Monday, February 17, 2014

Thomas Jackson and the Overland Route

Thomas Jackson circa 1864. Note his downy facial hair and stylish hair.
About a decade ago. I discovered that Thomas Jackson had made his inaugural trip from Ireland to Hong Kong via the Overland Route. It was in 1864. He was twenty-three years old, and had just been given £137.10 for his Passage Money and Travelling Expenses as part of a contract signed with Agra and Masterman’s Bank. Not that these facts are much to go on when it comes to knowing what he might have experienced during this trip.

On my daily walks, those times of the day when my mind is totally off-leash, I often follow the young Thomas Jackson in my mind’s eye, as he treks about on camels and donkeys and on foot while passing through sites which will later become branches of the eventual banking empire of HSBC. At first, I didn’t know his exact route, even though I pored over countless maps, but I figured that it had to be some variant of the historic Silk Road.

I could not have been more wrong. The Overland Route was one which linked Alexandria and Suez and initially required a mix of barge, paddle-wheeler and land travel with either camels or horses. It was a route which was key to Victorian trade since it freed travelers from having to round The Cape in order to get to China or India. It was an email from Robin Kinloch in 2010, a researcher whom I have never met, who set me straight. Thank goodness.

After a bit more digging, I discovered that back in the mid-1800s, there had been two quite different routes that were usually used to travel to Alexandria from London.

The fastest way to get there in the mid-1860s was to take the South Eastern line from the newly constructed Charing Street Station to Folkestone, and then to travel by ferry to Boulogne. Once in France, the traveler transferred to a train which passed through Paris, Dijon, Lyons, Avignon, and on to Marseille. From there, a steam ship sailed to Alexandria. This was the route that the British Mail packets took. The final rail links in France had only recently been completed.

The other way was to board a P&O steamship from Southampton and to go directly by ship to Alexandria - with stop offs at Gibraltar and Malta. For quite a while, I was pretty sure that this latter route was the one that the young Thomas had taken. My conjecture had been based on his contract with the Agra and Masterman’s Bank in London on November 12th 1864. In it, he agreed to proceed to Hong Kong or elsewhere in China by the Overland Route on the Twentieth day of November. This was the same day of each month that the ships to Alexandria left Southampton.

A few days ago, I got an extremely helpful email from Peter Stanes of New Zealand, another researcher who I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. It seems that my second idea of how young Thomas had probably travelled to Hong Kong was also probably flat wrong.

What I hadn’t known was that the twentieth was the same day of the month that P&O ships also left Marseilles for Hong Kong. Since Thomas had signed the contract on November 12th, he had plenty of time to get to Marseille for a departure from there. Another tantalizing new bit of information, that Stanes shared, is that Allen’s India Mail for November and December 1864 reported that a T. Jackson had sailed from Marseilles on board the P & O steamer Ceylon (built in 1858) on the 20th of November, bound for Hong Kong. Of course, there is no absolute proof that this was our Thomas Jackson, but this fact is pretty compelling.

Information from other sources have now make it a bit easier for me to envision what this trip might have been like. According to the P&O handbook, it usually took 2 ½ days to get to Malta, and then 3 1/2 more to arrive at the port of Alexandria.

NOTE: If anyone reading this blog post knows of contemporary travelers’ accounts of this kind of trip in the mid-1860s, I am all ears.

Fortunately for young Thomas, the final links of the railway connecting Alexandria and Suez had just been completed five years before he showed up. This meant that he enjoyed the relative luxury of a fairly new train. This new line was all the rage, in spite of the absence of bathrooms. According to Steel in the Sand: the History of Egypt and its Railways, a Stephenson 2-4-0 steam locomotive was able to complete the 252 miles between Alexandria and Cairo in a mere 6 hours, a trip that had previously taken several days on a combination of barge, and paddle wheeler. This train then connected with a second train for the final leg to Suez which did away with the previous need for a grueling all-night caravan over the last 84 miles of desert.

Allowing 6 days to sail to Alexandria, and then another day for the train section over the Overland Route, it then took eight more days to sail to Aden, and another eight to Bombay. The final leg after this took another 22 days – first to Galle (Ceylon), next to Penang, and then a stop in Singapore for at least twenty-four hours before setting out for Hong Kong. In short, the total travel time from London to Hong Kong was close to two months for most travelers in the mid-1860s.

Thanks to Peter Stanes, I also now know that a T. Jackson arrived at Bombay, a month after leaving Marseilles, on December 20th on board the P & O steamer Malta - an older ship built in 1848. As reported in the January 6, 1865 edition of Allen’s, the steamer had sailed directly from Suez. If Thomas Jackson then took the next steamer after arriving in Bombay, which is most probable,  the United Service departed Bombay on the very day he arrived. Unfortunately, there is no passenger list for this sailing, so by now we are well into guess and by golly territory.

UPDATE from Peter Stanes: T Jackson arrived at Bombay on board the "Malta" on 12 Dec 1864, not 20 Dec 1864. Hence his trip from Marseilles to Bombay took 22 days. The reference is on page 9 of the 6 Jan edition of Allen’s Indian Mail which you can find from the following link: Allen’s India Mail Vol XXIII, 1865.
You will see that the reference is to “Mr Jackson”, not “Mr T Jackson”. However, I am sure that this is the same person because the other passengers named are the same as those in the 21 Nov 1864 list.
See also:

"The Popular Overland Guide, hints to travellers by the overland route to India, Australia and China" which was printed in 1861 and gives an enormous amount of detail including the route which Thomas appears to have taken.... There is also a book called "The Overland Route from India" by Stanley Jepson, published by the Times of India Press, 1938 - India.
A number of the other JACKSON mentioned in Allen's India Mail concern a Lt. Col G. JACKSON - I have updated his info on the Doncaster JACKSON tree. Of tangential interest to me is that he and Thomas Jackson - a research focus of this blog - include the same heraldic elements - three shovellers - in their arms. 
A few other names of people travelling at the same time as Jackson also caught my notice. Major Mauleverer was on the SOUTHAMPTON to CALCUTTA run, and Capt. & Mrs BOLTON were on the MARSEILLES to MALTA run. 
I believe that the Major MAULEVERER referred to was Benjamin Bunbury Mauleverer (1824-) who fought in the Crimean war under Pennefather. SEE: Lyttleton Times 1855, and served in the 88th Foot (Connaught Rangers) at Sebastopol. He was a 1st cousin of Robert Lindsay MAULEVERER (1811-1850), a land agent who was murdered in Crossmaglen a few days after walking with the young Thomas Jackson. 
Capt & Mrs. BOLTON are the parents of Capt. Charles James BOLTON, an opium clipper runner for Jardine Mattheson, and a brother-in law of Thomas JACKSON through his marriage to Louisa Caroline DARE.

January 11th, 1865 would be close to Jackson’s arrival date in Hong Kong, but since he was only a bank clerk at this stage in his career, he likely flew below the media radar. Even so, I will read all the Hong Kong news accounts of the day as soon as I can. I am grasping at straws here.

I do have some bits and pieces, such as the 1850 Overland Guide Book, but nowhere near enough to give a full account of the feel of the trip. Obviously, I still have many more questions than I have answers:

  • What did other travelers of the day notice and write about?
  • What were the berths like in the various ships? One account says they were only five feet long. Bearing in mind that Thomas Jackson was six feet two, this can’t have been terribly comfortable.
  • The meals? Most P& O ships of the day catered to the English diet. Are there any surviving menu cards?
  • Are there news reports of passengers on this particular trip? Many lifelong friendships and business partnerships were forged on these lengthy voyages, so learning who Thomas travelled with could be extremely significant.
  • What games did they play? I have later photos showing the family playing quoits aboard ship. There were also the ever-popular card games. Which ones?

There is also an earlier leg of the trip that I am still in the dark about. Thomas would have started in Belfast, where he had been working as a clerk at the Belfast Branch of the Bank of Ireland. This means that he would have started his trip by taking a ferry from Ireland to England. In the mid-1860s, this ferry service was fairly reliable, although the ships were smaller and more vulnerable than the ones we have now. In fall and winter storms, they were often tossed about in high seas. Sea sickness was common.

My questions for this leg of his trip include:
  • How long did it usually take to sail from Kingston (now known as DĂșn Laoghaire) to London – or would he have stopped at Southampton or Folkestone and taken the train?
  • What time of day did the ships leave?
  • How much did they cost?
  • Were there stop-offs – for example at Falmouth, or Portsmouth?
  • Were there sleeping berths?
  • What was the food like?
  • How many passengers would be aboard?
I am getting closer to imagining the particulars of this trip through the eyes of young Thomas with as much clarity and accuracy as is humanly possible. A mix of crowd sourcing coupled with reading everything I can get my hands on has definitely helped me. I continue to be profoundly grateful to all those who have helped. Whoof! (That’s my off-leash mind saying thanks.)

1 comment:

  1. I HAVE some documents about agra baank plus many @ me