View Cart

Review: "A Voyage in the Sunbeam" by Annie Brassey

A Voyage in the Sunbeam may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

“Sometimes I think that all I have seen must be only a long vision, and that too soon I shall awaken to the cold reality; the flowers, the fruit, the colours worn by every one, the whole scene and its surroundings, seem almost too fairylike to have an actual existence.”
--Annie Brassey writing about Tahiti

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal listed Annie Allnut Brassey’s A Voyage in the Sunbeam as one of the five best books about female adventurers. So detailed was her narrative regarding geographical information, and so graphic the book’s descriptions and drawings of flora and fauna that it was used in the U. S. as a textbook after its publication in 1878. Its story is a journal detailing the Brassey family’s voyage around the world, covering a period of almost a year.

I heartily recommend A Voyage in the Sunbeam as a way to ground oneself regarding the layout of the globe and the charms as well as discomforts and dangers of various geographical regions. Annie Brassey delights in the mild Tahitian and Hawaiian breezes, shivers in the Japanese cold, and swelters in the Arabian heat. She struggles to keep down her breakfast sailing through the Straits of Magellan, and boldly marches her children up to the caldera of an active Hawaiian volcano. She suffers many hardships while travelling off ship, since the only comfortable mode of transportation yet available was the train, and very few trains go where Brassey wants to visit. When lucky, she has a willing donkey or a suitable carriage, a sedan chair or a human powered taxi. Other times, she has to walk, crawl or climb. In spite of the hardships, Brassey is undaunted, retaining a childlike wonder in the sights she sees.

Thomas 1st Baron Brassey was a Member of Parliament and British railroad heir, and thus could afford to live a life of fulfillment and comfort. Annie was his wife, helpmate and an apt and charming social leader. Yet they chose to abandon their idyllic sounding life to take their children on a trip around the world. Their vessel was called the “Sunbeam”, a 157-foot masted and funneled steam yacht, commissioned by the Brasseys in 1873.

Reading Brassey’s journal of her struggles in various climes and geographical locations, it strikes the reader how much things have changed, technologically and politically, as well as how much smaller the world has become. Such a trip could be considered exceedingly brave or excessively foolhardy considering that in their day, they had no telephones, no air conditioning, no automobiles or airplanes, and they felt fortunate to be able to occasionally abandon their sails when becalmed and burn tons of coal to proceed under steam power. The following quote should illustrate the technological differences between Brassey’s era and ours: “At two o'clock we went to lunch with the Consul, and what a pleasant lunch it was, prepared by a French cook, and eaten in a cool, airy, and shady room free from flies, which were kept out by fine wire gauze placed in front of each well-shaded door and window!”

The Brassey’s lack of technology extended also to maps, which were sketchy at best. Annie made the best of things, however, by reading as many travelogues as she could from the 400 volume library they brought with them on the trip. One book mentioned in Annie’s journal is Isabella Bird’s Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, which I hope we shall offer on this site soon.

Although many things have changed for the better since the Sunbeam’s voyage, we shall never experience some of the charms she describes. I got very excited about her descriptions of Ceylon and Singapore, both of which she describes as delightful. However, after seeing a recent travelogue of Singapore, I mourned the fact that Singapore’s skyscrapers and dense population have neutralized many of the charms that thrilled Brassey. Strange too was reading about Japan, a country that in Brassey’s time had very little interest in interacting with or trading with western countries.

A Voyage in the Sunbeam is written in clear, concise English with many hand-drawn illustrations from Hon. A. Y. Bingham. It is an educational volume that is also infinitely readable. A long volume, it lends itself to reading through, or reading in spurts as the spirit moves you.


Post a Comment

Browse Ebooks by Tag

Support Free Ebooks

If you enjoy our free ebooks, please consider making a donation to offset website costs.
Why donate?

Highest Rated Ebooks