Friday, 31 July 2015

1900-The Golden Age of the Transatlantic Steamship

SS Minneapolis at Tilbury - May 1900

While in search of a location for my first venture into writing an Edwardian cosy mystery, I discovered the extensive information given on the Atlantic Transport Line Website. Four sister ships, known as the ‘Minne’ class, were commissioned from Harland and Wolff in Belfast in 1898. The Minneapolis, Minnehaha, Minnetonka, and Minnewaska. At 600 feet long, the Minneapolis had the largest tonnage of any ship afloat [excepting the Oceanic] and were among the first vessels fitted for wireless telegraphy. She left New York in April 1900 with a complement of seventy eight first class only passengers and fifty five crew.

I chose the SS Minneapolis, which left New York in April 1900 on her maiden voyage - which technically made my novel a Victorian cosy!


The Illustrated London News May 1900

Everything on the Minneapolis is of the best quality, but as simple as possible. The walls of the saloon are in light oak with allegorical figures burnt in the woodwork; an exquisite frieze in the same work, full of life and spirit, runs round the top. The dome in the ceiling gives ventilation and height to the room. The chairs and sofas are upholstered in red satin damask, and the whole effect of the saloon is bright and cheery, while also harmonious.

The library, or writing-room, is painted white and a little relief in gold. The bookcase is at present without any books in it, as they have been promised as a gift to the ship by the city of Minneapolis, in recognition of the vessel’s having been given the name of this great western city; but unfortunately the books did not reach New York in time to be put into the case.

The coverings of the sofas and chairs are in a very beautifully designed tapestry, the whole idea of the room being to keep it quiet and restful. The smoking room is admirably adapted to the purpose for which it is intended. The decorations are in plain dark oak, and the seats upholstered in a very handsome red leather, all dinginess is thus avoided. Cozy corners are very suggestive of small parties sitting quietly together to have the friendly games which so materially assist in passing away the time.

No modern steamer would now be complete without suites of rooms, and the Minneapolis, being the most modern of steamers, has several suites situated on the promenade deck, which are as perfect as possible. The brass bedsteads are hung with fresh dimity curtains of pink roses on a white ground, the little window curtains all matching. Hanging cupboards and doors add to the convenience of the passengers. A bath-room is attached to each suite, and the private sitting room adjoining the bed room is charmingly fitted with a writing table and comfortable sofas.



American reporter Earl Mayo, wrote a satirical article for Forum Magazine in 1904 on transatlantic travel, and says of his fellow passengers:

"Here we are, all met on an equal footing. For these few days we shall all be weighed, not by what we own or claim to be, but by what we really are."

I kept Mr Mayo’s adage in mind when writing Murder On The Minneapolis, in that my characters were among strangers where their deceits and invented 'legends' could not be exposed.

Mayo emphases the importance of the passenger lists, a copy of which were placed in each stateroom and were pored over. Marks were made against names and the labels on unoccupied steamer-chairs studied, then they would wait until the occupants appeared. Mayo complained that where Baedeker guides place an asterisk on hotels to guarantee they were first-class, the steamship companies don’t, with the result that: ‘The very best people are set down cheek-by-jowl with the nobodies.’

Mayo opines: ‘This is, naturally, very galling. It is unbearable. What is the use of being anybody if nobody knows it? Why extract a week from the delightful publicity of land-life, and sink it in the obscurity of ocean life?’
 
Tea On Deck
He also had a lot to say about the preponderance of lone female travellers:

‘A season or two ago the fact of the great increase in the number of women travelers received a peculiar illustration in the case of one of the ships of the Atlantic Transport line. On one of her voyages this vessel carried fifty-eight women and one man! Needless to say that later on the man became engaged to and married one of his fair fellow·voyagers. What earthly chance does one poor, unprotected man stand among a shipload of women?’

Mayo on gossip::

‘Maids and valets are very useful on board, because they talk. They are funds of enticing information, especially when they belong to the exclusive people--and they generally do. The mistress says nothing, but the maid tells the truth! The master is silent, but the valet discloses all that it is necessary to know!  It is shameful to listen to their stories, and there is no excuse for it. Still, one does feel more cheerful when it is positively asserted by the gentle maid that the haughty dame, with the lorgnette, who has been snubbing everybody, sells all her old clothes that won't dye, and hits her husband when she is feeling lively.’

And honeymooners:

‘If he leaves her for a minute, his love is growing cold; if she chats with an unsuspecting passenger, she is a flirt who will never settle down; if he sleeps happily in his steamer-chair by her side, he is tiring of her; if she yawns at the endlessness of the day, married life is beginning to pall; if his voice be raised as he talks to her (he may be advising her to try and eat something at luncheon) , he is developing into the usual cut-and-dried husband; if she be too indisposed to care much how she looks, she is learning how to disenchant a husband; if he doesn't call her" tootsy," he is a cold-blooded wretch; if she looks serious and gloomy, she is learning that marriage is a failure.’
 

Passengers' had their names on the stateroom doors and a bell to announce callers. A steward was summoned with one ring of an electric bell and two rings for a stewardess. Steamer chairs and rugs  could be rented at a cost of four shillings for the duration of the voyage. The chair bore the occupier’s name and woe betide anyone who sat on the wrong one!  The library tended to be a female domain, while the smoke room, which sported the first real fireplace on an ocean liner, being male territory.

Dining Room on SS MInneapolis
Regular lifeboat drills were mandatory after the Mohegan disaster in 1898 off the Cornish coast, the lifeboats were actually lowered as if a real disaster loomed.

Life as a crew member was hard. The stewards, known as ‘Southampton Boys’ as that was where the best were trained, would earn about $15 a month with board and lodging. A steward had to pay for his own uniform, laundry bills, plus a sum to have his area of the communal cabin cleaned. He rose at five-thirty and was on duty until eleven pm. A senior steward could earn $150 a month, while the ship’s captain earned more than the six officers he commanded combined.

Passengers were expected to adhere to a rule for tips: given at the end of the voyage, a minimum of ten shillings—two and a half dollars—to each of the bedroom steward, deck steward, saloon steward, bath steward, a dollar to the "boots," the smoke-room steward, and the organist or band, all of which went a long way to make up their low income.

Crews were signed on for one voyage, at the end of which they were paid off and hoped to sign on again immediately for the next. If their ship should sink, even as a result of enemy action, their pay ended the moment the ship went under.
Captain Gates

The contrast in wealth between crew and passengers was vast. For instance, apart from the shuffleboard, concerts, dances and bridge games, one of the main pastimes on board appears to be use of the bar – which often cleared $5,000 on one voyage on a first class steamer in the busy season.

Captain Thomas F Gates commanded the SS Minneapolis on its maiden voyage. A naturalised American citizen and a sociable pipe-smoking teetotaler, he "danced two hours every night of clear weather" according to Time Magazine and was very popular with passengers. Known affectionately as "Tommy," and "Giggles Gates" — the "laughing skipper" because of his infectious laugh, his endless energy, powerful voice, and his laugh, was "known in ports all over the world" according to an obituary in the New York Times. It was said that when his ship docked he never needed to use a megaphone from the bridge. He served 45 years with the ATL, commanded 18 of their ships, described as "one of the most popular commanders in the merchant fleet."  

As my novel came to an end, I was sad to leave the amiable Captain Gates and the restful surroundings of the opulent and comfortable SS Minneapolis. I hope my readers will feel the same way.

Sources:

Atlantic Transport Line Website

Gjenvick Gjonvick Archives has Earl Mayo’s full and entertaining article, as well as other observations on shipboard life at the turn of the 20th century.



Sunday, 28 June 2015

Release Day - Murder On The Minneapolis




Flora Maguire, governess to thirteen-year-old Edward, Viscount Trent, is on her way home to England from New York after the wedding of her employer’s daughter.  Conscious of her status among a complement of first class passengers on the ship’s maiden voyage, she avoids the dining room on the first night, but meets a charming motor car enthusiast who goes by the unusual name of Bunny Harrington.  


Flora discovers the body of a man at the bottom of a companionway , but when his death is deemed an accident, Flora is not convinced. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance when she was a child drives her to find out what really happened to the dead man. Flora confides her suspicions to Bunny, and a German passenger, both of whom appear to concur with her misgivings. 

However, the ship's doctor and the captain are both reluctant to accept there is a murderer on board. When Flora and Edward are threatened, followed by a near drowning during a storm and a second murder - the hunt is now on in earnest for a killer. Time is running out as the SS Minneapolis approaches the English coast. 

Will Flora be able to discover who the murderer is and keep young Edward safe? Is her burgeoning relationship with the handsome Bunny Harrington a shipboard dalliance, or something more?

 Released by Buried River Press, an imprint of 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Goodbye, Brimstone Butterfly - In Memoriam


I decided to repost this in loving memory of a friend - a virtual friend but one I find I miss quite a lot - and one which others appear to as well judging by the comments this article has received over the past three years. Please read them and when you see a butterfly, any butterfly, send out a thought for Caro - wherever she may be.

Most of my author friends have favourite blogs they dip in and out of to find tidbits of historical information we have not found anywhere else - most of which we confirm in other sources, but many a fascinating piece of trivia can be found in a blog. One I followed and visited often, is called The Brimstone Butterfly, written by a lady called Caro Riikonen. Coincidentally, she told a story on BBC radio I listened to in the car once printed here, and I feel this epitomises the type of person she was. It's a sad, but uplifting story of when she was caught in a house fire.

The subject of my current wip lived in one of the places Caro posted about, and she also visited and photographed many of the historic places of interest in my neighbourhood of Richmond, Kew and Twickenham which I love.

I clicked on the blog today to find some pictures of a particular historic house I knew she had visited, only to discover Caroline's farewell to those who read and appreciated her writing - on 10th February, 2012, Caro took her own life. She was 53.

We never met, but not only will I miss her blog, I will miss her too. Goodby Caro, and though you may not have known it, you were thought of by many and very much appreciated.

First posted in May 2012 - please read the comments below

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Talk to The Battle of Worcester Society



Last evening I was honoured to be invited to talk at one of the ‘Civil War Nights’ being held at the beautiful old Commandery in Worcester, an annual event held by the Battle of Worcester Society. The organisers didn’t want an academic lecture, which is just as well as I am purely an amateur historian, but about the process I used to research and write my English Civil War novel, Royalist Rebel, based on the life of Elizabeth Murray.


After a few nerves, mainly along the lines of doubts that I could talk coherently for over forty-five minutes, I was received by a charming group of people headed by Richard Shaw, and his wife, Christine, all impressively knowledgeable about their subject and to whom I could have chatted all night as they were so interesting.

Fortunately, they appeared equally fascinated by the subject of my novel and I found myself at the end having talked for an hour still with more to say. I spent the journey home regretting the snippets of information I didn’t get to, but hope what I did say kept my audience awake if not enthralled.

This morning I received some lovely e-mails thanking me for attending and saying how much they enjoyed my talk – as I said, a lovely group of people. Their enthusiasm made me want to start researching another 17th Century biographical novel – and that Elizabeth Murrays’ youngest son, William Murray would be a more than suitable subject.

His father died when he was six, spoiled by his mother who had to buy him a naval commission to keep him out of trouble. He killed another officer in a duel, was outlawed for several years, committed an act of piracy against a French ship, punished by being ‘burned in the hand’, was reinstated and covered himself with glory, only to contract yellow fever and die in the Bahamas at 28.

My heartfelt thanks to Richard and Christine Shaw for making me feel so welcome.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Steel and Lace 17th Century Antholgy

R E L E A S E   D A Y



Anita Seymour - Countess Spy
"Oliver Cromwell is triumphant and the king is dead, but Elizabeth, Lady Tollemache will never give up on the Royalist cause and pledges her loyalty to the exiled king."
 Anna Belfrage -
"Matthew Graham has the choice between staying in Scotland and risking death, or leaving his homeland and breaking his heart. Not the easiest of choices…"
Andrea Zuvich - The Chambermaid 
"I am as you find me. The wheel of fortune has turned and Vauxhall manor's rightful heir has returned"
Francine Howarth- The King's Courier
"Breeches do not maketh man any more than skirts maketh woman" 
Kelli Klampe - Secrets of a Princess
"They will take you even of they know the cost will take your very life"
Susan Ruth - Goblin Damn'd
"I fear this gentleman does not understand the jeopardy he is in. One does not simply walk into Woodhall and hold guns to people's heads." Will this do?
 M J Logue - Si du Doir Partir
"Russell Thought he would never be worthy of the only woman he'd ever wanted: Thomazine thought he was an idiot."


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