Contrary to some family lore, research has shown that Arthur Henry POOLE and Letitia Selina MINNAAR, my husband’s maternal grandparents, did not elope. However, they did travel overseas right after their marriage, a trip which they often mentioned to their grandchildren, although few details have come down through the family.
My husband usually refers to the trip as a “grand tour,” which conjures up images of a stateroom on an ocean liner and drinking Champagne at the Paris Ritz, luxuries that Oupa would not have been able to afford on an Army salary. This misunderstanding might have resulted from their referring to the trip as a “bridal tour;” newspaper accounts of American weddings for the same period often use that term rather than “honeymoon.”
The kaleidoscope of new sights and sounds, people and places, must have made the trip akin to a “grand tour” for Ouma, a young woman who most likely had never travelled far from Potchefstroom and her family. As for Oupa, no documents yet discovered show that he had returned to the U. K. since his departure for the Anglo-Boer War in December 1901. One can imagine that both were filled with excitement mixed with a dash of trepidation as they embarked on their married life together and on the long sea voyage from Cape Town to Southampton, ostensibly to visit the POOLE family in Wales.
The incoming passenger list for 25 May 1907 for the Royal Mail Steamer Briton lists Mr. and Mrs. A. H. POOLE, British subjects, arriving in Southampton from Cape Town. Presumably they had traveled by train from Potchefstroom to Cape Town soon after their marriage on May 1st.
They traveled second class, but enjoyed “accommodation which was probably as good as that in any ship in the world,” according to the description of the liner Briton in Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present. Promotional postcards issued by the Union-Castle Line show that, whatever the class booked, amenities in the public spaces were similar to those found in good hotels.
Passengers could spend their time indoors in such areas as the dining room, reading room, smoking room, ladies’ lounge, or music room. Two long open decks provided “promenade space” outside; postcards show deck activities that included sack races, tug-of-war competitions, shuffle board and even cricket matches.
Although the second-class menus found online are mainly those of non-British ships traveling the transatlantic route, it seems likely that the food offered on a British ship would not have been appreciably different. Lunch and dinner consisted of hors d’oeuvres, soup, roasted or grilled meats, potatoes in various guises, a choice of vegetables (peas and asparagus appear often), a dessert (plum pudding with brandy sauce seems to have been a favorite on all ships), and cheese and crackers. In addition to three full meals a day, British ships also offered morning and afternoon tea. One account of a voyage from New York to England also mentions a “snack” before bed for a grand total of six meals daily.
A second-class cabin would have been furnished with single upper and lower berths across which curtains could be drawn during the day, possibly a banquette-type upholstered seat opposite the berths, and a cabinet containing a wash basin, which could be concealed by a lid when not in use, a mirror, a shelf for toiletries, and several drawers for small items. Oupa, having spent years in Army quarters, may have found it more spacious and less austere than Ouma.
In addition to dances, costume parties, amateur talent shows, and other theme events, it seems likely that the ship’s officers and veteran crew members would have conducted a “crossing the line” ceremony for crew and passengers crossing the equator by sea for the first time. Undoubtedly, this ceremony would have been more restrained than those that took place on military vessels, but King Neptune and his court in their funny costumes would have created a welcome diversion after nearly a week at sea (and when seasick passengers would likely have recovered and been able to participate).
It seems that Union-Castle mail steamers going in opposite directions often passed close enough to enable passengers crowded at the rails to wave to each other as their ships’ horns sounded in salute. If this were the case on their voyage, Oupa and Ouma would have likely greeted the ship carrying Boer military hero and Transvaal Prime Minister Louis Botha on his return from the Colonial Conference in London; according to newspaper accounts, Botha had embarked for Cape Town on May 11th.
Whatever the amenities and despite the pleasurable activities offered aboard ship, by the time they stopped at either Madeira or Las Palmas, four days out from their destination, Oupa and Ouma must have been ready for dry land and excited at the prospect of seeing the POOLE family.
On 18 Mar 1907, the American Theatre in New York City was presenting a play titled “Parted on Her Bridal Tour” by Laura Jean Libbey.
Despite extensive research, I cannot find confirmation of the duration of the voyage. Unlike U. S. passenger lists, those in the U. K. do not give the date of departure. However, a vintage poster at www.zazzle.com shows a ship quite similar in age and size to R. M. S. Briton under the headline “To South Africa in Seventeen Days.” Given their marriage date of May 1st, this would have given Oupa and Ouma eight days between their wedding in Potchefstroom and their departure from Cape Town. I do not think the voyage would have taken much longer than seventeen days or they would not have had time to reach the port.
R. M. S. Briton — “Entered service as the largest mail steamship running between Great Britain and the Colonies.” Eugene W. Smith, p. 533, Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, published 1978.
Under the heading “British Subjects” on the passenger list, “English” has been ticked for Oupa and “Born in British Colonies or Possessions” for Ouma, with the further designation “Cape Col[ony]” in that column.
First- and second-class passengers were not asked for their “profession, occupation or calling.” However, the occupations listed by those in third class — engineer, Army, chemist, fitter — seemed more in keeping with that of Oupa as an Army staff sergeant. He may have booked second class at a higher fare to make sure his new bride traveled in comfort on perhaps the only sea voyage she would ever take. However, closer examination of the passenger listed showed that the majority of those in third class were men traveling on their own, while second class was composed mainly of couples. It appears that if one could afford it, second class accommodation was considered more congenial for women.
Additional shipboard photos can be viewed at www.simplonpc.co.uk.
Photos of passenger liners, cabins, menus and other memorabilia can be found at www.gjenvick.com.
The Cayzer Family Online Archive at www.cayzer.com lists “Blank certificates for Crossing the Line ceremonies [19th century – 20th century]” in its collection of Union-Castle Line ephemera.
I haven’t located any contemporary accounts that indicate Union-Castle steamships passed within sight of each other on the well-traveled route between Cape Town and Southampton. However, later accounts mention this as a common occurrence; depending on the currents and weather conditions, such an event during the 1907 voyage seems likely and yet another diversion for the passengers. Rodney Gascoyne, who worked aboard the Union-Castle liners in the 1960s, recounts his first experience of such a sighting on this route at http://rgascoyne.canadianwebs.com/LifeAtSea.htm:
“Midway we met up with the ‘RMMV Cape Town Castle.’ It was about dusk on a beautiful evening with a red sky in the west and near smooth seas. We passed each other at about a thousand yards distance, they to our west and we hooted each other as everybody crowded the ships’ rails.”
Des Cox at http://snowbow.co.uk/liners-union-castle-shipping-company.php, which has produced a video series on the great liners, writes in his introduction to the Union-Castle Line:
“…ships that thrilled their passengers as they passed each other at sea perhaps closer than any other shipping company dared… what a thrill that was, with everyone on board both passing ships waving and screaming like mad as flags dipped and whistles sounded…”
According to the New York Times of May 12, 1907,
“London, May 11.—Gen. Botha, Premier of the Transvaal, who has been the lion among the Colonial Premiers, left Southampton for South Africa to-day. The enormous crowd which bade him farewell at the railroad station here testified to the General’s popularity.”
This would have placed his ship halfway to South Africa at the same time as R. M. S. Briton was halfway to the U. K. I have not yet been able to find the name of the ship on which Botha sailed.
On its website at http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Imperial_and_Commonwealth_Conferences, The National Archives gives a description of the 1907 Colonial Conference:
“Attended by the prime ministers of all the self-governing colonies, including the Transvaal where the first elections under responsible government had just taken place.… The conference adopted a resolution providing for the meeting of a conference, to be called the Imperial Conference and held every four years, at which questions of common interest might be considered.”
The South African delegation also included Cape Colony Prime Minister Leander Starr Jameson. A photograph of attendees can be found at The Encyclopedia of New Zealand site at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/empire-and-commonwealth/2/3.