Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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BUY THE '1847' BOOK ON AMAZON HERE. The book was published on 16 September 2016. Gill.



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REVIEWS of '1847 - A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity & Savagery'


'I’ve always loved Turtle’s writing, the wit and heartbeat in his history. "1847" is, for me, the best thing he has done so far. It is vivid, surprising, hugely entertaining; an unforgettable encounter with an extraordinary year.'
2016 Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson

‘The book that I have been buying for my friends this Christmas … a very entertaining read indeed … a brilliant read, an incredible insight into what was going on around the world in the darkest years.’
Patrick Geoghegan, Talking History, Newstalk 106.

'Like many people I associate Turtle Bunbury with the ‘Vanishing Ireland’ books … He must be one of the most versatile authors of his generation, writing about travel, the Irish in the First World War and many other subjects. He is a serious historian with a light touch in writing. This time he has managed to make an episodic book, spanning just one year in the nineteenth century. It is consistently entertaining, thoroughly researched and a pleasure to read. It swings from tragedy to comedy and back. This is done with a light hand and the result is highly readable. It was difficult to remember that I was writing a review, not reading for my own pleasure, and I shall be looking up Turtle Bunbury’s earlier books.'
Marjorie Quarton, Books Ireland, January 2017.

‘A fascinating book.’
Amy Alipio, Senior Editor, National Geographic Traveler.

'Somewhat puzzled by the title, 1847, I purchased your book around Christmas 2016. I had at that time believed that nothing of any consequence happened anywhere in the world in 1847 apart from the Great Irish Famine! I found your book very engaging, with its mixture of important international matters and others of more local interest. I particularly remember Lola Montez, the American expansion at the expense of Mexico and the Camila O’Gorman and the Jesuit. Your series of notes and listing of books for further reading demonstrate the huge amount of research involved in the preparation of the book.’
John Kirby, Bishop of Clonfert (June 2018)

'I want to say that I’ve just read your 1847 book and thoroughly enjoyed it – a rich and tasty smorgasbord.’
Richard Wingfield.

'Turtle Bunbury, a gifted and award-winning Irish historian, has taken a single year and woven a remarkable tale of people and events from around the world. Informative and entertaining, the book is also well researched … I heartily recommend 1847.’
Craig L. Foster, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.

'I love it …there are so many stories in it, good and bad like poor Semmelweiss, who did so much good for posterity. I admire it unreservedly, and I hope your sales will reflect it too.’
Meike Blackwell, Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Craig L. Foster, Salt Lake City, Utah.

'Highly diverting, a very interesting book. Written in the style of one of Bill Bryson's factual books, this is a great one to dip in and out of. Each story is self-contained and short, making it perfect to read on the go, or in the carpark etc. Highly recommended.'
Orla McAlinden, Ireland.

'Unputdownable - A Masterpiece.'
Frances G, Texas.

'Finely written and entertaining ... [Bunbury] passes his knowledge on in a most enthralling fashion. A beautiful book.'
Steve Earles, Hellbound.

'With enough fascinating detail to fill a Special Edition of “Trivial Pursuit,” 1847 provides a rich immersion into the world that made our world!'
Mary Theroux, California.

'Amazing...each story, magnificent prose pieces all based in the year 1847... a wonderful piece of pen-men-ship.'
Trish Findlater, County Mayo, Ireland.

'A great read.'
Keith Musgrave.

'So much fun to read!'
Roy M. Carlisle, Oakland, California.

'Loved it.'
Paul Tipping, New Zealand.

'It was my husband's birthday over the weekend and one of the children bought him a copy of 1847. He absolutely loves it and is savouring every chapter.’
Orla McCarthy, Dublin, Ireland.

'A wonderful and gripping read that draws together many disparate stories in order to examine the world as it was in 1847. Written with colour, empathy and style - I'd highly recommend this book. It allows a real insight, from many different vantage points, into what it was to live through this tumultuous year, and of the multifaceted human experience of history. A really great book!'
Grace Ries, Dublin City.

'I have been meaning to write to you for ages to tell you how much I enjoyed your book '1847'. I was so impressed by your research & a really good read.'
Caroline, Countess of Tyrone

'Immensely enjoyable: well-selected and-well researched vignettes from a fascinating era, all delivered with characteristic aplomb!'
Shane Gallwey, London.

'Such a terrific read.'
Jacquie Burgess, Tullow, County Carlow.

'What a unique way to present a historical account. To single out one year and chronicle global events is intriguing. The author had grown up in a country house built in 1847 and kept encountering the year throughout his life. He was fascinated and felt compelled to explore the year in depth. Month by month, we are introduced to people who shaped every facet of history. From Comanche warriors interacting with Germans in the wild west to the jewelry workshop of Cartier, we are led on an entertaining journey through events as they unfold around the world. Finely crafted and written, that's how history should always be presented.'
D. Conrad, Mahwah, New Jersey - 5 Star Amazon Review.

Warren Ogden, County Kildare, Ireland.

'I love it. Such a fun and informative, eclectic mix. ‘
@removethetaboo via Twitter

'An excellent read. It is a kaleidoscope of alternative histories and stories: a pleasant portal to another world. A surprisingly recognisable and exciting 1847. Can't recommend it enough.'
Amazon Customer.

'A fascinating perspective on things I knew not of.'
Andrew McClintock, Tonbridge, Kent.

'I have found 1847 a most enjoyable companion in my bath – which is, in fact, almost the only place I get to read – the nearest I get to double tasking, not being a lady.'
Captain Mike Bolton, County Wicklow, Ireland

'Brilliant. I love alternative histories.'
Thomas Ahern, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

‘I have just read your book ‘1847’ and I found it delightful. Its so unusual, clever & well written. I thought I must write and tell you how much I enjoyed it. Please write lots more. I will buy anything you write!’
Lady Rosanagh Raben, County Kildare, Ireland.

‘A cracking read.’
Victoria Louise House, England.

‘Another great from the maestro … a classic.’
Sean McQuillan, County Monaghan.

'Enjoyed it thoroughly.'
Jeananne Crowley, County Galway.

'I just wanted to say a big thank you, to you Mr Bunbury. I buy your books for my Irish father and when he visits my home, he sits in the sun room, reading about people's lives.'
Samatha Cullen

'A book so rich in history & wonderfully written, a great read. Well done Turtle. Bravo.’
The Dude @whatwayareya

Ronan Sheehan, Dublin CIty.

'We recieved your book '1847' as a Christmas present & started reading it last night and just had to tell you how wonderful it is - fun, wide-ranging & so interesting - well done!'
Charlie O'Reilly & Gay Brabazon

'Just read '1847' and thought it was brilliant! Beautifully written and fascinating subjects, thoroughly enjoyed!'
Jane de Roquancourt, Kilshane House, County Tipperary.

'A must read for anyone interested in how we got to where we are today ... Bunbury's talent is not just as a historian but also as a gifted writer who makes you feel the importance of events from 1847 in shaping the world we live in today.'
Loretta O'Leary.

'This is how a history book should be written. Take one very interesting year, one very talented author and you are set for a fantastic journey. I just loved reading this book.'
Kevin Akers.

‘A super series of ripping yarns...should do v well for Christmas’
Maire Milner, Co. Louth, Ireland.

'My wife is reading your book in the bed beside, and keeps muttering, 'this is a very good book, you know' and then says nothing, but goes on reading, like a character in Beatrix Potter.'
Barry Coe, Harlesden, London.

'I am really enjoying 1847 which I was kindly given for Christmas. I love the way you connect up the various events. '
Christopher Hone, Dublin, Ireland.

'1847 is a really good read. Chapters are each month of the year with enthralling true stories about the escapades of Irish people around the world. The research is amazing. I couldn't put it down.'
Anne Kearney Farrelly, Co. Meath, Ireland.

'My wife is reading your book and adores it'.
Jack Taylor, Galway City.

'I'm now deeply immersed in 1847 and loving it.'
Jessica D, London.

'My Book Recommendation for Christmas 2016 ... I absolutely love how the author so marvolously takes the reader on an amazing journey of a year in time and introduces us to such a wide range of happening and events, yet, with his own genius as a writer, weaves the threads of those diverse happening marvelously together with insights, stories and a magic touch of human experience. One well worth considering. ENJOY!!!'
Bernadette Phillips, County Waterford.

'I'm half way through your excellent book. It really is very good you know...'
Crawford Johnson, County Down.

'A wonderful book'.
Lonnie Horrigan Leary, County Galway.

'I like this book as it puts it in context with the rest of the world . 1847 is when it started and is called "Black 47". The Mexican American War happened around then. It's an issue that always fascinates me as it was mass migration starting in 1847 and the population steadily decreased until 1970. The book is 36 vignettes and is more like short stories. I knew some and others are new to me. Its an upbeat book.'
Reddit Review.

'A great read just when I am in the mood for a short story'
George Fasenfeld.

'Just finished 1847 a few nights ago....It was brilliant.'
Chris Daly.

'I'm already hooked and have just started it. I love the structure, the subjects, and of course his beautiful Irish writing!'
California Fan.

'Mahatma Gandhi said that to give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer ... and what immense pleasure you have given to so many people by your incredible writing.. what a prayer! Thank you!'
N. C. Britton, County Sligo, Ireland.

'We all need a bit of escapism and there's still nowt like a good book to carry us away into another world. This has been a pretty interesting year for books about music, perhaps surprisingly so under the circumstances. '1847' is not a music book per se, but if you love to put music in context, you might find it irresistible. The Irish historian takes us on a rollicking journey through the international upheavals, inventions, conflicts, famines, personalities, beginnings and endings from January to December of one year. It's a cumulative portrait of a world in flux, taking in the rapprochement between a German explorer and a Native American tribe as well as circus presentations, the founding of the Mormon Church, the writing of "Oh, Susanna!" and the death of Felix Mendelssohn - and the mysterious did-they-didn't-they relationship between that composer and the "Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind.'
Jessica Duchen, Top 12 Books for Music Lovers 2016.



Like many people I associate Turtle Bunbury with the ‘Vanishing Ireland’ books. He and the photographer James Fennell were a perfect team, and the books were a success from the start, with good reason. We look on them as picture books, but unlike the usual coffee-table variety, which are often more concerned with show than substance, they combine top-class writing with outstanding photography.

Turtle Bunbury made his name supplementing the portraits in the ‘Vanishing Ireland’ books. Since then, he has written many books of his own, including ‘Easter Dawn’, one of the best accounts of the 1916 Easter Rising. He must be one of the most versatile authors of his generation, writing about travel, the Irish in the First World War and many other subjects. He is a serious historian with a light touch in writing.

This time he has managed to make an episodic book, spanning just one year in the nineteenth century. It is consistently entertaining, thoroughly researched and a pleasure to read. In ‘Vanishing Ireland’, he and James Fennell had been astonished to learn that many of the old people whose lives they researched had grandparents who remembered the Great Famine, and Turtle has included several incidents from that dreadful time.

When I was asked to review ‘1847’, I had not heard of the book before and thought that it was going to be about that tragic episode in Irish history. When the heavy parcel arrived, I hoped it would not be too miserable. I need not have worried: ‘1847’, although it has fresh light to throw on the Great Famine, travels the world for copy. It swings from tragedy to comedy and back. This is done with a light hand and the result is highly readable.

The eponymous year was one of many wars, discoveries, expeditions and oddities. The book is subtitled ‘A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity and Savagery’, and it is just that. The story of the Comanche nation in Texas makes an impressive start to the book in a chapter entitled ‘The Comanche Warriors and the Free-Thinking Germans’. I had associated Texas with the Spanish and Americans and with bloody battles. The Germans settlers seem to have been much more humane than their other European neighbours; their descendants are there still.

We pass on to the ‘Opium King’ and later to the relief sent to the Irish by the Choctaw Indians. The Choctaws were not the only Indians who raise funds for the Irish during the Famine; there were other tribes who donated money for Ireland, although some was diverted to Scotland.

Circus people crop up all through the book, including PT Barnum, followed by the equally intrepid career of Sligo girl Lola Montez and the luckless king of Bavaria’s infatuation with her.

The Mormons’ epic journey is one of the highlights of the book for me. It is a long, detailed account of their famous march to Salt Lake City and beyond. Titled ‘Of Roadometres, Choirs and Baseball’, it is a story of these unusual but determined people, traveling across a continent in the absolute certainty of their rightness. I am sure that whole books have been devoted to this subject, usually with emphasis on the practice of polygamy. This book gives a fascinating account of a journey like no other.

Extraordinary happenings at sea form a large part of the stories. Especially sad is the account of Sir John Franklin’s final voyage. These intrepid men were searching for the North-West Passage - which of course did not exist. Already elderly, Sir John was a man who insisted on holding daily services, complete with sermons composed by himself. He was popular, but the expedition should have been led by someone younger.

Music is a recurring theme. We read of Stephen Collins Foster, who wrote ‘Oh Susanna’, ‘Campton Races’, ‘Swanee River’ and ‘Beautiful Dreamer’. Later Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, appears. She was almost worshipped by musician Felix Mendelssohn, who tried without success to write an opera for her.

The relaxed style of writing suggests that the author didn’t search too hard for his gallery of characters and incidents, although the impressive list of sources at the end of the book proves that he did. Present more as a book to be dipped into than a serious study, it must have taken many months to research. Producing something of this size and scope, with such a huge cast of characters almost worldwide, sounds like a daunting task. It might even have been scrappy or uneven, but I found it consistently interesting.

It was difficult to remember that I was writing a review, not reading for my own pleasure, and I shall be looking up Turtle Bunbury’s earlier books.

Marjorie Quarton.



The splendidly-named Turtle Bunbury had an equally splendid idea in this finely written and entertaining book. I really enjoyed Bunbury’s previous book The Glorious Madness: Tales of the Irish and the Great War, a most important and enlightening book; one that I feel established Bunbury as one of Ireland’s most popular historians (for he not only has great knowledge, he is able to pass this knowledge on in a most enthralling fashion).

Bunbury got the idea for this book from the Irish country house that he grew up in, which was constructed in 1847, leading to his having a life-long fascination with a year that, as this book proves, could truly be described as momentous. He has written 36 (!) tales from all around the world. He tells of the Irish soldiers who fought for Mexico, the Great Irish Famine, Lola Montez, and General Tom Thumb, all held together by the year 1847 and Bunbury’s inimitable writing style.

One of the things that makes this book truly special is Bunbury’s eye for detail and sheer understanding of his chosen subjects. The book starts off in January 1847 and proceeds month-by-month through that year. My favourite chapter is ‘The Girl Who Liked Dinosaurs’, the tale of Mary Anning, to me an amazing woman, and to anyone like me who lives fossils and dinosaurs; she truly was one of the most important fossil hunters of the 19th century.

Gill have also done a lovely job with the printing, presentation and illustrations, it’s a beautiful book to own, no e-book could compete.

I would love to see this book made into a TV series presented by its writer: a future star in the making.




1847: The year it all began

New Year’s Day, 1847

Monday 4 January 1847
The Comanche warriors and the free-thinking Germans

Sunday 7 February 1847
The Opium King and the Apostle of Temperance

Tuesday 9 February 1847
An Alabaman reflects upon New Orleans

Friday 12 February 1847

General Tom Thumb and the Prince of Humbugs

Monday 1 March 1847
Lola Montez and the King of Bavaria

Friday 5 March 1847

‘Oh! Susanna, don’t you cry for me’

Tuesday 9 March 1847
The girl who liked dinosaurs

Saturday 13 March 1847
The curse of Ignaz Semmelweis

Saturday 20 March 1847
Pablo Fanque and Mr Kite

Tuesday 23 March 1847
The Choctaw Nation and the Great Famine

Saturday 3 April 1847

Frederick Douglass faces home

Thursday 15 April 1847
The bombardment of Tourane, Vietnam

Saturday 17 April 1847
The birth of Cartier

Thursday 22 April 1847
The rise and fall of Khan Kenesary

Sunday 25 April 1847
Captain Baxter and the Barnstable Boys

Tuesday 4 May 1847
Felix Mendelssohn and the Swedish Nightingale

Saturday 8 May 1847
‘Oh Give Me But Employ’

Tuesday 1 June 1847

Dr Fabre-Tonnerre’s Polynesian dictionary

Tuesday 8 June 1847
Abdülmecid: A tale of pianos, telegraphs, etiquette and famine

Thursday 10 June 1847
The Chicago Tribune

Friday 11 June 1847
Death in the Arctic

Saturday 24 July 1847

Mormons on the march: Of roadometers, choirs and baseball

Thursday 29 July 1847
Edward Lear and the Two Sicilys

Monday 2 August 1847
Herald and Pandora: A chronicle of Panama belles, Irish colonies and giant tortoises

Wednesday 1 September 1847
Johann Gramp’s succulent vines

Monday 13 September
Mexico has fallen, or How the USA grew by a third

Friday 17 September 1847
The Tsar’s bizarre circus war

Wednesday 22 September 1847
Royal scandal in the house of Bourbon

Saturday 25 September 1847

Extracts from the Norfolk News

Saturday 2 October 1847
A messianic earthquake

Tuesday 12 October 1847
Werner Siemens and the gutta-percha tree

Tuesday 2 November 1847
Captain Hanson Gregory, doughnut inventor

Saturday 20 November 1847
Abide with Henry Lyte

Sunday 28 November 1847
The murder of a ‘divine servant’

Sunday 12 December 1847

Camila O’Gorman and the Jesuit

Christmas Day, 1847
The King of Crackers

Christmas Day, 1847

Richard Burton’s simian dictionary

Appendix 1: The new house at Lisnavagh
Appendix 2: Literary notes

Further reading








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