Forgotten tales

stories of my family

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 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.

1892_Cooks_Excursionist_USA

The Excursionist, US edition 1892

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.

Notes of travel front page

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 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 1944 they finally married. Alice was 72, Dick 74. Alice’s 95 year old father, by then living in Manly, still disapproved, but this time Alice was not to be dissuaded. Her father died a year later. Sadly Dick also died in 1946 so their happiness was short lived. 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. Unexpectedly, 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, married a third time, 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 (see the note from my father at the end of this post). She had moved back there after she married Dick and she remained there until her death. In 1949, when she was 77 years old, her oldest daughter, Gertrude, who had married a clergyman, RB Robinson (Bradley Robinson), asked her if she would like to accompany them on another trip to England, and she agreed.

England was still recovering after a terrible war when they arrived on March 1, 1949 on the Orcades. What they did and where they went in the three months of their visit I am not sure. Did they travel to Ireland, to Alice’s father’s ancestral home? Did they travel north to the Highlands to visit the Ross relatives who had never left Scotland? As far as I know William Ross had never been to Scotland after his parents migrated to Australia in 1866. But The Highlands were strong in the hearts of his daughters and their families, and it may well have been that Gertrude wanted to see the land of her father’s family, Strathcarron, the valley of Ross-shire where her Scottish grandfather had grown up. Her husband Bradley Robinson also had Scottish roots, so Scotland may well have been on their itinerary. The ship that carried them back to Australia was the Strathaird, named for another Highland valley.

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 wanted to get her away from Richard Byrne. Perhaps her daughter, over fifty years later wanted to help her forget Richard Byrne, who had unexpectedly found his way back into her life, if only for a few short years. 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.

Note from my father, Ian Holford, 9 August 2016

I have just enjoyed reading your blog on my grandmother and her travels. There are a couple of small corrections. In the para. beginning “Did Alice ever travel again”, my grandparents had moved from the big house in Mosman with the spectacular harbour view into a smaller house (75 Raglan St. named Ferrintosh) in the thirties.  I remember visiting them there as a child before my grandfather died in 1939. My grandfather Holford lived in the same street with my unmarried uncle (Hope’s father), and they used to visit each over with me tagging along. On one occasion I got bored with their conversation and quietly ran back to the other house without my grandfather’s knowledge. I was suitably scolded on his return.

My grandmother remained in the Raglan St. house after my grandfather died and during her two year marriage to Dick Byrne, and until she went to live with Aunty Ep sometime in the late fifties. As a teenager (1946-50), I used to ride my bike to Raglan St. and mow the lawns and weed the gardens. At that time the house had been divided into two flats. My grandmother was the first family member to buy a TV set, and we used to visit her on Saturday nights to watch TV. She must have died sometime during our latter years in Fiji as I don’t remember her funeral.

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