Victorian era travel journals and exploration books?
July 7, 2008 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for historical travel journals and books in the public domain. Specifically I'm interested in anything related to Victorian era exploration of the middle east and central Asia.

About one month ago I came across the Project Gutenberg collection of books written by Arnold Henry Savage Landor, who seemed to delight in traveling "the hard way". As an example, in 1902 he decided to ride the train from Moscow to Baku, get on a Caspian lake steamer, travel to a port in Northern Iran and make his way over land through Iran to the western end of Balochistan, and from there to Quetta. In true Victorian era explorer fashion he brought a huge and unwieldy collection of scientific instruments, cameras, modern rifles, pistols and other things which baffled the local population. Reading any of his books one shifts between a sense of amusement (the guy believed in phrenology!) and genuine fascination at his observations of places and cultures that had rarely been explored or contacted by English speaking cultures. He goes into some detail about the historical, tribal and cultural background of the people in western Balochistan and southern / south-west Afghanistan.

Another example of a book in this genre is the Mark Twain non-fiction work Following the Equator in which he devotes a large section to describing his 1895 travels over-land throughout Australia, India and South Africa, with many amusing Twain-style anecdotes about the local cultures seen from the perspective of an American humor writer.

I'm looking for more public domain books in this style, although the Victorian era doesn't need to match exactly. Scientific observations aside, I found Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle to be a fascinating read. If it's something I can get from Project Gutenberg in plain TXT / HTML formats that would be a plus.
posted by thewalrus to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Mark Twain!
posted by OlderThanTOS at 1:17 PM on July 7, 2008

You'll find lots of options among the results of these Google Books searches, or modify the search to fit your parameters:
Central Asia
Middle East
You can also search for specific countries, such as:
These books are generally available as "full view" on GBooks meaning you can read the whole thing there, or you can use the options to download PDF or plain-text versions.
posted by beagle at 1:21 PM on July 7, 2008

Richard Francis Burton

Though I have to confess I've never actually read any of them.
posted by interplanetjanet at 1:26 PM on July 7, 2008

Not exactly a travelogue, but here's a beautiful old book of colored plates on "Japanese Customs and Manners," as collected by a Royal Marine serving in Japan in 1867. It's written by an observer, not an interactor - so not so much with the fish-out-of-water East/West hijinks - but it does have that through-someone-else's-marveling-eyes quality.

Plus, the illustrations are pretty, a weird mix of classically Japanese and Victorian aesthetics, all rendered in flatly garish color.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:31 PM on July 7, 2008

Check out The Clumsiest People in Europe by Favell Lee Mortimer who wrote children's books and travelogues titled "Asia and Australia Described" without leaving her home.
posted by mattbucher at 1:35 PM on July 7, 2008

Dover Publications publishes a lot of public domain books from this era. Were I you I'd browse their catalog (here's the Travel section) and then look up interesting books at Gutenberg.
posted by OmieWise at 1:45 PM on July 7, 2008

Richard Francis Burton!!!! Many of his writings were destroyed upon his death by his wife, but what is left is wonderful.
posted by nax at 2:40 PM on July 7, 2008

John Foster Fraser (later Sir John Foster Fraser) was a travel writer. In 1896, he and two friends went for a bicycle ride -- around the Earth.

"Round the World on a Wheel. Being the narrative of a bicycle ride of nineteen thousand two hundered and thirty-seven miles through seventeen countries and across three continents."

They traveled through through the Kurds, into Persia, Tehran, met the Shah, etc.

Google has a limited preview available. I'm not sure why they don't have the full thing, as it's public domain.

He also wrote (though I have not read) The land of veiled women; some wandering in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco (1913)
posted by fings at 3:05 PM on July 7, 2008

Response by poster: This "The Land of Veiled Women" is rather weird, I am guessing the author has a fixation on Arab women:

Kept in seclusion, languorous and without exercise,
it is natural that the thought and life of an Arab woman
should be sensuous. Flat roof adjoins flat roof, and it
is possible to journey over half Bou-Saada by the roofs.
An unforgivable offence is for a man to look from his
own roof upon the roof of his neighbour, for here the
ladies gather and sit unveiled. But human nature is
the same in Bou-Saada as elsewhere, and sometimes
glances are exchanged. The very difficulty of an
intrigue makes it all the more a ravishing pastime with
the passionate Arab, and the woman, trained from her
earliest gu'lhood on lascivious stories and amorous
poetry, runs risks. Now, when a husband returns home
and notices a pair of red shppers before the door of his
wife's room, he knows that a lady visitor is within and
he must not enter. Tlierefore, the placing of red slippers
at the door is one of the devices adopted by women
who would deceive their spouses. Indeed, you hear
stories of lovers visiting their ladies dressed as women,
so easy is the disguise if the man is not too tall and
adopts the waddling walk of the Arab woman. Should
the husband suspect — especially if the visitor departs
by the house-top, which is not miusual — he watches,
or sets a spy to work. Then some night an Arab is
mysteriously murdered in one of the dark alleys.

An Arab girl of fourteen will
artlessly tell an impropriety which would make a
seasoned clubman hide his head behind his news-
paper. But to the Arab girl there is nothing wrong
or lewd or improper. It is a natural thing to tell a
story about passion. Oh ! shocking, shocking, to
rear a girl with no thought but of being love -mate
to some man ! Wicked to teach her she has but
one mission in life, a mission good Christians never
mention in polite society ! The relation of the sexes
is something which the Christian softly blushes for,
and acts as though some apology were necessary ;
anjrway, it must be secret. Not to keep the relation-
ship secret would give pain to worthy folk with
families. The Arabs, however, talk about love and
passion as the chief things in life — and there is no
shame. Sensual, indeed, are they not ? But the
Moslem does not send his girl to ill-ventilated and
over-heated workrooms to become wan, crook-
figured and anaemic. He never lets her drudge her
life out behind drapery counters for miserable wages.
He does not turn his young wife out at six o'clock
on a gnawung winter morning to toil long hours
in cotton and woollen factories. His ideal of woman-
hood is not the same as that of the Christian ; but
in no Mohammedan countries do you see slouching,
unkempt, slobbering mothers hanging round the doors
of gin shops. He does not talk about the high
character of women, but nowhere does he have his
women so degraded as hundreds of thousands of
women are degraded in Christian lands. He — but
this is getting rather " preachy," and I liave no
right to preach.
posted by thewalrus at 3:25 PM on July 7, 2008

Mary Kingsley's Travels in West Africa (available on Gutenberg) is a real hoot. Imagine Mary Poppins hoofing around festering swamps, sleeping in the open, and cooly commenting on headhunters and tribal fetishes. She's delightfully unselfconscious and a great writer to boot. I highly recommend!
posted by orrnyereg at 3:41 PM on July 7, 2008

Okay, I reread the question and you weren't looking for Africa. Still a great book, though.
posted by orrnyereg at 3:42 PM on July 7, 2008

Travelers in the Middle East Archive at Rice University, has just what you're looking for.
posted by tellurian at 9:21 PM on July 7, 2008

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain - a trip through Europe and the Holy Land.
posted by Wet Spot at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2008

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