Novel detective

08. 30NEWS 1

FREMANTLE author John Dowson has thwarted the sale of a stolen book about the earliest days of the Australian colony.

Account of a Voyage to New South Wales was published in 1790 and recounts the observations of John White, senior doctor aboard the first fleet. Examples of birds and animals he’d collected, painted by artists, were included in the book which became one of the seminal founding works of the nation.

Mr Dowson, who’s in London researching his next book about World War I, says he spotted a copy at a recent auction but it had been given a fairly bland modern binding, curbing his enthusiasm.

“Until I opened it, that is,” he says.

First was the rare prospectus leaf, followed by original plates of the images.

“All of them gorgeous, in original hand-colouring with no foxing and minimal offsetting,” he says.

08. 30NEWS 2

“I happened by accident to be sitting next to one of the world’s book experts and he whispered ‘have a look at the provenance’.”

It contained the signature of James Smith, who’d founded the Linnean Society in 1788 and was a friend of James Cook’s botanist Sir Joseph Banks.

Turning super-sleuth Mr Dowson contacted the society and was invited to view its copy, but he was intrigued: “If the auction house had Smith’s copy for sale, what was in the vaults of the Linnean Society? Arriving at the swanky Piccadilly address inside the Royal Academy I was told their copy had been stolen.”

After some hurried phone calls by the society, the book was quietly removed from sale.


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