Journals 2.3 – Journal of Travels by G.E. Winants (Part 3)

The following is a continuation of my essay on Winants’s journal.  See the earlier entries from 30th May 2015 and 3rd June 2015 for the first and second parts.


The Carnival in Rome, painted by José Benlliure y Gil 14 years after Winants’s visit.

A few days after Christmas, Winants embarked on a ‘tour to the river Jordan and Dead Sea, by way of Jericho.’ He travelled on horseback, ‘guarded by a sheik, dragoman, muleteer, donkey-boy, and cook’ and accompanied by a small group of friends. Once again the weather was his enemy:

‘We soon pitch our tents, making preparation from the night. This is a small Arab town containing about thirty mud houses, surrounded by dry thorn-bushes, to keep off the invading Arabs, by whom the country is infested, getting their living by plunder. During the night there arose a fearful thunder and rain storm, accompanied by a gale of wind. If it had not been that we were encamped in the midst of a fig-grove, which afforded us protection from the effects of the gale, we should have lost our tents; and as it was we expected every moment that we would be turned out and exposed to the elements.’

Even more dangerous was the journey back to Jerusalem, which took longer than expected. Night fell while Winants and his party were still travelling, causing the guide to lose his way:

‘The dragoman was desirous of going one way and the horses the other. At length the muleteer rode up in haste, and commenced making motions which we readily understood as meaning that we were going in the opposite direction, but the dragoman said that we were in the right way, so that we were at a loss to know which road to take. We had been caught upon the plains in the fore-part of the day in the rain, where the weather was warm, and here we are shivering in the wilderness in damp clothing.’

Eventually the muleteer was proven right, and under his guidance they reached the walls of Jerusalem, only to find the gates closed for the night. Fortunately, among Winants’s party was the Reverend Dr. Adams who had baptised the others in the river Jordan, and was well acquainted with the Holy City:

‘Dr. Adams then stepped forward, as he was better acquainted with the customs, and took a large club and gave three distinct raps upon the gate, at the same time exclaiming in a loud voice, “Counsul! Counsul!” after which the gate was immediately opened, and we rode into the city.’

George Jones Adams was an interesting character, a missionary with a chequered past in the Holy Land. After a tour of America lecturing on the Second Coming, he founded the Church of the Messiah, with the purpose of establishing a Christian colony under his leadership in Israel. 156 followers accompanied him on a voyage in 1866, landing in Jaffa in September. The colony started life auspiciously:

‘Soon after their arrival, they commenced to build a Yankee village upon the plains next to the sea. They also rented a considerable tract of land near Jaffa, and put in some three hundred acres of wheat, one hundred and fifty acres of barley, fifty acres of beans, and a large field of potatoes.’

However, it was not long before the ‘colonists became dissatisfied, and made application to the consul at Jerusalem, for redress against Dr. Adams and his associates.’ Winants was eager to stress that Adams was blameless, and ‘did all, and more than he had promised’. Adams is also mentioned in Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, which throws much more light on the subject. The author sailed from Jaffa on the ship Quaker City, and there met some of the disillusioned colonists, who had been ‘shamefully humbugged by their prophet’ and were struggling to find a way to return to America, having sunk all their money into the establishment of the colony. Obtaining help had been difficult, as ‘New England was not sorry to be rid of such visionaries and was not in the least inclined to hire anybody to bring them back to her.’ There are two sides to every story, but according to Twain the ‘colony was a complete fiasco.’

The Nineteenth Century was a time of great missionary activity, but Adams was not alone in experiencing difficulties, with others finding that ‘it was almost impossible to make much progress in building up Christianity.’ Continuing his travels, Winants found a more positive example of missionary work, in Beirut:

‘This morning we visit the mission works. Rev. Dr. Bliss shows us through the new church, which is not finished; it is built of stone, and will seat about three hundred and fifty people. From here we are conducted through another building in which was the new printing press which had recently arrived from England, and the only one in the country. We are also shown through the college, which has recently been constructed, to instruct young men and women in the arts and sciences; we next go through the primary department. These children are all native-born, and acquire learning rapidly. They are instructed in their own language, and also in English, if they desire.’

Daniel Bliss had created a lasting legacy. He would continue to serve as the president of the Syrian Protestant College until 1902. It had opened the year before Winants’s visit, with a class of just 16 students, and tuition in Arabic, French and medicine. Renamed the American University of Beirut in 1920, the institution Bliss founded is now a secular, independent establishment.

Returning to Europe, Winants travelled from one country to another, staying little more than a few days in each. Italy warranted a much longer stay of nearly a month, with many important sites to visit. As he had in Jerusalem, he arrived in Pompeii at an exciting time, only a few years after Giuseppe Fiorelli had invented the method of pouring plaster into the spaces left by decayed bodies, thus forming the shapes of the original inhabitants. This confused Winants, who was at a loss to understand how the ‘human petrified bodies which had been recently excavated’ had come to resemble ‘white marble, and were quite as heavy and as hard as stone’.

With the exception of the ‘fine churches’ Winants found the ‘not very well built’ city of Rome something of a disappointment. The capital of Italy in name alone since 1861, Rome was still under Papal control but would remain so for just two years after Winants’s visit. With such an uncertain future, the survival of Rome was a matter of some concern:

‘She is now reduced to a small city, surrounded by dilapidated zig-zag walls, containing only about two hundred thousand inhabitants, and to-day she is trembling from centre to circumference, for fear she will lose that small fragment which she retains in possession. If the city of Rome should continue to recede, she will soon be annihilated and swept from existence.’

But first impressions can prove to be false, as Winants discovered, visiting one ‘fine edifice’ after another. The people of Rome also made quite an impact, especially on Carnival day, 22nd February 1868. The streets were ‘literally filled with people’, wearing ‘comic costume, carrying in their hands bouquets of snow-drops made of white chalk’. Although just ‘the size of a small pea’, these snow-drops proved to be rather effective weapons, as Winants was to discover:

‘The ladies from the balconies of the second story threw snow-drops upon the gentlemen in the street, which seemed like a perfect snow-storm; both ladies and gentlemen who took part in the exercises had over their face a thin gauze veil to protect their eyes. As I was passing quietly through the crowd one of the bouquets struck me and knocked off my hat in the street, and while I was running pell-mell to get out of the way, I was hit again and again by the shower of snow-drops, fired from the balconies. All present took the fun in good part and seemed to enjoy it.’

The final part of this essay will follow in a few days.  If you would like to receive an email each time a new entry is posted on this blog, please click the “Follow Windows into History” button on the right of the screen.  You do not need to be a member of WordPress.  You will be prompted to enter your email address, and then the system will generate an automatic email each time a new entry is online.  I welcome comments and suggestions.


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One Response to Journals 2.3 – Journal of Travels by G.E. Winants (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: Blog News (13th July 2015) | Windows into History (Reblogs and News)

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