A New World Awaited; Interview Adventure Was Easy to Come by in the 17th Century
Byline: Laura Davis reports
AWAY from the comfort of their lavish drawing rooms, the women set off into the unknown in carriages loaded with crockery sets and small items of furniture.
Their ears ringing with the newly penned tune to Rule Britannia, these adventurous souls, unable to imagine a journey without their best china, prepared themselves for the startling scenes they would witness.
The destination - not the darkest jungles of Africa or the frozen Canadian wastelands, but the savage lands of the provinces where, they imagined, barefoot peasants skulked like primitives.
In the 17th and 18th centuries you didn't have to travel far to seek adventure. Road conditions were poor, long journeys rare and travelling to the North from their country homes and London townhouses was a voyage into the exotic.
"These women didn't have to travel very far to realise that actually there were people who were very different from them," explains Zoe Kinsley, author of the new academic text Women Writing the Home Tour, 1682-1812.
"These days we don't consider any part of Britain as being really foreign but then to travel into the Highlands of Scotland was genuinely quite a new thing to do.
You could travel 50 miles and experience something that was completely unfamiliar to you."
Until 1707, Scotland and England (already joined with Wales) were ruled separately. The Act of Union, combined with Great Britain's growing status as one of the most powerful empires in history, sparked a revived sense of patriotism that was reflected in the writing and painting of the period.
People were suddenly keen to explore their own country, and women, who were not encouraged to follow the Grand Tour of Europe, seen as crucial to a young gentleman's education, saw an opportunity.
So off they went in their carriages, usually accompanied by a family group but occasionally with just a servant or two for company, armed with Samuel Johnson's account of his tour to Scotland as if it were a Lonely Planet travel guide.
There was plenty for them to record in their journals.
Dorothy Richardson, who ventured across the border from her home in Yorkshire, was alarmed by the "uncivilised" Lancashire natives.
Current Warrington residents may be dismayed to discover that she wrote of their forefathers: "The dirtiness of the people here exceeds what I could have believed in any part of this kingdom."
Dorothy was not alone in describing those she came across as barbaric.
Another traveller, Mary Morgan, compared miners in South Wales to South American Indians: "The miners sit upon their hands as the Indians do. In Byron's voyage there is a print of what he calls a whigwham or Indian hut, which will give you a perfect idea of these habitations; and the people, except that they are clothed, bear a strong resemblance to the natives of Terra del Fuego."
Zoe, a senior lecturer in English Literature, at Liverpool Hope University, believes the women travellers used these comparisons because they had no other way of describing what they saw.
"I think what you find is that they're talking about people who, through class, are very different from them and I think this rhetoric of savagery is often a way of giving expression to experiencing a working class that they perhaps haven't experienced at very close hand before," she says. …