Great Grandfather James
“There are dreamers who see visions and dream dreams about the future of aerial navigation. I confess I love them and find myself indulging in pleasant reveries of the time when men, starting in the morning from Melbourne, well-nigh racing the sun, will land in London in the evening, or the next day at the farthest”.
James Campbell, 1886
Hon. James Campbell, 1845-93
This is a tribute to a man I never knew; a man who, some 130 years after his death, I am becoming increasingly fascinated with as I find our more about him.
Hon. James Campbell, 1845-93, was my great grandfather. He was an explorer in a way that people today could not even start to imagine. He was a public leader of the type that we now see only extremely rarely. He was a visionary - the quote above is just one attributed to him, written almost 20 years before Wilbur and Orville Wright created a first that has influenced our lives ever since.
That he died young was Australia's loss, for who knows what he might have achieved had he lived to somewhere near his allotted span. A brief history of him can be found here: Brighton Cemetery, Melbourne
He was a visionary of uncanny accuracy at times. Writing an opinion piece in the Spectator in 1882 called "Victoria a Century Hence" he said:
A century hence the whole of Victoria will be covered with a network of railways (if aerial navigation does not render them useless except for heavy traffic) of which the present generation has scarcely any conception. Every main road at present existing in the colony will be represented by a railway or a tramway, of which the motive power will he electricity generated by the mountain streams, the rivers, the tides, and the winds.
Amazing enough that he would envision hydro-electricity a full 13 years before the world's first hydro plant at Niagara Falls, but that he would discuss wind generated electricity a century before it became anything like mainstream. Not that he was always completely right. Further on in the same opinion piece he writes:
A century hence Victoria will have no existence as a separate colony, but will simply be a province of a federated Australasia; our politics will have lost much of their petty localisms, and party will be almost gone. There will be a freedom, a tolerance, a kindness and an enlightenment in our public affairs of which we only see the day-dawn.
I like to think that I have just a little of James in me, passed down to me via his second son Norman, my grandfather, and to his only son Tony, my father. I can find similarities if I look for them, a couple of the key ones being the loves of exploration and of writing. My website is my record of some aspects of some my journeys. Travelling in the Himalayas has been a source of great joy for me, but I suspect nothing I have managed to do can go close to his trip to Sikkim and the edge of the great mountain Kanchenjunga in October 1886. A record of some relics of that trip, and a description in his own words, can be found here James Campbell Sikkim Pass 1886.
All being well (Covid and the crazy world in which we live) I plan to retrace James' footsteps to Goecha La in Sikkim, northern India (height 5,000 MASL) some time in 2024, accompanied, hopefully, by my daughter Natalie, herself five generations on from James.
To find a little more of this amazing man, read this extract from the Victorian Historical Journal of Nov 1997.