A Victorian Letter


My Dearest Rachel,

It seems like so very long ago that I penned my first letter to you as we steamed out of the port of Falmouth and I must confess, there have been times when I have felt that this interminable sea voyage might never end. And yet, here we lie at anchor in Zanzibar. Although we have seen some strange places along the way, I feel that this must rank as quite the rummest place I have ever set my gaze upon.

The natives seem to come from everywhere and swarm all over the dockside, spewing forth in tiny vessels into the harbour. In noisy and very loud foreign voices, they hawk their wares. They seem to be selling everything from bananas and ivory through to humanity itself. Their skin takes on the hue of varnished mahogany and their hair is curled so tight that it looks almost bound to their scalps.

The ladies seem to have little or no modesty, for they walk around wearing next to nothing. Their large breasts hang pendulous in front of them and yet they seem completely oblivious. Perhaps it is the heat, for it has become progressively warmer the further the ship has ventured. Lady Alice fainted yesterday, and it took Captain Jacobs’ smelling salts and a small dose of Father Edwards’ “holy water” to bring her back into the land of the living.

Captain Edwards is full of tales about what lies beyond the port as if he has spent several lifetimes here. I have to confess to private thoughts that I think he would speak this way of places he has yet to visit. He does say, however, that the temperature gets even more severe the further one ventures inland. As I look around my small cabin at the trunks full of evening and daywear, I feel I may have to improvise in terms of what to bring with me. Captain Edwards says that the bearers will only be able to take one trunk.

He speaks of big game with a glint in his eye as he polishes his impressive looking rifle. Apparently, some of the creatures which dwell on the island could swallow a man whole. The whole thing makes me feel quite queasy. I do look forward to seeing some of the stranger flora and fauna, but I hope we don’t come across to many snakes and spiders – they sound quite monstrous.

Father Edwards says that he is here to bring God to the savages. From what I have witnessed, I’m not sure the savages are really that interested, but he remains resolute. He says that he will found a small church, and teach the savages how to speak English and sing in God’s own tongue. I do hope he also teaches them how to dress with a modicum of decorum.

Although I have found my cabin quite uncomfortable, when we say goodbye to the ship and strike inland, we shall be staying in tents made from canvas. They assembled one on the deck yesterday, and not only did it take an age to assemble, but it really did seem like the flimsiest of structures and certainly not capable of keeping out some of the wilder creatures described by Captain Edwards.

The other thing that will take some getting used to is the constant swarm of insects tha burden every poor soul who ventures above decks. I am assured that they are much worse in the port than they are inland. I do hope so, because I find them quite the most tiresome beasts imaginable. Father Edwards has fashioned a net which hangs from my bonnet, and yet they still find their way through to my skin.

My dearest sister, I set out in search of adventure, and every day does seem to be very different to the days in London, but I do wonder why adventures seem to happen so slowly and uncomfortably. There are times when I wish I was taking tea in the parlour with you, but then I look around at the beauty that surrounds me, and I admonish myself.

Until we meet again (lest I be eaten by spiders or beguiled by snakes), I remain your most gracious sister, Emily.


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