Category Archives: Baedeker and other guides

Early guidebooks and travel advice.

In the company of TH Usborne esq

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I own a small grey-blue volume titled Usborne’s Guide to Egypt and the Levant. It is aged and worn, and really doesn’t look like much, but it’s a book that fascinates me. Published in 1840, it is, as far as I know, the earliest proper guidebook to Egypt. By ‘proper guidebook’ I mean not an account of a journey, but specifically a book of practical information compiled to help those who would travel in the author’s footsteps. The best-known such guides in the 19th century were those published by the firms of John Murray and Karl Baedeker, but the first Murray’s Handbook to Egypt would not be published until 1847 and the first Baedeker on Egypt didn’t appear until 1877. Which makes Usborne’s guide a real trailblazer – but also something of a mystery.

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TH Usborne of St James’s Square, London, is the author not the publisher and that is the sum total of everything I know about him. (Ziad Morsi, a student at Southampton University, has succeeding in uncovering some solid biographical information – see the comments section.) As far as I’ve been able to discover, there are no other Usborne guides. The publisher is Cradock & Co (formerly Baldwin & Cradock) of Paternoster Row, London, a company about which little information exists, although a search on the internet throws up a handful of its other titles, including Guy’s British Spelling Book, A Manual of Music, The Flower Gardener’s Manual, The Fruit Gardener’s Manual, Domestic Brewing and The Steam Engine: Familiarly Described with a Brief Account of its History and Uses. All these were published in the 1840s and early 1850s, suggesting the company was short lived. The only other guidebook Cradock & Co seems to have published was Madeira: Its Climate and Scenery by Robert White.

Judging by his introduction to the Guide to Egypt and the Levant, Usborne appears to have been a bit of a chancer: ‘Without having decided on any particular course of travel, I left England in the winter of 1837, and betook myself to the shores of the Mediterranean,’ he writes. The lack of planning, he goes on to explain, caused him to spend both time and money unprofitably, and so he penned his guide to prevent others from repeating the worst of his mistakes. Usborne’s audience was not the leisure traveller but ‘East Indians’, who were the soldiers and civil servants of the British Empire enroute from England to postings in India. A sizeable number of pages are spent detailing the arrangements of mail-pioneer Mr Thomas Waghorn for processing transients on from Alexandria by boat up to Cairo and then, by either small spring cart (known as omnibuses), donkey litter or camel, across the Eastern Desert to Suez and a boat bound for Bombay.

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One of Waghorn’s desert stations, from the Illustrated London News, 1857

Coverage of the sights of Cairo and Upper Egypt is offered as an add-on for anyone wishing to break their journey. Except, Usborne doesn’t think anyone should dally for too long. Of Cairo’s 300 mosques he declares only three are worth visiting. He highlights the slave market and dancing girls, and devotes several pages to a description of a extremely dull performance by a magician of dubious credentials. Out at the Pyramids, the great monument of Cheops gets four lines but there is close to a whole page on the nearby ovens used to aid the hatching of chicks.

Usborne’s knowledge of ancient Egypt is next to non-existent, so the monuments of Upper Egypt are covered in the skimpiest of fashion. It’s not that long since Henry Salt had engaged Belzoni to treasure hunt at Thebes and both these gentlemen feature in the guide, as their names probably meant more to readers at this time than the names of any pharaoh. One of the most detailed descriptions concerns ‘Belzoni’s Tomb’ (below, in an 1855 watercolour by George de General Sausmarez), better known these days as the tomb of Seti I. Usborne reached Aswan but went no further – he possibly never even saw Philae as it gets just a single sentence in his book. Abu Simbel does not feature at all.

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With a profusion its timetables and lists of prices (although no maps), Usborne’s guide would have done a good job of getting the traveller to Egypt and beyond (it goes on to cover Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Andalusia) but it would not have helped them learn much along the way. In fact, the author’s love of a good yarn makes the guide positively disinformational – he describes a venomous tarantula found in Upper Egypt that derives its poison from feeding on the bodies of the dead.

I have never seen another copy of this rarest of Egypt guidebooks, although I’m told one came up for auction in London about ten years ago. If anybody knows anything at all about TH Usborne esq, please do get in touch.

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Best be prepared

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It’s July. Summer. Some of you may soon be heading off on holiday. I thought I could use this blog to pass along some solid advice on what to take along with you. It comes from Murray’s Hand-book for Travellers in Egypt, prepared by John Gardner Wilkinson and published in 1847. This was a period when baggage allowances on boats and other forms of transport were more generous than they are today. Under the heading ‘Things Useful for a Journey in Egypt’, Gardner Wilkinson lists all of those items that he considers more or less necessary for any traveller. Those marked with an A can be bought on arrival at Alexandria, those with a C can be left until Cairo:

* Jug and basin [A or C]
* Mats [one or two at A, others at C]
* Carpets [A or C]
* Common soap [A or C]
* Lamp [A or C]
* Kitchen-cloths
* Towels and table-cloths
* Sheets, horse-hair mattress, pillows, and pillow-cases
* Two or three blankets
* Iron bedstead to fold up

 

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To keep at bay at night biting insects, GW recommends an invention of Mr Levinge’s, which consists of a pair of sheets (a), about six feet long, sewn together at the bottom and the two sides, except where the piece (c) is attached to them, and by which you get in. To the upper end (d) is added a thin piece of muslin, serving as a mosquito net (b), which is drawn tight at the end by a tape or string, serving to suspend it to a nail (f).

* Gridiron
* 20 okas of potatoes [A or C]
* Tobacco [A or C]
* Pipes [C]
* Wire for cleaning pipes, put into a reed [C]
* Mouth-pieces and pipe-bowls [C]
* Salt and pepper [A or C]
* Oil and distilled vinegar
* Butter [C]
* Flour [C]
* Rice [C]
* Maccaroni [A or C]
* Coffee [C]
* Portable soup and meats
* English cheese
* Mishmish apricots [C]
* Ḵumredeen apricots [C]
* Tea
* Wine, brandy, etc. White wine is better in a hot climate than red
* Spermaceti candles
* Table with legs to fold up, and top to take off
* Foot tub (of tin or copper)
* Washing tub
* Flag (for boat on Nile)
* Small pulley and rope for flag
* Coffee-pot [A]
* Tea-kettle
* Plates, knives and forks, spoons, glasses, tea things, etc
* Copper saucepans, one to fit into the other [A]
* Copper pan for stewing [A]
* Baskets for holding these and other things [A]
* Candlesticks
* Water bottles [C]
* Almond paste for clarifying water [C]
* Some tools, nails, and string
* Small bellows
* Fez caps (tarabeesh) [A or C]
* Manásheh, fly-flap [A or C]
* A coop for fowls, with moveable drawer at the bottom, in order that it may be kept clean [A or C]
* White, or light-coloured boots or shoes, being cooler, and requiring no blacking
* Red Turkish slippers [C]
* Biscuits, or bread twice baked [C]
* Small tin cases for holding coffee, sugar, salt, pepper, etc [A]
* Ballási, or earthen jars for flour, rice and other things which rats might eat [C]
* Candles [C]
* Broom and a tin, for sweeping cabin [C]
* Gun, powder, and shot etc
* Ink, paper, pens etc
* Camp-stool and drawing table
* Umbrella lined with a dark colour for the sun
* Drawing paper, pencils, rubber and colours, in tin box of Winsor and Newton
* Telescope
* Thermometer, mountain barometer, if required
* Measuring-tape and foot-ruler
* For observations, a sextant and artificial horizon
* Curtains for boat, of common or other cotton stuff [A or C]
* A packing-needle or two, and some string, thin ropes, needles, thread, buttons etc, are useful
* An iron rat-trap for the boat

In the medicine chest, the most necessary things for a traveler, according to Gardner Wilkinson are scales and a liquid-measure, lancet, diachylon and blistering plaster, lint, salts, rhubarb, cream of tartar, ipecacuanha, sulphate of bark or quinine, James’s and Dover’s powders, calomel, laudanum or morphine, sugar of lead, sulphate of zinc, nitrate of silver, and sulphate of copper (these last four being of great use in ophthalmia), nitre, oil of peppermint, and other common medicines. All these, writes GK, are better brought from Europe.

In the absence of sound and light shows, GK suggests taking along plenty of reading material to fill the long evenings. He limits his list to only the most useful works, which are given as Herodotus; Champollion’s Phonetic System of Hieroglyphics, Letters, and Grammar; Pococke; Denon; Hamilton’s Ægyptiaca; Savary’s Letters; Clot Bey’s Aperçu Générale de l’Egypte; Gliddon on the Hieroglyphics; Mengin’s Egypte sous Mohammed Aly; Robinson’s Palestine and Mount Sinai; Lane’s Modern, and Wilkinson’s Ancient, Egyptians; Hoskins’s Ethiopia and Visit to the Great Oasis; Colonel Leake’s, Lapie’s, or Wilkinson’s Map of Egypt; Captain Smyth’s Alexandria; Wilkinson’s Survey of Thebes; Costa’s Delta; and Parke and Scoles’s Nubia; to which may be added Burckhardt, Laborde’s Petra, Ptolemy, Strabo, and Pliny. Now, don’t you feel just a little bit of a slacker packing only Paula Hawkin’s follow up to Girl on a Train?

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And just to show that the art of packing for every eventuality didn’t end with the 19th century, the picture above is of Marlene Dietrich and her luggage aboard the SS Normandie in 1936.

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Schindler’s guides to Cairo and Alex

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A couple of posts back I mentioned the Schindler publishing company of Egypt and the guides it produced to Cairo and Alexandria, covers above. These were put out in 1942/43 to take advantage of the tens of thousands of Allied soldiers that had flooded the city since the outbreak of World War II. So they are light on history and sightseeing and mostly concentrate on restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and useful information like postal rates and train times. They are filled with ads for many of these businesses. In the case of Cairo, except for Groppi’s and the Anglo-Egyptian Bookshop, the advertised businesses are all long gone. Not so with Alexandria – among the ads in that guide are many for bars and restaurants that still just about hang on today, including the Cap d’Or, Badrot, Santa Lucia and a few others. For all the lamenting that goes on for lost Alexandria, the city manages to cling on to its past far more securely than Cairo.

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Schindler of Cairo

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It is a name usually associated with lifts and lists, but in Cairo in the 1930s and ’40s the most prominent Schindler was a printer and publisher of English- and French-language books. From a Downtown office at 41 Sharia Madabegh (now Sharia Sherif), E & R Schindler put out a variety of books on Egyptian subjects, including regularly updated guides to Cairo and Alexandria, along with what were possibly the company’s best-selling titles, Rambles in Cairo and Moslem Builders of Cairo, both by Mrs RL Devonshire. Mrs Devonshire was a rather formidable French lady, born Henriette Caroline Vulliamy, who married a British lawyer, Robert Llewellyn Devonshire, and who was a great expert in Islamic architecture. According to Artemis Cooper in Cairo in the War 1939–1945, a tour of the city’s mosques in her company was a must for any cultivated visitor to Cairo. Mrs RLD was a historic monument in her own right, like Gertrude Stein in Paris. On three afternoons a week, in both world wars, she took members of the armed forces round the major Islamic monuments free of charge.

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Schindler’s most curious book, though, was something called From Siwa to Cairo: Across the Libyan Desert with Armoured Cars by Major MTI Dun, dso, mc, ramc. It is not so much the subject matter – a drive across the desert to Siwa and back that took place in late 1932 – as the presentation. An officer in the XIIth Royal Lancers, Major Dun was also a man of culture. His book is part travelogue, part art book. Packaged between golden covers, the pages are embellished with deco-style page ornamentations, woodcuts by members of Cairo’s School of Fine Arts and, running along the bottom of the text, small pen-and-ink sketches of the convoy of 10 Rolls Royce armoured cars, one Leyland radio truck, three Austin Seven cars and a motorcycle making its way across the sands.

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The charming convoy drawings are credited to N Strekalowsky, but the book offers no further information about the artist. The expedition was completely uneventful, with no accidents or emergencies – the only action was a football match between the British soldiers and their Egyptian counterparts at Sollum. It’s all a bit of wheeze.

Cairo to Siwa map

Cairo to Siwa also contains this excellent map (click to enlarge). As the text rightly points out, ‘We know a town better by its buildings and shops than by the names of its streets’ and this map is heavily annotated with all the landmarks that played a role in the lives of many foreign residents in Cairo in the 1930s. You can reconstruct those lives from it: the restaurants Groppi’s, Gattegno, Aval de Venise; Shepheard’s, the Continental-Savoy and National hotels; Davies Bryan, Circurel and Chemla department stores; the bars and restaurants on Alfi Bey Street; and the branches of P&O, Cox & Kings and Thomas Cook for tickets home again. There are a few mysteries too: the lady with her legs astride a building that is being torn apart at the corner of Suleiman Pasha and Fouad al-Awal streets, what’s that about? And the squatting chap with a beard and turban on the corner of Emad ad-Din and Fouad al-Awal? I can get lost for hours here.

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Avoid crowds. Don’t let strangers talk to you

This is why I love old guidebooks. These pages are from a guide to Chicago published in 1888, but the paternalistic going on paranoid tone of the advice is familiar from guides to Egypt.

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Tut, tut! Miss Lucy!

I’ve just finished reading Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I’m a little late to the party, I know, but the sparkly chick-lit packaging of the UK edition put me off. It wasn’t until I found the US paperback with its more grown-up, Condé Nast archive photo on the cover that I felt able to buy the book. I’m glad I did. The plot’s thin (two girls meet boy in a Greenwich Village jazz club on New Year’s Eve 1937) but the evocation of the Manhattan high-life of the late Thirties is fantastic. The writing is whip-smart F Scott Fitzgerald meets Raymond Chandler: “I was just finishing a countersuit to be typed out in triplicate, getting ready to mope my way home, when out of the corner of my eye I saw Charlotte Sykes approaching from the washrooms. She had changed into high heels and a tangerine-coloured blouse that clashed with all her best intentions.

The verve and gutsiness of several of the women in the book reminds me of Lee Miller, who if you’ve read my earlier post you’ll know I hold in some esteem. And if you haven’t read my earlier post (Lee Miller invades the Long Bar) read it now and then this:

She pointed back up Seventh Street.

—I know a cute little place right up here. I’ll buy you a beer. We’ll catch up. It’ll be a gas.

The cute little place turned out to be an old Irish bar. Over the front door a sign read: GOOD ALE, RAW ONIONS, NO LADIES.

—I think that means us.

—Cmon, Fran said. Don’t be such a Patsy.

See what I mean?

This also delighted me:

—What’d you buy?

He didn’t know what she was referring to.

She pointed.

He’d forgotten that he still had the bookseller’s bag in his hand.

—A Baedeker’s, he said. I thought we might see some of the sights later.

I always get excited by the casual namedropping of a Victorian-era guidebook, and there’s no finer guidebook name to drop than that of Baedeker. EM Forster knew it too. In A Room with a View Lucy Honeychurch is directed around Italy by her little red guidebook – that is until she encounters the lady novelist Eleanor Lavish: “Tut, tut! Miss Lucy! I hope we shall soon emancipate you from Baedeker,” says Ms Lavish and confiscates the guide to leave Lucy exposed and defenceless, with the result she’s led astray to ultimately elope with a young gentleman admirer. That’s what happens when you lose your Baedeker.

The Lonely Planets of their day, these guides were put out by Karl Baedeker, a German publisher, who after seeing some early Murray’s Handbooks (see my previous post) was inspired to copy them. (Karl Baedeker openly acknowledged the debt and became good friends with John Murray, although many years later the latter would accuse the former of plagiarism.) The first Baedeker guides were published in the 1830s, in German, and covered Rheinreisse (Travel along the Rhine), Moselreisse, and Holland, Belgium and Switzerland. The series sported distinctive red cloth covers and the books were the size of a portable Bible, printed on similarly thin, almost tissue-like paper (Murray’s Handbooks at this time all had brown covers but they later switched to a similar shade of blushing red to their competitors). After Karl’s death in 1859, his son Ernst took over and under his direction the company introduced editions in English, expanding coverage beyond the German hinterlands to Britain, the Mediterranean, Russia, America and the Near East: a guide to Lower Egypt was published in 1878, joined by a guide to Upper Egypt in 1892, before the two were combined in a single Egypt guide in 1898.

This new edition condensed the two previous volumes into a single book of about 600 tightly typed pages, including 22 maps, 55 plans, and 66 engraved views and vignettes. It’s a staggering piece of work, and one that for the most part holds up well today, if you can make allowances for sections such as that headed ‘Intercourse with Orientals’ in which the paternalism strays into outright condescension: “[The traveller] should bear in mind that many of the natives with whom he comes in contact are mere children, whose waywardness should excite compassion rather than anger”.

There’s a terrific essay on the Baedeker phenomenon by someone called Edward Mendelson, who at the time he wrote it was an English professor at Columbia, in which he describes Karl Baedeker as “Europe’s ideal parent”. He goes on to describe beautifully what Baedeker was about: “he did more for his readers than guide their way to agreeable hotels, picturesque churches, and sublime vistas. He also set an example of private and public virtues ranging from thrift to patriotism, comforted the timid and encouraged the daring, taught the proper response to courtesy or cunning, combined moral probity with practical wisdom, and even while warning his readers away from unseemly pleasures let slip the knowledge of where they might be found.” You can read the rest of it here.

Under a succession of sons and grandsons, the company continued to thrive. One of the innovations introduced was a star system, marking with an asterisk the points of interest that travellers in a hurry shouldn’t miss. Later a second asterisk was added for doubly unmissables. ‘To Baedeker’ became a verb meaning to travel. Such was the authority of the books that the Nazis employed them in 1942 when they threatened to bomb every two-star building in Baedeker’s guide to Britain. The British response came on the night of 3 December 1943, when the RAF obliterated large parts of Leipzig, and with it, all the stocks and practically all the records of the Baedeker publishing house.

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Never hurry a Murray

Apologies but this is going to be a wordy post. One of the reasons for creating this site was to provide a home for all the bits that didn’t make into the Grand Hotels book (for reasons of space – not because they were rubbish). One element that, with great reluctance, I had to jettison was an appendix I’d written on the wonderful old guidebooks of the 19th century, the Murray’s, Baedeker’s and Thomas Cook’s. So over the next few weeks in a series of posts I’m going to recycle that material here. It’s a bit hardcore and geeky, but then isn’t that what the internet is for?

Long before I started writing Grand Hotels I was a big fan of old 19th-century guidebooks. Hardly surprising, given that for several years I wrote guidebooks for a living. From 1993 onwards, I indulged a fetish for unloved regimes covering places like Kaliningrad, Siberia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Iran and Syria for Lonely Planet. When the basketcase countries ran out I returned to Egypt and did several editions of a guide to the country, as well as a spin-off stand-alone title on Cairo, which ran to two editions before it was shelved due to lack of interest. I developed a profound admiration for the work of those who trod this path before me. It was arduous enough researching a guidebook with planes, trains, air-con coaches, telephones and the internet at my disposal – how much more difficult must it have been to do the job 150 years earlier?

Some of the earliest guidebooks are, understandably, a bit suspect. The oldest one I’ve got is Usborne’s Guide to Egypt and the Levant, published in 1840, which blithely advises that although there are around 300 mosques in Cairo only three of these are really worth visiting, and warns travellers of tarantula spiders of a “very large size” which it says are extremely venomous and derive their poison from feeding on the bodies of the dead.

But the quality of the information quickly got a lot better. Just seven years later, the first proper dedicated guide to Egypt was published by John Murray of London (est 1768), pioneers in the field of guidebooks. John Murray III, grandson of the company founder, took a trip round the Continent in 1829. He travelled without a guidebook for the simple reason such a thing didn’t exist, an omission he set about righting on his return. “I set to work to collect for myself all the facts, information, statistics, &c … which an English tourist would be likely to require or find useful. I travelled thus, note-book in hand.” There were several exhaustive research trips, which Murray wrote up and then had friends go out and test his “Routes”. It wasn’t until 1836 that the finished book –Handbook for Travellers on the Continent – was ready. It was swiftly followed by “Handbooks” to Southern Germany (1837), Switzerland (1838) and Northern Europe: Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Russia (1839). Murray wrote the first two himself, but by the third had begun to recruit collaborators.

For Egypt he contracted John Gardner Wilkinson, who had spent the years 1821-1833 in Egypt, a stay that resulted in the seminal work of Egyptology Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, published in three volumes in 1837. For John Murray, Wilkinson returned to Egypt in 1842 and the first Handbook for Travellers in Egypt was published five years later. (For comparison, as a Lonely Planet writer I would get six months to research and write a new book.)

Between 1847 and 1907, Murray’s Egypt Handbook went through eleven editions. Wilkinson did the updates for the second and third editions, but with the fourth edition of 1873 the task of revisions was handed on – eventually falling for the ninth and tenth editions, in 1896 and 1900, to Miss Mary Broderick, one of the earliest of women Egyptologists. By this time, though, Murray’s handbook was no longer the most popular guidebook to Egypt in English, having been overtaken by the guides produced by Karl Baedeker, about whom I’ll post next time. Out-muscled in the guidebook market by their German publishing rivals (not just in Egypt, but everywhere), in 1915 John Murray sold the rights to their whole backlist of Handbooks, which were subsequently relaunched as the Blue Guides.

Meanwhile, if you fancy taking a look at the original 1847 Murray’s Handbook for Travellers to Egypt, then the whole thing has been scanned and posted up online here.

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Before the travellers’ cheque

There’s a fascinating essay in the October 2011 issue of willfully eccentric US literary magazine The Believer entitled ‘How to Explore Like a Real Victorian Adventurer’. While researching a book about African exploration the author, Monte Reel, stumbled on a whole long dead and forgotten genre of ‘how to explore’ books. As he explains:

Victorian adventurers rarely took a step into the wild without hauling a small library of how-to-explore books with them. Among the volumes [Richard] Burton carried into East Africa* was a heavily annotated copy of Francis Galton’s The Art of Travel; or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries. Originally conceived as a handbook for explorers, and sponsored by England’s Royal Geographical Society, the book was required reading for any self-respecting Victorian traveler. Before rolling up his sleeves and getting down to the hard business of exploring, he could turn to page 134 to learn the best way to do exactly that:

When you have occasion to tuck up your shirt-sleeves, recollect that the way of doing so is, not to begin by turning the cuffs inside-out, but outside-in—the sleeves must be rolled up inwards, towards the arm, and not the reverse way. In the one case, the sleeves will remain tucked up for hours without being touched; in the other, they become loose every five minutes.

I share Reel’s enthusiasm having read lots of early Victorian travel manuals while researching Grand Hotels. Galton’s book, published in 1855 by John Murray, is a particularly fine read (you can download it from the internet in pdf form). Starting with the contents list, which includes entries for Swimming Rivers; Secreting Jewels; Securing Prisoners; Breaking in Oxen; and In Case of Death…

The section on starting a fire explains how this may be done by putting a quarter of a charge of powder into your rifle and on it a quantity of rag. On firing the gun straight up in the air the rag is shot out lighted and you must then run after it as it falls and pick it up quickly. Alternatively, notes Galton, he has read of the crystalline lens of a dead animal’s eye having been used with success in the same way as a magnifying glass. You just don’t get that sort of information in a Lonely Planet.

Other things learned. A good substitute for firewood is bones. A European can live through a bitter night on a sandy plain without any clothes beside what he has on if he buries his body deeply in the sand keeping only his head above the ground. To find honey, catch a bee, tie a feather or straw to its leg, throw it into the air and follow it to the hive. And if you’re worried about having all your valuables stolen, buy a few small jewels and put them in a little silver tube with rounded edges, then make a gash in your skin and bury it there leaving the flesh to heal over; the best place is on the left arm at the spot chosen for vaccination. The only drawback, says Galton, is if robbers are wise to this trick they might mince the traveller to pieces in search of further treasures.

* Burton was a repeat visitor to Shepheard’s hotel in Cairo. He lodged there in 1854 on his return from Mecca where he’d taken part in the Haj disguised as a Muslim Arab pilgrim. He also used the hotel as a base for his expeditions into Africa. The hotel’s owner, Samuel Shepheard thought Burton ‘a bit of a poseur’.

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