Journals 2.4 – Journal of Travels by G.E. Winants (Part 4)

The following is the concluding part of my essay on Winants’s journal.  See the earlier entries from 30th May 2015, 3rd June 2015 and 7th June 2015 for the first three parts.

Cadiz Cathedral

Cadiz Cathedral (source:

Winants was used to the dangerous life of a traveller abroad, having recently passed through the bandit country of the Apennine Mountains. Travelling the infamous pass between Naples and Brindisi, Winants was lucky enough to be untroubled by the ‘thieves and robbers’ that ‘infested’ the area, so instead related a recent incident in his journal:

‘But a few days since, there was a stage-load of passengers on their way from Brindisi to Naples, who were robbed in these wild mountains by the bandits of all they possessed. There is at present a gentleman confined in the hospital at Naples, who refused to give certain information that they required, so they cut off both his ears, then robbed him of what he had on and in his possession, and let him go. When he arrived in Naples he was nearly exhausted by the loss of blood. Many others, travelling over the Apennines, have been murdered and never heard of.’

Also suffering from an ‘infestation’ of bandits was the next country on Winants’s agenda: Spain. Here he saw ‘poor looking towns filled with beggars’, and feared being ‘robbed and murdered in the mountains’, but was much impressed by the wonders of the Alhambra and enjoyed the ‘healthy’ climate of the country. One of his fellow travellers was keen to see a bull-fight, but Winants declined to accompany him; he had seen a bull-fight once in Havana, and swore never to ‘witness another such inhuman and wicked exhibition’. Besides, there was plenty enough violent incident to be observed in the streets, as he found in St. Sebastian:

‘On our way we passed by the fish-market, where we saw two fish hucksters in combat; after a little while a third person came in to part them, but one of the women struck her in the face with a flat-fish and almost put her eyes out.’

At Cadiz Cathedral, Winants was subjected to the indignity of bring thrown out of a service, due to his wife’s refusal to follow Catholic tradition:

‘During the service, there was carried through the nave of the church a representation of the Cross, carried upon a platform by four men; the archbishop went ahead, overshadowed by a rich canopy, followed by a large procession of priests and monks. The priests and monks were arrayed in long white gowns, each one carrying in his hands two large wax candles lighted. As the figure advanced, the bishop leading, closely followed by the priests and monks, the people all fell upon their knees on the floor. As they passed by us, one of the monks came up to Mrs W., and requested her to kneel upon the floor with the rest, which she promptly refused to do; he seemingly became indignant, and finally laid hands upon us and made motions for us to leave, to which we quietly submitted.’

Winants had the first of two brushes with European royalty in Spain, when he met Queen Isabella II. She had ruled Spain since 1843, but would face dethronement and exile just five months after meeting Winants. Unbeknownst to Winants, the events that would lead to her exile were already in motion, with the insurrection in Catalonia in April 1868, the very month of their meeting.

‘This afternoon we hire a carriage and take a ride out in the country: on returning we meet her Royal Highness the Queen of Spain and her husband, riding out upon the Del Prado, in the most gorgeous style. The carriage in which they rode was painted black, with gold trimmings, drawn by six black horses, and the harness was trimmed with gold. The queen was dressed rather plainly. She is quite fleshy and rather good-looking, and seemed to be unassuming in manners. Most of the people in Spain speak in the highest terms of the queen as benevolent and kind to the poorer classes.’

Winants was always keen to present the people he met in the best possible light, but his assessment of Isabella could not have been further from the truth. She had long since ceased to be a popular queen for an abundance of reasons, including her support for oppressive laws and her association with the derided and ever-present Carlos Marfori, Chief of the Royal Household. Although not mentioned by Winants, he would almost certainly have been present in the royal carriage.

A more negative assessment was given by Winants of Napoleon III of France, perhaps because he was a ruler Winants never actually met and he therefore formed his opinions based on the views of others:

‘It is not generally known to strangers visiting Paris, whether the emperor is thought well of by the people or otherwise, as the people are kept in fear under the iron yoke, and dare not make any expression derogatory to him. Even the public press is held in profound silence under forfeiture of their liberty. But a great deal of dissatisfaction is manifested by the poorer class, and even by the rich, whose buildings and lands he has seized and torn down to widen the streets of Paris, and has constructed such edifices as he thought proper, without even, in some cases, consulting the owners. Therefore the city of Paris has been beautified at an enormous expense to the people, and thus their taxes are heavier than they can patiently bear. If the emperor should continue, ere long will come a bloody revolution; as it has been in the past so it will be again.’

In contrast to his kind words about Isabella II, Winants is perhaps overly critical of Napoleon III who, by the 1860s, had moved away from his earlier policies of oppression and was presiding over a more liberal style of government. His extraordinary level of spending on civil improvements was based on the principals of industrialisation and economic improvement. Ironically, Winants was not far from the truth with his prediction, although it was the Franco-Prussian War rather than the burden of taxation that finally ended his reign in 1870.

En route through France, Winants took the opportunity to spend a few more days in Paris. There he was lucky enough to be one of the last people to ascend the Colonne Vendôme before it was closed a few days later after ‘a young lady went up, and became so much frightened that she threw herself from the gallery to the ground and was instantly killed.’

‘Mrs W. and I procure permission to go up. It having no lights or ventilation of fresh air, on reaching the top or upper gallery, Mrs. W. fainted, while I was nearly exhausted; from here it was like looking down upon the entire city of Paris.’

Three years later the column was dismantled during La Commune de Paris, a short period in which Paris was ruled by local authority; the column was rebuilt during 1873 and 1874, and stands to this day in the centre of the Place Vendôme.

Returning to England, Winants had another encounter with royalty: on the Isle of Wight, an island with which he was much taken, he saw the Royal Family attending church whilst in residence at Victoria’s beloved Osborne Estate. Also present were the Queen’s four youngest children, all of whom survived to see the 20th Century with the exception of Leopold, who suffered from haemophilia and died suddenly in 1884.

‘This being the Sabbath, we attend the English chapel, where we had the pleasure of seeing Her Majesty, the Queen of England, and the Royal Family, in church. They came in two carriages; the first contained Queen Victoria, accompanied by Princess Louise, Prince Arthur, and Prince Leopold. The second carriage contained the little Princess Beatrice, accompanied by her governess. They were all in plain attire, and quite unassuming in their manners.’

Another week in London, seven months after his previous visit, afforded Winants the time to visit some more famous sights such as Madame Tussaud’s, Buckingham Palace, and the Royal Zoological Gardens. One experience which is no long available to tourists in London was a walk through Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, now part of the rail network. Completed twenty-five years before Winants’s visit, for the use of carriages, the tunnel had in fact only ever been used by pedestrians:

‘This morning we take a sail down the Thames to the Tunnel, which crosses underneath the river. We enter the tunnel by descending a large circular well; there are two of these wells, one on each side of the river. We go down a winding staircase, over ninety-eight stone steps, before reaching the floor of the tunnel, then, by paying a penny to the man at the gate, we are permitted to go through the tunnel and come out on the other side of the river. This immense tunnel is twelve hundred feet in length, reaching from shore to shore, built on the bed of the river, over which the largest ships sail. It is built of stone and cement combined; fifty-feet in width, and is divided by a centre wall with openings at short intervals, running the whole length, with an arched ceiling twenty-five feet high. It has been constructed at a great cost, and will not pay one per cent. upon the original outlay of money.’

There was also time for some final observations concerning the character of the typical Englishmen, seemingly a prerequisite for any 19th Century travel journal that included Britain in the itinerary:

‘It is a most single fact, that when two strange English gentlemen meet in a railway coach, they will not converse together. I was quite amused: we were accompanied by two well-dressed, respectable-looking English gentlemen, strangers to each other. One seemed more genial than the other, who asked him some question, to which he declined to make an answer; but he was very willing to talk with us Americans; hence they both joined in conversation with us, but would not exchange a word between themselves. They must first have an introduction, and know something as to each other’s antecedents; but they are at all times ready to converse with Americans, who are most cordially treated by them.’

Winants departed from Liverpool on 12th May 1868, arriving in New York on 25th. The day before his arrival in America, he attended a funeral service for a passenger who had died at sea:

‘After the service had been read by the captain of the ship, the corpse was borne to the gangway by four sailors, covered over with the British flag, and at the end of the solemnity, was let down into the sea to remain until the day of resurrection. Alas, how frail is life! we grow up in the morning like the flower of the field, and often, when in the bloom of life, we are cut down and withered like a green herb.’

It would be another twenty-two years before Garrett Winants was himself ‘cut down’. His 1867-1868 travels were not his last by any means, and in 1877 he published another journal, entitled Around the World. Shortly before his death he donated $100,000 to a college of his choice. Perhaps a biblical quotation was preying on his mind.

We will begin looking at another journal shortly.  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.

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 19th Century, England, Journals, London, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Journals 2.4 – Journal of Travels by G.E. Winants (Part 4)

  1. I have really enjoyed reading theses essays!


    • Roger Pocock says:

      Thank you Andrew! That is very kind of you to say. I have written and scheduled the third and fourth journal essays and I am working on the fifth one at the moment. There are also plenty more ‘snippets’ and guest posts in the pipeline.

      Liked by 1 person

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

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