No one knows how long the journal was sitting there, or how it got to Tasmania, but recently, the owner of a second-hand bookstore in Hobart found an 1811 diary of a soldier who fought in the Napoleonic Wars just sitting around in “a pile of old books tucked away in a cupboard,” the BBC reports.
“We have NO idea exactly HOW important this little book actually is - and whether it has been sufficiently studied at all,” wrote the proprietors of Cracked and Spineless New and Used Books, when they first posted about their find. But it turns out that the author of the journal, Lt. Col. John Squire, is “a moderately well-known figure among scholars who study the era,” says the BBC—a very professional soldier who also happened to be a good writer with a reputation as a chronicler of these early 19th century conflicts.
Squire belonged to the British Army and was stationed in Egypt, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, and all the way across the ocean in South America. This diary covers the siege of Badajoz, a Spanish city on the Portuguese border, directly east* of Lisbon. This would be one of Squire’s last campaigns: he died the next year, “of fever and prostration,” according to the Dictionary of National Biography.
How did one of his last journals end up across the world 200 years later? It’s really a mystery: no one even knows how long the book was sitting in back of the shop. The British first colonized Tasmania around the same time Squire was fighting in Europe; perhaps, the journal came across the ocean early on, with another British solider availing himself of land grant. However it arrived on the island, though, the journal could be worth thousands of dollars—not a bad find for any used book store.
The co-owners of the shop, Richard Sprent and Mike Gray, seem to be taking it all in stride, though. “People get very excited about old, leathery things,” they wrote on their Facebook page.
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*Correction: This post originally said the city was west of Lisbon, which would have meant it was in the ocean.