Across America by Motor-Cycle

August 21, 2014

I proofed a lot of Across America by Motor-Cycle, by C.K. Shepherd, but from time to time other pesky proofreaders would grab some pages, so I was happy when it was posted to Project Gutenberg and I could at last read the entire book.  The author was an Englishman who decided just after World War I to ride “across America by motor-cycle,” going from New York to San Francisco. Not something that would raise too many eyebrows these days, but back then there were very few paved roads. “Ninety-five per cent. or more, however, of America’s highways are dirt roads, or what they are pleased to call ‘Natural Gravel.’ In many cases they comprise merely a much worn trail, and as often as not a pair of ruts worn in the prairie. Very often, instead of being a single pair of ruts, there are five or six or perhaps ten, where individual cars have manifested their own personality. When this multiplicity of ruts crosses and re-crosses in a desperate attempt to achieve the survival of the fittest, the resultant effect on the poor motor-cyclist is somewhat disconcerting.”

Things aren’t much better in the cities: “I have seen places in Broadway where the tram-lines wander six or seven inches above the surface of the road and where the pot-holes would accommodate comfortably quite a family of dead dogs within their depths.”

“There are two classes of roads and two only. They are good roads and bad roads. Any road, anywhere, in the whole of the United States of America (and, I presume, her Colonies as well) is a ‘good’ road if you can ‘get through.’ The remainder are bad.”


“Lizzie” in the Petrified Forest, Arizona

Of course these roads were a little rough on his motor-cycle (nicknamed “Lizzie”). He bought it new in New York: “The machine was entirely overhauled on four occasions between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and on three of these by the recognized agents of the manufacturers. The engine cut-out switch was the only part of the machine that did not break, come loose, or go wrong sooner or later. I was thrown off 142 times, and after that I stopped counting! Apart from that I had no trouble.”

Protective gear? “I dispensed entirely with the use of goggles from beginning to end, and except at stops in large towns on the way I wore no hat.” No, they hadn’t heard of helmets back then!

The book describes his journey across country, and makes very entertaining reading, although the author does state, “The journey was comparatively uneventful. I never had to shoot anybody and nobody shot me! In spite of the relative wildness and barrenness of the West, there were always food and petrol available in plenty. I spent most nights at the side of the road and experienced neither rheumatism nor rattlesnakes.”

This post was contributed by rpc, a DP volunteer.

Annie Brassey’s Voyages

January 15, 2012

On September 14, 1887, at sunset, the body of a woman was committed to the sea midway between Christmas Island and the northwestern coast of Australia. Her grieving husband and their four children stood by to pay their last respects, along with the entire crew of the vessel on which they had been sailing for nearly a year.

Annie Brassey

Annie Brassey

The vessel was the yacht Sunbeam, and the woman was 47-year-old Lady Brassey—Annie Brassey, as she styled herself—one of the most celebrated travel writers of her day. Her lengthy voyages with her husband, Sir Thomas Brassey, and their children were simply and beautifully recorded in several lavishly detailed and illustrated books. The volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders have preserved two of them for posterity at Project Gutenberg: the first, A Voyage in the ‘Sunbeam’, published in 1878; and the last, The Last Voyage, published posthumously in 1889.

Annie Brassey was born Anna Allnutt in London in 1839. Her privileged childhood did not spare her from serious health problems. In a memoir of her life published in The Last Voyage, her husband recounted that she suffered from an inherited “weakness of the chest,” apparently in the form of chronic bronchitis. As a young woman, she suffered severe burns when she stood too close to a fireplace and her crinolined skirt caught fire; it took her six months to recover.

When she was 21, Annie married Thomas Brassey, the son of a prominent railway contractor. Thomas was a Member of Parliament who later became Lord of the Admiralty and Baron Brassey of Bulkeley. Annie and Thomas had five children; one of them, Constance, died in 1873 at age five. Annie, despite her chronic illnesses, busied herself with her family and with charitable work, becoming a tireless supporter of the St. John Ambulance, an organization devoted to providing and teaching first aid.

Thomas was a keen yachtsman, and on July 1, 1876, he, Annie, and the children (ranging in age from one to 13) set off to circumnavigate the globe in the Sunbeam—said to be the first private yacht to do so. This was no Kon-Tiki—the Sunbeam was a steam-assisted schooner, and the family and crew totaled 43 people.

Nonetheless, in the nineteenth century, traveling around the world was neither safe nor comfortable, as the Brasseys well knew from prior, shorter voyages. In 1869, Annie had contracted malaria while traveling through the Suez Canal; the disease plagued her for the rest of her life.

But it did not stop her. She entered into the first voyage of the Sunbeam with great enthusiasm, writing extensive letters to her family in England, in which she detailed all the wonders of the exotic lands they visited. Her family urged her to publish these letters in the form of a journal, and the result was A Voyage in the ‘Sunbeam’.

Annie’s journal entries demonstrate a keen eye for observation, boundless curiosity, and a profound sympathy for humankind. It is no wonder that A Voyage in the ‘Sunbeam’ became an instant best-seller. The grace and simplicity of her writing bring the voyage vividly to life, often with understated humor. Here, for example, is her account of what happened after the yacht came through a severe storm:

Soon after this adventure we all went to bed, full of thankfulness 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.

Despite Annie’s ill health, the voyages continued, in part because winters in London (with its then dreadful fogs of pollution) were intolerable to her. In the 1880s she published other travelogues, including In the Trades, the Tropics, and the Roaring Forties (1885), currently in progress at DP.

Annie’s last voyage on the Sunbeam began in January 1887. The family toured India and then set sail for Ceylon, explored Burma, Borneo, and nearby islands, and circumnavigated Australia, with fascinating side-trips to the major towns and even into the bush. She participated in these tours in spite of renewed attacks of malarial fever, and throughout her time in Australia she actively promoted the St. John Ambulance.

But the disease that had beset her for so long finally took its toll. Annie wrote her last published journal entry on August 29, 1887, as the Sunbeam lay at Thursday Island, off Cape York in Queensland, Australia. She was so ill that she needed to be carried in a chair as she toured the island that day, but she pressed on, and even discussed starting a chapter of the St. John Ambulance with the local residents.

Thereafter, as her friend and editor, M.A. Broome, puts it in the Preface to The Last Voyage, Annie’s journal entries “are simple records of suffering and helpless weakness, too private and sacred for publication.” She made her last private entry four days before she died. In her husband’s tender memoir in The Last Voyage, addressing their children, he said, “We have seen how your mother used her opportunities to make the world a little better than she found it. . . . I could never tell you what your mother was to me.”

Annie Brassey, with her inspiring courage and humanity, left the world a beautiful legacy in her fascinating journals.

Note: In 1922, the Sunbeam was sold to Sir Walter Runciman. Sir Walter, as it happens, was a distant relative of the late Steven Gibbs, the DP volunteer who provided the scans of The Last Voyage.

This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.

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