Tag Archives: journey

Toronto with Annie

Leaving behind The Last Voyage and Australia, I travel on to Canada reversing time, to connect with Annie’s Flight of the Meteor of 1872. The first place in Canada we cross paths is the furthest inland she reaches, Toronto and Niagara Falls.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Niagara Falls, Toronto, Louise Kenward 2014

Spending a couple of months without Annie as companion, Niagara is a great place to be reunited. I read and reread her journal entries, carefully placing my feet in the echoes of her prints. Descriptions seem brighter, Annie is younger, healthier, excited (as ever) by new discoveries. The Falls are impressive, they impress Annie despite having heard a great deal about them already.  

Bexhill to Bexhill

Niagara Falls, Louise Kenward (2014)

One of the Canadian objects from the archives is this, an embroidered cigar case. Opening it up an inscription was found, identifying it as a gift.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Embroidered cigar case, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2014)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Finding new inscription on cigar case.

Eastern Australia with Annie

Reaching the end of my tour through Australia I have come from Darwin to Cairns, through Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Taking in the coast of Queensland I passed Annie in Brisbane, through the beautiful Whitsundays and up to Townsville were I spent longer than necessary due to hurricane Ita.

“Monday, August 8th – Weighed anchor at daybreak, and were pushed merrily forward by strong SE breezes. We sailed swiftly up the coast as far as Townsville – a pretty looking town of foreign appearance, with its wharves and business houses close down on the beach, whilst the villas and private residences stand on the little nooks and corners of a hill at the back. The officers of HMS ‘Myrmidon’, which was lying in harbour, soon came on board to see us. They had broken their rudder head outside the Barrier Reef, where they too were hard at work surveying, and had come into Townsville for repairs. The anchorage proved rolly, there being no protection whatsoever, and I had rather an uncomfortable night.” (Annie Brassey, 1887)

I didn’t make it as far north as I’d hoped. Cairns was as far as I got. Thursday Island and the Torres Straits had been my goal. It was always a long shot. Difficult and expensive flights and time constraints made this ultimately impossible. My reason for such plans a result of Thursday Island being the last place Annie set foot. While Darwin was the last place the Sunbeam docked, Thursday Island was the last place she visited.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Queensland (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Replicating some of Annie’s photographs from East Australia to create postcards, the displays of work in progress has broadened. Our journeys becoming more entwined. I veer in and out of time frames, perspective shifts. The object from the archives only serves to create a greater sense of unreality and fantasty. Enter ‘Spike’ the platypus.  Named Spike for his poisonous sharp protrusions on his rear feet for fending off attackers. Witnessing these in the wild near to Cairns I recall being hypnotised by this other world of make believe creatures. Swimming, diving and feeding, dozens of platypus having their supper.    

Bexhill to Bexhill

Spike the platypus, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Spike the platypus, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

“After landing and taking a walk through Townsville, the shore going people pronounced it to be quite as clean looking and prosperous as Bowen, but with more business going on. The town which has a population of 12,000 is built on a tongue of land between the sea and Ross Creek. It consists of one main street containing banks, public offices, counting houses, and well supplied stores and shops. The bustle in the streets and the flourishing and prosperous appearance everywhere were quite cheering. Townsville owes it’s prosperity to its railway, which is already opened to a distance of two hundred miles into the interior, and which has made it the port for a wide area of pastoral country and for several promising gold fields.” (Annie Brassey, 1887)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Post Office, Townsville (Louise Kenward, 2014)

The railway station has since moved and extended but remains vulnerable as heavy rains washed away track, leaving me stranded. Roads eventually cleared of flood water and the bus was my means of escape, north to Cairns.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Old train station, Townsville (Louise Kenward, 2014)


Borneo & birds nests – In Conversation with Annie

Bexhill to Bexhill

Image courtesy of Bexhill Museum.

Arriving in Borneo and focus shifts from Annie’s “A Voyage in the Sunbeam” (1878) to her posthumously published “Last Voyage” (1889). Borneo, and the caves therein, triggered the deterioration of her health after catching a fever. Annie had suffered with her health for a long time, particularly with malaria, although she also commented on her arm troubling her at times, thought to be due to a riding accident (Julian Porter, curator, conversations at Bexhill Museum). The caves in Borneo and the story of their role in Annie’s deteriorating health are the reason I included Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) in my itinerary. Transfixed by the existence of the caves and discovery that the birds’ nests she went in search of, now held at Bexhill Museum, committed me to this journey and planted the seeds for this residency (and ‘In Conversation with Annie‘). 

Bexhill to Bexhill

Birds’ nest, courtesy of Bexhill Museum.

Annie’s interest with Gormatong and Madai caves was principally the habitation of the swiftlets within and their nest building. Prized for the soup, a particular delicacy in China, birds’ nests would be collected from within the caves and boiled down to make a glutenous liquid for serving. My interest was particularly piqued through Annie’s accounts detailed in “The Last Voyage” and the accompanying illustrations. It is described as quite an adventure to find said caves and the sense of far away lands are especially evident here.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Entrance to Madai Caves, image courtesy of Bexhill Museum.

Black bird's nests caves, Borneo "looking awkward" (Lady Brassey photograph collection, with kind permission from Hastings Library)

Black bird’s nests caves, Madai caves, Borneo “looking awkward” (Lady Brassey photograph collection, with kind permission from Hastings Library)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Gormatong Caves (Louise Kenward, 2014)

Swamps and rainforest eventually precluded Annie from reaching Gormatong. Men were sent to find the caves and she accepted defeat only after three day treks proved the challenge of reaching them. She had to be satisfied with Madai. In contrast I had gone in hope of finding Madai caves and had to settle for finding Gormatong. They were a good deal more accessible than they were in 1887, although much of Northern Borneo is still a little challenging to navigate without your own transport (and all the correct permits). They did look similar to Annie’s photographs of Darvel Valley and Madai caves and I trust smelled the same (I was fortunate to be harbouring a cold by then). The floor covered in guano, the walls in cockroaches. There were men living inside guarding the valuable bounty and rickety wooden ladders lashed together as Annie describes. The main difference was not at the caves themselves but when I came to leave Borneo. Arriving at the airport for my flight to Australia, I spotted a shop window filled with clear perspex boxes, each filled with small white birds’ nests.


Notes from a journal…post offices in China

“…bought a picture for Jo’s birthday in Xi’an.  A colourful couple facing each other, a framed pair of shadow puppets…wandering streets of market stalls, watching and then eating peanut crackle and spicy potatoes prepared at the side of the street.

An exercise in international parcel delivery and Chinese post offices to get said framed picture back to the UK for birthday. What an impractical present to buy…Very efficient system of boxes and packaging, however, with many people offering assistance and instruction. Many forms to fill out. Different tasks to be completed at different windows. It’s a morning’s work.

…I like Xi’an, it’s described to me today as the ‘roots’ of China, Beijing as the ‘leaves’ and Shanghai the ‘flowers'”.

Tuesday, 22nd October

The Wall (the Great one)

There are many great places I have visited, few are bold enough to describe themselves as such, but ‘the wall’ is one of them (and rightly so). The lakes and barrier reef others. Typing ‘the great’ into a search engine guesses the rest of the search as ‘Gatsby’ ‘Depression’ ‘Escape’ or ‘British Bake Off’! All very grounding cultural references. The Great Wall of China was a significant landmark to reach, not least because it was a true marker of the distance travelled. Crossing Russia and Mongolia marked a significant crossing from anything I had encountered before. I had truly left my known world behind, and it would not look the same again.

I needed to mark this significant place in the only way I could, I left a pebble covered in crochet. Leaving one of the ‘breadcrumbs’ at The Great Wall felt like it could be an easy decision. Of course, any landmark as big as this ‘needed’ to be marked. But I didn’t want it to work in that way, those landmarks are ‘marked’ well enough already. I didn’t want my trail of breadcrumbs to be left in all the obvious places, they couldn’t fight with such icons. I wanted them to be quiet pieces that were seemingly random, left in hidden, unsuspecting places. And, despite its size, the accessible parts of the wall are scrutinised routinely, steps swept, litter picked and few secret spots remain. I ventured to find one though, and am not under too much illusion that it will have inhabited its little space for very long before discovered and discarded.

The Great Wall of China, Louise Kenward (2013)

The Great Wall of China, Louise Kenward (2013)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Trail of Breadcrumbs at Great Wall, Louise Kenward (2013)

Bexhill to Bexhill

View for breadcrumb from wall, Louise Kenward (2013)





The first pebble was more of a stone than a pebble. I’m not certain what the difference is, but train line stone chippings were the best available, and suited the purpose well enough. It became apparent that this was likely to be a common situation. Travelling by train so much, without access to beaches, railway chippings work just as well. They aren’t smooth, or as nice to handle granted, but the size is right, they are readily available, and they are directly connected to the journey.

This was my first. The stone was collected at Omsk station (Siberia) during a stop on the Trans Siberian line. It is a careful choice, trying to find the most even, rounded piece, of ‘suitable’ size. Like Goldilocks, it could be neither too small nor too big. Clambering across the tracks was a common enough practice here so I had a decent chance to find ‘the right’ one. It is a big station, there are a number of tracks and platforms, babushka’s selling things made of cabbage and potato, bundled in many layers of clothing. Passengers from the train get off to stretch their legs or smoke a cigarette. Guards stand at carriage entrances wearing heavy navy woollen uniforms with smart hats and stern faces. Station attendants check things and pace the platform purposefully.

I boarded the train as it prepared to move on. I made a cup of tea and settled in to the next part of the journey. My tea went cold, and by the time we arrived at Barabinsk my first stone was ready.

Bexhill to Bexhll

Barabinsk, Siberia – ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ (Louise Kenward, 2013)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Barabinsk, Siberia – ‘Trail of Breadcrumbs’ (Louise Kenward, 2013)

As much care and consideration was taken as I could afford on the placement of this stone. The stop was not very long and I was not keen on getting left behind. It is another two or three days before the next train to Irkutsk. Shortly after the stone was placed, another train came into the station, rolling along the track above it. My stone was safely under the train and a part of its surroundings, it’s journey had begun.