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.
For anyone interested see my slides from the talk here AmeliaMurray_v5.
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(Above left: The Fighting Temeraire by J.M.W Turner mentioned by Murray in her journal. She was reminded of the picture by a sunset on approaching Newfoundland).
Definition of travel
Throughout this blog you may see the term ‘writer-traveller’. I use this term for the women I am going to introduce you to, because they were generally women who travelled and wrote about their experiences abroad whilst there or on their return home.These writings were generally in the form of letters, diaries, memoirs, travel narratives, or historical studies.
Why write about the history of travel?
My research into women travellers is based on my family’s own history of travel from the Caribbean to England in the 1950s and my own personal racial combination of Barbadian and Scottish heritage. The realisation at a young age, that I am connected to other places apart from the one I live in, has led me to develop a keen interest in the movement of people and how this movement can lead to change in the individual or further exploration of the ‘self’.I consider my own travels as a continuum of my ancestors’ removal from Africa to the Caribbean. My own travel spans twenty years, through Europe, the Caribbean, Central America and back home to England. These experiences led me to re-evaluate my personal history and to historical research. I look predominantly at women who went to the Caribbean, Latin and Central America.
Through my writing, I also want to dispel the myth that all women who travelled in the nineteenth century were English, white and middle-class. Although my research has shown that the majority were, there were also women of other nationalities who were travelling for many reasons. Mary Seacole (above left), travelled extensively throughout her lifetime to England, Cuba, Haiti and Panama. She most famously travelled to the Crimea to nurse the sick during the British-Russian war in 1855. My definition of ‘travel’ is therefore broad encompassing the explosion in leisure travel which occured in the mid nineteenth century, to examining travel as a result of exile and forced migration.