The Grand Tour through the Pacific

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, New Zealand was one stop on a circuit for wealthy tourists making a six-month grand tour of the world. The majestic Milford Sound, the grand Whanganui River and, of course, the magical thermal wonderlands of Rotorua made New Zealand a special destination for those able to afford the long journey.

The Pink and White Terraces at Rotomahana were the climax of any visit. They were in the hands of the Tuhourangi people, who provided guides, canoes, meals, accommodation and entertainment. Their loss in the Tarawera eruption of 1886 was a serious economic blow to the tribe, made worse as the Government slowly took over the businesses they attempted to establish in their new homes in Rotorua, employing them as guides and entertainers.

Another important stop for our intrepid European and American travellers was Hawaii, about which E Ellsworth Carey wrote in Thrum’s Annual (1893):

An epitome of the world’s scenery is found in Hawaii. There
cliffs and caves; grand canyons and measureless waterfalls; spouting
caves and singing sands; bottomless and rivers of lava.

Sydney, Australia, was on many steamer ships’ itineraries, part of a circuit from San Franciso through New Zealand, Sydney, and then various Pacific Islands and back to San Francisco. Other ships came from Europe passing through Egypt and the Suez Canal, then making stops at India, Indonesia, and Singapore on their way down under.

Women tourists were common enough that Lillian Campbell Davidson made a great success with her 1889 publication “Hints for Lady Travellers at Home and Abroad” (recently republished and available on Amazon). One contemporary review notes that the preparation for such a trip may make it a burden rather than a pleasure.

The ” Hints ” inform us that the lady who wishes to be well equipped for a journey, must carry with her a bath and bath towels, a bottle of kid-reviver, a dressing-bag, a spirit-lamp for boiling water, with a sufficient quantity of methylated spirits, a flask, and a small filter.

To these comforts the lady-traveller must add provisions, including extract of meat, “one’s own tea and coffee;” waistbelts for money, a holdall for rugs and umbrellas, a hot-water bag, a lamp for reading at night, some light literature (it must be light in two senses, for “books add enormously to the weight of one’s luggage “) ; a small medicine-chest, which, among other articles, should contain pills and ointment, and a roll of fine old linen.

Matches and a candle, too, should always be carried ; a door-wedge is a great convenience ; “a tin of insect-powder should never be omitted ;” with a railway-key “one is quite independent;” and “a compass is a most useful accompaniment to the traveller who has to be her own guide.”

It is necessary also to carry an eyestone, “the use of which is a common custom in America.” If there is dust in the eye, this tiny stone, or rather fishbone, is inserted within the lower eyelid. “Almost immediately it begins to work its way slowly round the eyeball, and never stops till it has made the complete circuit of the eye, when it drops out, bringing with it whatever object of an alien nature it has encountered on its journey.”

Then if ladies curl their hair, capital little cases may be had, containing a pair of tongs and a minute spirit-lamp ;” a good toilet-water also is often desired by ladies in travelling, and sulpholine lotion may be carried for sun- burning and freckles.

Full particulars, too, are given with regard to clothing ; each dress must have a tray to itself, for “gowns are the terrible part of packing,” and, finally, “it is as well, for every reason, to travel with as little luggage as circumstances admit.”

It is to be feared that if a lady who proposes to travel studies these ” Hints ” previously—and we have mentioned only a few of them —she will be tempted to wish that the new conditions of life had not arisen, which make “a thousand conveniences and comforts” necessary to the traveller. (Review in The Spectator, 16 November 1889, p44, my paragraphing)


The Virgin Wife

I’ve read a couple of stories recently that bought into the myth that non-consummation was grounds for an annulment. Even today, the law is not quite that simple, although many jurisdictions allow non-consummation as grounds for divorce. But back in Georgian and Regency England, the fact that the marriage had not been consummated, if it could be proven, was not grounds for either divorce nor annulment.

First, a definition of terms. Annulment is a legal declaration that a marriage never existed. Divorce is a legal declaration that a marriage is at an end, and the husband and wife no longer have marital obligations one to the other.

Annulments were not quick, they were not painless, and they required one or more of three circumstances. These circumstances were fraud; inability to contract a marriage; and impotence. Even taking the case could make both the husband and the wife social outcasts. If the annulment went through, the woman was reduced to the status of a concubine, and her children became illegitimate. The man had no further obligations to support her or the children.

Fraud could include using a false name with the intention of fooling your intended spouse or their family, or making promises in the marriage settlement you had no ability to carry out. For example, if you settled a non-existent estate on your daughter’s new husband, he could claim this as grounds for annulment. He would not necessarily win — it would be up to the church court to decide the extent to which any of these fraudulent behaviours were intentional, and how much they influenced the decision to marry.

Inability to contract a marriage meant that at the time of the marriage you already had a living spouse, you were related by blood to your intended spouse (closely enough for marriage to be forbidden — there was a list), you were sufficiently insane not to know what you were doing, or you did not have the consent of your guardian if you were under 21.

Proving that the man was impotent or the woman was incapable of sexual intercourse was even more difficult. Even if the man was prepared to admit to such a thing, the judges would not take his word. First came a medical examination. Was there a visible physical abnormality? Did the man show the ability to become aroused? Had the man shared his bed with his wife exclusively for years without the woman losing her virginity? (So no lovers on the side for either of them.)

If he could have an erection with anyone, he was clearly not impotent, and in earlier periods two accomplished courtesans might be hired by the court to test the impotency.  By the 19th century, doctors were used, and one does not wish to enquire too closely into their methodologies.

Rats. There go some useful plot lines. But on the other hand, what fun to work your way around them.


The Repository of Oddities and Curiosities

My friend Mari Christie has just opened a new space on Facebook for historical fact and fiction. One by one, various people are creating ‘exhibits’ (year-long Facebook events) on which to post historical facts from their research and to play at interactive storytelling.

If you enjoy seeing stories created on the fly, or if you want to learn more about a specific period, come and join us.

I’m doing something different with mine; not the Regency, as you might expect, but the Antipodean gold rushes, which I research extensively a number of years back for a gold rush saga that never saw publication daylight. One day, maybe.


You’ll find the group at, and at the top, you’ll see the following

Wherein one will see items of interest from their respective periods, interspersed with the dramatic stories of the exhibit curators and staff. Readers and writers are invited to add a character and join in the storytelling.

Currently, the exhibits are:

American Civil War Era 1850-1870

Britain During The Reigns Of George III and IV, 1760-1830

Antipodean Gold Rushes 1850 to 1900

Victorian England, 1837 – 1901

1790s English Radicals & Malcontents


Globalisation ancient central Asian style

Not so much a road as a route, and only one of them, at that. Imagine a procession of heavily laden camels, donkeys and carts.

Not so much a road as a route, and only one of them, at that. Imagine a procession of heavily laden camels, donkeys and carts.

I’ve been fascinated for most of my life by the histories I didn’t learn at school. According to the wisdom I received from my teachers, enlightened thinking began with the Greeks, was codified by the Romans, and was resurrected after the Dark Ages in the Renaissance where it grew into the humanist and democratic beliefs that bubbled up in Europe in the 18th Century and reached its culmination is the set of beliefs and practices widely known as western civilisation.

(Gandhi was once asked what he thought of western civilisation, and said he thought it would be a good idea.)

This view, of course, completely ignores the fact that Europe was a backwater until at least the 16th Century, and all the time inventions and advances and discoveries in the rest of the world laid the foundations upon which Europe would later stand.

Let’s leave for today the great kingdoms of Kush, Nri, Songhai, and Asumite in Africa, the Olmec, Aztec, and Mayans of the Americas, Kutai, Khmer, Dvaravati in South East Asia. In the past months, I’ve been filling my head with the broad swathe of city-states, kingdoms, principalities, and empires that created, maintained, and thrived because of the Silk Road. Not so much a road, but rather a rambling plaided string of trade routes from China and India to the Mediterranean Sea by diverse ways.

This was the mixing ground of cultures, ideas (including religious ideas), new technologies, and products. Above all, products: silk, paper, and spices travelling West; carpets, jewels, drugs, metal, glass, and other trade goods travelling East.

To hear the Venetians tell the story, they started the whole thing. In fact, they were very late into the game. One of the main western arteries did come first, established in Persia. It was the old Persian Royal Road, with postal stations along the route. The pony express was nothing new. The Persian route was established close to 2,500 years ago.

2,250 years ago, an emperor of China, struggling to keep the horse nomads of the north out of his land, sent an envoy west looking for help. Zhang Qian’s expedition led to trade deals to purchase the larger faster horses the envoy found in central Asia. Silk for horses. The Chinese beat of their enemies, and settled down to consolidate the trade, while from the other end the Parthians (who now controlled Persia) were doing the same.

For 2000 years, the Silk Road was how China got its western goods, and places as far distant from China as England got its silks and spices. Then, in the 15th Century, the rising Ottoman Empire blocked European merchants from using the routes, impelling them to find a sea route. Columbus went west, and Vasco da Gama south. And the rest is history.

If you’d like to know more, this 10:30 minute video is entertaining and interesting.

Huh! How about that. I set out to write about the Kopet Dag mountains between Turkmenistan and Iran, and the place of their inhabitants in the silk routes, and I’ve got all excited about ancient history. Another time, perhaps. Meanwhile, feel free to look at the novella I have in the Bluestocking Belles 2016 box set. Called The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, it features as hero a young man who grew up in a small kaganate high in the Kopet Dag mountains. The link is to my book page, which in turn links to the first two chapters.


What’s love got to do with one of the earliest typewriters?

happy-5th-anniversary-quotes-0Did you know that one of the earliest typewriters was invented by a man for the woman he loved, who was going blind? She used the typewriter to write letters to her friends, including to the inventor. Isn’t that a cool story?

Having heard that at a seminar recently (on Web Accessibility, if you would believe it), I went looking for inventions inspired by love, and here’s part of my list.

There’s the ‘funky’ shopping cart invented by the man whose wife couldn’t carry the shopping bags and didn’t want ‘an old lady shopping trundler’.

There’s the man who invented a faster hair dryer (though that might have been impatience rather than love).

Almost two decades before Alexander Bell, an Italian immigrant invented a voice communication device to link his basement laboratory to the second-floor bedroom of his bedridden wife.

What about the sound technician married to a woman with cystic fibrosis that invented a device using sound to break up mucus in his beloved’s lungs?

The same desire to make life better for a loved one inspired two women. One invented a shirt that her husband could close with magnets so that his Parkinson’s did not prevent him from dressing himself. One created a belt that let her husband take the equipment that constantly cleansed his blood out onto the golf course, giving him back his freedom.

And then there’s familial love. For example, two rather famous men reckon they owed their invention to their mother’s love.


Go wash out your mouth!

Historic romance authors, like a microcosm of society at large, vary in their approach to the expletives they put in their characters’ mouths. Some happily use the swearwords common in the 21st century; some go for non-offensive and archaic; some true for realism, however odd it might sound to our modern ears.

If you are a writer or a reader in the later camp, you’ll love this article from Salon. (It’s from 2013, but new to me.) A swear word, by their definition, is a word that is not intended to carry a literal meaning, but is intended to shock, offend, and otherwise arouse emotion.

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (subtitled A DICTIONARY OF BUCKISH SLANG, UNIVERSITY WIT, AND PICKPOCKET ELOQUENCE), published in 1795 and updated in 1811, is a great resource if you want to know what words were in use in England in the early 19th Century. Here’s the foreword.

The merit of Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue has been long and universally acknowledged. But its circulation was confined almost exclusively to the lower orders of society: he was not aware, at the time of its compilation, that our young men of fashion would at no very distant period be as distinguished for the vulgarity of their jargon as the inhabitants of Newgate; and he therefore conceived it superfluous to incorporate with his work the few examples of fashionable slang that might occur to his observation.

But our Jehus of rank have a phraseology not less peculiar to themselves, than the disciples of Barrington: for the uninitiated to understand their modes of expression, is as impossible as for a Buxton to construe the Greek Testament. To sport an Upper Benjamin, and to swear with a good grace, are qualifications easily attainable by their cockney imitators; but without the aid of our additional definitions, neither the cits of Fish-street, nor the boors of Brentford would be able to attain the language of whippism. We trust, therefore, that the whole tribe of second-rate Bang Ups, will feel grateful for our endeavour to render this part of the work as complete as possible. By an occasional reference to our pages, they may be initiated into all the peculiarities of language by which the man of spirit is distinguished from the man of worth. They may now talk bawdy before their papas, without the fear of detection, and abuse their less spirited companions, who prefer a good dinner at home to a glorious UP-SHOT in the highway, without the hazard of a cudgelling.

But we claim not merely the praise of gratifying curiosity, or affording assistance to the ambitious; we are very sure that the moral influence of the Lexicon Balatronicum will be more certain and extensive than that of any methodist sermon that has ever been delivered within the bills of mortality. We need not descant on the dangerous impressions that are made on the female mind, by the remarks that fall incidentally from the lips of the brothers or servants of a family; and we have before observed, that improper topics can with our assistance be discussed, even before the ladies, without raising a blush on the cheek of modesty. It is impossible that a female should understand the meaning of TWIDDLE DIDDLES, or rise from table at the mention of BUCKINGER’S BOOT. Besides, Pope assures us, that “VICE TO BE HATED NEEDS BUT TO BE SEEN;” in this volume it cannot be denied, that she is seen very plainly; and a love of virtue is, therefore, the necessary result of perusing it.

The propriety of introducing the UNIVERSITY SLANG will be readily admitted; it is not less curious than that of the College in the Old Bailey, and is less generally understood. When the number and accuracy of our additions are compared with the price of the volume, we have no doubt that its editors will meet with the encouragement that is due to learning, modesty, and virtue.


Sunday retrospective

time-machineToday’s Sunday retrospective reaches back to the second half of October 2014, when I was writing the last third of Farewell to Kindness. I was reporting progress—and hiccups—as I went. I finished the month with a photo of the printed first draft of Farewell to Kindness and the heading #amediting. A couple of days before that, I posted a list called ‘Editing the book’ — everything I needed to do between finishing the first draft and sending the book for beta reading.

Criminal injustice was the post I wrote when I found out about the sea change in the British criminal justice system, and how this affected my plot. In 1807,  the old system was no longer working and the new system had not been invented.

Our modern view is that one law should apply to all. It doesn’t always work. Money buys better lawyers, for a start. But the basic principle is that we have laws that lay down the crime and the range of punishments, and judges who look at the circumstances and apply penalties without fear or favour.

The pre-19th century situation in England was far, far different.

I also posted on why I changed the name of my heroine in Farewell to Kindness in a blog post with the longest titleI have ever written: Ewww, just ewww: or the cautionary tale of the perils of naming characters in a whole lot of books at once and then starting one without reference to the real world.

I waxed philosophical about romance writing as a genre in a couple of posts that largely picked up what other people were saying:

  • Fear of vulnerability reports on research that suggests fear of vulnerability underpins the common dismissal of the romance genre by readers of other types of fiction
  • Romance novels are feminist novels has excerpts from a much longer article that directly confronts the view that all romance novels are trivial, and turns it on its head.

The first review I published on my website was for the wonderful Lady Beauchamp’s Proposal. Four months later, I was thrilled to find author Amy Rose Bennett as another potential Bluestocking Belle, and we’ve been colleagues and allies ever since.

And I also published a review of Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. In less than a fortnight, I’m hosting a Belles’ Book Club discussing another of the Maiden Lane series, Scandalous Desires. Elizabeth has agreed to pop in for an hour, so don’t miss it. You can join the event here:


Curious facts on WIP Wednesday

LiverpoolAuthors often joke about how a law enforcement agency might react to their Internet search history. We need all kinds of curious facts and odd pieces of knowledge to give strength and depth to our plots, and make them accurate. Even writers who set their stories in a totally imaginary world of fantasy or science fiction need their creations to be believable, and historical fiction writers spend huge amounts of time checking the details of background, custom, clothing, manners, and history so that they don’t make errors that will throw a knowledgeable reader out of the story.

Some of it makes its way into the story. Some of it never does. I spent three days this month researching historical Liverpool for the two chapters where David and Gren pursue investigations in that city, and barely any of it actually appears on the page. Sigh. And a further hour’s research into canals just confirmed that a single sentence was historically possible.

Today, on work-in-progress Wednesday, I’m asking you to post about a curious fact or an interesting piece of research, and show us an excerpt in which you used (or didn’t use but were aware of) that information.

Mine is from Embracing Prudence and is the only place my Liverpool research provide context and texture to the story.

Liverpool was large and busy and smelly. England’s second biggest port, dominating Bristol and rivalling even London, its docks were a forest of ships’ masts and spars surrounded by a cacophony of loading and unloading that began at first light and continued until it was too dark to see.

“Abolition will hit them hard,” Gren observed, as they strolled to the offices of the man they had come to see.

“Disgusting trade,” David observed. Liverpool had built its wealth on the Triangle Trade: cheap manufactured goods and guns from its hinterland to Africa, to be traded to chiefs for the live bodies of their enemies. Men, women, and children across the Atlantic to the islands of the Carribean, to be traded for sugar and cotton and other tropical products. Sugar and cotton back across to Liverpool, to be fed into the manufactories that supplied the United Kingdom and beyond.

But even in Liverpool, hard though many had argued the economic costs of stopping the trade, support for abolition had grown these last twenty-five years. The Abolition Bill currently before Parliament was in its final readings, and likely this time to pass where so many had failed. Had some of the local merchants seen the signs of the times and decided to diversify? And applied the same ruthless disregard for human life to the fur trade?

They climbed the stairs to the offices in a substantial building off one of the main thoroughfares leading up from the river. Atkins had a sign on the door saying ‘Thos. Atkins, Discreet Enquiries’, and two clerks in the outer office.


The quadroon concubines of New Orleans on Wanton Weekends


In New Orleans at the end of the 18th Century, a wealthy white man would generally live on his plantation with his wife and children, but he would also have a townhouse in New Orleans where his other family lived: his quadroon mistress and the children he had made with her.

To the men and women involved, these marriages de la main gauche (left-handed marriages) were honourable arrangements. The women were faithful to their protectors, and the men were expected to provide for their children. It was what a gentleman did.

Girls were as carefully raised and protected as their white counterparts, and, when they were old enough, introduced to wealthy white men at the weekly quadroon balls – elegant affairs that only white men and quadroon women were permitted to attend. A man attracted to a particular girl would need to negotiate with her mother, and she would probably insist of various protections in writing before the girl was allowed to move into the house her new protectors would purchase for her.

As time passed, institutionalised racism grew, and the system was no longer officially sanctioned. This made it easier for the legal wife and ‘legitimate’ children to cheat the placée and her children out of their inheritance.

By the end of the reconstruction period following the American Civil War, many families of former placées were impoverished, and their daughters had few options. However, their beauty, education, grace, and charm meant success in the city’s sex trade, as courtesans and madams. Their grandmothers and greatgrandmothers would have been horrified.

The image shows women at one of the last of the quadroon balls.


The floating world on Wanton Weekends

Last week’s post was about a woman of business at the top of her profession. For today, I’m moving to the other side of the Eurasian land-mass, two thousand years forward in time, and to the bottom of the pecking order.

In 17th Century Japan, new laws restricted brothels to specific quarters, where they could be regulated and taxed. Men regarded a visit to ‘the floating world’ as an opportunity to escape their highly regulated lives. Their wives were expected to dress modestly and serve their husbands. For passion and love, the warriors, merchants, and lords of Japan looked to the floating world.

Women were sold into the brothels, often from poor farmer or fisher families, aged 7 or 8, and grew up doing chores and tending the courtesans. Compared to where they came from, the brothels were better – sufficient food, light work, a clean place to sleep.

Those that showed ability began their courtesan training at 11 or 12. A courtesan needed to be well read, talented at music and drawing, able to entertain in and out of bed. Every lesson they learned; every item of clothing they wore, every hairclip and pot of cosmetics was charged to the debt they owed the brothel.

Once they ‘graduated’ (by having their virginity auctioned to the highest bidder), they worked long hours, even when they were sick or menstruating. They had quotas to fill, with most of the purchase fee for their time going to the brothel and little finding its way into their hands.

Their only hope of a different life was to attract the attention of someone willing and able to buy their debt.

Some, of course, reached the top of their profession, becoming high-ranking courtesans with some choice about who they entertained. Most remained low-ranking prostitutes, available to lower-ranked and poorer men. In Yoshigawa in 1642, 102 courtesans were listed, compared to 881 prostitutes.

Many prostitutes died by the time they were 20, of venereal disease or lead poisoning from the cosmetics they wore, or during or after childbirth. In one graveyard, more than 21,000 prostitutes were buried ‘without connection’; that is, without anyone to pay their funeral costs.

For more, see:…/the-tragic-life-of-the-c…/