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One of my pleasantest days in England was spent at old Battle Abbey,
the scene of the ever-memorable Battle of Hastings, where William of
Normandy conquered the Saxon Harold.
The abbey was built by William as a thank-offering for the victory, on
the spot where Harold set up his standard. The old gateway is one of
the finest in England. Part of the ancient church remains, flowers and
ivy growing out of the beautiful gothic arches.
As one stands upon the w
lls and looks out upon the sea, that great
battle comes up before him. The Norman hosts disembark; first come the
archers in short tunics, with bows as tall as themselves and quivers
full of arrows; then the knights in coats of mail, with long lances
and two-edged swords; Duke William steps out last from the ship, and
falls foremost on both hands. His men gather about him in alarm, but
he says, "See, my lords, I have taken possession of England with both
my hands. It is now mine, and what is mine is yours."
Word is sent to Harold to surrender the throne, but he returns answer
as haughty as is sent. Brave and noble, he plants his standard, a
warrior sparkling with gold and precious stones, and thus addresses
his men:--
"The Normans are good knights, and well used to war. If they pierce
our ranks, we are lost. Cleave, and do not spare!" Then they build
up a breastwork of shields, which no man can pass alive. William of
Normandy is ready for action. He in turn addresses his men: "Spare
not, and strike hard. There will be booty for all. It will be in vain
to ask for peace; the English will not give it. Flight is impossible;
at the sea you will find neither ship nor bridge; the English would
overtake and annihilate you there. The victory is in our hands."
From nine till three the battle rages. The case becomes desperate.
William orders the archers to fire into the air, as they cannot pierce
English armor, and arrows fall down like rain upon the Saxons. Harold
is pierced in the eye. He is soon overcome and trampled to death by
the enemy, dying, it is said, with the words "Holy Cross" upon his
Ten thousand are killed on either side, and the Saxons pass forever
under foreign rule. Harold's mother comes and begs the body of her
son, and pays for it, some historians say, its weight in gold.
Every foot of ground at Battle Abbey is historic, and all the country
round most interesting. We drive over the smoothest of roads to a
palace in the distance,--Normanhurst, the home of Lady Brassey, the
distinguished author and traveller. Towers are at either corner and
in the centre, and ivy climbs over the spacious vestibule to the roof.
Great buildings for waterworks, conservatories, and the like, are
adjoining, in the midst of flower-gardens and acres of lawn and
forest. It is a place fit for the abode of royalty itself.
In no home have I seen so much that is beautiful gathered from all
parts of the world. The hall, as you enter, square and hung with
crimson velvet, is adorned with valuable paintings. Two easy-chairs
before the fireplace are made from ostriches, their backs forming the
seats. These birds were gifts to Lady Brassey in her travels. In the
rooms beyond are treasures from Japan, the South Sea Islands, South
America, indeed from everywhere; cases of pottery, works in marble,
Dresden candelabra, ancient armor, furs, silks, all arrayed with
exquisite taste.
One room, called the Marie Antoinette room, has the curtains and
furniture, in yellow, of this unfortunate queen. Here are pictures by
Sir Frederick Leighton, Landseer, and others; stuffed birds and
fishes and animals from every clime, with flowers in profusion. In
the dining-room, with its gray walls and red furniture, is a large
painting of the mistress of this superb home, with her favorite horse
and dogs. The views from the windows are beautiful, Battle Abbey ruin
in the distance, and rivers flowing to the sea. The house is rich in
color, one room being blue, another red, a third yellow, while large
mirrors seem to repeat the apartments again and again. As we leave the
home, not the least of its attractions come up the grounds,--a load of
merry children, all in sailor hats; the Mabelle and Muriel and Marie
whom we have learned to know in Lady Brassey's books.
The well-known author is the daughter of the late Mr. John Alnutt of
Berkley Square, London, who, as well as his father, was a patron of
art, having made large collections of paintings. Reared in wealth and
culture, it was but natural that the daughter, Annie, should find
in the wealthy and cultured Sir Thomas Brassey a man worthy of her
affections. In 1860, while both were quite young, they were married,
and together they have travelled, written books, aided working men and
women, and made for themselves a noble and lasting fame.
Sir Thomas is the eldest son of the late Mr. Brassey, "the leviathan
contractor, the employer of untold thousands of navvies, the genie of
the spade and pick, and almost the pioneer of railway builders, not
only in his own country, but from one end of the continent to the
other." Of superior education, having been at Rugby and University
College, Oxford, Sir Thomas was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in
1864, and was elected to Parliament from Devonport the following year,
and from Hastings three years later, in 1868, which position he has
filled ever since.
Exceedingly fond of the sea, he determined to be a practical sailor,
and qualified himself as a master-marine, by passing the requisite
Board of Trade examination, and receiving a certificate as a seaman
and navigator. In 1869 he was made Honorary Lieutenant in the Royal
Naval Reserve.
Besides his parliamentary work, he has been an able and voluminous
writer. His _Foreign Work and English Wages_ I purchased in England,
and have found it valuable in facts and helpful in spirit. The
statement in the preface that he "has had under consideration the
expediency of retiring from Parliament, with the view of devoting an
undivided attention to the elucidation of industrial problems, and
the improvement of the relations between capital and labor," shows the
heart of the man. In 1880 he was made Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and
in 1881 was created by the Queen a Knight Commander of the Order
of the Bath, for his important services in connection with the
organization of the Naval Reserve forces of the country.
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. With
the crew, the whole number of persons on board was forty-three.
Almost at the beginning of the voyage they encountered a severe storm.
Captain Lecky would have been lost but for the presence of mind of
Mabelle Brassey, the oldest daughter, who has her mother's courage
and calmness. When asked if she thought she was going overboard, she
answered, "I did not think at all, mamma, but felt sure we were gone."
"Soon after this adventure," says Lady Brassey, "we all went to bed,
full of thanksgiving that it had ended as well as it did; but, alas,
not, so far as I was concerned, to rest in peace. In about two hours I
was awakened by a tremendous weight of water suddenly descending upon
me and flooding the bed. I immediately sprang out, only to find myself
in another pool on the floor. It was pitch dark, and I could not think
what had happened; so I rushed on deck, and found that the weather
having moderated a little, some kind sailor, knowing my love of fresh
air, had opened the skylight rather too soon, and one of the angry
waves had popped on board, deluging the cabin.
"I got a light, and proceeded to mop up, as best I could, and then
endeavored 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 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."
No wonder that a woman who could make the best of such circumstances
could make a year's trip on the _Sunbeam_ a delight to all on board.
Their first visits were to the Madeira, Teneriffe, and Cape de Verde
Islands, off the coast of Africa. With simplicity, the charm of all
writing, and naturalness, Lady Brassey describes the people, the
bathing where the sharks were plentiful, and the masses of wild
geranium, hydrangea, and fuchsia. They climb to the top of the lava
Peak of Teneriffe, over twelve thousand feet high; they rise at
five o'clock to see the beautiful sunrises; they watch the slaves at
coffee-raising at Rio de Janeiro, in South America, and Lady Brassey
is attracted toward the nineteen tiny babies by the side of their
mothers; "the youngest, a dear, little woolly-headed thing, as black
as jet, and only three weeks old."
In Belgrano, she says: "We saw for the first time the holes of the
bizcachas, or prairie-dogs, outside which the little prairie-owls keep
guard. There appeared to be always one, and generally two, of these
birds, standing like sentinels, at the entrance to each hole, with
their wise-looking heads on one side, pictures of prudence and
watchfulness. The bird and the beast are great friends, and are seldom
to be found apart." And then Lady Brassey, who understands photography
as well as how to write several languages, photographs this pretty
scene of prairie-dogs guarded by owls, and puts it in her book.
On their way to the Straits of Magellan, they see a ship on fire. They
send out a boat to her, and bring in the suffering crew of fifteen
men, almost wild with joy to be rescued. Their cargo of coal had been
on fire for four days. The men were exhausted, the fires beneath
their feet were constantly growing hotter, and finally they gave up in
despair and lay down to die. But the captain said, "There is One above
who looks after us all," and again they took courage. They lashed the
two apprentice boys in one of the little boats, for fear they would be
washed overboard, for one was the "only son of his mother, and she a
"The captain," says Lady Brassey, "drowned his favorite dog, a
splendid Newfoundland, just before leaving the ship; for although a
capital watchdog and very faithful, he was rather large and fierce;
and when it was known that the _Sunbeam_ was a yacht with ladies and
children on board, he feared to introduce him. Poor fellow! I wish I
had known about it in time to save his life!"
They "steamed past the low sandy coast of Patagonia and the rugged
mountains of Tierra del Fuego, literally, Land of Fire, so called from
the custom the inhabitants have of lighting fires on prominent points
as signals of assembly." The people are cannibals, and naked. "Their
food is of the most meagre description, and consists mainly of
shell-fish, sea-eggs, for which the women dive with much dexterity,
and fish, which they train their dogs to assist them in catching.
These dogs are sent into the water at the entrance of a narrow creek
or small bay, and they then bark and flounder about and drive the fish
before them into shallow water, where they are caught."
Three of these Fuegians, a man, woman, and lad, come out to the yacht
in a craft made of planks rudely tied together with the sinews of
animals, and give otter skins for "tobaco and galleta" (biscuit), for
which they call. When Lady Brassey gives the lad and his mother some
strings of blue, red, and green glass beads, they laugh and jabber
most enthusiastically. Their paddles are "split branches of trees,
with wider pieces tied on at one end, with the sinews of birds or
beasts." At the various places where they land, all go armed, Lady
Brassey herself being well skilled in their use.
She never forgets to do a kindness. In Chili she hears that a poor
engine-driver, an Englishman, has met with a serious accident, and at
once hastens to see him. He is delighted to hear about the trip of the
_Sunbeam_, and forgets for a time his intense suffering in his joy at
seeing her.
In Santiago she describes a visit to the ruin of the Jesuit church,
where, Dec. 8, 1863, at the Feast of the Virgin, two thousand persons,
mostly women and children, were burned to death. A few were drawn up
through a hole in the roof and thus saved.
Their visit to the South Sea Islands is full of interest. At Bow
Island Lady Brassey buys two tame pigs for twenty-five cents each,
which are so docile that they follow her about the yacht with the
dogs, to whom they took a decided fancy. She calls one Agag, because
he walks so delicately on his toes. The native women break cocoanuts
and offer them the milk to drink. At Maitea the natives are puzzled to
know why the island is visited. "No sell brandy?" they ask. "No."
"No stealy men?" "No." "No do what then?" The chief receives most
courteously, cutting down a banana-tree for them, when they express a
wish for bananas. He would receive no money for his presents to them.
In Tahiti a feast is given in their honor, in a house seemingly made
of banana-trees, "the floor covered with the finest mats, and
the centre strewn with broad green plantain leaves, to form the
table-cloth.... Before each guest was placed a half-cocoanut full of
salt water, another full of chopped cocoanut, a third full of fresh
water, and another full of milk, two pieces of bamboo, a basket of
poi, half a breadfruit, and a platter of green leaves, the latter
being changed with each course. We took our seats on the ground round
the green table. The first operation was to mix the salt water and
the chopped cocoanut together, so as to make an appetizing sauce, into
which we were supposed to dip each morsel we ate. We were tolerably
successful in the use of our fingers as substitutes for knives and
At the Sandwich Islands, in Hilo, they visit the volcano of Kilauea.
They descend the precipice, three hundred feet, which forms the wall
of the old crater. They ascend the present crater, and stand on the
"edge of a precipice, overhanging a lake of molten fire, a hundred
feet below us, and nearly a mile across. Dashing against the cliffs on
the opposite side, with a noise like the roar of a stormy ocean,
waves of blood-red, fiery liquid lava hurled their billows upon an
iron-bound headland, and then rushed up the face of the cliffs to toss
their gory spray high in the air."
They pass the island of Molokai, where the poor lepers end their days
away from home and kindred. At Honolulu they are entertained by the
Prince, and then sail for Japan, China, Ceylon, through Suez, stopping
in Egypt, and then home. On their arrival, Lady Brassey says, "How
can I describe the warm greetings that met us everywhere, or the crowd
that surrounded us; how, along the whole ten miles from Hastings to
Battle, people were standing by the roadside and at the cottage doors
to welcome us; how the Battle bell-ringers never stopped ringing
except during service time; or how the warmest of welcomes ended our
delightful year of travel and made us feel we were home at last, with
thankful hearts for the providential care which had watched over us
whithersoever we roamed!"
The trip had been one of continued ovation. Crowds had gathered in
every place to see the _Sunbeam_, and often trim her with flowers from
stem to stern. Presents of parrots, and kittens, and pigs abounded,
and Lady Brassey had cared tenderly for them all. Christmas was
observed on ship-board with gifts for everybody; thoughtfulness
and kindness had made the trip a delight to the crew as well as the
The letters sent home from the _Sunbeam_ were so thoroughly enjoyed
by her father and friends, that they prevailed upon her to publish a
book, which she did in 1878. It was found to be as full of interest
to the world as it had been to the intimate friends, and it passed
rapidly through four editions. An abridged edition appeared in the
following year; then the call for it was so great that an edition
was prepared for reading in schools, in 1880, and finally, in 1881, a
twelve-cent edition, that the poor as well as the rich might have an
opportunity of reading this fascinating book, _Around the World in
the Yacht Sunbeam_. And now Lady Brassey found herself not only the
accomplished and benevolent wife of a member of Parliament, but a
famous author as well.
This year, July, 1881, the King of the Sandwich Islands, who had been
greatly pleased with her description of his kingdom, was entertained
at Normanhurst Castle, and invested Lady Brassey with the Order of
The next trip made was to the far East, and a book followed in 1880,
entitled, _Sunshine and Storm in the East; or, Cruises to Cyprus and
Constantinople_, dedicated "to the brave, true-hearted sailors of
England, of all ranks and services."
The book is intensely interesting. Now she describes the Sultan going
to the mosque, which he does every Friday at twelve o'clock. "He
appeared in a sort of undress uniform, with a flowing cloak over
it, and with two or three large diamond stars on his breast. He was
mounted on a superb white Arab charger, thirty-three years old,
whose saddle-cloths and trappings blazed with gold and diamonds. The
following of officers on foot was enormous; and then came two hundred
of the fat blue and gold pashas, with their white horses and brilliant
trappings, the rear being brought up by some troops and a few
carriages.... Nobody dares address the Sultan, even if he speaks to
them, except in monosyllables, with their foreheads almost touching
the floor, the only exception being the grand vizier, who dares not
look up, but stands almost bent double. He is entirely governed by his
mother, who, having been a slave of the very lowest description, to
whom his father, Mahmoud II., took a fancy as she was carrying wood
to the bath, is naturally bigoted and ignorant.... The Sultan is not
allowed to marry, but the slaves who become mothers of his children
are called sultanas, and not allowed to do any more work. They have a
separate suite of apartments, a retinue of servants, besides carriages
and horses, and each hopes some day to be the mother of the future
Sultan, and therefore the most prominent woman in Turkey. The sultanas
may not sit at table with their own children, on account of their
having been slaves, while the children are princes and princesses in
right of their father."
Lady Brassey tells the amusing story of a visit of Eugenie to the
Sultan's mother, when the Empress of the French saluted her on the
cheek. The Turkish woman was furious, and said she had never been so
insulted in her life. "She retired to bed at once, was bled, and had
several Turkish baths, to purify her from the pollution. Fancy the
Empress' feelings when, after having so far condescended as to kiss
the old woman, born one of the lowest of slaves, she had her embrace
received in such a manner."
The habits and customs of the people are described by Lady Brassey
with all the interest of a novel. On their return home, "again the
Battle bells rang out a merry peal of gladness; again everybody rushed
out to welcome us. At home once again, the servants and the animals
seemed equally glad to see us back; the former looked the picture of
happiness, while the dogs jumped and barked; the horses and ponies
neighed and whinnied; the monkeys chattered; the cockatoos and parrots
screamed; the birds chirped; the bullfinches piped their little paean
of welcome.... Our old Sussex cowman says that even the cows eat their
food 'kind of kinder like' when the family are at home. The deer and
the ostriches too, the swans and the call ducks, all came running to
meet us, as we drove round the place to see them." Kindness to both
man and beast bears its legitimate fruit.
Two years later she prepared the letter-press to _Tahiti: a Series of
Photographs_, taken by Colonel Stuart Wortley. He also is a gentleman
of much culture and noble work, in whose home we saw beautiful things
gathered from many lands.
The last long trip of Sir Thomas and Lady Brassey was made in the fall
of 1883, and resulted in a charming book, _In the Trades, the Tropics,
and the Roaring Forties_, with about three hundred illustrations. The
route lay through Madeira, Trinidad, Venezuela, the Bahamas, and home
by way of the Azores. The resources of the various islands, their
history, and their natural formation, are ably told, showing much
study as well as intelligent observation. The maps and charts are also
valuable. At Trinidad they visit the fine Botanic Gardens, and see
bamboos, mangoes, peach-palms, and cocoa-plants, from whose seeds
chocolate is made. The quantity exported annually is 13,000,000
They also visit great coffee plantations. "The leaves of the
coffee-shrub," says Lady Brassey, "are of a rich, dark, glossy green;
the flowers, which grow in dense white clusters, when in full bloom,
giving the bushes the appearance of being covered with snow. The
berries vary in color from pale green to reddish orange or dark
red, according to their ripeness, and bear a strong resemblance to
cherries. Each contains two seeds, which, when properly dried, become
what is known to us as 'raw' coffee."
At Caracas they view with interest the place which, on March 26,
1812, was nearly destroyed by an earthquake, twelve thousand persons
perishing, thousands of whom were buried alive by the opening of
the ground. They study the formation of coral-reefs, and witness the
gathering of sponges in the Bahamas. "These are brought to the surface
by hooked poles, or sometimes by diving. When first drawn from the
water they are covered with a soft gelatinous substance, as black as
tar and full of organic life, the sponge, as we know, being only the
skeleton of the organism."
While all this travelling was being enjoyed, and made most useful
as well, to hundreds of thousands of readers, Lady Brassey was not
forgetting her works of philanthropy. For years she has been a leading
spirit in the St. John's Ambulance Association. Last October she
gave a valuable address to the members of the "Workingmen's Club and
Institute Union," composed of several hundred societies of workingmen.
Her desire was that each society take up the work of teaching
its members how to care for the body in case of accidents. The
association, now numbering over one hundred thousand persons, is an
offshoot of the ancient order of St. John of Jerusalem, founded eight
hundred years ago, to maintain a hospital for Christian pilgrims. She
says: "The method of arresting bleeding from an artery is so easy that
a child may learn it; yet thousands of lives have been lost through
ignorance, the life-blood ebbing away in the presence of sorrowing
spectators, perfectly helpless, because none among them had been
taught one of the first rudiments of instruction of an ambulance
pupil,--the application of an extemporized tourniquet. Again, how
frequent is the loss of life by drowning; yet how few persons,
comparatively, understand the way to treat properly the apparently
drowned." Lectures are given by this association on, first, aid to the
injured; also on the general management of the sick-room.
Lady Brassey, with the assistance of medical men, has held classes in
all the outlying villages about her home, and has arranged that simple
but useful medical appliances, like plasters, bandages, and the like,
be kept at some convenient centres.
At Trindad, and Bahamas, and Bermudas, when they stayed there in
their travels, she caused to be held large meetings among the most
influential residents; also at Madeira and in the Azores. A class was
organized on board the _Sunbeam_, and lectures were delivered by
a physician. In the Shetland Islands she has also organized these
societies, and thus many lives have been saved. When the soldiers
went to the Soudan, she arranged for these helpful lectures to them
on their voyage East, and among much other reading-matter which
she obtained for them, sent them books and papers on this essential
medical knowledge.
She carries on correspondence with India, Australia, and New Zealand,
where ambulance associations have been formed. For her valued services
she was elected in 1881 a _Dame Chevaliere_ of the Order of St. John
of Jerusalem.
Her work among the poor in the East End of London is admirable. Too
much of this cannot be done by those who are blessed with wealth
and culture. She is also interested in all that helps to educate the
people, as is shown by her Museum of Natural History and Ethnological
Specimens, open for inspection in the School of Fine Art at Hastings.
How valuable is such a life compared with one that uses its time and
money for personal gratification alone.
In August, 1885, Sir Thomas and Lady Brassey took Mr. and Mrs.
Gladstone, and a few other friends, in the _Sunbeam_, up the coast of
Norway. When they landed at Stavanger, a quaint, clean little town,
she says, in the October _Contemporary Review_: "The reception which
we met in this comparatively out-of-the-way place, where our visit had
been totally unexpected, was very striking. From early morning little
groups of townspeople had been hovering about the quays, trying to get
a distant glimpse of the world-renowned statesman who was among our
passengers." When they walked through the town, "every window and
doorway was filled with on-lookers, several flags had been hoisted in
honor of the occasion, and the church bells were set ringing. It was
interesting and touching to see the ex-minister walking up the
narrow street, his hat almost constantly raised in response to the
salutations of the townspeople."
They sail up the fiords, they ride in stolkjoerres over the country,
they climb mountains, they visit old churches, and they dine with the
Prince of Wales on board the royal yacht _Osborne_. Before landing,
Mr. Gladstone addresses the crew, thanking them that "the voyage has
been made pleasant and safe by their high sense of duty, constant
watchfulness, and arduous exertion." While he admires the "rare
knowledge of practical seamanship of Sir Thomas Brassey," and thanks
both him and his wife for their "genial and generous hospitality,"
he does not forget the sailors, for whom he "wishes health and
happiness," and "prays that God may speed you in all you undertake."
Lady Brassey is living a useful and noble as well as intellectual
life. In London, Sir Thomas and herself recently gave a reception to
over a thousand workingmen in the South Kensington Museum. Devoted to
her family, she does not forget the best interests of her country,
nor the welfare of those less fortunate than herself. Successful in
authorship, she is equally successful in good works; loved at home and
honored abroad.

Lady Brassey's last voyage was made in the yacht she loved: the
_Sunbeam_. Three or four years before, her health had received a
serious shock through an attack of typhoid fever, and it was hoped
that travel would restore her. A trip was made in 1887 to Ceylon,
Rangoon, North Borneo and Australia, in company with Lord Brassey,
a son, and three daughters. While in mid-ocean, on their way to
Mauritius, Lady Brassey died of malarial fever, and was buried at sea,
September 14, 1887.