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This page updated 31 January 2010

October 2005: Major new citation of The Blackheath Connection: In Tom Keneally, The Commonwealth of Thieves: The Sydney Experiment. Milson's Point, NSW, Random House, 2005. (Now hear this, Australian film industry, why not make a movie from this book as soon as possible?? Hmmm?? Feeling lazy again, are we?– Dan Byrnes!)

Check now: a major article on THE FIRST CAMPBELLS ON JAMAICA, with genealogies given, plus historical insight, see below in table...

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Investors in C19th Australia - 3:
Investors in C19th Australia - 4:
A Bitter Pill - American debtors and Thomas Jefferson
Emptying the Hulks:
The Blackheath Connection - original article:
The London whalers from 1786 - an original article:
Bibliography - Part One:
Bibliography - Part Two:

The Blackheath Connection

News in July 2006: The history websites on this domain now have a companion website, and an updating website as well, on a new domain, at Merchant Networks Project, produced by Dan Byrnes and Ken Cozens (of London). This new website (it is hoped) will become a major exercise in economic and maritime history, with much attention to London/British Empire and some attention to Sydney, Australia.

The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks - Archival Logic

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Note: As project, The Blackheath Connection is based on a selection of 250+ letters drawn from The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks held at the Mitchell Library (ML), Sydney
Quotations on this website taken from these letterbooks are used by permission of the Mitchell Library.

Duncan Campbell (1726-1803)

Thames hulks overseer,
Duncan Campbell (1726-1803)

The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks [from 1766]
Duncan Campbell, Letterbooks ML. A3225-A3230: (See notes of descendant William Dugald Campbell (WDC).
Duncan Campbell Letterbooks, (ML) which are held as:
A3225 ML Vol. 1. of Business Letter Books March 1772-October 1776;
A3226 ML Vol. 2 of Business Letter Books 13 December, 1776-21 September, 1779;
A3227 ML Vol. 3 of Business Letter Books 30 September, 1779-9 March, 1782;
A3228 ML Vol. 4 of Business Letter Books 15 March, 1782-6 April, 1785;
A3229 Vol. 5 of Business Letter Books 1 December 1784- 17 June, 1788;
A3230 ML Vol. 6 of Business Letter Books 20 June, 1788 - 31 December, 1794.
ML A3232, Small Notebook, "Notes of Campbell's Correspondence by WDC, Vols. A to F."
Duncan Campbell's  Private Letterbooks are held as ML A3231.

The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks

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The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks are a magnificent set of six and more large volumes, in various original handwritings, well-preserved from the late Eighteenth Century and brought to Australia by his Australian descendant, William Dugald Campbell.

Arguably, it might have been better if the Letterbooks had remained in London, or southern England, where chance might have meant that a British historian familiar with both London history, and perhaps, the post-1770 history of Australia and the Pacific, was attracted to them. I mention this, since Campbell's Letterbooks, while they are a goldmine for anyone interested in the history of convict transportation, are also a goldmine for anyone interested in London, as a city, between 1775-1800! Inkwell gif

As the overseer of the dreaded Thames prison hulks, a regressive innovation in British penal history between 1775 and 1800, Campbell has been given a decidedly bad press, both by journalists of his day, and historians since. It is not my intention here to give Campbell a better press, that is not desirable given the regressiveness of the establishment of the prison hulks system. My intention is more to indicate how the bad reputation given a single man might infect history with a variety of misapprehensions, though that has certainly not been my only motive in studying this British penal history, out of which European Australia was "founded".

Campbell after all was "uncle-in-law" of William Bligh, but since the time of the Bounty mutiny in 1789, it has not been made clear by writers just how much Bligh owed to Campbell. The real Campbell, not the Campbell who has been given either his bad press, or, referred to as "an influential West India merchant". But, it seems, an "influential West India merchant" who otherwise seems remarkably untraceable!

Bligh's notoriety is matched almost symmetrically by the oblivion to which Campbell's life has been consigned, precisely as the history of the British slavery abolition movement begins its remarkably successful work. I suggest, that none of this is disconnected.

By now, 2000, it is the mark of writing on William Bligh that his family history is still poorly-researched. This is very strange, since Bligh has perhaps the most-studied career of any single British admiral produced by the Eighteenth Century.

Remarkably, the oversights by maritime and other historians about Campbell as an associate of Bligh are matched by oversights allowed by historians of Britain's Caribbean trade between 1783 (the end of the American Revolution and 1807, the abolition of the British slave trade. Also by historians treating commercial matters in Anglo-American between 1783 and say 1812, when Britain and the US were at war - such as the Jay Treaty. Inkwell gif

Also remarkably, British historians of their own penal history seem reluctant to come to grips with matters that Australian historians have to grapple with routinely - why and how it was decided that convicts would be sent to Australia, how this would be accomplished? So, it is no surprise to find that historians treating legal theorist penal reformer Jeremy Bentham, and/or his Panopticon prison, also overlook the animosity that existed between Campbell, government penal contractor, and Bentham.

Cover of The once-rustic charms
of Blackheath environs
depicted on Felix Barker's
book cover of 1999,
Greenwich and
Blackheath Past.

In short, where-ever one looks in London to 1800, Campbell, who was well-known to a variety of government officials - and also to Bligh - cannot be seen in full. So it is also no surprise to find that Campbell's name till 1989 had been stripped from three or prestigious addresses...
(1) The Blackheath Golf Club, and/or his rented residence at Blackheath;
(2) 3 Robert Street, the Adelphi, in the heart of London, near the Strand;
(3) Brandshatch raceway south of London, a farm Campbell once owned, and inherited by one of his sons.

Campbell then is paradoxical - he is indelibly well-known in the history of convict transportation, he has had a continual bad press, but his Letterbooks have gone largely unread, and mysteriously, those who write on his associates cannot find "the real Campbell". Now, by July 2000, it can be reported that a US researcher has found new material on Campbell's operations in the Caribbean that have remained unknown to me despite my reading of his Letterbooks. By July 2000, even more information on "the real Campbell" seems likely to surface - which will be interesting.

When I began my own research in 1977, it was hard to understand why or how Campbell had not made more profit from the business of shipping prisoners to Sydney. He was ideally placed to be involved and to make a useful profit. Since 1977, several writers have incorrectly indicated that Campbell did make useful profit from such business (and have not been challenged by reviewers for so doing). The reason Campbell did not make such profit is that he simply wasn't interested, and hence not involved. He left such business to other shipping operators; and unless he had untraceable, semi-secret deals with those operators, there is no way to prove he had a hand in the actual maritime business of shipping prisoners to Sydney. Here we find more oversights from historians - who have been uncurious about the set of shipping managers who were involved in shipping prisoners to Australia, and/or interested in ranging the Pacific, or finding a backdoor to East India trade, at Canton, China, or at any of several major Indian ports.

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At last, it seems that maintaining Campbell's bad press is far more important than the man himself! This is not unrelated to the dismal subject matter that the history of convict transportation actually is. Sydney had an unprepossessing start as a convict colony, and while British historians seem to find it hard to grapple with, few US historians have been tempted to grapple with the material. Australia's early convict history is somewhat "poor brother" in world history, surrounded as it is by the American Revolution, the French Revolution, troubles in Ireland more to 1800, the expansion of US-Asian trade (which is too-little studied), and in commercial history generally, the ubiquitous role of The Honourable East India Company. Yet there were so few people involved in the despatch of the First Fleet to eastern Australia, that it is difficult to understand how or why any of them should be as unknown today, as Campbell has remained. He or his staff (and/or his son John) after all had much to do with checklisting the names of many convicts to be sent to Sydney between 1786 and 1800.

The above refers to matters of history proper. There are however a variety of emotional matters evident with the handling of this history-proper, which also need discussion. Bach, for example, writes:
"....It is still curious that the intense and rather spectacular early maritime experience should have left so little mark upon the national character. Perhaps there was at work some conscious repudiation of a tradition that was too closely associated with a Britain that had cast them out to that distant shore and appeared to have forgotten them..."
John Bach, Australian maritime historian

Cover of The Convict Ships by Charls BatesonThe Australian cultural temperament tends to be anti-authority, and many writers have attributed this to the experience of "convictism". A great deal of writing on convict transportation to Australia tends to reinforce this cultural legacy. But to my mind, one outcome of this cultural legacy, which becomes a nationally-shared emotion, of sorts, living in books if not in people, is that Bach is right - a reaction to being repudiated has helped created in white Australians an unwillingness to look deeper into convict history than Australian historians have delved to date. This tendency is reinforced by anti-authoritarianism. One result is that no one complains about lack of attention to maritime history - British maritime history of the day, whaling history, international rivalry in the Pacific. A question such as - who owned the convict ships?

And so as my research proceeded, I gave more attention to both maritime history and to various histories of London before 1800. I gathered more information than I needed on notable Londoners, partly in order to be able to assess more precisely, those Londoners whom Campbell and Bligh might have known. Thus, I read more on "names" at Lloyd's of London, the Adam Brothers, noted architects; Jeremy Bentham and his supporters, shipping managers... and the London population generally of merchants, politicians, selected families. And I researched genealogies; and successes and failures of all sorts, including convicts seen as notable in colonial Australia. This was equivalent to finding a high altitude, and placing a zoom lens on London below, developing ever more detailed pictures - that is how The Blackheath Connection resulted.

In the middle of all this, so to speak, stood the City of London; and a host of ship movements not before explained, ship movements with the profits taken by Londoners. All to be sorted out in terms of the Botany Bay Debate, the formal historian's discussion of what we know as "the founding" of European Australia. And it seems to me that the best theory arising from the Botany Bay debate will be the theory that can most cleanly link views on the founding of a convict colony at Sydney with subsequent Australian history of many kinds - which is not an easy exercise. Inkwell gif

Here, The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks were indispensable in rounding out pictures of Londoners and their lives till about 1810. The Letterbooks assisted in depicting London as well as Campbell's biography, embedded as it is in the history of convict transportation - a dismal topic.

At this point, perhaps a personal finding might reflect how Australians - wishing for deeply-embedded cultural reasons to repudiate large areas of such history - including maritime history, as above - could view these matters in future? When in London in 1989 for two months, I looked in vain for places in London where an Australian tourist - as distinct from a historian - could visit and find out more about convicts being sent to Australia. There are no such spots in London, though there is a display at Portsmouth on The First Fleet, based on the work of Mollie Gillen. It appears, that Londoners and Australians, both, conspire to keep secret, which London places are most significant in the history of convict transportation, and/or, "the European founding of Australia".

Suffice to say, a long list of such places can be drawn from The Blackheath Connection. I will be quite happy to leave Australian tourists in London to make their own choices about which spots are most significant, now that a variety of place-names have been discovered.

When those Australian tourists also include more Australian Aboriginals, my research will have been worthwhile, I feel. In which case, the reputation in Australia of Captain James Cook might be adjusted somewhat more realistically. The links between Campbell and William Bligh will be better understood, and some aspects of the history of the British slave trade - and its abolition - will be clearer. The biographies of merchants known to haunt Blackheath will be better understood both in Australia and the United Kingdom. And - I hope - some entertaining new writings will have been produced... some of them better-based on studies of relevant genealogy.

Finis - Dan Byrnes - July 2000



By Dan Byrnes

(This article first appeared in Cruachan, Journal of the Clan Campbell Society of Australia, No. 62, December, 1993., pp. 11-16).

CLAN CAMPBELL societies now have an opportunity to rate a new Campbell contender in the attention-getting stakes.

Was he a villain? Did he become a virtual millionaire by his own efforts only? Did he make any contribution to the sum of human wisdom besides what he bequeathed to his children? Does he deserve any attention at all?

I'll refer to our subject as simply, DC. He is Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) of London, already known to world literature as "the influential West India merchant" assisting William Bligh to command of HMAV Bounty (in 1787). Less so, as the overseer of the Thames prison hulks 1776-1801, in which capacity he was an administrative lynch-pin before, during and after the "founding" of a British colony at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Yet, DC remains remarkable for having been split into three or four fragments by historians who have remained unable to see him whole. In a sense, he's a Humpty-Dumpty of the history of British commerce 1700-1800. Is Humpty-Dumpty worth the effort? Didn't the nursery rhyme long ago prove it's impossible to piece Humpty together again?

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As hulks overseer, DC was loathed by the London journalists of his day, since the hulks convicts were an affront to traditional views about English "liberty". Hence, DC gave affront by profiting from giving affront about liberty - so the journalists thought. The historian needs a wider brush.

Almost no-one has noted DC as the sometime chairman of the body of English and Scottish merchants set up from 1783 (after the American Revolution) to lobby for repayment of debts owed by those rebellious, but victorious, Americans. The amount outstanding was £2.5 million minimum.

In this capacity, DC met Thomas Jefferson in London in April 1786, a matter scarcely noted (except by Jefferson himself) and never followed up. [See Dan Byrnes' 1996 update on this, entitled, A Bitter Pill].

Which is more important? Bligh going to Tahiti for breadfruit? The overseership of the Thames prison hulks? Or, Thomas Jefferson's ambitions to revise Mercantilism after the American Revolution, versus British and Scottish merchants' determination to retrieve their debt monies?

So far, historians are unable to cope with a DC who could have given his own opinion on which of the above was most important. Why this inability exists is a question that fascinates in its own right.

Sandwiched in any choice of what was more important is the entire topic known as "the founding of Australia" as a British colony. Whether that colony was merely a penal colony, or something of more moment, is only one of many sets of serious questions to be ranged around views of DC's career. He was an eyewitness to some matters historians have failed to note. Such as the day in London DC met Gov. Arthur Phillip, 10 January, 1787, the day the First Fleet contractor, William Richards, began signing his first contracts for the transportation.

The "overcrowded prisons" of England were one of the problems reputedly impelling the colonisation of Australia. In this context alone, any administrator should be worth examination. DC's involvements have not been pursued, and few of his descendants have remained interested, it seems.

We begin with a cloud of unknowing. DC's father was Principal Neil Campbell (circa 1678-1761) of the College of Glasgow (1728-1761), which university of course contributed many talented Scotsmen to the service of the British Empire (and/or, to less formally Imperialistic areas of endeavour).

Principal Neil's paternity remains an intractable genealogical problem. Luckily, Neil's wife Henrietta has a coherent lineage. Information on Neil's known Australian descendants (stemming from only one of DC's sons, "Duncan Jnr.") stops at 1938 in mid-north Queensland, at Almaden, inland from Cairns; (ex-Sydney civil engineer William Dugald Campbell, buried at Chillagoe Cemetery).

Out of this cloud of unknowing, Stop One. Neil's uncle was Colonel John Campbell of Black River, Jamaica (?-1740), "the first Campbell on Jamaica" (in 1700, ex-Scottish Darien Company). Therefore, conspicuous.

Stop Two: One Dugald Campbell (died 1744) on Jamaica produced a daughter, Rebecca, who in 1753 married DC on her family's plantation, Saltspring, Hanover Parish, Jamaica. A little is known of Rebecca's father's family history.

Stop Three: In 1758 in London, DC, a ship's captain following his naval experience by 1748 on HM Dove, branched out from his usual trade London-Jamaica trade to become partner with John Stewart, the London convict contractor shipping felons to Virginia and North America, backloading tobacco.

Here enters the British use of coerced labour (both slave and convict), a tradition inspired by experience after the settlement from 1625 of Barbados. (Problem: the International Genealogical Index {IGI} reveals many Campbells on Barbados by 1670, but none on Jamaica till about 1720).

A growing view exists that in British history, slavery and the use of convict labour may as well be regarded as synonymous. Adopting this view makes viewing the career of DC easier - he worked slaves on the plantation he inherited from Rebecca's family, shipped British felons to North America, then managed prison hulks. In this, DC became the epitome of many Eighteenth Century British trends which are today found repellent, but which in his own time were commonplace and seldom protested till the late 1780s.

Consider then, that in 1786, Thomas Jefferson in London disagreed over American debts with a merchant who was an epitome of much that was normal in London-British commerce. But economic historians have generally ignored such matters!

Stop Four: By 1766-1770, DC has two captains sailing for him named Somerville. They are his nephews, sons of his eldest sister Ann (the first child of Principal Neil and Henrietta), or, relatives of her husband John?

Stop Five: Before the American Revolution, DC was one of the top nine London tobacco traders (he dealt also with tobacco merchants in Scotland). The American War eclipsed his tobacco dealing (and by mid-1776, DC was embroiled in becoming overseer of the newly-established Thames prison hulks).

The initially-idle question arises... from 1775, what happened to DC's tobacco trade? And/or, when did he resume it? This question plunges the researcher into reviewing the career of the man who "financed the American Revolution", Robert Morris, who by-the-by was given marketing control of the American tobacco crop as one means of raising finance for the American War. (DC resumed tobacco dealing about 1792, having spoken with Christopher Court, also one of the top London tobacco traders before 1776).

Stop Six: The second daughter of Principal Neil, the popular Mary, married Richard Betham in 1748. In 1765 Betham was installed on the Isle of Man, which had lately been purchased by the British Government from its hereditary owner, the Duke of Atholl (a noted Freemason). Betham's task as customs-controller was to suppress smuggling on an island widely regarded as a reputed "nest of smugglers". It is astonishing, how difficult it is to find a printed treatment of the suppression of smuggling on the Isle of Man! So far, anything printed about Betham - and very little to date - is concerned with Bligh and HMAV Bounty.

Stop Seven: DC's niece Elizabeth Betham on the Isle of Man marries William Bligh, 4 February, 1781. Later, till August 1787, Bligh sails DC's London-Jamaica ships. Thus, Bligh meets Fletcher Christian. Both these men, known to history as protagonist-antagonist on Bounty, are ex-employees of the only merchant in London who would sit in 1786, and speak, (and profoundly disagree), with Thomas Jefferson.

Stop Eight: DC from 9 May, 1787 promoted Bligh (then about Jamaica or returning from there) as captain for the notorious voyage to obtain breadfruit from Tahiti to feed slaves more cheaply. DC (his staff?) had not long finalised their bookwork associated with delivering convicts to the First Fleet departing Portsmouth 13 May, 1787 for "Botany Bay".

No American historian treating convict transportation to North America to 1775 has thought it wise to pursue DC's career through to the departure of the First Fleet for Australia. No Australian historian has thought it wise to organise information on DC's transportation of American convicts or tobacco trading before he began as the hulks overseer in 1776 - despite his Letterbooks (ML A3225-A3232) being available to the public since about 1953. Nor to assess his work as hulks overseer - or promoter of Bligh, or in argument with Thomas Jefferson.

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* * *

The only amusing factor remaining unknown here is - yes, a Scots game - GOLF!

It is now clear that from 1766, if not earlier, golf was played by Scotsmen (mostly affluent merchants) at Blackheath in London - at the second UK golf club established after St Andrews. DC was a golfer here. (Oddly enough, this enthusiasm is not once noted, even in his Private Letterbooks).

Several other Scotsmen noted in "the early history of Australia" were also Blackheath golfers, including alderman George Mackenzie Macaulay, who had an interest in the First Fleet ship Lady Penrhyn, but who has been written OUT of "the founding of Australia".

In 1788, both Bounty and Lady Penrhyn stopped at Tahiti, Bounty of course to gather breadfruit.

That is, two Scots London merchants associated one way or another with the First Fleet played golf at Blackheath. Both resided at Blackheath. Both have been ignored. DC's story brings with him Bligh, Bounty, Jamaica and Thomas Jefferson. Macaulay brings with him aspects of City of London politics relating to the "convict problem" impelling the British settlement of Australia, and some maritime history.

Stop Nine: If these two Blackheath golfers, DC and Macaulay, were each associated with the only two British ships stopping at Tahiti in 1788, should these oddities of maritime history be noted?

Yes, if only because only a few doors from Macaulay at Blackheath lived the Enderby whalers, promoters of the Southern Whale Fishery - and the Industrial Revolution was in part oiled by whale oil.

Whaling ships carrying convicts to Australia before 1800 has been downplayed by historians, and golf at Blackheath has been unknown. Now, research indicates that to ignore one is to ignore the other. (Gov. Philip Gidley King of New South Wales remained friends with the Enderby family from 1786 or before).

Stop Ten: The career of DC remains flanked with the ghosts-of-lost-information. The history of the Blackheath Golf Club also mentions Freemasonry in a context where:
(a) convicts are sent to Australia, and;
(b) the maritime history of early Australia (to 1800) might as well mention golf at Blackheath, if only because a noted opponent of the "Botany Bay" expedition, the East India hydrographer, Alexander Dalrymple, also golfed at Blackheath.

It should be noted that no connections, especially not genealogical, are known to have existed between DC and Robert Campbell of the Wharf, the noted Sydney merchant. That makes Robert Campbell's support for the deposed Governor Bligh in 1808 a separate matter. But it does not explain why the obvious DC-Bligh connections have not been noted by historians treating (a) the Bounty mutiny or (b) convict transportation or (c) the matter of Bligh being deposed as governor of NSW.

Stop Eleven: Why have no convict descendants in the US or Australia ever decided to research a man who might for example have shifted their ancestor from Britain between 1758-1801? This seems unanswerable. As unanswerable as asking why no descendant of DC has ever delved seriously since World War Two into his life? Why maritime historians never noted the membership lists of the Blackheath Golf Club? Why biographers of Jefferson have not delved into Jefferson's London discussions in 1786 about the debts which Jefferson candidly admitted the Americans owed to British and Scots merchants.

A great irony about DC's career arose just before the Australian Bicentennial. In his history of convictism in Australia, The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes wrote that the "crooked" (shipping) contractor for the First Fleet was Duncan Campbell. Wrong. In writing this, Hughes of course obliterated the actual contractor, William Richards, whose son (a convict ship captain) later took up land (a place called Winterbourne) near Walcha, NSW. That is, Hughes' error about the mounting of the First Fleet is an affront also to ordinary biography, to maritime history, to family history.

When in fact, the wider spread of DC's family history sprawls from 1678 in Glasgow to Jamaica, to the Isle of Man, to pre-revolutionary Virginia and Maryland, to the controversial Thames prison hulks, to golf at Blackheath (London local history if nothing else), with Bligh to Tahiti and the Bounty mutiny. To the time of Governor Lachlan Macquarie at New South Wales.

When Macquarie replaced Bligh as governor of NSW, Bligh's daughter Mary found she was a cousin (second or more distantly removed?) to Macquarie's aide-de-camp, Henry Colden Antill. (Forebear of the Antills of Jarvisfield, Picton). Antill was a nephew of Henrietta Colden of New York nee Betham, Henrietta the sister of Bligh's wife, Elizabeth Betham.

Duncan Campbell's family history then forms a genealogical net in which much other history can also be captured.

Why have certain London-Scots golfers been largely deleted from Australia's maritime history - when they contributed so much to that history? It seems, sociology and history have not met, when they should have met long ago.

The answers (so far attempted) form a very large manuscript. These problems are specifically biographical, sociological, genealogical, as well as "historical". It now seems that the writing of Australian history has suffered since 1900 from lack of expertise in both sociology and genealogy. But all this perhaps gives new opportunities to genealogists in Australia, the UK, and the US. Since by simply considering the life of Duncan Campbell, convict contractor "of the Adelphi, London", much can be regained that has been lost.

Note: The latest-published information on DC is contained in three titles:
Zena Bamping, West Kingsdown: The Story of Three Villages in Kent. (Second ed.) London, Tyger Press Limited. 36 Goldington Street, London. NW1 1UE, 1991.
With some genealogical references to Duncan Campbell and information on his land purchases in Kent. DC's second wife Mary (married January 1776) was from the noted Kent family, Mumford.

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Charles Campbell, The Intolerable Hulks: British Shipboard Confinement, 1776-1857. Bowie, Maryland, Heritage Books, Inc., 1994.

Alan Frost, Botany Bay Mirages: Illusions of Australia's Convict Beginnings. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1994.


View these domain stats begun 18 December 2005

Born in Sydney in 1948, Dan Byrnes is a writer based in Armidale, New South Wales, who began delving into The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks in 1977. Inkwell gifBall and chain gifGavel gif

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