had to be home for the evening meal. After this our education continued by candlelight for an hour and a half before sleep claimed us. There was a regular, but useful, monotony about life, relieved by the one hour before dusk, and by our education.

We enjoyed exploring the harbour, which was the mouth and estuary of the Esk River, and the wharves along the river banks. We were never far from the sea and the ships that gave the harbour its life. In the summer months we were often in the water and we learned to swim well. Although it meant we were sometimes late for tea, we extended our journeys to the caves at the base of the cliffs of the headland. The stories of smugglers, which were certainly true in part, if not in whole, added zest to our explorations.

My apprenticeship lasted four years. I became proficient in cutting and shaping timber, in the use of the adze, the saw, the chisel and the mallet. I understood the design of boats, the relative strengths of types of timber and lengths of rope, I had a working knowledge of sail making, and I knew how to construct a mechanism for steering. In my last year, I designed and built a small river fishing boat.

I was intensely proud of my achievement and most unhappy when my father decided that, as with all other boats we made, it was to be sold. The unhappiness turned to joy when my father presented me with the twenty pounds, and took me off to the local bank to begin an account.

‘Keep saving,’ he admonished me. ‘You never know when you will need it.’

I took his advice and added the three pounds from the glass bottle to the account.

I now became a full member of the construction team at the Tamsill yard and my weekly wage increased to five shillings.

In 1779 I was eleven, and while not yet a man, I was strong and fit, well able to give better than I received in scuffles on the streets and lanes of Whitby.

My mother had persevered with teaching me mathematics, history, and geography. I enjoyed all three and absorbed all she could give me. The history and geography were of Britain, the Continent, and the American colonies. These last were in rebellion against us. She also helped us towards an understanding of the world beyond these limits. I was particularly interested in India, in what were called the East Indies, and in the voyages of Captain James Cook in the Pacific. These were of particular significance in Whitby, for Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, had been built as a collier in Whitby, and Cook began his sailing career there. It was during 1779 that we heard that Cook had been killed in the Hawaiian islands. There was much sorrow at all levels of the Whitby community.

I began to feel a yearning to sail beyond the confines of the town, to explore the wider world.

My father was good friends with the major ship owners, for he built many of their ships. They often visited our yard. During one such visit by a Mr Walker in 1780, I overheard him asking my father if he knew of any young men interested in signing on as crew in a newly launched ship, the Countess of York, which was to trade between England and the Baltic states. I suspect that he had me in mind, because he made sure I was within hearing distance when he asked the question.

Perhaps my father was part of the plot, too, for that evening, when I asked whether it might be possible for me to go to sea, he agreed without much opposition.

‘For three or four years perhaps. I will need you to take over the shipyard soon, but it would be very good experience, in preparation for managing the business, if you had personal knowledge of how ships behave at sea.’

Mother cried quite a deal and took unending trouble with the clothes for my sea chest. She added a Bible, for it was a custom of the family for Father to read a portion every day and then to pray. That Bible still sits on the shelf in front of me as I write this story. It is read daily.

I was to be an apprentice seaman, and Mr Walker agreed with my father that I was to be taught, by the ship’s captain, how to navigate. Although the apprenticeship was only three years, if I served six years with satisfactory reports, and passed an examination, I might apply for a ticket as a mate. In those six years, in addition to being taught how to navigate and steer a ship, with all the necessary mathematics that entailed, I would gain a knowledge of the use of particular sails and the practicalities of loading goods into a ship.

The Countess of York was a brig. She was eighty feet long, twenty-five feet wide, and weighed 180 tons. She had two masts and a long bowsprit which enabled her to carry a triangular foresail. She was square rigged on both masts but had a lower aft sail with gaff and boom. Her crew numbered twenty. The captain was Wilfred Jones, a veteran of the North Sea. While his crew had several names for him, he was always addressed as ‘Cap’n’ and was universally respected. He was a large man, tall and broad. His language was often colourful and his manners rather rough, but he was fair to all and an excellent seaman, which was why Mr Walker had given him the care of his newest ship.

My ‘quarters’ were simply a space forward on the lower deck. The space included a hammock. I was issued with three blankets from the ship’s store, together with a dish, tin mug and spoon. If I wanted anything else, I was to supply it myself. This included my clothes, a towel and soap. My sea chest rested against the bulwark that divided the galley from the crew’s quarters and was anchored to iron rings set in the timber. During the day, my blankets were folded on top of it, with the dish, mug and spoon on top of them. There was no privacy. The sea chests had no locks and there was an understanding that you did not steal. If you did, and were found out, the punishments were so severe that you did not do it again. A caning from the boatswain was an experience not quickly forgotten.

Meals were served in the entrance of the galley. We queued with our dish and mug – the spoon was stuck in a pocket. There were two hot meals daily, generally one of gruel and one of stew from salted meat, each with a hunk of bread, or, when the bread, having been stale for days, finally ran out, ship’s biscuit instead. The midday meal was bread and cheese. With each meal came a mug of water. Fruit was a bonus, and was available only as long as it lasted after a stay in port. Captain Jones did, however, try to provide regular supplies for, like most British captains, he had learnt from Cook the value of fresh fruit in combatting scurvy. He also knew the value of onions and lime or lemon juice. One of the great advantages of the Baltic trade was that the time between ports was not as lengthy as it was on Atlantic journeys or beyond.

Each day for breakfast, those who so chose could have half a mug of goat’s milk, for the ship carried a pen of four goats. There was also a pen of chickens which produced eggs for the captain and, occasionally, for the crew.

Ablutions were at the ‘heads’ over the front of the ship. If you wanted to wash, there was a communal basin next to the entry to the galley. Apart from that, Captain Jones, at least in summer, insisted all hands would each wash once a week on deck under the pressure of salt water from a hose attached to the ships pumps. He set the example himself.

Two of us were to be taught by the captain and the mate. My fellow student was Rodney Williams who was the same age and who also came from a seafaring family in Whitby. Each day at four bells in the forenoon watch, and every evening at the end of the last dog watch, we received at least an hour’s tuition. The evening hour concentrated on identifying the stars and learning how to steer by them; the morning hour focussed on calculating latitude and longitude. Captain Jones possessed a chronometer, not as accurate as the Kendall chronometer used by Cook on his voyages, and which was itself based on the original developed by Harrison, but effective in the relatively short distances of the North and Baltic Seas. Use of a chronometer was fast becoming the standard procedure in fixing longitude. As the longitude of each port we visited was known, there was always a ready way of checking our calculations. This was another advantage of the North Sea and the Baltic. On voyages in the Atlantic and Indian, or worse still, the Pacific, oceans, such checks were a long way further apart.

In the six years I spent on the Countess of York, we visited Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Russia, Prussia and Holland, though, at the end of 1780, Holland joined France and Spain in supporting the American colonies in their war against us. Our visits to Rotterdam and Amsterdam ceased, and our visits to Hamburg and Memel increased. We traded English woollens and textiles for timber, naval stores, Swedish copper, lacquerware, clocks, cereals, glassware, French and German wine, spices, tea, coffee, and sugar.

The work on the ship was demanding but largely enjoyable. Life at sea suited me; or at least it did after I established my position in relation to the other members of the crew. In any group of men there will inevitably be a bully who wishes to gain admiration from belittling others. On the Countess it was one Roger Thew, a rather rotund seaman, whose pleasure in life was to torment the ship’s apprentices. Our eating utensils would disappear, or we would be ‘accidentally’ knocked, so that our food was spilled. It was only a matter of days before he found me reading the Bible after the evening meal.

‘Well, well, we have a righteous one among us. Be careful to turn the other cheek,’ he mocked.

The Bible was snatched from my hands and flung to two of his cronies.

This was a challenge I had no option but to accept. Unless I could stand up to him and, hopefully, inflict a few blows, I would be forever held to be a weakling and subjected to continuing harassment. No matter what the good book might say about such behaviour, and in any event, I was not sure exactly what it did say, I took to him with both fists. He was stronger than I was, though not as nimble. Nevertheless, he had no trouble in pushing me away. I noted, however, that he carried too much weight to fight a lengthy encounter.

My friends on the streets of Whitby had always agreed that such battles are won by brains, not brawn, and that simply throwing your fists at a moving target was not a strategy that brought success. It took only a matter of seconds to bring my temper-driven assault under control and to back off. Circling around him looking for an opening provided valuable time to think. The strategy was really rather obvious: encourage him to overreach and hit him when he was off balance.

Prize fighters came to Whitby three or four times a year and the fights drew large crowds. The battles were held on a piece of common land on the outskirts of the town. Most of the gentlemen of the town, without admitting it, and without telling their wives, generally attended. Father found no conflict between his church observance and being among the crowd at the ringside. Indeed, he encouraged his two sons to attend with him and gave the team at the yard the afternoon off to go along. I was not therefore any stranger to the tactics of fighting, particularly as the tactics of a particular fight were discussed by the team for many days after the event.

Nevertheless, while I had been in many street scuffles, this encounter on the lower deck of the Countess was the first time that I had personally been involved in a real fight. All I could think of was, keep calm, stay out of reach, and look for an opening.

The ship’s company, or at least fifteen of them, for the captain, bosun and mate stayed well away initially, all gathered round. After all, entertainment like a good fight was rare on a ship.

Now Thew obviously expected to win and was enjoying the attention that the fight brought him. He taunted me, ‘Come on and let me teach you how to fight, little boy. You hold your fists like this and you hit like this.’ He swung a round arm right at my head, but was embarrassed to find I wasn’t there. His annoyance at the laughs from the crew prompted him to throw a second punch, much like the first. Again I could see it coming, stepped inside his arm, and hit him hard on the nose with my own right hand. His blow went over my shoulder.

The result was a flurry of lefts and rights thrown at my head, but I was able to duck under all of them. Moreover, after three or four of each, he was off balance. I again came inside his arms and hit him a second time on the nose, though this time with all the strength I could muster. His nose began to bleed copiously.

It was at this point that the boatswain appeared as if from nowhere, swinging his cane to scatter the crew. ‘Enough! There shall be no fighting on this ship.’

The mate and the captain also appeared miraculously.

It was the captain who took control. ‘Thew and Tamsill, stand forth and give an account of yourselves. What is this fighting about?’

We stood in front of the captain. Thew did not want to answer, for all the crew would know whether he told the truth, and if he told the truth he would incriminate himself. I could see that if I spoke against Thew, I would be seen to be pimping. So I also said nothing.

There was an awkward pause. Now the captain already knew roughly what had happened and had watched, unobserved, most of the fight. He wanted a solution which left him with a harmonious crew, and a crew which felt justice had been done.

He asked the crew, ‘Will anyone tell me what happened?’

Now it was unwritten law that crew members did not tell tales on others, and the captain knew he would receive no answer. The silence, however, gave him the opportunity to pronounce justice as he wanted it.

‘Well then, if no one will tell me, I could have the boatswain chastise you both. Thew, you should know that fighting, and harming an apprentice, are both punishable offences. I could therefore order you to receive twenty strokes of the cane. However, as the apprentice is unharmed, and you have a broken nose, there will be no further punishment.

‘Thew, report to the surgeon, and then clean up your blood from the deck.’

Then he added, almost as an afterthought, ‘If any item of either party has been interfered with, it is to be returned immediately in good condition.’

He turned and walked away. His mission had been accomplished. Someone slipped the Bible into my hand and disappeared.

‘Back to work, you rogues,’ ordered the boatswain.

I was never again in six years involved in any further bullying, nor did anyone ever interfere with my reading of the Bible.

I should mention grog because it was a problem on the Countess, though not as great a problem as I understood it to be on other ships. ‘Grog’ was usually rum, though it could be spirits of other types. It was traditional on merchant ships, as well as on ships of the Royal Navy, that there was a daily allowance, generally half a tin mug served with the evening meal. It could be instead of the allowance of water, or in addition to it. The Countess, as with other ships, carried a supply of kegs. It was dispensed by the quartermaster who had oversight of the galley and all stores.

Most of the crew could handle their grog without difficulty, but life on a ship is often lonely and monotonous, and some crew found relief in more grog than was good for them, if they could arrange to get it. There were two sources of additional supply – grog bought by members of the crew while ashore in port and smuggled back aboard, and the regular provision of anyone who didn’t drink it. Now I was in this category. My father might enjoy prize fights but he did not drink. He had raised his sons in this tradition. In the first few days on board the Countess, I had to make a decision on whether to accept my ration of rum. Initially I said no but this created such a problem with those who wanted my share that I found it more expedient to take a small allocation. I came to accept that a social drink made relations with others a great deal easier. I mention it here as the custom became significant for me later.

Six years at sea was a long time and full of adventures, but as those adventures do not bear directly upon my story, I shall mention only the storms. These were fierce and regular. The Countess was well designed and able to withstand most of the storms that the North Sea threw at us, but there were two storms that did us a great deal of damage. They were about a year apart, in my third and fourth years. In both cases, we lost even the small headsails we carried to give us steerage and were at the mercy of the wind and waves, on the first occasion for three days, and on the second for five days. Water poured into the hold and we had to keep the pumps going continuously. The normal operations of the ‘watches’ were abandoned; we worked till we dropped, and even then gained only a brief respite till we were required again on the end of the pump handle.

The second storm caused a major leak in the hold when timbers gave way and the pumps could not cope. The captain initially tried to ‘fother’ the ship by passing canvas under the hull in such a way as to cover the sprung timbers. This exercise failed dismally for the seas were so rough that the men could not even put the canvas in the water, let alone under the ship. The captain then ordered the ship’s carpenter to make a frame that fitted over the sprung timber on the inside of the hull. Blankets and canvas were placed between the frame and the hull and leverage applied to force the padding against the hull timbers, in this way reducing the flow of water into the hull. A lot of water still came in but the pumps were able to handle it. The storm blew itself out on the fifth day and we limped back to Whitby.

I remember that storm very vividly for I was one of those trying to put the frame in place. My experience as a ship builder had allowed me to play a leading role in making and fitting it. The lessons I had learnt were to help me save another ship some years later.

Whitby was our home port, though we called there only once or twice a year. The money from our trading was handled by Mr Walker’s agents in the various ports we visited. When we came back to Whitby, he would come aboard at the dock, thank us for our efforts and tell us the voyage had been successful. Then we were paid and generally given four or five days leave. There was much rejoicing among all the crew, for nearly everyone had relatives and friends to see. I found great pleasure in reunion with my family, but it did not take long to tell what happened on the voyage and then to hear the news of Whitby. By the third day I was ready to go back to the ship. The life at home was not now my main concern.

In July of 1786, I was home for four days and could not help but notice that Father was unwell with fits of coughing that went on for several minutes. As I was the eldest, Mother confided in me that he had developed the cough over the last few months, and that she was very worried about him. The local doctor had prescribed a medicine that initially helped but which now seemed to be losing its impact. Father brushed off suggestions that he go back to the doctor, saying there was nothing to worry about. I asked Mother whether I should perhaps not go on the next voyage, but, after some hesitation, she urged me to return to the ship.

The Countess did not return to Whitby till May of 1787, a week after my nineteenth birthday. I was met at the dock by my brother Andrew with the news that father had died three weeks previously. A letter from Mother was chasing the Countess around the ports at which Mr Walker expected the ship to call. Father had died of consumption and had been buried in the parish graveyard next to St Mary’s Church.

As we walked from the dock to the family home next to the shipyard in Melton Lane, Andrew, in a hurry to give me all the news, explained that Mr Walker had been very kind and helpful to mother, as had the family solicitor, Mr Tidswell.

I was now the head of the family, and the manager of the family business, running a shipyard.

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