The Art of Travel – Francis Galton (1854)

book159Subtitle: Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries

A how-to manual of how to explore countries back in the Victorian days.  Incredibly detailed and was THE go-to book for beginning explorers at the time.

Who should explore?

Qualifications for a Traveller [sic].–If you have health, a great craving for adventure, at least a moderate fortune, and can set your heart on a definite object, which old travelers [sic] do not think impracticable, then–travel by all means. If, in addition to these qualifications, you have scientific taste and knowledge, I believe that no career, in time of peace, can offer to you more advantages than that of a traveller[sic]. If you have not independent means, you may still turn travelling to excellent account; for experience shows it often leads to promotion, nay, some men support themselves by travel. They explore pasture land in Australia, they hunt for ivory in Africa, they collect specimens of natural history for sale, or they wander as artists.


In addition, the explorer does not necessarily need to be powerful – “it is rather those who take the most interest in their work that succeed the best…”.  Additionally, he needs to have Good Temper (as “tedious journeys are apt to make companions irritable”) and as for the problem of Reluctant Servants: “leaders should make great allowance for the reluctant co-operation of servants; they have infinitely less interest in the success of the expedition than their leaders…”

“Neither sleepy nor deaf men are fit to travel quite alone.”

If natives want to bring their wives, it’s fine as well:  “a woman will endure a long journey nearly as well as a man, and certainly better than a horse or bullock”… “It is in the nature of women to be fond of carrying weights; you may see them in omnibuses and carriages, always preferring to hold their baskets or their babies on their knees, to setting them down on the seats by their sides.”

Equipment suggestions range from large (rafts and pontoons for 1-2 men) to sealing wax and pens for writing letters. (Triple H pencils are the best tool though – less smudging when damp.) Don’t forget to take a small table or two and a stool, and do remember your protractor and your iron. (Unwrinkled clothes are important in the bush.)  A hare’s foot comes in handy for cleaning lenses and you can easily make your writing ink if need be from burnt sticks and a bit of milk. (Milk is always handy when you’re exploring, I think.)

Pay for help from the locals in beads, but don’t forget that “there is infinite fastidiousness shown by savages in selecting beads…” The following colors are the most popular ones: dull white, dark blue, and vermilion red, all of a small size.

food1pngTransportation should include an ass, a small mule, a horse, an ox and a camel but note that it is “very inconvenient” to take more than six pack animals as whenever one gets loose, the progress of the overall exhibition is seriously slowed.  This volume also contained copious information of the “theory of tea-making” including using a make-shift teapot (of course, since it’s English).

Huge detail down to how to label your medicine tins – always label the bottom of the tins as the lids can get mixed up.  A handy emetic is a “charge of gunpowder in a tumblerful  of warm water of soapsuds…” Satisfy your thirst by drinking water with a teaspoon – just as effective as drinking glassfuls and will “disorder the digestion very considerably less”…  Mercury (mixed with chewed up old tea leaves and added with spit) can make a good lice repellent when worn in a bag of material as a necklace, but only lasts about one month until it needs to be renewed.  Blisters in new boots can be prevented by putting raw egg into the boot to soften the leather. And cats can’t stand high altitude and it can be fatal for them (according to one Dr. Tschudi).

flagcommOh, and if someone ends up being half-drowned, don’t hang them upside-down by their feet for the water to come out of their mouths. That’s ‘ineffective.”

An artery cut might be able to be stopped if you pour boiling grease into it (ouch), but this is a “barbarous treatment, and its success is uncertain…”

With regard to transporting fragile research instruments, Galton recommends entrusting them to “some respectable old savage, whose infirmities compel him to walk steadily. He will be delighted at the prospect of picking up a living by such easy service…”

Everything is included: how to measure how far your expedition has traveled (whether by wagon or a cantering horse), the lunar measurements of the night sky, the best way to climb trees or go down a cliff (but remember – “it is nervous work going over the edge of a cliff for the first time”), what size and shape to make an axe blade…

It seems that almost everything (if not everything) has been covered in this book.  Make your own snow glasses using a piece of soft wood with a slit cut into it (a la Esquimaux[sic]).  Holding a horse’s tail as they walk ahead of you can help you up steep hillsides.  Bite a cow’s tail to make him/her stand up from lying position.

An explorer traveling and making notes noted this about asses:

The instincts of the mulish heart form an interesting study to the traveller[sic] in the mountains. I would (were the comparison not too ungallant) liken it to a woman’s; for it is quite as uncertain in its sympathies, bestowing its affections when least expected, and, when bestowed, quite as constant, so long as the object is not taken away.

pithhelmetAnd don’t, for God’s sake, wear linen. (It is “by universal consent a dangerous dress wherever there is a chance of much perspiration, for it strikes cold upon the skin when wet. The terror of Swiss guides…and of Italians…is largely due to their wearing linen shirts.”)

If you need a pith helmet, you can buy them in London under the Opera Colonnade in Pall Mall, and a dressing gown never goes unused. (“It is a relief to put it on in the evening…”)

If you’re stuck out in the cold without shelter, it’s recommended that you creep within the warm and reeking carcass of a recently-dead horse (a la Bear Grylls, although this particular case is referenced to Napoleon’s troops).  Speaking of animals, Galton also tells you how to avoid on-rushing animals attacking you (except a buffalo who “regularly hunts man, and is there peculiarly dangerous.”) Instructions are also included for crocodile-shooting. (You never know…)


And if you’re traveling to a “rich but imperfectly civilized country”, one option for making certain that you always have a small capital to fall back on is to bury jewels in your flesh (the left arm is recommended at the spot chosen for vaccinations). You make a gash, put the jewel(s) in and allow the flesh to grow over them as it would a bullet. (You could also put the jewels into a small silver tube which might be less irritable to your body as it heals.)  Good idea if you’re concerned about robbery.

So – I bet you get the idea. This is THE manual for exploring for Victorian explorers. With so many topics and such detail, I don’t think it was a small book but I bet if you weren’t the poor person carrying it, that would be ok.  A fascinating read.

Don’t forget your pith helmet when you leave the house today.


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