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Upon return from her trip around the world, Nellie published an account of her travels

Upon return from her trip around the world, Nellie published an account of her travels

When we last left Nellie Bly, it was November 14, 1889 (see blog entries for Feb. 11 and 12) and she had just departed New York  for Southhampton, England, on an ocean steamer. In the next thirteen days, Nellie crossed the Atlantic, took a train to London, a boat across the English Channel to Calais, France, and a train through France and Italy. In Brindisi, Italy, she caught another steamer for China, the Victoria. Along the way, she wrote an account of her travels and cabled them back to her editor at the New York World for publication. The trip caused a sensation back home as readers followed her adventures with relish. 

Thirteen days into her journey, the steamer Victoria anchored at Port Said, Egypt, to take on coal.  Nellie and her fellow passengers gathered on deck and gazed out on a wide, sandy beach and a few  uninteresting houses. They gladly welcomed a change of scenery, though, and looked forward to some time on shore. Here is her account of that experience as recorded later in the book she wrote upon her return, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days:

Before the boat anchored the men armed themselves with canes, to keep off the beggars they said; and the women carried parasols for the same purpose. I had neither stick nor umbrella with me, and refused all offers to accept one for this occasion, having an idea, probably a wrong one, that a stick beats more ugliness into a person than it ever beats out.

Hardly had the anchor dropped than the ship was surrounded with a fleet of small boats, steered by half-clad Arabs, fighting, grabbing, pulling, yelling in their mad haste to be first. I never in my life saw such an exhibition of hungry greed for the few pence they expected to earn by taking the passengers ashore. Some boatmen actually pulled others out of their boats into the water in their frantic endeavors to steal each other’s places. When the ladder was lowered, numbers of them caught it and clung to it as if it meant life or death to them, and here they clung until the captain was compelled to order some sailors to beat the Arabs off, which they did with long poles, before the passengers dared venture forth. This dreadful exhibition made me feel that probably there was some justification in arming one’s self with a club.

Our party were about the first to go down the ladder to the boats. It had been our desire and intention to go ashore together, but when we stepped into the first boat some were caught by rival boatmen and literally dragged across to other boats. The men in the party used their sticks quite vigorously; all to no avail, and although I thought the conduct of the Arabs justified this harsh course of treatment, still I felt sorry to see it administered so freely and lavishly to those black, half-clad wretches, and marveled at their stubborn persistence even while cringing under the blows. Having our party divided there was nothing to do under the circumstances but to land and reunite on shore, so we ordered the Arabs to pull away. Midway between the Victoria and the shore the boatmen stopped and demanded their money in very plain and forcible English. We were completely at their mercy, as they would not land us either way until we paid what they asked. One of the Arabs told me that they had many years’ experience in dealing with the English and their sticks, and had learned by bitter lessons that if they landed an Englishman before he paid they would receive a stinging blow for their labor.

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cartoon-nellie-around-the-worldYesterday, you will recall, we followed famed stunt reporter Nellie Bly as she tried to convince her editor to let her make a journalistic trip around the world in less than 80 days. Perhaps you noticed that I left out some information in yesterday’s post. I wrote that Nellie Bly’s New York World editor had two objections to sending her on the trip yet I proceeded to list only one of them for my readers, that, for such a journey, her editor thought she needed a male protector.

This is what Nellie recalled her boss having said that day:

“It is impossible for you to do it,” was the terrible verdict. “In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector, and even if it were possible for you to travel alone you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes. Besides you speak nothing but English, so there is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this.”

Nellie vigorously objected and her editor relented, eventually warming to the idea. A year passed before any more was spoken about it. Then one cold evening, Nellie was summoned into her editor’s office. When she entered, he looked up from the paper he was writing and asked her, “Can you start around the world day after tomorrow?”

“I can start this minute,” she replied without hesitating. She recalled his second objection, that she would travel with too much baggage, and set out to conquer that problem.

Early the next morning Nellie went to a dressmaker and ordered a custom dress to be made for her immediately. The dressmaker was at her service instantly. Nellie explained to him that she needed a traveling outfit that could stand constant wear for three months. She  was planning to go around the world in only one dress! After looking at several materials, the dressmaker selected two sensible fabrics: a plain blue broadcloth and a plaid camel’s hair. That afternoon, Nellie had her first fitting at 1:00, her second fitting at 5:00, and the dress was ready.

Nellie could then turn her attention to packing. She had bought one hand-bag and was determined to confine her baggage to its singular limit. “Packing that bag was the most difficult undertaking of my life….”

In her hand-bag, she packed:

two traveling caps, three veils, a pair of slippers, a complete outfit of toilet articles, ink-stand, pens, pencils, and copy-paper, pins, needles and thread, a dressing gown, a tennis blazer, a small flask and a drinking cup, several complete changes of underwear, a liberal supply of handkerchiefs and fresh ruchings and most bulky and uncompromising of all, a jar of cold cream to keep my face from chapping in the varied climates I should encounter.

That jar of cold cream was the bane of my existence. It seemed to take up more room than everything else in the bag and was always getting into just the place that would keep me from closing the satchel. Over my arm I carried a silk waterproof, the only provision I made against rainy weather.

She was given 200 lbs in English gold and Bank of England notes. She carried the gold in her pocket. The Bank of England notes she carried around her neck in a chamois-skin bag. She also took some American gold and paper money to see if it could be used at foreign ports. Her passport was in order. As she was traveling without an escort, a friend suggested that she carry a revolver, but Nellie refused to arm herself, saying she had a “strong belief in the world’s greeting” for her.

On November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly set sail from New York for Southhampton, England, on the ocean steamer, the August Victoria.

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Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

In 1888, stunt journalist Nellie Bly (see other entries in “Categories – Nellie Bly” in right sidebar) convinced her boss, the editor of the New York World, to send her on a trip around the world alone. She bet him that she could do it in eighty days or less. Where had she gotten this hairbrain scheme? From a book by Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days. She was always getting wild and crazy ideas for her newspaper stories. Remember, of course, that the year before she had posed as an lunatic to get committed to an insane asylum. She had also posed as an unwed mother to expose the black market baby adoption rackets.

Nellie’s editor liked her idea but had two concerns. He thought she would need a male protector, that she shouldn’t travel alone.

 “Very well, start the man,” she said, “and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.”

Her editor got the idea. He couldn’t afford to let Nellie Bly quit his paper and go to work for a rival. New York newspaper competition was fierce and Nellie Bly’s articles dramatically boosted circulation for the World. He gave her the assignment.  A year later she was ready to go.

Next: Nellie in Egypt

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