Hazelet’s Journal – J H Clark

Summary:

This is a true-to-life Gold Rush adventure story. It is the reproduced original journal of G C Hazelet, who struggled in the Klondike for four years.

Main Characters:

George Cheever Hazelet: A successful businessman who fell on hard times in 1896, he takes a second chance to rebuild his fortunes in the Alaskan fields. This is his story.

Andrew Meals: Hazelet’s partner on the trip, and financial stakeholder in the enterprise.

Plot:

These are the kind of stories that illustrate just how hard and tough our ancestors were. Men like Tom Crean who crossed the Antarctic in effectively a jumper and trousers, and men like G C Hazelet, who braved and bested the cutting icy weather of northern Alaska.

Hazelet was a businessman, a school principal, and a banker amongst other things, but the Panic of 1896 caused his business to fail.

He had a young wife and two sons, but necessity made him turn his face to the cold North, to see if he could strike it lucky. He and his partner Andrew Meals got a grubstake together, and set off on the dangerous journey. This is in the late 19th century – no smartphones, no satnav, no traveller insurance. His family did not know if they would ever see him again, or he them.

Hazelet tells his story in the first person, which brings a stark and personal immediacy to the narrative. Over four years, 1898 to 1902, his diary documents his struggle, his loneliness, his successes and failures. The land he faces is hard and unforgiving, and he struggles with it as much as he does internally, with his guilt over leaving behind his young family.

He describes trudging through the immense snowbanks, the sheer physical effort of setting up his stake, cantankerous animals, churlish men and women, the lethal potential of claim-jumpers, and the back-breaking manual labour underpinning it all. Unlike most of the prospectors, Hazelet’s group turned towards the Valdez Glacier, crossing near-impassable  mountains to reach the Copper River. Pulling a 200lb sled for hundreds of miles in Arctic conditions – mute respect is the only possible response.

The reader can step back, and multiply this story by the tens of thousands who rushed north, to get an idea of the relative squalor and human misery these camps came to represent. In spite of everything though, G C did not give up, give out or give in.

Spoiler alert – Hazelet, like so many, did not strike it big, but his story had a happier outcome relative to most of the prospectors. He left a legacy in Valdez, Alaska that resonates still today.

What I Liked:

  • The straight-forward style made for compelling reading, and the retention of G C’s own voice.
  • The descriptions of a long-gone world, supplemented by excellent photos.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Some editing around the detail of equipment needed etc. – I think there was a little too much in that.

Overall:

A fascinating read, a real bit of time travel, to a long-vanished world. This book brings the Klondike to life. I would thoroughly recommend this for anyone interested in this period of history, and generally in adventure stories. It is beautifully illustrated, even in .pdf form. The author has done a great service to his great-grandfather.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to NetGalley and the author for sending me a free copy of the book, in return for an honest and objective review.

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