Lund, J. Knowles. [Manuscript] A Voyage to The Amazon 1902-3.
8vo. A green, cloth covered “album amicorum” format sketch or scrapbook with glazed paper (in two or three pale pastel colours) and rounded corners. Cloth scuffed and rippled, originally titled in white to front board but over time the white paint has flaked away. Cloth frayed and split to rear hinge, structurally shaken but solid. Benson label to front pastedown. Internally clean and bright, although at some point gutter repairs to some sections with tape, not interfering with text or causing undue disgust in the eye of the beholder, which is fortunate, because the rest of this detailed manuscript account is absolutely glorious. A mosaic of photography (65 photographs, a couple of postcards, a laid in map of the voyage and crayon rubbings of local coins etc.), collage, pen and ink decoration and small painted vignettes and capitals, despite the odd structural issue it is one of the most charming examples of its kind I have seen.
J. Knowles Lund, author, artist and photographer of this account, was the Ship’s Surgeon aboard the Booth Line’s Cargo and Passenger Steamer “SS Cametense”, a name that Lund explains means roughly “A native of Cameta”, a village on the banks of the Amazon. There’s a detailed illustrated section detailing the vessel, its history and fittings, and profiles of the crew. Lund’s style throughout is very “Boy’s Own”, his initial statement of intent as the album opens is “I am writing out a diary of my first voyage for more than one reason...It has been my ambition to see more of the world than can be seen in our own little insular kingdom, ever since as a schoolboy I read adventures and travels by such boys’ authors as Ballantyne, Kingsley and Marryat.” Words like “pluck” and “bluff” are used frequently, and one gets the impression that our own resident Lord Jim wouldn’t have been a fan of Brexit. It is perhaps striking that Lund’s voyage was begun on little more than a whim, he obtained a letter of introduction from a Portside doctor and was appointed to a ship with little more than a handshake and the signing of articles, within two days of arriving in Liverpool he’s aboard the Cametense (October 23rd or so) and by mid-November he’s gassing Vampire Bats (with attendant adorable sketch) and being introduced to Portuguese ladies of ill repute. Ill repute is a relative term, personally I am 100% behind the TV series that should be made featuring Lund’s passengers: “The girl he had with him was not his wife, and he boasted that she loved him so much that did any other woman make free with him she would kill her with the knife she always carried in her boot. She was called Senhora Palao in the ship’s manifest of passengers. He told me that she had fought by his side in a street row in Para, and had also nursed him through a bad attack of Yellow Fever. Three months prior to this she had been a common prostitute [The last thing this lady sounds is ‘common’ bro.-Ed.]. He insisted on introducing me to her and I found her to be a pleasant but hysterical little woman.” Sounds maybe like Surgeon Lund learned to talk to girls from Marryat and Kingsley too.
There’s a fair amount of good old Colonial bigotry, although evenly spread in that open-handed fashion of the inexperienced Englishman abroad: “We had also two German women in the salon, supposed to be actresses, but their low vulgar ways and expressions, made them repulsive to all but the Portuguese and Brazilians...they were as coarse and fat as Christmas pigs.” I’m hoping what he lacked in charm he made up for in medical knowledge. Beyond Lund’s rather stereotypical attitudes to women and people who basically aren’t British, white or behaving with sufficient decorum, he has a keen eye; he gives accounts of the dockside life of Para and Manos, conflicts between the labouring classes “These men live in hulks on the river and seldom go ashore, as they are the sworn enemies of the Brazilians, who say they have taken all the work from them. The Brazilians place themselves in the position of the dog in the manger.” and he goes on to discuss the colossal levels of investment in the area from Euro shipping lines, and his distinctive style appears to be part geo-political commentary, part personal narrative and part “local colourful anecdote”...He’d be both entertaining and enlightening, if one wasn’t constantly distracted by his need to chuck in a spot of virulent racism here and there. I’m sure that the crews of tramp steamers in the early-twentieth century weren’t vying for any cultural sensitivity awards, but it’s an interesting observation that the crew members he gets on well with, and is most social around, are the ones who frighten the local populous to such an extent that they won’t pose for photographs. The phrase “Of their time” is occasionally bandied around as a kind of mitigatory description to such attitudes; that has some small weight, but also you often gather that, in the case of some people, it doesn’t matter what era they lived in they were less than stellar humans.
That being said, in Lund’s case, there is no doubt of his sense of adventure, his avid appreciation and curiosity regarding the many cultures he exposes himself to, his keen eye for detail and his very evident skill in producing a narrative that is not only illuminating and diverting, but also important. It was clearly wild, violent and largely unregulated on the Amazon lines during his time and the sense of bringing prosperity and advantage to a “frontier” environment is engagingly depicted. He sets out from the first to tell a good yarn, and there is no argument that he succeeds in fine style.