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Authors: Alan; Sillitoe

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The worst accident took place near the summit, in 1870, when eleven persons perished. Three Americans who led the expedition did not have any mountain experience, but set out with three guides and five porters. ‘The next day several persons in the Valley of Chamonix endeavoured to watch their progress through telescopes. The weather aloft was bad. The wind is said to have been frightful. Even from below the snow was seen whirling about, and it was noticed from time to time that they had to throw themselves down to escape being carried away by the wind.

No one returned
, and fourteen Chamonards started, to try to learn something, but snow was falling heavily and drove them back.' Among those eventually discovered was Mr Bean, ‘sitting down, with his head leaning on one hand and the elbow on a knapsack still containing some meat and bread and cheese'. In his notebook was a letter to his wife: ‘My dear Hessie, – We have been on Mont Blanc for two days in a terrible snowstorm. We have lost our way and are in a hole scooped out of the snow at a height of 15,000 feet. I have no hope of descending. Perhaps this book may be found and forwarded. We have no food; my feet are already frozen, and I am exhausted; I have only strength to write a few words. I die in the faith of Jesus Christ, with affectionate thoughts of my family; my remembrance to all. My effects are in part at the Hotel Mont Blanc, and partly with me in two portmanteaux. Send them to the Hotel Schweitzerhof at Geneva; pay my bills at the hotel, and heaven will reward your kindness.'

The first woman to be killed during this period was when a Mr and Mrs Marke set out with Miss Wilkinson and two guides to climb Mont Blanc. Their porter was a youth called Oliver Gay. ‘At the top of the Corridor the ladies were fatigued, and remained behind with the porter, while Mr. Marke and the guide continued the ascent. The latter were half way up the Mur de la Côte when they heard piercing shrieks, and returning with all haste found that Mrs. Marke and Oliver Gay had disappeared in a crevasse. The ladies had been unable to bear the cold, and wished to move about. The porter offered his arm to Mrs. Marke, and very shortly afterwards both broke through a snow-bridge. The bodies were not recovered.'

Another female casualty occurred on 4 August 1902: ‘A French lady, while crossing the place called the
Mauvais Pas
by the side of the Mer de Glace, met a party coming in the contrary direction. She attempted to pass outside, and falling about a hundred feet, was killed on the spot.'

Then there was Mr Nettleship, tutor of Balliol College, Oxford, who left Chamonix to climb Mont Blanc on 23 August 1892. He took two guides, but ‘Though the morning was fine, clouds gathered, and there were indications of bad weather, before mid-day. The party, however, continued upwards, intending to stop for the night at the Refuge Vallot. An hour after leaving the Aiguille a storm broke upon them, they became bewildered, wandered about for several hours, and at last stopped, dug a hole in the snow, and remained in it all night. According to the statement of the guides, Mr. Nettleship was in good spirits, assisted in digging the hole, and even sang during the night. They had sufficient food and wine, but no extra clothing.

‘The storm continued the whole of the night. On the morning of the 25th it was still snowing hard, and all tracks were obliterated. The guides advised Mr. Nettleship to remain where he was, on the chance of a change in the weather, but Mr. Nettleship urged that it was idle to remain there and die like cowards, and that they must make an effort to get away. He therefore started, the guides following him. They proceeded some little distance when Mr. Nettleship stumbled and became unsteady. The guides offered him wine and brandy, which he refused. He then cried out and fell forward, uttering some words in English, after which he took each guide by the hand, bade them goodbye, closed his eyes and expired.'

The most curious death occurred during a thunderstorm: ‘Simond, who was leading, was killed instantly by a flash of lightning, which also severed the rope leading from him to Monsieur Fontaine, and caused the corpse of the unfortunate man to fall a great distance on to the glacier below. It is stated that Simond was the only member of the party carrying an ice-axe.'

If our gentleman-traveller made an attempt to climb Mont Blanc, we must assume that he survived, whether or not he reached the summit, for we have many more tribulations, and occasional pleasures, to keep him going. After a few weeks among ice and snow he would crave the man-made artefacts and artistic productions – not to mention the mellower climate – of Italy. But if in those early days before the railway he chose to go into that country via the coast from Nice, he could do so in a couple of days by hiring a light calèche. ‘Few travellers, however, will be willing to pass over its interesting scenes in so hurried a manner. It is a country to be dwelt upon: the artist may enrich his sketch-book at every step, and the architect or antiquary will find ample field for the most interesting researches. Persons travelling in a heavy carriage, which requires four horses, should be cautioned that in some places the road is steep and narrow, and runs along the verges of precipices, whose bases, 200 or 300 feet below, are washed by the Mediterranean: parapets are not always provided in such spots; and, unless the horses are very quiet, and accustomed to the road, there is some danger.'

After Albenga we are told that: ‘The streets of many of the old towns through which the road is carried are so narrow, that the walls of the houses on both sides are grooved by the marks of the axletree.'



Many travellers took the German route over the Alps so as to enjoy a stay at the various spas, either refreshing and rejuvenating themselves after whatever exertion they had undergone in England, or in preparation for encountering the heat and heavy cultural rounds of the tourist in Italy.

Murray's handbook of 1858 tells us that four steamers a week left London for Ostend in the summer, the passage lasting twelve hours, of which seven were spent descending the Thames. If our travelling gentleman thought of taking his own servant, the advice was discouraging. ‘It is notorious that English servants taken for the first time to the Continent, and ignorant of every language but their own, are worse than useless – they are an encumbrance.' The traveller who required a servant was recommended to hire a foreign one or, better still, ‘save himself much expense by dispensing with a servant altogether'.

The best course, though an expensive luxury, was to hire a courier: ‘He relieves his master from much fatigue of body and perplexity of mind, in unravelling the difficulties of long bills and foreign moneys, sparing his temper the trials it is likely to endure from disputes with innkeepers and the like. He must make arrangements for his employer's reception at inns where he intends to pass the night; must secure comfortable rooms, clean and well-aired beds, and order meals to be prepared, fires to be lighted, taking care that his master is called in proper time, and that the horses are ordered at the right hour. He should superintend the packing and unpacking of the luggage, should know the number of parcels, etc., and be on his guard against leaving anything behind. It falls to the courier to pay innkeepers, postmasters, and postboys, and he ought to take care that his master is not overcharged. Besides this, he performs all the services of waiting and attendance, cleaning and brushing clothes, etc.'

There are disadvantages in this seemingly perfect proceeding, because a courier, as the guidebooks have already suggested, will often ‘sell' by pre-arrangement the rich family he is working for to innkeepers along the road, so that what he extorts from the innkeeper ‘inevitably comes out of his employer's pocket'. Perhaps the traveller could be consoled by the fact that railways were spreading through the Continent, in combination with steam navigation on the rivers. This is seen by Murphy as an argument against taking a carriage from England. ‘With such expeditions and comfortable modes of travelling at command, it is far better for those who study economy at all to hire vehicles from place to place when required.'

The many confidence men on the Continent gave rise to Murray's classic ‘Caution to Innkeepers and Others': ‘A person or persons have of late been extorting money from innkeepers, tradespeople, artists, and others … under pretext of procuring recommendations and favourable notices of them and their establishments in the Handbooks for Travellers. The Editor, therefore, thinks proper to warn all whom it may concern, that recommendations in the Handbooks are not to be obtained by purchase, and that the persons alluded to are not only unauthorised by him, but are totally unknown to him. All those, therefore, who put confidence in such promises may rest assured that they will be defrauded of their money without attaining their object.'

He goes on to say that the character of hotels, good and bad, inserted in the handbook, ‘are given either from personal knowledge or upon unexceptionable authority of travellers whose names and residences are known to the Editor. Where the objections stated in this book no longer exist, and where a positive improvement has taken place, the Editor is always ready to listen to respectable and well-authenticated testimony, and to remove in future editions the condemnatory epithets or passages. Thus he hopes to stimulate to exertion and amendment, to protect travellers from neglect and imposition, and to do justice to deserving innkeepers.'

With such assurances our traveller will set out, the indispensable Murray buttoned into his pocket, though when he reaches Ostend he is not likely to linger after reading the following: ‘… a few hours there exhaust a traveller's patience; while the visit to the douane, and the extortions of innkeepers and commissionaires, are not likely to improve his temper.' Apart from which, travellers should be on their guard against drinking water, ‘which is filtered rain-water. Seltzer water is drunk in preference.' Even so, ‘Ostend is a favourite watering-place, and is much resorted to in summer; even the King and Queen of the Belgians repair hither, and occupy 2 or 3 ordinary-looking houses in the Rue Longue. There are 80
Bathing Machines
on the beach, and the sands are very extensive and smooth, and crowded with bathers of both sexes, decorously clad in bath dresses, by order of the police.'

The handbook also deals with Holland where ‘the roads run on the tops of the dykes; and, as there are no parapets or railings, there is at least the appearance of danger, and accidents sometimes happen'. Dutch hotels were said to be nearly as expensive as those of England, and inferior to those of most other countries. They were, however, generally clean, but ‘owing to the humidity of the climate the beds are often damp, and should be warmed with the warming-pan, a much employed article in Dutch households'.

The subject of cleanliness clearly fascinated the writer of the handbook, though he considered the matter to be ‘carried to excess in Holland; but the passion for purifying really runs to such a height among Dutch housewives that the assertion is by no means groundless: everything has an air of freshness, and the stranger in vain looks for a particle of dust. It is on the last day of the week that an extraordinary cleaning takes place. Every house door presents a scene of most energetic activity – the brushing and mopping, the scrubbing and scraping, are not confined to steps and doorways – the pavement, wall, windows, however guiltless they may be of impurity, are all equally subjected to the same course of ablution. Those spots which are out of the reach of the hand or broom do not escape a well-aimed stream from the pipe of a small engine-pump, which is always reserved for such service. The unsuspecting stranger who walks the streets is subjected to the danger of perpetual wettings. He looks up to ascertain whence the shower descends, and he perceives a diligent servant girl, stretched out of a window two-thirds of her length, and, with eyes intently turned upwards, discharging bowls full of water upon some refractory stain, imperceptible to all but herself.'

The traveller is reminded that life was formerly most fraught in Holland – and possibly still is. The town of Dort, for example, stands on an island formed by an inundation in 1421, ‘when the tide in the estuary of the Rhine, excited by a violent tempest, burst through a dyke, overwhelming a populous and productive district, which it at once converted into a waste of waters called the Biesbosch … 72 villages and 100,000 human beings were swallowed up by the waves. 35 of the villages were irretrievably lost, so that no vestige, even of the ruins, could afterwards be discovered.'

A more immediate danger awaited those who thought to wander freely around the houses of gentlemen: ‘Many of the grounds of the country seats are open; but some have notices – only in Dutch – of man-traps and spring-guns.'

On reaching Germany the Customs examination was said to be ‘strict without being vexatious. The Prussian douanier (often an old soldier invalided) is above taking a bribe, or rather, government regulates matters so as to prevent his taking one. The person offering a bribe is even liable to punishment by law. Strangers are treated with invariable civility, provided they conduct themselves becomingly.'

The money problems was again infinitely difficult, this time due to the proliferation of different states and principalities, leading Murray to warn us that the values marked on German coins ‘are sometimes not the value at which the coin passes'. He then goes on to juggle Friedrichs d'or, dollars, silver groschen, thalers, kreutzers and gulden with pounds, shillings and pence, which must have left our traveller's head spinning, so that it would come as something of a relief to learn that: ‘Travellers in Prussia are protected by a regulation of the police from the impositions of innkeepers, who are compelled to hang up in every apartment, or at least in the public room, a
, or list of charges for lodging, food, fuel, servants, valets-de-place, etc. This is inspected periodically by a proper officer, who regulates the price of each article, and ascertains that none of the charges are exorbitant.'

BOOK: Leading the Blind
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