Jenny Balfour Paul in the Betjeman Marquee

by Katie Smith


On a wet and windy Saturday morning in St Endellion under the billowing roof of the Betjeman Marquee, I was taken on a journey through India, the Middle East, China and the Pacific Islands. Jenny Balfour Paul, in conversation with Lisa Cooper, talked us through the travels of 19th Century writer and explorer Thomas Machell, whose diaries inspired her latest work ‘Deeper than Indigo’, a book combining biography and travel-writing alongside photographs and Machell’s illustrations. Balfour-Paul kicked off the event with a quote: ‘Let your life lightly dance at the edges of time like dew on the tip of a leaf’, perfectly encapsulating the inspirational tone of the hour.

 Balfour Paul was engaging and honest about her relationship with Machell. ‘I met him when he was 175’, she recalls (Machell died aged 39). She went on to describe his life, from growing up the ‘runt’ of the family in Yorkshire, through sailing to India at 16, to falling for a cannibal’s daughter in Tahiti. Her fascination was so intense that she and her husband had joked that there were ‘3 of us in the marriage’.

The conversation took an intriguing turn when Balfour Paul began to explore past-life regression and her bond with Thomas Machell. She describes feeling compelled to write the ‘lost’ last 6 years of Machell’s life in his voice, complete with Victorian terminology. Only later did she find out that some of the ‘fictional’ details she’d included had, by stunning coincidence, actually happened. 

The event concluded with a question and answer session including a gentlemen claiming to be a descendent of Machell himself. I walked out of the Betjeman marquee with one foot on Cornish soil and the other still following Machell, and Balfour Paul’s, footsteps across the world.