Mr. and Mrs. Wynford Swinburne. [MANUSCRIPT] Log of A Voyage to Ceylon
1936-1939; A Voyage to W. Indies 1937-1938; A Voyage to Yokohama 1938-1939..
Small 4to. 70pp. Half beige cloth over marbled boards. Red title label to spine reading “Main Courante”, badly chipped, with hand written title labels to front board. Strong, solid, very light soiling, very good indeed. Edges speckled red. Internally clean. Manuscript text in a neat and eminently readable hand, interspersed with photographs, ephemeral items like menus, maps, tickets and most frequently, stamps of the areas visited. Judging from the amount of detail regarding somewhat stroppy conversations with port officials, weight of shipping and detailed statistics it seems likely that this Log was kept by Mr. Wynford Swinburne (not so much because women don’t keep records of detailed statistics, but more because the suggestions of unimpeded access suggested by the conversations indicate a man, much as I would prefer Mrs. Swinburne, a formidable lady named Beatrice, to be questioning a Hamburg night watchman on the current popularity of Hitler at 3 am on a dock). Locations, ports, weather and a wealth of tourist information are recorded, critiques of hotels and meals, the aforementioned stroppy conversations with various guides and officials (”I informed that not all tourists were ‘mugs’!”), encounters with bureaucracy and officialdom (mainly in Germany, especially on one occasion when travellers were roused in the middle of the night in their pyjamas and questioned as to their financial status; “It is a little difficult to add up one’s financial assets whilst standing in a drafty ship’s passage, under the cold eye and keen scrutiny of German officialdom, even more so when one is clad in fashionable pyjamas.”
Of particular interest (especially given our current state of political affairs) is a conversation with a Hamburg night watchman who had been interned in England during the First World War, speaking here as a working German on the very eve of the Second: “He spoke sadly of the present 30% increase in the cost of living in Germany, he said also he thought Hitlerism was dying out and that in his opinion the old regime was the best. At the seaport of Hamburg he spoke of Jews and Hitlerites sitting down together in the same restaurants without friction. He had no use whatsoever for the “League of Nations.” The National Socialist was apparently the only person that mattered in the country at the present time. Personally, he said, he was better off in England during the War and he wished he was back there now.”
The idea that in the late 30’s there could have been normal, ordinary people who thought Hitler would be blowing over any minute gives some unsettling insight into how a society might suddenly end up with one of their own. Our narrator al;so points out that 1936 Germany makes no observation of Armistice Day. A couple of weeks later the riotous news on board ship (bound for Sri Lanka) concerns the King’s possible marriage to the “twice divorced American woman” (no note is made of which of those points is the worst one) and how “the whole country is in deep consternation” with a possible result being “relations between church and state will be fundamentally disturbed.” Christmas and New year in Sri Lanka are met with considerable approval, and 1936 draws to a close with an enormous party at the Galle Face Hotel (helpful illustrative postcard inserted). It seems to have been the Swinburne habit to winter in the tropics, so the West Indies voyage starts off in December 1937. It must be noted that throughout all the voyages, detailed records of what liners and other vessels are encountered and where, so the text is dotted with “SS RAWALPINDI” in inked capitals and “laid up by the NORMANDIE” to add further context. Costa Rica elicited the complaint that all the shops were shut and they were followed by a policeman, apparently life is still problematic even for middle class cruise passengers visiting penniless islands and refusing to tip. The journal continues thus, an intriguing mix of politics, natural history and anglocentric anecdote dotted with ephemera like raisins in a fruitcake. One of the most delightful insertions is of an invitation to a Kobe brothel received aboard the SS Sarpedon: “Do you ever feel boundless melancholy when the night comes and the Great Bear begins to brighten on the northern mountains of Kobe? The night of Kobe is very beautiful and also very romantic. If you want to spend a precious evening in Kobe, please come to see me and my friends with this letter at the ‘Bar Tavern’.” It continues in the same vein “I have so many girls besides myself, and I hope you will call upon which ever name you like best: ‘Lulu’, ‘Lily’, ‘Michi’, ‘Sumi’, and ‘Ichi’” and is signed “Madam Cherry.” Our chronicler describes it as “Somewhat Dubious.” An interesting manuscript journal.