Lady Brassey – Traveler

Lady Brassey – Traveler

I think it is fitting for me to begin this exploration of Sarah R. Bolton’s list of Famous Women with someone I can truly relate to, Lady Brassey.   She saw the world through sailing with her husband.  The following is an introductory excerpt to this part of Lady Brassey’s life.

“In 1869, after Sir Thomas and Lady Brassey had been nine years married, they determined to take a sea-voyage in his yacht, and between this time and 1872 they made two cruises in the Mediterranean and the East.  From her childhood the wife had kept a journal, and from fine powers of observation and much general knowledge was well fitted to see whatever was to be seen, and describe it graphically.  She wrote long, journal-like letters to her father, and on her return The Flight of the Meteor was prepared for distribution among relatives and intimate friends.

In the year last mentioned, 1872, they took a trip to Canada and the United States, sailing up several of the long rivers, and on her return, A Cruise in the Eothen was published for friends.

Four years later they decided to go round the world, and for this purpose the beautiful yacht, Sunbeam was built.  The children, the animal pets, two dogs, three birds, and a Persian kitten for the baby, were all taken, and the happy family left England July 1, 1876.”



This is the woman with whom has already been and touched areas of the world I’m just beginning to experience.  I think it will be most enjoyable visit with this woman through this chapter in Sarah’s book along with my personal reading of Lady Brassey’s most famously published book, A Voyage in the Sunbeam/Our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months and her final writing called, The Last Voyage.

The use of the featured image is attributed to “Annie Brassey” by Thoms Brassey(Life time: 1918) – Original publication: Sunbeam RYS voyages & experiences in many watersImmediate source: original copy of ok. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia –

Getting Underway

The Brasseys departed from the port at Chatham UK on July 1st 1876.  A few days shy of a century of Independance of America.  They headed out to the Channel, where they would take a southerly course toward Hastings, Beachy Head, Brighton, and dropping anchor at Cowes at six pm on the fifth day of their journey.  So, far they have had smooth sailing and even a day for swimming.

Google map balloon is at Chatham, Follow the Sheerness out to the channel and then south along the coast.  You will find Cowes off the tip of the Isle of Wright in the Solent at the bottom left corner.  Click for Map View

The ship on which the Brassey’s headed out to explore the world via sea for nearly a year was a Screw Composite Three-Masted Topsail-Yard Schooner.  I doubt that I could say that three times fast!  She was designed by Mr. St. Clair Byrne and Christened, “Sunbeam.”  She had twin Messrs. Laird 350 hp engines with running speed tested at 10.3 knots.  She held 80 tons of coal and burned 4 tons a day.  Under sail she could run at 8 knots in calm weather.  She was 175ft in length, beam 27 feet 6 inches.  Her displacement was 531 tons with mid-ships 202 square feet.

Click to view the Sunbeam

What is of more interest to me than the details of the Sunbeam’s build is what came on board with the family for this trip.  Check this out:  43 people, 2 dogs, 3 birds, and a persian kitten for the baby which was lost at sea.  (The kitten – not the baby).

Rough Seas

The winds picked up on the afternoon of the tenth day at sea.  Water washed across decks to which the kids “armed with sponges and buckets waged a mock war.”  The small town on board (43 people, amazing.) were without a dry place to sit.  In fact, they had to wedge or lash themselves down to stay on deck.  According to Lady Brassey, no one minded as they were making 10 knots under sail.  Lady Brassey description of the sea at the time, “We were all sitting or standing about the stern of the vessel, admiring the magnificent dark blue billows following us, with their curling white crests, mountains high. Each wave, as it approached, appeared as if it must overwhelm us, instead of which, it rushed grandly by, rolling and shaking us from stem to stern, and sending fountains of spray on board.”  But, there was a near tragic event a few hours later.

A new crewman was steering and broached a bit in response to the approach of a large wave.   Captain Brown, Dr. Potter, Muriel, and Lady Brassey were standing in the aft companion.  “Captain Lecky, seated on a large coil of rope, placed on the box of the rudder, was spinning Mabelle a yarn.”  Allnut and Tom were between the quarter deck and aft companion looking at the stern compass.  That wave sent water clean over the head of Allnut shoving him overboard.  The return wave pulled more water over the boat putting Captain Lecky and Mabelle in extreme danger, “Captain Lecky and Mabelle were seated, was completely floated by the sea. Providentially, however, he had taken a double turn round his wrist with a reefing point, and, throwing his other arm round Mabelle, held on like grim death; otherwise nothing could have saved them. She was perfectly self-possessed, and only said quietly, ‘Hold on, Captain Lecky, hold on!’ to which he replied, ‘All right.’ I asked her afterwards if she thought she was going overboard, and she answered, ‘I did not think at all, mamma, but felt sure we were gone.’  Captain Brown had the presence of mind to yell that he was the only who wasn’t all wet as his head was dry.  Repairs were made and the ship under the steerage of Captain Lecky put all back in order.

However, Lady Brasset ended up soaking wet after being asleep in her bed a few hours later.  It was a rather forceful rush of water that hit her due to the opening of her skylight by a crewman who knew she liked fresh air.  The seas were more manageable but not enough to open a “window.”  I must allow Lady Brassey to tell the rest of the story, “I got a light, and proceeded to mop up, as best I could, and then endeavoured to find a dry place to sleep in. This, however, was no easy task, for my own bed was drenched, and every other berth occupied. The deck, too, was ankle-deep in water, as I found when I tried to get across to the deck-house sofa. At last I lay down on the floor, wrapped up in my ulster, and wedged between the foot stanchion of our swing bed and the wardrobe athwart-ship; so that as the yacht rolled heavily, my feet were often higher than my head. Consequently, what sleep I snatched turned into nightmare, of which the fixed idea was a broken head from the three hundredweight of lead at the bottom of our bed, swinging wildly from side to side and up and down, as the vessel rolled and pitched, suggesting all manner of accidents.”  Oh, the stories we who venture out can tell!

Nearly Overboard

Nearly Overboard


The Sunbeam dropped anchor the bay of Funchal Madeira, Portugal.  This is the first exploration visit.  The kids were excited so the family and some of the crew disembarked, were checked for diseases and declared free to “enter.”  One of the first places they went was on board the ‘Ethiopia’ an African Steamer which arrived the previous day to deliver cargo.  Guess what they returned to the Sunbeam with?  Five parrots.  The children wanted a couple of monkeys as well but according to Captain Dane, they were too large.  I place my bet that the good captain didn’t want monkeys roaming the boat with all its rigging etc.  I certainly wouldn’t.  They get into such mischief!

Lady Brassey’s description of the islands, flora, fauna, and people is detailed and delightful to read.  Here’s one of many journal entries.  “We had service at 4 p.m., and at 5 p.m. went ashore in a native boat, furnished with bilge pieces, to keep her straight when beached, and to avoid the surf, for it was too rough for our own boats. At the water’s edge a curious sort of double sleigh, drawn by two oxen, was waiting. Into this we stepped, setting off with considerable rapidity up the steep shingly beach, under a beautiful row of trees, to the ‘Praça,’ where the greater portion of the population were walking up and down, or sitting under the shade of the magnolias. These plants here attain the size of forest-trees, and their large white wax-like flowers shed a most delightful fragrance on the evening air. There were graceful pepper vines too, and a great variety of trees only known to us in England in the form of small shrubs. This being a festival day, the streets were crowded with people from town and country, in their holiday attire. The door-posts and balconies of the houses were wreathed with flowers, the designs in many cases being very pretty. One arcade in particular was quite lovely, with arches made of double red geranium, mixed with the feathery-looking pepper leaves, while the uprights were covered with amaryllis and white arum lilies. The streets were strewn with roses and branches of myrtle, which, bruised by the feet of the passers-by and the runners of the bullock sleigh, emitted a delicious aromatic odour.

The trellises in the gardens seem overgrown with stephanotis, mauve and purple passion-flowers, and all kinds of rare creepers, the purple and white hibiscus shoots up Page 16some fourteen to sixteen feet in height; bananas, full of fruit and flower, strelitzias, heliotrope, geraniums, and pelargoniums, bloom all around in large shrubs, mixed with palms and mimosas of every variety; and the whole formed such an enchanting picture that we were loth to tear ourselves away.”

The family and much of the staff explored the islands and not just the towns but up to high places as  well.  I have two favorites stories out of the many trips taken.  The first is the visit to the Mount above Funchal.  They made the ascent on horseback and the way down, Lady Brassey’s description, ” Our descent of the Mount, by means of a form of conveyance commonly used on the island, was very amusing. At the summit we found basket-work sleighs, each constructed to hold two people, and attended by a couple of men, lashed together. Into these we stepped, and were immediately pushed down the hill at a tremendous pace. The gliding motion is delightful, and was altogether a novelty to us. The men manage the sleighs with great skill, steering them in the most wonderful manner round the sharp angles in the zigzag road, and making use of their bare feet as brakes when necessary. The turns were occasionally so abrupt, that it seemed almost impossible that we could avoid being upset; but we reached the bottom quite safely. The children were especially delighted with the trip, and indeed we all enjoyed it immensely. The only danger is the risk of fire from the friction of the steel runners against the gravel road.”  Guess what folks.  The ride down is still available.

The second story that I like is the climb to the summit of


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