In May of 1929, Jessie Eliza Todd and her older sister Louie embarked on an adventure that took the two young women from Southland in New Zealand, sailing by ship to England. In the interim, they visited Australia, Ceylon, Africa, and Italy.
In A Mother's Memoirs, author Margaret Jessie Munro, Jessie's Todd's daughter, offers a transcription of the diary Jessie kept during the trip. It shares a host of details as the pair traveled by sea and then purchased a 1928 Morris Oxford convertible in England, facilitating a number of excursions around Britain and beyond. They drove north and visited many cities and towns, staying at hotels or bed and breakfasts. Their trip took them through Scotland and down the West Coast back into England and included Wales.
With photos included, this travelogue shares the experiences and thoughts about the girls' journey offering insight into the history, geography, people, and customs of the times.
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A Mother's Memoirs
Travels of a New Zealander in 1929
By Margaret Jessie Munro
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Margaret Munro
All rights reserved.
Auckland to Freemantle
May 21, 1929
The journey from Auckland to Sydney has taken three-and-a-half days and it has been most enjoyable on the whole. The people are fairly friendly, the weather is good, the meals acceptable. The first night on board brought the true feeling of being on a boat! The ship sailing along at a good pace, the coloured lights on the deck, moonlight, and carefully non-lit parts. The boat deck of course is where one loses ones reputation if one ventures up there at night! Gone forever, so we were told. Still, many pairs seem to run the risk and flout convention!
Our first glimpse of Sydney was at 4:45 a.m. on Tuesday 21 May 1929. It was a never-to-be-forgotten sight and all the more interesting because we received our first impressions from the view out of a porthole. There are all kinds of lights and every arrangement of the same, some winking at us, some giving a prolonged stare.
Very quickly we made our way on deck to see the silhouette of the steep North Head and the more sloping South Head carrying the Macquarie Light House. More slowly now, we made our way upstream, passed numerous wharves, very near to the new Sydney Bridge and finally pulled in beautifully at the Huddart Polar Shipping Offices. It is a great performance getting luggage to the customs. We spent a very amusing few minutes after breakfast while a tremendous porter trudged along with a barrow full of luggage for about hundred yards and then had the nerve to charge us per piece! Some people can make a living easily. Finally, we satisfied everyone and in due course got over to Neutral Bay where our friends had invited us to visit.
Sydney town itself is not at all attractive. It is dirty and untidy and its narrow winding streets give the visitor a very bad impression. However the good residential parts and the harbour more than compensated for this. A friend took us a drive round to some golf links and then along a rather deserted looking place until we got to stop where there was a glorious view of the harbour and some of the suburbs. The harbour is fourteen miles long and the coastline said to be about two hundred miles! We passed a very disreputable building, which used to be military headquarters and is now some kind of hospital, then along Military Road and back home. We noticed a tremendous number of the houses had tiled roofs. Still, that is not surprising since around this part is a good residential area.
That afternoon Shona took us out in their Oldsmobile and we had a stunning long drive. The weather was almost too hot. We went to Marley Beach, which has quite a tropical appearance! Even at that date, there were a few hardy ones in bathing. We went through a place called Maremba where we stopped to have a look at beautiful views then on through various other places to quite a pretty part where there were aristocratic summer residences. The road was bordered with gums and through them we could see the lake. Reba and Shona say that this part reminded them very much of Loch Lomond. Here we had an afternoon tea of beautiful sandwiches and cakes, which had just come out of the oven! We returned by a slightly different route over a swing bridge back to Neutral Bay.
On Wednesday we visited a few of the public buildings, the Anglican Cathedral, Roman Catholic Cathedral which is especially beautiful, the Town Hall with its wonderful organ but fearfully uncomfortable chairs, the Art Gallery where I would have liked to stay a month! We motored around the Public Gardens, which passes Woolloomooloo where our boat, the Orsova was berthed: more later. Coming home, we took the punt, which leaves very close to the new bridge, which is going to make such a huge difference to motorists and others in Sydney. It is a gigantic structure on which over six hundred men were working. The work is so nerve wracking that the men work only two-hour shifts at a time and they are said to be paid nine pounds per week and they deserve it too! There is a huge crane at each end and this moves in advance of the work. The arch, which is to be built, is said to be the biggest in the world and until the work is complete, each half is supported to cables, which are implanted goodness, knows how many feet deep! [Sydney Harbour Bridge, opened 1932]
We went another trip in Stanley's car with Shona driving on the Friday. Travelled miles along a beautiful road and then turned off to a place called the Ring-gai Chase. The drive was most interesting and we "hair pinned" with great gusto to an inlet which in all outward appearances is a lake. On the way, we stopped to look at some rock carvings, which are the work of Australian natives. They are decidedly crude but nevertheless interesting. Made me think of 'Man before history'. Stanley says that the 'bush' we saw is typically Australian. It was not beautiful I think but it has a certain charm about it in spite of its scragginess and it might look very gay when the gums are all in flower. We came home along a different route passing the same type of scenery until we came back to the Main North Road, through Roseville, Pymble etc. and home.
It would take to long to tell everything we did or saw and heard. In the Gardens, the most beautiful thing we saw was a parakeet, which was gorgeously coloured. There are masses of huge Morton Bay Figs and numerous other trees not found in NZ. We visited the zoo, which is splendid, and from there we had another glorious view of the Harbour.
Some of the shops in Sydney are very beautiful and very large. There seems to be hundreds of hotels. Around the Town Hall, there is rather a muddle as they are extending the underground railway. Sydney at all times we saw was terribly busy and crowded as the streets are so narrow. At night it is so brilliantly lit up with all sorts of signs, some of them so fascinating! In the shops we saw lots of beautiful and interesting things including custard apples. The shop girls have a fearful accent – the real Australian twang of which we heard too much!
The Orsova is quite large, 12000 tons but we could wish we had more room. We shall never forget our first night arriving with not a spot of luggage and the ship looking awful. We had made such a fuss at the Orient Office that we managed to get a cabin with a porthole but when we saw this cabin that night we felt disgusted and seriously considered going Home by another boat. We slept in a decent cabin feeling very hot even though we had our porthole (over which there was no protection), open. The breakfasts weren't bad and after we had got a bit sorted out in the cabin we didn't feel so concerned. On our first night we had a long talk with the Steward who told us that our cabin wasn't a bad one. We found afterwards that the dirty little boy with curly hair who had scrubbed out our cabin and who seemed to be scrubbing all the time, was our Steward! We saw him all dressed up the day we left Sydney.
The departures have all been gay but descending in gaiety from Sydney on. The journey from Sydney to Melbourne took from Saturday at midday until Monday 7 a.m. We arrived in foggy, cold weather and took the electric tram from Port Melbourne to Flinders Street taking about ten minutes. It was an interesting journey. Took an electric tram that is a great institution in Melbourne as they travel very quickly, to Spencer Street where we found it was impossible to go to Ballarat. We got a plan of Melbourne and wandered up Bourke Street, Swanston Street, and Flinders Street etc. Had a morning tea at Myers Emporium and then rang up Mr Sawnders. After that, we saw the sights of Melbourne from a Baby Austin! Melbourne is well laid out with the most beautiful wide and well-planned streets. We saw quite a lot of the town, which is not so wealthy as Sydney. The suburbs are quite pretty but I prefer those of Sydney and certainly the climate is against Melbourne. We went to the Talkies on the Monday night and quite enjoyed the jazz singer. The real bed we had was a great comfort.
Leaving Melbourne at 5 p.m. on Tuesday 20 May, we arrived in Adelaide on Thursday at 7 a.m. The harbour is a very desolate looking place and the ride to Adelaide for ¾ hour was dreary. Distance was about fourteen miles. The day was glorious and warm. We bought a plan, found our way all right from the Station, which is a beautiful place. The train is slow, squeaky and shaky – we had to change at Granville. Following our map we found our way up William Street and down to the Botanical Gardens, which were lovely in spite of the lateness of the season. We saw a dear wee statue of Peter Pan in the Conservatory. Took the trip up a winding road in a very comfortable bus to the top of Mount Lofty where we saw the Flinders Monument but not the wonderful view of Adelaide we should have had. However, we tried to imagine it. Really it seems to be a very pretty place, lots of trees, and fine, prosperous looking suburbs. Came home through Burnside, Kensington and along a carriage drive back to the Town Hall. After lunch we rang Mr Brook with the result that we went for a drive with friends of theirs to Glenelg and Brighton, where there are beautiful sea beaches.
We left Adelaide at 5 p.m. (the next few days are best looked over for they were no pleasure to me. I wondered why I had ever started out and considered if it would be worth while turning back – only Australia seen)! We arrived about three hours late at Freemantle on Monday, June 3 at 12 midday. I felt wretchedly weak and it was simply pouring with rain but we were determined to get to Perth, which is about seventeen miles from Freemantle. Perth must be very pretty but we saw little of it. Went to the pictures in a beautiful theatre with most glorious lighting – tinsel hanging down and a wonderful chandelier. We saw some ballet dancing and remarkable feats on bicycles as well as the pictures. After that we had tea and wandered around the shops along Murray Street and William Street etc. Came back by bus and after a walk to the wrong end of the wharf, finally arrived at the Orsova. We left at 8 p.m. and got our last view of Australia, which however, affected me not in the slightest!CHAPTER 2
Freemantle to Ceylon
Since then it's been quite rough and now getting very hot. Deck games are being indulged in in earnest: quoits, deck tennis, chiefly. We are getting to know quite a number of people and those we know seem very nice. Louie and I spend most of our time on the poop deck sewing or reading and the time passes quite quickly. Yesterday we had lots of excitement – water in the cabin and passages, fat night watchman, pictures and chairs breaking etc.!
It is now June 7 and we are well out to sea – have crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. We have been putting the clocks back quite regularly as indicated in my Collins diary. We are having lots of fun with some of the passengers and with the stewards. There are quite a number of Italians on board and when some of them start playing quoits, well, we are prepared to laugh indefinitely at their antics and enjoyment.
June 19. Since last writing in this little book many things have happened. For one thing, we are now in the Red Sea and it is as hot as we could possibly imagine! It makes one resolve to be really good to free oneself from the risk, if ever of visiting Hades! We went through the Gates of Affliction this morning but the affliction after is not very much worse than that before. Life on the ship has not been altogether happy since we left Ceylon in spite of the fact that we have had a concert and some pictures and quoit finals and ankle [?] competitions etc. not to mention a tremendous lot of fun at night on deck with "Lotti" and the policeman! Talking with the Italians, one of whom is called Spearmint most appropriately, the Austrian, Arab, Icelander, Dane and there were other interesting talks with an Indian lady. Rough sea with the waves apparently mountains high and wind that nearly blows you overboard combined with heat is not the most agreeable thing in the world for one who has a stomach which requires only the gentlest treatment. For a time our porthole was open as we were on the lee side but finally after I had wakened in the night with a splash of water on my chest, it was shut with a bang and remained so which gave us a topic of conversation every time we talked to a member of the crew. A sticky breeze adds to the passengers' discomfort along with terrible smells from the ships internals. There is one comfort – no one or very few feel any happier than you do and there are always lots who feel worse or appear to!
Even on the hottest days, there are some very energetic and enthusiastic quoit players who amuse all the others on the poop deck. Down in the lower deck, it is dreadful – it is packed, children everywhere, men over the hatches, in the ropes, asleep or semi so – smells that are brewed on ships alone and they can't be beaten. At night, we lie on a hot bed and stew and pray for the morning and while praying, fall asleep with utter fatigue and sleep for hours. It all sounds very terrible yet one survives – a little bit of spirit, some good friends and a calm sea makes up for a lot. The evenings, excluding the stickiness, are beautiful and the moon, although the wrong way round is very romantic! The Southern Cross is getting lower in the horizon – it will soon be gone then the Great Bear will show itself, no doubt. We have seen a few sunsets but mostly there is a haze. The sea is always changing its colours and is a source of great interest for many.
Ceylon: During the night of the 11th to the 12th June, we peeped out many times and were rewarded by seeing lighthouses and other lights very early in the morning. We anchored out in the stream about 6 a.m. on Wednesday 12th June and from then until we left, we did not lack sources of interest and amusement. A first view showed many other ships anchored in the smooth clear water behind the breakwater and on the other side of which, the sea pounded incessantly. The land was about half-a-mile away and appeared to be densely covered with tropical bush and buildings. No one but the dullest soul would help being impressed by the Eastern atmosphere of the place. This was very strongly emphasized when with a squeal and a whistle, up came a launch, carrying Customs and it was manned by the darkest people I have ever seen! Many such boats came to us but interest in them never waned for a minute! When later on, a rowing boat absolutely black with natives came into view, we could scarcely keep ourselves from looking like country relations come to town for the first time! Their dress consists chiefly of a loin cloth, (tablecloth?) which may be white, coloured or striped usually, and though it doesn't look as if it would stay put, it seems to be alright! Some of them wore shirts, the tails of which flapped – and often, just singlets! No shoes, just their bare hardened looking feet with toes well spread apart. I'm sure the Foot Specialists would soon starve in Ceylon!
Their method of hair dressing is rather unusual in some cases. Lots of them have it styled 'a la European' others pulled back so tightly and twisted into a miniature bob. The Cingalese (Singhalese) always wear a celluloid comb affair to prove their class. We went ashore in a filthy old tender in the meantime, bargaining with one of the tradesmen for three elephants. I've forgotten to mention that numerous boats had collected around the ship displaying their wares of elephants, oranges, pineapples etc. Even to gent's singlets and knickers. Everyone bargains and has a tremendous lot of fun shouting down to the wary trader if a purchase is made. We were met by a Cooks man and after changing money £1= R13-20c got a Hudson car with a native driver.
From that moment, we were enamoured with Ceylon – its masses of people, its native buildings, rickshaws and carts – oxen and the vegetation are quite up to our expectations of the tropical type. Little children run alongside the car singing, "It's a long way to Tipparary"! Rickshaws run across our path – we had to stop for trams and buses, - enough to stir the heart of the most dour Scotsman! At every possible turn, the driver honked his horn – evidently electric horns are forbidden. We drove along the main street passing English shops and then through the natives' quarters near a river and along a beautiful avenue opened by the Prince of Wales – in to the main highway. At remarkably short intervals all the way we passed native houses and shops. Artificially coloured drinks and funny sticky cakes and sweets must have been in great demand for we saw them everywhere. Most of the shops seem to have their wares displayed on bare planks made to look like counters between which the seller sits, reads or thinks or gossips.
Excerpted from A Mother's Memoirs by Margaret Jessie Munro. Copyright © 2015 Margaret Munro. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsAuthor's Note, ix,
Chapter 1: Auckland to Freemantle, 1,
Chapter 2: Freemantle to Ceylon, 7,
Chapter 3: Africa, 13,
Chapter 4: Italy, 18,
Chapter 5: London, 22,
Chapter 6: On the way! – To Cambridge!, 29,
Chapter 7: Peterborough to Leicester, 34,
Chapter 8: Nottingham, 42,
Chapter 9: Matlock to Leeds, 49,
Chapter 10: Yorkshire, 53,
Chapter 11: Scarborough, Whitby and to Durham, 57,
Chapter 12: Durham, Newcastle on Tyne, 61,
Chapter 13: Edinburgh, 66,
Chapter 14: Scotland and to Perth, 77,
Chapter 15: To Aberdeen, 81,
Chapter 16: The West Coast of Scotland, 86,
Chapter 17: Glasgow, 93,
Chapter 18: Burn's Country, 97,
Chapter 19: Lake District, 102,
Chapter 20: To Chester, 107,
Chapter 21: Wales, 113,
Chapter 22: Gloucester to Stratford on Avon, 123,
Chapter 23: To Oxford and on to Cirencester, 133,
Chapter 24: Bath to Wells, 139,
Chapter 25: England's south, 146,
Chapter 26: Devon and Dorset, 157,
Chapter 27: Surrey and Kent, 174,
Chapter 28: Back to London, 178,
Chapter 29: December, Louie departs and Christmas at Lockskinner, 227,
About the Author, 267,