Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lady Brassey Victorian World Traveler and Woman Author

In 1869, after Sir Thomas and Lady Brassey had been nine years married, they determined to take a sea-voyage in his yacht, and between this time and 1872 they made two cruises in the Mediterranean and the East. From her childhood Lady Brassey had kept a journal, and from fine powers of observation and much general knowledge was well fitted to see whatever was to be seen, and describe it graphically. She wrote long, journal-like letters to her father, and on her return The Flight of the Meteor was prepared for distribution among relatives and intimate friends.

In the year last mentioned, 1872, they took a trip to Canada and the United States, sailing up several of the long rivers, and on her return, A Cruise in the Eothen was published for friends. In 1876 the couple decided to go round the world, and for this purpose the beautiful yacht Sunbeam was built. The children, the animal pets, two dogs, three birds, and a Persian kitten for the baby, were all taken, and the happy family left England July 1, 1876. With the crew, the whole number of persons on board was forty-three. Almost at the beginning of the voyage they encountered a severe storm. Captain Lecky would have been lost but for the presence of mind of Mabelle Brassey, the oldest daughter, who has her mother's courage and calmness. When asked if she thought she was going overboard, she answered, "I did not think at all, mamma, but felt sure we were gone."

"Soon after this adventure," says Lady Brassey, "we all went to bed, full of thanksgiving that it had ended as well as it did; but, alas, not, so far as I was concerned, to rest in peace. In about two hours I was awakened by a tremendous weight of water suddenly descending upon me and flooding the bed. I immediately sprang out, only to find myself in another pool on the floor. It was pitch dark, and I could not think what had happened; so I rushed on deck, and found that the weather having moderated a little, some kind sailor, knowing my love of fresh air, had opened the skylight rather too soon, and one of the angry waves had popped on board, deluging the cabin.

"I got a light, and proceeded to mop up, as best I could, and then endeavored to find a dry place to sleep in. This, however, was no easy task, for my own bed was drenched, and every other berth occupied. The deck, too, was ankle-deep in water, as I found when I tried to get across to the deck-house sofa. At last I lay down on the floor, wrapped in my ulster, and wedged between the foot stanchion of our swing bed and the wardrobe athwart-ship; so that as the yacht rolled heavily, my feet were often higher than my head."
No wonder that a woman who could make the best of such circumstances could make a year's trip on the Sunbeam a delight to all on board. Their first visits were to the Madeira, Teneriffe, and Cape de Verde Islands, off the coast of Africa. With simplicity, the charm of all writing, and naturalness, Lady Brassey describes the people, the bathing where the sharks were plentiful, and the masses of wild geranium, hydrangea, and fuchsia. They climb to the top of the lava Peak of Teneriffe, over twelve thousand feet high; they rise at five o'clock to see the beautiful sunrises; they watch the slaves at coffee-raising at Rio de Janeiro, in South America, and Lady Brassey is attracted toward the nineteen tiny babies by the side of their mothers; "the youngest, a dear, little woolly-headed thing, as black as jet, and only three weeks old."
In Belgrano, she says: "We saw for the first time the holes of the bizcachas, or prairie-dogs, outside which the little prairie-owls keep guard. There appeared to be always one, and generally two, of these birds, standing like sentinels, at the entrance to each hole, with their wise-looking heads on one side, pictures of prudence and watchfulness. The bird and the beast are great friends, and are seldom to be found apart." And then Lady Brassey, who understands photography as well as how to write several languages, photographs this pretty scene of prairie-dogs guarded by owls, and puts it in her book.

On their way to the Straits of Magellan, they see a ship on fire. They send out a boat to her, and bring in the suffering crew of fifteen men, almost wild with joy to be rescued. Their cargo of coal had been on fire for four days. The men were exhausted, the fires beneath their feet were constantly growing hotter, and finally they gave up in despair and lay down to die. But the captain said, "There is One above who looks after us all," and again they took courage. They lashed the two apprentice boys in one of the little boats, for fear they would be washed overboard, for one was the "only son of his mother, and she a widow."

"The captain," says Lady Brassey, "drowned his favorite dog, a splendid Newfoundland, just before leaving the ship; for although a capital watchdog and very faithful, he was rather large and fierce; and when it was known that the Sunbeam was a yacht with ladies and children on board, he feared to introduce him. Poor fellow! I wish I had known about it in time to save his life!"

They "steamed past the low sandy coast of Patagonia and the rugged mountains of Tierra del Fuego, literally, Land of Fire, so called from the custom the inhabitants have of lighting fires on prominent points as signals of assembly." The people are cannibals, and naked. "Their food is of the most meagre description, and consists mainly of shell-fish, sea-eggs, for which the women dive with much dexterity, and fish, which they train their dogs to assist them in catching. These dogs are sent into the water at the entrance of a narrow creek or small bay, and they then bark and flounder about and drive the fish before them into shallow water, where they are caught."

Three of these Fuegians, a man, woman, and lad, come out to the yacht in a craft made of planks rudely tied together with the sinews of animals, and give otter skins for "tobáco and galléta" (biscuit), for which they call. When Lady Brassey gives the lad and his mother some strings of blue, red, and green glass beads, they laugh and jabber most enthusiastically. Their paddles are "split branches of trees, with wider pieces tied on at one end, with the sinews of birds or beasts." At the various places where they land, all go armed, Lady Brassey herself being well skilled in their use.

She never forgets to do a kindness. In Chili she hears that a poor engine-driver, an Englishman, has met with a serious accident, and at once hastens to see him. He is delighted to hear about the trip of the Sunbeam, and forgets for a time his intense suffering in his joy at seeing her.
In Santiago she describes a visit to the ruin of the Jesuit church, where, Dec. 8, 1863, at the Feast of the Virgin, two thousand persons, mostly women and children, were burned to death. A few were drawn up through a hole in the roof and thus saved.

Their visit to the South Sea Islands is full of interest. At Bow Island Lady Brassey buys two tame pigs for twenty-five cents each, which are so docile that they follow her about the yacht with the dogs, to whom they took a decided fancy. She calls one Agag, because he walks so delicately on his toes. The native women break cocoanuts and offer them the milk to drink. At Maitea the natives are puzzled to know why the island is visited. "No sell brandy?" they ask. "No." "No stealy men?" "No." "No do what then?" The chief receives most courteously, cutting down a banana-tree for them, when they express a wish for bananas. He would receive no money for his presents to them.

In Tahiti a feast is given in their honor, in a house seemingly made of banana-trees, "the floor covered with the finest mats, and the centre strewn with broad green plantain leaves, to form the table-cloth.... Before each guest was placed a half-cocoanut full of salt water, another full of chopped cocoanut, a third full of fresh water, and another full of milk, two pieces of bamboo, a basket of poi, half a breadfruit, and a platter of green leaves, the latter being changed with each course. We took our seats on the ground round the green table. The first operation was to mix the salt water and the chopped cocoanut together, so as to make an appetizing sauce, into which we were supposed to dip each morsel we ate. We were tolerably successful in the use of our fingers as substitutes for knives and forks."

At the Sandwich Islands, in Hilo, they visit the volcano of Kilauea. They descend the precipice, three hundred feet, which forms the wall of the old crater. They ascend the present crater, and stand on the "edge of a precipice, overhanging a lake of molten fire, a hundred feet below us, and nearly a mile across. Dashing against the cliffs on the opposite side, with a noise like the roar of a stormy ocean, waves of blood-red, fiery liquid lava hurled their billows upon an iron-bound headland, and then rushed up the face of the cliffs to toss their gory spray high in the air."

They pass the island of Molokai, where the poor lepers end their days away from home and kindred. At Honolulu they are entertained by the Prince, and then sail for Japan, China, Ceylon, through Suez, stopping in Egypt, and then home. On their arrival, Lady Brassey says, "How can I describe the warm greetings that met us everywhere, or the crowd that surrounded us; how, along the whole ten miles from Hastings to Battle, people were standing by the roadside and at the cottage doors to welcome us; how the Battle bell-ringers never stopped ringing except during service time; or how the warmest of welcomes ended our delightful year of travel and made us feel we were home at last, with thankful hearts for the providential care which had watched over us whithersoever we roamed!"

The trip had been one of continued ovation. Crowds had gathered in every place to see the Sunbeam, and often trim her with flowers from stem to stern. Presents of parrots, and kittens, and pigs abounded, and Lady Brassey had cared tenderly for them all. Christmas was observed on ship-board with gifts for everybody; thoughtfulness and kindness had made the trip a delight to the crew as well as the passengers.
The letters sent home from the Sunbeam were so thoroughly enjoyed by her father and friends, that they prevailed upon her to publish a book, which she did in 1878. It was found to be as full of interest to the world as it had been to the intimate friends, and it passed rapidly through four editions. An abridged edition appeared in the following year; then the call for it was so great that an edition was prepared for reading in schools, in 1880, and finally, in 1881, a twelve-cent edition, that the poor as well as the rich might have an opportunity of reading this fascinating book, Around the World in the Yacht Sunbeam. And now Lady Brassey found herself not only the accomplished and benevolent wife of a member of Parliament, but a famous author as well.

This year, July, 1881, the King of the Sandwich Islands, who had been greatly pleased with her description of his kingdom, was entertained at Normanhurst Castle, and invested Lady Brassey with the Order of Kapiolani.

 Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

Smiles & Good Fortune,

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