I currently give talks across London on nineteenth-century women travel writers’ views on slavery; in addition on prominent black female travellers and writers of the same period like Mary Prince and Nancy Prince who went to Britain and Russia respectively.
I am developing talks on the following questions:
How glaucoma affects the African Caribbean community?
How mindfulness can aid recovery from loss and bereavement?
The Honourable Amelia Murray, the subject of my talk on Monday night at Paddington library, reminded me of something important – when is it too late to go travelling?
Murray travelled at age 59, as my research has shown travelling over 40 was unusual for women. Travelling alone, as she did, was even rarer. So I am reminded as someone who is not so far off from that grand age that it is never too late to go wandering. As Tolkien said ‘Not all those who wander are lost’. This conjures up images of us all wandering aimlessly but I don’t think this is what Tolkien meant or what I propose. Murray’s journey was certainly not aimless – it was a well thought out trip to Canada, the United States and Cuba by steam ship in 1854. But whilst reading her letters, I did question why she waited so late in life to take such a big trip was she searching for something more than her life at Queen Victoria’s court? When I travelled at 39 to Mexico, I thought I was having an early mid life crisis, but it was there I decided my interest in travel was more than just that..it was an unquenchable obsession! Perhaps in travelling, writing and publishing her letters, Murray realised the same thing.
Female travellers were not only famous for their travel alone. Some were prolific writers, poets or revolutionaries. Lola Rodríquez de Tío was one such person. She was born in 1843 in St Germain, Puerto Rico. She later became one of Puerto Rico’s most distinguished nineteenth-century lyric poets. Her early education took place in St Germain. Her schooling continued at home, where various intellectuals and politicians often met in informal literary and social circles. In 1876, her family moved to Mayagüez, where she published her first book of poetry, Mis cantares [My Songs], She was also the first woman to give a speech at a graduation in Mayaguez. Her life can be represented by three phases: her home-life, her intellectual work and her political activities. In 1863, at the age of 20, Lola married Bonocio Tío Segarra, a well educated writer, who was politically active against the Spanish colonial regime. The couple made their home a centre of political gatherings and were both exiled for their activities, firstly in 1877, when they went to Venezuela. Most of Lola’s works were amalgamated in Obras completas[Complete Works] after her death.
Politics and Exile
In 1868, inspired by the call for Puerto Rican independence known as the Grito de Lares, Lola wrote patriotic lyrics to the tune ofLa borinqueñathe song became very popular, but brought her into conflict with Spanish authorities. In 1877 Bonocio Tío, her husband, was exiled for having denounced the Spanish Governor of Puerto Rico and they lived for three years in Caracas, Venezuela. Upon their return to Puerto Rico the couple founded the magazine La Almojábana. They were exiled again in 1887, returning first to Venezuela and then to Cuba. Once in Havana, their home became a centre for politicians and intellectuals as well as exiled Puerto Ricans and it has been said they aided José Marti the Cuban revolutionary, by hiding weapons in their home.
In Cuba, Lola voiced her support for various Puerto Rican patriots jailed at El Morro [a prison]. With the publication of her book of poetry, entitled Mi libro de Cuba [My Cuban Book], and her continued revolutionary activities, Lola and her husband in 1889 were exiled once more to New York City.