Around the world in 180 days

Tourism in the Victorian era was in its early stages of development. Wealthy families in England had been sending their sons and daughters on Grand Tours of Europe for many years to expand their knowledge of the world, but by the middle of the nineteenth century the opportunity for travel, both at home and internationally was no longer limited to the rich. In 1841 Thomas Cook, an English cabinet maker from the Midlands, had an idea and arranged a one day train excursion for 540 temperance leaguers journeying from Leicester to Loughboro. One thing led to another, and

By 1851, he had discovered the business of travel. Cook arranged ocean liner travel and accommodations for 150,000 visitors to the World Exposition in London. The experience opened Cook’s eyes. Foreign travel, which up to that time had been limited to foreign aristocrats, could be made available to the burgeoning middle class, which had money to spend and social aspirations to fulfil. Cook and other steamship agents set themselves up on both sides of the Atlantic, catering to the new tourism. Cook loved to travel, and believed that it should be enjoyed so that the memories would give pleasure for a lifetime. It was his goal to make a trip around the world as easy as a walk around the block, so he started the first travel agency to offer people travel that was free of care. Cook published The Excursionist, the first travel magazine, to inform people about travel destinations and what to expect after arrival… Perhaps his most famous package, the “Cook’s Tour of Europe,” allowed Everyman to take a Grand Tour – a practice hitherto limited to the very wealthy. (Bloyd S, in Orange Coast Magazine, August 1989, accessed on Google Books)

John Christopher Hickson (JCH), my grandmother’s grandfather, may well have been a reader of The Excursionist, which was by the 1890s available in Australia. JCH was a member of the “burgeoning middle class, which had money to spend and social aspirations to fulfil.” An Irish immigrant, he had made a fortune in the timber industry in the far flung colony of New South Wales. In the twenty years after his arrival from Ireland in 1870, his business had gone from strength to strength. He had married a local girl and together they had raised a family of eleven children. He had built a beautiful home in suburban Enfield, and climbed high on the ladder of Sydney society. Like many people in his situation, he dreamed of travel, of seeing the world.

However, in 1893, he was faced with an unexpected and unwelcome dilemma – his twenty year old daughter, Alice, the apple of his eye, had fallen in love with a young migrant recently arrived in Sydney from Ireland, but by John’s judgement, a man without prospects. This was not the future he had imagined for his oldest daughter. The man she had fallen for was Richard (Dick) Byrne, a working class boy from Killarney in County Kerry, very near to where JCH himself had grown up. It seems fairly certain that John knew Dick’s parents before he left Ireland. JCH was determined to prevent Alice from marrying Dick but he was painfully aware that Alice had lost her heart to the charming and handsome Irish lad. Perhaps as he racked his brain for ideas his eyes came to rest on the latest edition of Cook’s travel magazine.

I have not seen a copy of The Excursionist from 1893, but I feel certain that the World’s Fair that was held in Chicago that year would have featured prominently. Thomas Cook and Sons had been organising tours to such international extravaganzas since The Great Exhibition – the Crystal Palace Exhibition – had been held in London in 1851. JCH was inspired. Here was something that could satisfy his desire for travel and adventure at the same time as providing a distraction for his lovesick daughter. He would take Alice away to see the World’s Fair, and throw in a trip around the world. It was an offer felt sure Alice would not be able to resist. With a bit of luck Alice would forget Dick Byrne, or at least realize that there was much in life to enjoy that Dick could never provide, being the penniless Irishman that he was. JCH wanted Alice to fall in love with the world, and for that love to displace her love for Dick. Hopefully by the time they were home her priorities in life would have been suitably reordered.

Alice said yes to the trip, which must have seemed wonderfully exciting to her. She knew her father’s agenda, but how she felt about it is uncertain. She was very much in love with Dick Byrne, and felt sure he would wait for her. Did she understand her father’s objections? Did she agree? Did she see a marriage to him as impossible, as much as she loved him? Was she going with her father in order to forget? Or was she stubbornly opposed to her father, but happy to accompany him on this world trip just the same? She was young. There was time to see the world and still marry Dick when she came home. It was possibly a very confusing time for Alice.

Whatever is true of the emotions that were raging in Alice, the records show that John Hickson and his daughter embarked in mid April 1893 on a ship, the Monowai, bound for San Francisco. I wonder if Alice had read Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, published just twenty years earlier? As it turned out, the father and daughter’s journey was closer to a hundred and eighty days – but unlike Phileas Fogg, they were not racing to win a wager. In fact the longer they were away the better as far as her father was concerned. In the preface to John’s book about the journey, called Notes on Travel, he describes the journey as a “hurried trip around the world.” Perhaps the only hurry was to get Alice away from Dick before the inevitable happened.

They sailed from Sydney to Francisco and then crossed North America by train, travelling over the Sierra Nevada mountains and then traversing Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. In Chicago they attended the World Fair before travelling via Niagara to New York and the East Coast, where they did the round of relatives and friends. The voyage from New York to Ireland on the Germanic took eight days, arriving at Queenstown, near Cork, on the south coast on 13th July. They then spent just over a month in Kerry, where John had grown up. After Ireland they travelled to Scotland and then south to London, before embarking on another ship, the Ophir, to make the return voyage to Australia, London to Sydney via the Suez, a voyage of some six weeks. Altogether they had spent some three months at sea, and three months on land, with the longest stay in any one place being in Ireland, where they were for about five weeks. North America and Scotland/England accounted for about three and a half weeks each. They arrived home in the second half of October.

If John’s primary goal was to prevent Alice from marrying Richard Byrne, it would seem that he succeeded. A little under two years after they arrived back in Sydney, in August 1895, Alice married William Ross, a successful accountant some 11 years older than her. One wonders if that was her father’s plan all along. Dick married Elizabeth Gray, a Kiama girl, daughter of Irish immigrants, the same year. It would seem that both Alice and Dick had accepted that their lives were not meant to be together.

At least that was how it seemed. Over forty years later with a their respective lives largely behind them, Alice and Dick found each other again. Both had lost their respective partners to illness. Perhaps they had been friends all through the forty five intervening years, or perhaps they had barely been aware of each other’s lives. Alice and William had moved to Mosman on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour and raised five daughters, while Richard and Elizabeth had lived in Drummoyne and had raised a family of seven children. After her husband’s death in 1939 Alice went to live with one of her daughters, Ethel (Epp) in Northbridge, next door to my father. But during those dark days of loneliness and world war Alice somehow reconnected with Dick, whose wife died in 1941. In 1943 they finally married. They were both 71. Alice’s 95 year old father still disapproved. JCH was by then living in Manly. Dick died two years later, and JCH the same year, but Alice lived on until 1962, when she died at the age of 90, a grand old lady of Mosman.

Just as Alice never managed to get Dick out of her mind, her father John, JCH, never got travel or the Old Country out of his mind. He was well and truly smitten by the travel bug. In 1910 when he was 62 he went with his wife Martha back to England to be there for the coronation of King George V, the grandson of Queen Victoria. He never wrote a book about that journey so my knowledge of it is sparse. Sadly Martha died on the return voyage. JCH married again after his return to Australia, to an English lady he had met on the ship, and they were happy together for fourteen years when she died. JCH, perhaps seeking comfort in travel sailed again for England the following year, in 1926, and amazingly, while he was there found another wife, whom he married before his return to Australia. That was the last time he would cross the globe. He was 78 years old.

Did Alice ever travel again? In 1945 she lost her father and a year later her husband Dick died. She was alone and bereaved in the big house in Mosman, with its amazing view over the spectacular harbour. She had moved back there after she married Dick and she remained there until her death. In 1949, when she was 77 years old, one of her daughters, who had married a clergyman, asked her if she would like to accompany them on another trip to England, and she agreed.

I wonder where they went and what they did. The only thing I know for sure is that they attended the Billy Graham Crusade in England. How this impacted the aging Alice I don’t know. But it had a big effect on her daughter and son-in-law, Gertrude and Richard Robinson, who inspired my sixteen year old father with stories of the great evangelist on their return.

Did Alice have the same wanderlust as her father? Each time she went to England she was a companion to others who had planned the various trips for their own reasons and asked her to come too. Her father had a clear agenda for Alice on the first trip, to get her away from Richard Byrne. Was her daughter’s agenda also to help her forget Richard Byrne, her late husband, whom she had so recently lost? Her father succeeded in his aims, at least temporarily. Did Alice’s second trip, over fifty years later, help her to process her feelings and finally lay Dick Byrne to rest?

My father, Alice’s grandson, certainly seems to have inherited something of John Hickson’s love of travel. After he married in 1958 he departed with his young wife, my mother, for the Pacific Islands where they lived for seven years in Fiji. I was born there in 1961, the year before my great grandmother Alice Hickson-Ross-Byrne died. I came to Australia in 1964 as a three year old. When I was nine we departed by ship across the Pacific and the Atlantic for England, where we lived for the next three years, before completing our circumnavigation of the world around the Cape of Good Hope. Since then I have crossed the globe countless times, as have my parents and siblings.

Travel means different things for different people. Some love the journey for its own sake. For others it is a way to escape from harsh realities. Sometimes it is about searching for identity or purpose. We can only guess what it was for John Hickson, and his daughter Alice. For me it has had all these elements and many more.

The world is a different place now with air travel having shrunk the distance between Europe and Australia to an overnight affair. Thomas Cook and Sons are still offering their package holidays, but under very different conditions. And some of us are like John Christopher Hickson still wondering to which side of the world we belong.

The last holfies postcard from Sweden

I have decided to stop updating this blog, and have started a new blog at dholford.wordpress.com. My reasoning can be found at that address on the About page. Anyone who might be interested in following my ramblings is welcome to have a look there instead. This “postcards” blog will remain here, but there will be no more posts to this site. 

Thanks for reading.

Islam on the move in Örebro

In town today on a sunny Saturday afternoon we noticed a sprinkling of orange t-shirted, dark haired, olive skinned young men scattered across Våghustorget, one of Örebro’s busiest shopping squares. I was amazed to see on their shirts the words printed boldly, "Fråga mig om Islam" – Ask me about Islam – and then noticed that several of the "orange men" were engaged in earnest conversation with youths who were clearly ethnically Scandinavian. I walked past the tent that was apparently the Muslim base camp and noticed paper sample bags on trestle tables with the words "Converts packet" written across them.

As a believer in Jesus I wondered how to respond, and decided that what I saw was a good thing. We Christians have so often failed to stand publicly and proudly as representatives of Jesus in the marketplace. We have allowed secular governments and outspoken atheists to convince us that faith should be a private matter. We have retreated into our cosy fellowships, worried about offending people, scared that we might "put people off." Our society is becoming aggressively atheistic, increasingly secular, sadly materialistic, losing its connection with the force that made it what it is today, the simple but confronting teaching of Jesus. Western culture and society is tossed on a sea of confusion, set adrift from its Christian foundations, left foundering and wondering what faith really is all about. If the Muslim population of Örebro can contribute to putting faith and spiritual matters back on the public agenda it can only be a good thing.

Despite the changes in our society, thankfully many Swedish Christians have not remained silent, and indeed there is an increasing will among believers to speak out into the spiritual desert we see around us. From our own church here in Örebro believers are resolutely going into the streets to share the good news about Jesus with people they meet. In Stockholm the Jesusmanifestation has become a yearly event, when thousands of believers take to the streets to proclaim the message of Jesus. Christians regularly write to our local paper to present the Christian version of current events from a Biblical perspective. We have begun to realize that in our relationship with the living God we possess a treasure which it is selfish to keep back from the people around us.

The other thing that was encouraging as I reflected on these young Muslim men was the fact that they are presenting their message peacefully. The Western world has become increasingly terrorized by images of radical fundamentalist Islam. It is good to see another side of Islam, not as something to be feared because of the threat of violence, but as something to be considered for its merits. Muslims have started to understand that the Western world will never accept their message if it is presented with force. Such aggressive expansionism will just lead to conflict and hatred. If they want to be heard they must present their faith in a way that appeals to peoples’ hearts and minds, not that instils fear of reprisals.

For my part, Jesus will always have my allegiance. What I know of Islam, what I have seen, will not tempt me to convert, though I have Muslim friends who I respect greatly, and though there is much in Islam which impresses. I suspect that if Muslims could see Jesus with fresh eyes and not through the veil of a thousand years of conflict with Christians then they too would be impressed by what they saw. I suspect that Muslim people would find it hard to ignore this man on whose teaching the Western countries that they are now making their homes has built their political and social structures. I suspect also that if we followers of Jesus could present him as boldly and gladly as these orange men on the streets today were presenting their faith, that multitudes of secular Swedes would also stop and listen to us as they were listening to them. Perhaps next weekend there will be a crowd of Christians in the marketplace alongside the Muslim evangelists, with the words on their t- shirts, "Ask me about Jesus."

Therein lies the fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity. While their faith is about a religion ours is in a man who claims to be alive and who claims to be God.

The results of feeling outside

The week before last there was unrest in Örebro. In two suburbs there were acts of vandalism, primarily cars being set on fire. It happened on successive nights and there were various arrests made. Since then there has been much introspection and handwringing in the local press, and I suppose in the community in general. How could such a thing happen in such a prosperous land as Sweden? The general feeling is that it is all about the growing gap between rich and poor, the feeling of dissatisfaction of some people in the community that they are badly off when others have it all.

Ours was one of the two suburbs affected by the unrest, which was labelled an “upplop” by the press. Upplop can be translated as “riot” which seems to me to be something of an overstatement. The so called riot in Brickebacken amounted to the burning of a number of cars by vandals who rapidly disappeared from the scene. There was no crowd of angry young men shouting and throwing stones and bottles. You could almost wonder if the actions were the result of boredom, rather than anger. The press made a lot of it, but the local inhabitants of Brickebacken were quick to say how safe and secure they feel despite everything.

The paper contributed with an article summarizing the social and economic differences between various suburbs of Örebro. A couple of things stood out. The richest suburb, Adolfsberg, has a disposable income per household of more than 3 times that of the poorest suburbs. It also has more than twice the number of people with a tertiary education, and half the proportion unemployed. Needless to say, only 9% of those living in Adolfsberg has a foreign background, compared with 77% of Vivalla, which is one of the poorest suburbs.

Brickebacken, where we live, is not the poorest suburb though the average household income is still less than half of that in Adolfsberg. It is however, one of the most immigrant dominated areas, with some 53% coming from outside Sweden. Vivalla and Brickebacken were the two suburbs of Örebro affected by the so called riots.

Local politicians were asked for their opinions about the causes of the unrest, and their suggestions of solutions. The general consensus seems to be that the underlying problem is “utanförskap” – literally translated as “outsidership”. The perpetrators, like many in the community, feel outside. The solution, therefore, is to reduce this feeling of being outside. How to do that? Various ideas have been floated, but the general consensus is that educational opportunities need to be improved, free time activities need to be provided, especially for youth, and unemployment needs to be reduced, to give people more income, and to give them something to do with their time.

I read another editorial the other day which commented on Sweden as being, according to an international survey, one of the happiest nations in the world, with only a couple of other nations ahead of it (one of which was Australia!). The article wondered what happiness really is. Interestingly, I am fairly sure that the rich-poor divide in Australia is significantly greater than in socialist Sweden, even if according to the survey Australians as a group have it better than Swedes. I also remember seeing a documentary a few years ago about poverty in the UK, where the richest people earn up to 300 times the poorest, so a threefold difference in Örebro seems fairly trivial.

There is no doubt that a huge gap between rich and poor creates resentment and envy, a feeling of injustice. The revolutions of the last two hundred years bear witness to that. Neither is there any doubt in my mind that feeling like an outsider leads to discontent and depression. We all desire to “belong” and we all want a meaningful existence, where we do something worthwhile and where we are rewarded for our efforts. There are too many people who have neither a sense of purpose or belonging in our society. Helping people to gain that must surely be one of the major tasks of our times.