Deeper than Indigo : Travels in search of Thomas Machell, with Dr Jenny Balfour-Paul

A ten year love affair that was to take Jenny on many extraordinary and challenging journeys: Arabia, Afghanistan, India, Polynesia, Bengal, Patagonia, Yorkshire & encounters with an Indian Jungian psychotherapist


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The Ebenezers are delighted to welcome back Jenny Balfour-Paul for this exclusive Ebenezer lecture and launch of her acclaimed new book - Deeper than Indigo: Travels in Search of Thomas Machell.

The Ebenezers know Jenny well for her work on Indigo & the fantastic trading voyages that defined British enterprise over the last centuries. Machell was a seaman and indigo planter in India & in her researches Jenny got deeply entangled with his journals, hidden away in the British Library. And so began a ten year love affair that was to take her on many extraordinary and challenging journeys: Arabia, Afghanistan, India, Polynesia, Bengal, Patagonia, Yorkshire & encounters with an Indian Jungian psychotherapist.

Jenny tracked Machell (and sometimes her younger self, too) to indigo and coffee plantations of rural Bengal and Kerala’s Malabar Hills, to little known regions of central India, to Calcutta, heart of the British Empire, and to southern China. She also voyaged aboard the last freighter to take passengers from UK to India via the Suez Canal and Red Sea, facing the same threat of pirate attack as Machell, and followed in his wake by cargo ship to the beautiful Polynesian Islands of the Marquesas.

“Lovely indeed is the fair island of Nookahiva”, wrote Thomas Machell, “and lovelier still the dark daughters of that sea-girt isle.” In 1844 the Yorkshire teenager sailed round Cape Horn on a ship bound for the largest of the Polynesian Marquesas Islands. As soon as the vessel, laden with guano, reached land, Machell was sexually initiated by the daughter of the cannibal chief. His racy journal, full of such exploits, gives a thrilling account of how he then avoided the murderous wrath of the girl’s father.

Machell is a delightfully sympathetic character and Jenny Balfour-Paul’s remarkable tale of East-West connections brings to life, with colourful illustrations, the untold story of a spirited outsider at the height of the British Raj.


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Jenny Balfour-Paul

Jenny, writer, artist, traveller and lecturer, has researched and worked with indigo for over two decades. Practical experience with indigo plants and dyeing (including teaching and exhibiting her own work), combined with living and working in the Middle East and North Africa, led on to her PhD at Exeter University's Arabic Department. Based on firsthand fieldwork in many Arab countries, this was subsequently published as Indigo in the Arab World in 1997.

Balfour-Paul's research trips extended to Asia and Africa when she was commissioned by British Museum Press to write a book on Indigo worldwide (Indigo, 1998; reprinted in 2006 by Archetype Publications Ltd.).

Balfour-Paul writes, lectures, teaches and broadcasts internationally on indigo and many other textile, history and travel subjects.

She continues to travel widely in pursuit of her research projects. She is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Royal Asiatic Society, founding member of the Eden Project's Indigo team, regular contributor to Geographical, and contributing editor to HALI journal of textiles, carpets and Islamic arts.

Signed Copies of Dr. Jenny Balfour-Paul’s new book – Deeper than Indigo: Travels in Search of Thomas Machell - will be on sale at a special Ebenezer discount price.




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

Kevin Rushby, author and Guardian travel writer: ‘Jenny’s travels and those of Thomas are woven together as beautifully as any fine bit of indigo – it’s a cracking tale!’

Nick Smith for the Explorers Journal : ‘Balfour Paul writes with the poetic grasp of Herrick and the narrative authority of Theroux.’

A N Wilson : ‘A deeply moving, totally enchanting account of a great metaphysical mystery.’

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2015Martin Keeley