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2002-12, 328, Book Reviews, History, Neil A Radford

‘A VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD IN 500 DAYS.’

An Unusual Prospectus for a Nineteenth Century Circumnavigation, Including Australia

Probably in the mid-1870s a Liverpool businessman, George Sutherland Dodman, conceived the idea of leading a group of friends and others on a voyage around the world.

He must have devoted years to the planning, and in 1879 he released to the public a comprehensive prospectus of 174pp. entitled A Voyage Round the World in 500 Days, with details, compiled and arranged by G. Sutherland Dodman. Giving an Account of the Principal Parts to be Visited, with a Brief Description of the Scenery and all Particulars Connected with the Undertaking: With Illustrations and Map and Chart of the Route (Illustrations 1 and 2). It was published in London and sold for three shillings and sixpence.

Briefly, his intention was to have a steamship specially constructed, to be named (modestly) the G. Sutherland Dodman. The voyage would commence in June of 1880, from Liverpool, and would circumnavigate the world. First to Ireland, then across the North Atlantic to the east coast of Canada and USA, down to the West Indies, circumnavigate South America, up the west coast of USA to San Francisco, across the Pacific to Hawaii and Fiji, New Zealand (visiting only Wellington, which he dismissed by saying “there is not sufficient attraction to tempt us to a long stay”), Australia (calling at Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney), north to Japan, across to China, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, India, across the Arabian Sea, through the new Suez Canal, through the Mediterranean and home to Liverpool 500 days, or nearly a year and a half, later. It was an ambitious undertaking.

Illustration 1

The cover of Dodman’s book. Maroon cloth with gilt lettering and ornaments

Illustration 2

Title page

The bulk of the prospectus, which was sturdily bound in maroon cloth with elaborate gilt decoration, comprised descriptions of the various ports of call, obviously gleaned by Dodman from guidebooks and encyclopedias. His descriptions of the Australian cities to be visited will be of interest in illuminating their virtues and highlights at the time, from the point of view of someone who had, presumably, not yet set foot in them but who wished to entice others to accompany him there.

The first port of call in Australia was to be Hobart Town, which, according to Dodman, is also known as Hobarton. A potted history of Tasmania’s discovery and use as a convict settlement gives way to lyrical descriptions of the island’s natural beauty. For example, “The whole island is mountainous, and like the undulating waves of the ocean consists of alternate hill and vale, with small plains between…. The east side is particularly beautiful, with its lofty mountains, wooded to their summits; lovely glens through which flow streams of sparkling water, majestic rocks and terribly grand precipices.” Travellers are informed that “several hundred convicts on ticket of leave are distributed over the country; but they are under careful surveillance”.

Hobart itself was, we are told, founded by Lord Hobart, which will be news to some. Dodman enumerates its major features – Mount Wellington, the harbour, and so on – and describes its principal public buildings in a positive but vague way because he had never seen them – for example, the cathedral is “a noble edifice”, Government House “a stately building”, the public library “is well stocked with thousands of volumes of choice literature”, the museum “contains numerous objects of great interest” and so on. He could just as well be describing Liverpool’s principal buildings for all this tells us about Hobart’s distinctive flavour. We are also assured that “the environs, where the mansions of the aristocracy are situated, are very pretty”. Did Hobart have any aristocracy in 1880?

From Hobart Town the travellers will sail to Melbourne. Dodman’s description begins with a paragraph on the history of Australia, starting with its supposed discovery by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Captain Cook is credited with having discovered New South Wales “about the year 1770” and “a few years afterward” the first British settlement was formed at Port Jackson. Dodman’s chronology sometimes lets him down! Victoria’s history follows, its separation from New South Wales, and the importance of gold and wool exports are stressed. Melbourne, like Hobart and probably everywhere else on the itinerary, “possesses many handsome buildings and some well-formed streets”. The shops are said to equal those in Regent St., London. There is a list of principal buildings, again described glowingly but somewhat vaguely – Parliament House is “a handsome building of stone, the interior being sumptuously furnished”, the Customs House is “a masterpiece of masonry”, the museum “contains much of interest”, the prison has walls “of enormous strength”, and so on. The suburbs of Melbourne are said to consist of “large and stately mansions standing on the river banks”. Again, we could be anywhere.

Illustration 3

After allowing time to enjoy Melbourne and its sights the party will sail on to Sydney (Illustration 3). Unfortunately, Dodman’s potted history is no more reliable. He gives Cook’s discovery of the east coast as August 1770 instead of April, and he confidently states that Port Jackson was named “after the man who first saw it from the lookout”. In fact it was named for Sir George Jackson, Secretary of the Admiralty. But let us not dwell on dull history, for, in Dodman’s words, “the beautiful scenery in the vicinity of Port Jackson almost baffles description”. Nevertheless he manages a good description of what it will be like as the G. Sutherland Dodman enters the Heads of Sydney Harbour and sails towards the city – “romantic little bays with silvery bright sands, inlets of the prettiest formation” and so on. The usual list of public buildings includes several surprises. First, the Prince Alfred Hospital is said to be built “on the spot where the Duke of Edinburgh was so cruelly fired at when visiting Sydney in 1868”; in fact the Duke was attacked while picnicking at Clontarf, not in Camperdown. Second, Dodman tells his passengers that “the University in Hyde Park is a costly and commodious building, and will amply repay a visit”; his passengers would look in vain for the University in Hyde Park, it having moved from temporary quarters fronting the park about twenty years earlier. A third surprise is the assurance that the New South Wales Parliament House “is one of the most handsome and costly buildings the eye could wish to see”. Perhaps Dodman has become confused with the Victorian Parliament House in Melbourne? Sydney’s odd collection of old buildings in which parliament sits hardly merits such praise. Sydney’s suburbs are praised for their “pretty villas and noble mansions, possessing tastefully cultivated grounds”, a trip to Paramatta (sic) is recommended “for the charming scenery passed en route”, and a railway trip to inland towns “cannot fail to be enjoyable”.

If Dodman’s descriptions of these places he had never seen can be faulted for their vagueness and his reliance on unsatisfactory secondary sources, the same criticisms cannot be levelled at his other preparations for the trip. He is a master of detail in planning every aspect of his proposed voyage.

The ship he intends to have built, the modestly named S.S. G. Sutherland Dodman, is pictured in the frontispiece (Illustration 4). It is a steamship with a central funnel and three rigged masts. She is described as having “a handsome and yacht-like appearance”, as indeed she does. The engines are promised to be “far more powerful than in the ordinary run of steamers”, and the ship “will be so rigged that in case of any damage or disarrangement of the engines she will be able to proceed under canvas while the necessary repairs are being carried out.” Iron bulkheads forming watertight compartments will “further guard against the perils of the sea”, adequate lifeboats “of the most modern type” will be provided, and the crew will be thoroughly drilled in every aspect of safety and rescue. Dodman says: “I have made comfort and enjoyment, combined with every possible assurance of safety, my great study”.

In the matter of comfort and enjoyment, the ship’s proposed interior facilities are described in great detail: “Every appliance that skill can suggest will be brought into requisition to make the saloon and state rooms comfortable”. The fittings and decorations in the saloon “will be of the most recherche kind”, the tables and settees being moveable so as to make space for dancing, theatrical entertainments, lectures, or any other amusements desired by the passengers. On Sundays the saloon will be used for Divine Service at 10:30am and again in the afternoon. “Appropriate mottoes” will be suspended from the ceiling during services.

Illustration 4

There will be “a thoroughly good piano” and “an equally good and well made harmonium”; passengers who can play these instruments are invited to bring their own music. Those inclined to charades or other forms of acting are urged to bring appropriate fancy costumes “or the materials for improvising them”. The ship’s library will include a selection of “light drawing room plays” for the passengers to choose from. As well, “the library will be well stocked with a variety of standard works carefully selected” and there will be “numerous works” describing the countries and places to be visited. Separate from the general saloon there will be a “ladies’ boudoir” “luxuriantly fitted up” where the ladies may read and rest. It will include a sewing machine, “although a dressmaker will be on board to do any work required”. A gentlemen’s smoking room will also be provided, plus a hospital with a doctor, “although”, he says, “I hope the doctor’s duties may be light”.

Dodman has given great attention to the design and equipment of the staterooms for passengers, and we are assured that “no pains will be spared to perfect their convenience and comfort”. Each will have an upper and lower berth, and adequate wardrobes for clothing. Larger cabins to accommodate entire families can be specially constructed if early notice is given. Passengers are sternly warned that no large boxes or trunks will be allowed in cabins as these will impede the work of the stewards in keeping cabins clean and tidy. The beds will be turned over every morning, bedlinen will be changed fortnightly (or more frequently if they become damp or soiled through “the washing in of water through the scuttle or any other unforseen accident”), the carpets will be taken up every other morning except Sundays, cabins will be thoroughly washed out every ten days, and so on. There are many more detailed prescriptions of this kind; Dodman has made his preparations with great thoroughness.

“Great care will be given to culinary arrangements.” There will be a large galley with “the most modern appliances” and there will be pens for live animals and poultry, plus a butcher to despatch them to the galley as required. Dodman has thought hard about the arrangements for meals, which will be “of the best description”. An hour before each meal the menu will be displayed in the saloon for information. Breakfast will be at 8am, half an hour after the “wake-up bell” is sounded. Luncheon will be served from 12:30 to 1:30. Dinner will be served at 5pm, and tea at 8. The bar will be open from 7am to 10pm, which seems rather generous, but our attention is sternly drawn to the rule that “no one will be served with intoxicating liquor who is already under its influence.” The cost of liquor is not included in the fare, and each passenger will be provided with a price list upon embarkation. Dodman has even worked out a “chit” system for paying for drinks.

While the passengers may drink to their heart’s content the crew will be virtually teetotal. Dodman is familiar with the problem of the “drunken sailor” and does not want any of them aboard his ship. The traditional system of a daily “grog allowance” for sailors will not be followed and liquor will only be issued “in cases where the men have been much exposed through stress of weather.” One wonders how this fine principle would be adhered to in practice.

Dodman’s planning also extends to the question of luggage. As it is likely that passengers will collect curios and souvenirs along the way, ample provision will be made for their storage. These souvenirs are obviously expected to include more than trinkets and mementoes, for Dodman remarks that “all large and heavy animals must be specially arranged for, and any of a wild and ferocious description must be arranged for before they come on board”! A carpenter will be on hand to make any necessary cages, and passengers are sternly warned that “no birds or animals will be allowed in the state rooms”. A keeper will be employed to look after the birds and animals, but as it is quite possible that some will not survive the voyage there will be a taxidermist on board to stuff any that die. He has truly thought of everything!

As well as providing 500 days of interesting travel for his passengers, Dodman saw the voyage as an educational opportunity for those who wished to take advantage of it. He proposes to employ a “professor” to lead what he calls “The Scientific Class”, an onboard program of study in geology, astronomy and natural history, the theory being illuminated by practical examination of “the many curious specimens in the animal, vegetable, and mineral world that we may expect to meet with during our voyage”. There is to be a classroom on the ship, equipped with the necessary scientific instruments, and a library of science books.

He proposes, also, a “Navigation Class” for “young gentlemen who have a taste for the sea”. Dodman knows that many young men have “a great longing to go and see the world” but are dissuaded or prevented from realising this aspiration by parents who fear – “I must admit, with great reason,” exclaims Dodman – the bad effects of “association with men of immoral habits”. It seems that the old stories about what sailors get up to with the cabin boys onboard ships are true after all! For those who want to make the sea their livelihood, and want to become proficient in it “without being subjected to any of the worst evils that ordinarily attend a youth’s introduction to sea life” Dodman proposes to employ an expert Instructor and to provide a classroom, appropriate naval instruments, and a library of relevant books. It will be a practical class, and students will not only see the world but will also become efficient seamen.

Having whetted our appetites with glowing descriptions of the ports of call, and assurances of the luxury and comfort of the vessel, the quality of the food, and so on, Dodman’s last section reveals the cost of embarking with him around the world. For 500 days of pleasure with all the comforts of home the cost is precisely 500 pounds. I have not attempted to calculate what 500 pounds in 1880 represents today, but my feeling is that 500 pounds would have been a lot of money, considering the level of wages and other prices at that time. As well as having 500 pounds to spare, intending passengers must provide two character references. This is necessary to ensure “harmony” and “friendliness” among the passengers; Dodman believes it is wise “to take every precaution in order that no unpleasantness may arise”.

In 174 pages, Dodman set out the plan for his voyage, a map of the route, the places to be visited, and every conceivable detail of the arrangements. It is a masterly piece of work indeed. Did it bear fruit? Did a sufficient number of harmonius and friendly people subscribe for tickets to make the enterprise financially viable? It seems not.

The prospectus was issued sometime in 1879, with an intended sailing in June of 1880. He says that several personal friends had already applied to join the voyage. It is not clear whether the construction of the ship had started, though I would doubt it; the risk would surely be too great if insufficient tickets were sold and the venture had to be abandoned. He states that he is already considering applications from prospective crew members, so presumably he had advertised for officers and crew.

However, the publication history of the prospectus makes onedoubt that the public shared Dodman’s enthusiasm for the voyage. A second edition was issued in 1880 (my copy is the second edition), and a third edition also came out in 1880. It seems most unlikely that the anticipated sailing date of June 1880 could have been met if he was still attempting to attract participants in that year. I have found no record of a fourth edition, but the National Library of Australia holds a fifth edition, dated 1881, so he was still trying to drum up interest then, presumably with a later sailing date. Incidentally, none of these editions is listed in Ferguson’s Bibliography of Australia, which is surprising seeing that the Mitchell Library has the second edition and the National Library the fifth.

I doubt that the voyage ever took place. Certainly no ship named the G. Sutherland Dodman berthed in Sydney in the 1880s, according to the Sydney Shipping Master’s “Index of Vessels Arrived”. It is possible that, having sold fewer tickets than needed to make the proposed voyage viable, Dodman scaled back his plans and chartered an existing ship rather than build his own. But if the voyage did go ahead, in some truncated form, I think Dodman would surely have wanted to publish the account of his adventures upon his return. I have not been able to trace any other book by him.

If I am right that the voyage did not take place, his disappointment must have been severe. He had obviously invested years in its planning, so detailed are his descriptions of the ship, the domestic arrangements, and so on. He had also invested much time in research about the ports to be visited (not all of it accurate, as we have seen), and in writing it up in a manner calculated to appeal to prospective travellers. I think Dodman let his enthusiasm run away with him. He certainly did not lack vision, but he became so obsessed with pinning down every detail of the trip that he failed to realise that 500 pounds was probably too high a price, and that there was an insufficient number of wealthy people able and willing to spend a year and a half away from home, despite the promise of exotic adventures in strange lands.

Finally, who was G. Sutherland Dodman? All we can tell from this prospectus is that he lived in Liverpool (he gives his address there for those with further enquiries about the voyage). He is not in the Dictionary of National Biography or in Who Was Who. The Liverpool Public Library has not been able to provide any biographical information other than that he is listed in the city directory of 1880 as George Sutherland Dodman and his occupation is given as “manager”, though we are not told what he manages. The address given in the prospectus is, or was then, a building housing the offices of merchants, solicitors, estate agents, accountants etc. So he remains mysterious. One wonders what became of him, thwarted in his grand plan to command the S.S. G. Sutherland Dodman as it sailed the world, its staterooms full of happy and harmonius adventurers, its hold filled with cages of wild animals, and its young gentlemen learning seamanship safe from the immoral advances of the crew.

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