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The American West through British Eyes, 1865 - 1900: Part 1

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The Journey

The level of comfort enjoyed by British travellers varied greatly according to their means. Some toured across the continent in their own private railway carriage, while others, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, could only afford a ticket for the slow and uncomfortable 'emigrant train'. The majority, however, travelled across North America in 'sleeping cars', in which the communal sitting and dining areas were converted to sleeping quarters every night. In general, these travellers were favourably impressed with the transcontinental railroad. They frequently commented on the speed with which the lines had been constructed and the large number of branch-lines. They were more critical of the noise and heat in the cars, the lack of warning before the trains left the stations, and the way in which the inadequate time provided for each stop resulted in a stampede of passengers to a tiny rail-side establishment where the only dining option available was heavy, over-cooked food to be eaten with blunt cutlery.

Morford's Short-Trip Guide to America

Morford's Short-Trip Guide (cover) 5kb
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Morford's Short-Trip Guide to America. New York, 1877. (10408.aa.8)
Copyright © The British Library

This seventh edition of Morford's Short-Trip Guide to America offers readers twenty-one routes by which to see the United States and Canada. In addition, nineteen suggestions are given both for the preparation of one's journey and for one's behaviour on-board ship. Those new to transatlantic travel are urged to: 'Start with a confident expectation of returning, yet leave property interests disposed of as if no return was likely to be made.'

 

The Pacific Railroad

The Pacific Railroad (10b)
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Bancroft's Guide. San Francisco, 1870. (10413.aaa.11)
Copyright © The British Library

Published monthly, Bancroft's Guide was aimed at 'Travelers by Railway, Stage and Steam Navigation in the Pacific States'. It provides the distance, fares and routes for most conceivable journeys along the West Coast, as well as a 'Tourist's Guide to Yosemite, the Geysers and other noted Resorts'. For those wishing to travel from Los Angeles to San Diego, the guide provides the timetable for A.L. Steely's Stage Line which at a cost of ten dollars covered the journey in twenty-one hours.

 

'Preparing to Retire on a Pullman'

Preparing to retire on a Pullman (6kb)
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The Illustrated London News, 15 July 1876. (P.P.7611)
Copyright © The British Library

In 1876, The Illustrated London News 'Special Artist', Mr Melton Prior, travelled to the United States to cover both the Centennial celebrations and the International Exhibition at Philadelphia. As part of his assignment, Prior travelled across the continent in a Pullman railroad carriage with Booth's Theater company, who were taking their production of Henry V from New York to San Francisco. This sketch shows the carriage being transformed from the daytime drawing room to the sleeping area.

 

The Hazardous Southwest

A Scamper Through America - cover (6kb)
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T.S. Hudson, A Scamper Through America. London, 1882. (10408.bbb.18)
Copyright © The British Library

T.S. Hudson travelled by train through the Southwest in the early 1880s. Giving credence to the idea of the Wild West, he wrote: 'The cars were very sparsely peopled…recent robberies of trains by desperadoes, and the unsettled state of the Indian population having made the route temporarily unpopular. A short time previously the engineer and fireman had been killed by a gang of robbers, and the treasure in the express-van had only been saved by the heroic conduct of the passengers in driving off the marauders.'

 

'The Wildwood'

Describing the private railroad carriage The Wildwood, in which she and her husband travelled across the United States in 1894, Lady Theodora Guest wrote that one first '…enters a sitting room, all windows, with a sofa, two luxurious armchairs and a table; a large looking-glass, book-shelf, little hammocks for papers, maps, and so on, and lamps. Out of this goes a narrow passage having on the right our bedroom, and a bath-room adjoining; next a dining room, sixteen feet by ten, in which we had our meals…Next came the kitchen and servants' room…the total length of 'The Wildwood' was sixty-two feet'.

The Wildwood (5kb)
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Lady Theodora Guest, A Round Trip in America. London, 1895. (10408.dd.15)
Copyright © The British Library

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


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