We know that many of the events in this fictional biography actually occurred, and certainly all of them are feasible. Events are bound together by historical evidence which portrays an extraordinary true story. Much of this knowledge comes from the Minutes of The Oregon Botanical Association, together with insights from letters sent by John Jeffrey and his acquaintances, and from the labels attached to plant and animal specimens he despatched to Scotland from North America. The missing evidence in the mystery of John Jeffrey would be found in his journals, which he was contracted to compile during his travels, but which never materialised.
To help those with an interest in history separate fact from fiction, sections marked with '†' denote that a historical record is quoted, although some of these have been altered to a minor extent to improve readability or the flow of the story. Where such notation is absent, it should be presumed that fiction rules. A list of historical evidence cited is provided in an appendix, presented in the order it appears in this book.
Gabriel Hemery, November 2016
Journal entry: 13-15th September 1852
Foothills of Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County, California
It was a big sky, lonely of clouds, forewarning a sharp night. Even while a spectacular red sun descended between two giant boulders in front of me, I raised a modest fire, adding an extra layer of springy branches under my bed. Thus prepared I drifted to sleep, lying with some satisfaction beneath the canopy of the new species of pine I had discovered that day, a myriad of stars flickering between its needles.
Sometime in the night, while wrapped in a meagre blanket, my hat drawn deep down over my head such was the cold, I was woken by a great weight upon my chest. It has been near four months since I last enjoyed close human company and I was immediately alert.
Yet, before I could react a terrible pain lanced my cheek, my face then held in a foul stinking vice. Despite being without sight, and with one arm caught between blanket and beast, with the other I managed to strike out, my bare hand encountering solid fur-clad muscle. So short was the coat of my foe there was no handhold. I knew then that I was confronted, not by a Grizzly, but a Mountain Lion. I raised my legs to grapple with its body and rolled over to one side. I felt the flesh on my face tear open as I felt for my gun. With the stock I blindly aimed a blow at its body and, on making satisfying contact, felt its jaws loosen. Yet it did not retreat. I fought viciously with every limb and ounce of my strength for what seemed many minutes, but must have been mere seconds, before it eventually fled. By the time I had torn the remains of the hat off my head, I could glimpse only its long tail disappearing between the two boulders where the sun had earlier retreated. Yet there it paused to turn and stare. I feared it may return, its unblinking eyes reflecting two startling golden moons, before the beast seemed satisfied that discretion was the better part of valour. With a turn of its head it was eclipsed by the night.
I immediately sought to rekindle the fire which had faded to a pitiful glow. With my knife now permanently in one hand, which trembled in a terrible way, I heated water to tend to my face and other injuries. I slept for none of the remainder of the night, gripped by terror, and a fearsome throbbing pain.
I recall Mr Anderson explaining to me the habits of the beasts of a more dangerous sort. I have seen many Bears, both Black and Grizzly, during my journeys thus far, and shot more than I can now remember. In fact encounters are frequent with these giants, and measures to counter them habitual when setting up camp. I can recall seeing only two Mountain Lions in all my time traveling across this vast country, and on both of these occasions they have been some distance away. I distinctly remember being informed that a Mountain Lion will only rarely attack a man––a child being much more common fare––unless it is surprised, or if that man is a coward who presents a fleeing back. I must make remember to inform my old guide of some contrary information when we are together again.
Naturally I have no glass with me, so I was obliged to wait until the sun had risen to inspect my face on the surface of a nearby pool. Applying the crude stitches to my cheek hurt as much, if not more so, than the beast's canines, being without the excitement of a fight to mask the pain.
I became quite delirious since I attended to my wounds. I woke many times to find myself surprised that it was day rather than night, or visa versa. My body has been drenched with sweat, and I found myself shivering even at noon. My fire, though, I have kept burning for the last two days and nights, even though gathering kindling and logs was a great burden on account of my pain.
While my symptoms were at their height I experienced vivid hallucinatory dreams. In many of these I found myself with Prof. Woody and other noble gentlemen in extraordinary variations of the Edinburgh gardens. What would they think now of my sorry situation? If they could witness my immediate circumstances they would surely experience a similar sense of disbelief, yet their vision would be fact. I am a battered man with a grizzly face which masks completely the youth they dispatched with such optimism but two years hence.
The snow-clad peak of Mount Shasta exerts a dominant presence in this place, its foothills providing fertile hunting grounds for the botanist. Before me tall pines and giant boulders extend down the valley, and without interruption, far into the distance. This land is a paradise so rich it would see the same gentlemen emptying their purses to secure more collectors, but I think their dreams would be shattered by my appearance.
Now I notice I have made this entry on the blank inside cover pages of this, my second journal, which my writings have already half-filled. I am usually so careful with my accounts. I am not myself. At least the hand with which I write is mostly undamaged; I cannot say the same for my other.
Letter to HRH Prince Albert, 3rd August 1849
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Edinburgh
3rd August 1849
HRH Prince Albert Buckingham Palace London
Oregon Botanical Association
I write on behalf of a proposed association, currently in formation, to be known as the Oregon Botanical Association.
Those involved in its establishment believe that it would be of great benefit to the interests of Arboriculture and Horticulture in our country, to secure the introduction of the new plant materials from the Western Parts of North America. Our intention is to secure the services of a Collector to follow in the footsteps of the late and celebrated plantsman, Mr. David Douglas, who introduced so many novel trees and shrubs to our shores.
Our first requirement, following formalisation of the Association, will be to collect Funds sufficient to defray the necessary expenses of supporting the expedition. To this end we have secured, to date, formal expressions of interest from some eighty investors. These include many individuals known to you such as the Duke of Buccleuch, Earl of Burlington, The Lord Advocate, Lady Rolle, and Lord Murray. Together with the organisation I represent, other notable botanical institutions will support the endeavour including the Horticultural Society of London and the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society. Certain well-regarded seed merchants including Messrs. James Veitch & Sons, are also keen Subscribers.
We would be honoured, Sir, if you were to consider joining our list of Subscribers by lending your support in the form of an investment in the activities of the Association.
I have the honour to be,
Your humble and obedient servant,
Professor John Balfour, Regius Keeper
P.S. I wish to mention how much I admire your efforts in the Society of Arts, and your energies in promoting the Great Exhibition planned at Crystal Palace for 1851, by which time we intend that our Collector will be active amidst the great trees of North America.