Tag Archives: death of Annie Brassey

Returning to Australia & the Northern Territories with Annie

While I travelled in one direction, more or less, the journeys of Annie’s that I tracked were multiple. This meant that mid way through my journey, and just as I arrived in Australia, Annie died. It was not unexpected, I knew the date, time and place, but it was still met with sadness and some pause for reflection. It didn’t mean the end of Annie as travel companion, but from here on in I was travelling backwards through time, as far as Annie was concerned at least.

The last place the Sunbeam docked before Annie’s demise, was Darwin. This was the point of arrival for me in Australia, making my reaching this new world full of mixed feelings. Losing Annie here was a blow, she had, by that stage almost completed an entire loop around the country, and I had grown quite used to my virtual companion. I’d become quite attached, the process of travelling, of writing, had led me to find a strengthening connection.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Early morning, Darwin waterfront (Louise Kenward, 2014)

Arriving at dawn to a whole new world, in every sense, I experienced the ‘reverse culture shock’ often cited by travellers returning home after long journeys, adding to my sense of disorientation. I hadn’t expected to experience it mid way through, but after travelling through so many poorer parts of the world, adapting and establishing routines of one kind or another, to arrive in (an apparently) squeaky clean, shiny and empty Darwin took me by surprise. I had arrived after four months of crowded streets, bustling markets, squat toilets, mopeds piled with everything and anything (including the kitchen sink, entire families and livestock), it was noisy, colourful, chaotic. I loved it. Darwin was silent. Its wide pothole free tarmac streets empty. When a car did appear on the street it spotted me and stopped, allowed me to cross the road. I was dumbfounded. The best travel advice I have ever read is about crossing roads in Vietnam “just walk, keep walking, keep a steady pace and everything will drive around you” and that’s how it happens. I was well practised by now at crossing apparently impenetrable roads. For something to stop for me to cross, especially when there was nothing else on the roads, captured a whole sense of being somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere surreal and unexpected. It was unsettling. I walked to the waterfront. The sea is a constant. It soothes. The only people I saw at 6am were joggers. No taxi drivers, tuk tuks, men chasing me down the road wanting to mend my shoes. No market stalls, no one tried to sell me anything or get my attention. Just a couple of joggers. One of whom said ‘g’day mate’ and truly sent my head in a spin. Living up to stereotypes I had walked into the set of neighbours perhaps, a TV version of Australia.  Finding public toilets was the next shock. They were open, they were clean, there was running water, it was hot, there was soap and somewhere to dry my hands. There was even toilet paper in the cubicles. I missed Asia terribly. I didn’t know what to do in all this brilliant white sparkling new place. It seemed unblemished and sanitised. I felt very much on my own. Added to that the stark reality (of sorts) that this was the last place Annie visited it made for a surreal experience where I questioned the ground under my feet.

Revisiting then, in the context of Bexhill Museum and the collection held, I am reminded of many of the things that I am continuing to grapple with and understand better. The Aboriginal culture was not evidenced in the Irish bars or the smart cafes of Darwins’ wide streets. Travelling to one of the National Parks, Lichfield, was my first taste of the incredible country and rich history of Australia. Arriving in the wet season, Kakadu and its examples of Aboriginal art were temporarily cut off. Roads flooded. Impressive termite mounds the area is famous for gave me some impression of this being a different land like no other. I chose not to visit crocodile ‘side shows’ designed for tourists, entertained by the proximity of wild and hungry animals. How tantalising it is to be in the presence of creatures with the power to kill you. And as you enter Australia you are told ‘everything can kill you’.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Oceania cabinet, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward 2015)

Alas, I digress, I will return. For now I will illustrate my day ‘In Conversation with Annie’ and some of the objects from Northern Australia held at Bexhill Museum. Spears with heads made of beer bottle glass, axe heads of granite and shell pendants decorated in geometric designs. Many artefacts refer to the early settlers arriving in Australia. Planning to run some workshops in the near future I decide to experiment with my own drawing practise and return to using charcoal, trying out some of the things I think might be interesting for others to try. Of some of the wonderful things on display it is a little disappointing the North Australian objects are not especially appealing to draw. An axe head of granite and spears…a challenge. Rolling out paper on the floor in front of the cases, kneeling with charcoal and putty rubber, it is nonetheless an interesting exercise. I consider how vast Australia is, how much variation there is likely to be in objects and designs and I enjoy a return to working with charcoal, the challenge of yet another new texture to attempt.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Working at Bexhill Museum, charcoal & pastels on lining paper (Louise Kenward, 2015)

The process is enjoyable. Working in another part of the museum, feeling more connected to the gallery spaces (literally and metaphorically as I sit on the floor), it feels as though there is at last some loosening up. Movement is key. Different positions of sitting, drawing, different materials. Working with things behind glass pose their own difficulties but with recent experience I imagine handling the spear heads, engaging sense of touch even on a virtual level. The sharpness of the tips, smoothness of the spearhead and consider the making of them, the person who had formed this one I select as my favourite in Northern Australia over a hundred years ago.

Annie’s farewell.

After almost five months, many trains, planes, buses and boats, I have arrived in Australia. It’s a very early morning landing after a short flight over night to Darwin. I am ‘down under’. The water does go down the plug hole the wrong way, and while acclimatising myself (and waiting to be able to check in to my hostel) I am genuinely greeted with a cheery ‘G’day mate’. Cars have stopped to let me cross the road, and of the few people I have seen, I’m the only one who isn’t running. Feeling a little like Alice, I think I may have stepped through the looking glass.

Early morning, Darwin waterfront (Louise Kenward, 2014)

Early morning, Darwin waterfront (Louise Kenward, 2014)

Just a few days here before I cross the desert on The Ghan, and I’m occupied with this being Annie’s last visit and the Sunbeam’s last port of call before she died of malaria while heading home. Annie had been unwell for some time. It was mentioned that she may have contracted malaria at the Madai caves in Borneo, although I have also since read that it could have been the Panama Canal. Either way, Annie had experienced poor health for a considerable time. Despite this, she had continued in many duties regarding the St Johns Ambulance, travelling, entertaining, writing and other Ladyship activities. She wasn’t one to be easily distracted or put off from something (see previous post).

So although this is far from the end of my journey with Annie, it is a punctuation in the trip. At this stage in the Last Voyage Annie’s journal ends. Her son TAB however, also kept a journal and it is this which I refer to in learning of her last days. He writes very personal accounts of life on board the Sunbeam, tending to his mother’s bedside and day to day life as family sit all hoping she will again pull through.

6th September “…Port Darwin is an enormous harbour with arms running in all directions, but it is not pretty as the shores are low with the exception of Table Hill, on which Palmerston stands. They have had some cases of small pox at Palmerston so for fear of being quarantined by Mauritius we determined to hold no direct communication with the shore…
…The railway is already finished for some 25 miles from here and the section as far as the gold fields…should be completed within the year…

…The doctor who came on board to see Mother did not speak very hopefully of the prospect of the Northern Territory…Mother, who was lying on the deck had her long chair turned that she might see them [supplies of coal and food coming aboard]. She has been so terribly weak today that the doctor almost despairs of her pulling through, but in spite of this she insisted upon sorting all the letters and papers this morning…” (TAB Thomas Allnutt Brassey, 16 Months of Travel, 1887).

On the 7th September the Sunbeam started its voyage on to Mauritius.

One week later, on the 14th September, Lady Annie Brassey died. Passing away “peacefully and painlessly” (TAB, 1887).

“…We buried her the same evening at sunset. The body was borne aft to the lee of the gangway by the four oldest hands, Mr Kindred, John Fale, Muston and Mr Jones. The doctor read the service. Father read a few words on her life instead of the lesson, and her body was committed to the deep. Nothing can be more solemn or more impressive than a funeral at sea, and it was a fitting end for her who loved the sea so well. Our great consolation is that we were all with her at the last and that these last days have been so peaceful and so quiet.” TAB 16 Months of Travel, 1887.

Working with the Northern Territory Library, I have been able to trace records of the time which show the outbreak of small pox at Port Darwin and document the arrival of the Sunbeam. The Administrators report for the following year also shows the doctor who attended Lady Brassey, noted by TAB in his journal at the time.

“Unhappily Lord Brassey’s visit here was made under most sorrowful as well as most unfavourable circumstances. The Sunbeam arrived on September 6th with Lady Brassey seriously ill with malarial fever she contracted on the Queensland coast [a third contender!]. …Dr Wood was called into consultation, and thought Lady Brassey’s state of health presented very serious symptoms. As is now well known with deep regret Lady Brassey expired within a week after leaving Port Darwin.

[Due to the small pox outbreak at Palmerston] Lord Brassey did not think it expedient that he or any of the visitors on the Sunbeam should land. I was permitted, however, to have a long conversation with Lord Brassey from my gig, and such information as under these circumstances could be furnished was supplied.” Government Residents Report on Northern Territory for the year 1887.

With thanks to Margaret and Suzy of the Northern Territory Library, Darwin for all your help and for tracking down this report for me.

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

After an unpromising start to summer, the British obsession with the weather is coming into its own with a beautiful couple of weeks passing.  Despite this, the sunshine was shunned yesterday for a productive afternoon at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.  Time was spent instead pouring over volumes of press cuttings and box files of letters, so carefully held, despite the incomplete and out of sequence clippings.  The history of these are almost as interesting as what they hold, acquired by the Museum in 1985 they have lived a mysterious life of their own throughout much of the twentieth century.

Rich finds included photographs of the farm at Indian Head, Canada, and a paper by Lou Taylor placing Annie’s daughter Constance very much at the forefront of the naming of the ‘Sunbeam’ yacht.  Both of these I shall return to another time, but of particular interest are the newspaper clippings pertaining to the sad loss of Lady Annie Brassey during the Last Voyage.

Letter of condolence to Lord Brassey:

“…To her noble generosity and kindly, ready influence and sympathy for religion, philanthropy, and social life we owe a vast debt of gratitude.  May you all receive strength and consolation from the Infinite Treasury of Divine Love.”

“Visitors from places so remote as Honolulu and New Guinea signed this document.  The sheets when collected were handsomely bound in mauve morocco and gold…recently presented to Lord Brassey”

[Lord Brassey wrote as follows] “I am deeply touched by the expression of sympathy which you have so kindly sent me in the form of an address illuminated with much taste.  I thank from my heart the sixteen hundred friends and sympathisers who have signed the address.”                                                (printed in Hastings News June 8th 1888)


In The Sussex Daily News dated May 7th 1888, it details a letter received from Lord Brassey sent to the Hastings Town Council:

“I desire to express to the corporation of the Borough of Hastings my heartfelt thanks for the assurance of sympathy I received from them on the painful occasion of the death of my dear wife.  she loved Hastings and it was a great aim of her life to do what she could to promote the welfare and happiness of its inhabitants.”