Litercurious Book Review

Voyage of Mercy Stephen Puleo
TitleVoyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown,
the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story
of America’s First Humanitarian Mission 
AuthorStephen Paleo
PublisherSt. Martin’s Press (March 3, 2020)
FormateTextbook, Audiobook, Hardcover
ISBN# 10/131250200474 / 978-1250200471

Quote “God created the blight, but the English created the famine.”


Stephen Puleo is the esteemed author of Voyage of Mercy. You can find out more about him here.


If you hold an interest in any of the following: reading about Irish history, maritime travel, disaster relief or history in general then you will definitely be interested in Voyage of Mercy.


In the Voyage of Mercy, Puleo chronicles the multitude of factors that combined to create the nationwide Irish famine. Puleo details the first time in history that humanitarian aid was sent from one nation to another in a complete act of altruism.

The date is 1847; the place is Ireland, and the occurrence is the Irish Famine known as the “Black 47.” It was a time of great tribulation for Ireland and its population. Puleo’s research details the starvation of millions in a country that was exporting food while its people suffered. He sets the stage leading up to, during and post famine including the effects, causes and the dire consequences. His work includes a cast of millions but focuses upon 3 main characters. In short, it is a horrifyingly unflinching examination of one of the worst cases of starvations in Ireland to that date.

The three key characters include:

The Reverend Theobold Mathew moreover known as the “Temperance Priest” was a controversial religious leader who undertook Herculean efforts to avert the growing crisis.  He sent regular written reports to Assistant Secretary to the British Treasury detailing the crisis. When Father Mathews repeated warnings failed to solicit any assistance he took matters upon himself by providing extraordinary levels of support, comfort, sustenance and shelter to those starving. He went so far as to house them and feed them in his own parochial house.

If Reverend Mathew’s is one of the heroes of the tale, then Charles Trevelyn is definitely the villain. Charles Trevelyn was the Assistant Secretary to the British Treasury at that time and was tasked with overseeing the situation in Ireland. Puleo opinioned that Trevelyan exhibited a severe lack of humanity, immense indifference and gross incompetence. Those character flaws combined together with other extraneous events increased the suffering from an arguably avoidable situation into an unintended genocide and created a colossal Irish diaspora.

The third character is Captain Robert Bennet Forbes who volunteered to command the decommissioned Naval vessel Jamestown. A self-made man of considerable talents he sailed the Jamestown across the Atlantic stocked with produce, clothing and other commodities that were desperately needed in Ireland. Upon his return to America, he championed the Irish relief cause to drum up more support and aid for the suffering people.

Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that even as the victims of the famine were fleeing in the tens of thousands to America, the horrors followed them. The Atlantic crossing proved so dangerous that thousands ended up paying the ultimate cost. Worse still, once in America they were often the subject of a myriad of crimes which just continued their misery on a new continent.


I considered myself well educated in the history of the Irish famine. However, I now realize that I only had a minimal understanding of the grievous nature of those events.

There is too much information contained within the Voyage of Mercy to adequately describe in this brief review. The book covers the complete collection of emotions. It is a true-life tale of horror, adventure, human suffering, compassion, political incompetence and much more.

The author harrowingly relates the horrors that occurred when a confluence of factors came together creating a famine that changed thousands of lives on both sides of the Atlantic. Voyage of Mercy is skillfully written, engaging and thought provoking in equal measure. This tome dissipates the fog of history to reveal the victims, heroes and villains of the Irish Famine.

Please be aware that this book is not for the faint of heart. The subject matter discussed is heartbreaking, intense, and worst of all a true account of real people and real events. It was a time that literally changed the lives of millions of people forever. If you are looking for a light read, this definitely is not it. If you want to appreciate how dire the situation was during this milestone in world history then I encourage you to read this book.

I want to acknowledge the aid provided by the American Indians, slaves as well as those barely subsisting in America. They dug deep and gave of their own basic food supplies to assist a nation of people they would never meet but who’s struggle they completely understood.

I have to issue this book a rare 5 star review. You know a book is good when you can’t stop thinking about it days or weeks after you’ve finish reading it.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


I would like to thank St. Martin’s Press (March 3, 2020), NetGalley, and Stephen Puleo for affording me the opportunity to review Voyage of Mercy.

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