Survival for Travellers, Edwardian Style (Guest Post 8)

The following guest post article has been kindly contributed by Geoffrey A. Pocock, author of Outrider of Empire: The Life and Adventures of Roger Pocock (University of Alberta Press) and One Hundred Years of the Legion of Frontiersmen (currently out of print).  His own blog can be viewed at and his website is

semaphore and morse signalsBefore the First War, travel was not a case of jumping on a plane, but it was relatively easy for those who had the money and the time because a berth on either a passenger ship or a cargo ship could easily be purchased. There were considerable variations in the comfort of such travel, but many ships were sailing daily to well-known or exotic countries around the world. Plenty of books written by experienced travellers could be read, but no single volume of advice for those journeying to the frontiers and wilder parts of the world. This was rectified in 1909 by the publication of The Frontiersman’s Pocket Book. Originally produced for members of the Legion of Frontiersmen and recommended strongly by the Boy Scout movement to all Scout Leaders and Scouts, it attempted to cover any eventuality experienced by the traveller in a strange land. As such, this little leather-bound easily-carried volume became popular and was purchased by a far wider readership. A second edition followed in 1911 and a third in 1914. Few copies, even well-thumbed ones, survive today and those original ones that do survive command a high price on the second-hand market. The list of the many contributors contained well-known names from the time, although some have since been forgotten. Among those names still well-known today are the novelist Edgar Wallace, Ewart Grogan (the man who claimed to have walked from the Cape to Cairo), F.C. Selous the explorer and pioneer, and Ernest Thompson Seton of the “Birch Bark Roll”. Bishop Montgomery contributed, although his son, Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery, is far better remembered than the father. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle needs no introduction and advert inside cover 1Colonel (later Major-General Sir) Sam Steele remains a great Canadian hero.

Even today it is a book to be recommended to the adventurous traveller. No book since then has covered the whole subject in such vivid detail. Obviously, the world has changed greatly a century later and some of the suggestions listed below are amusing to us. It has to be said that this was written at a time when certain words and expressions were common but are not acceptable today. The reader must understand that the book was a example of common usage of certain words at the time it was written well over 100 years ago.

For a man on the frontier in time of need, the conditions are: that he is broke, and beyond reach of shops, while he wants water, food, guidance, fire, shelter, clothing and equipment.

Only a tenderfoot takes pride in dirt and disorder, which he calls “roughing it” and mistakes for hardihood. A real traveller is known by his cleanliness, method, health, speed, and freedom from accident; he concentrates large efficiency into scant supplies…

A suggested “useful tip” in the book regarding snake or dangerous insect bites:

With a sharp knife cut down freely in various directions, especially on the heart side of the bite. Wash the wound out with Condy’s fluid or rub in crystals of permanganate of potash into the wound opened as above.

Another suggestion for use in America, Africa or Australia:

Put gunpowder in the wound and blow it up. Cordite only burns like a match. Or light a fusee match in the wound.

Such suggestions do make one glad of modern medicine kits, or perhaps we are not as tough as those old travellers?

In the Pocket Book, Henry Anderson Bryden (1854-1937) a well-known writer on South Africa, emphasised what had been learned in South Africa.

…not until we had been fighting in South Africa for a year or two, learning the painful, primitive, yet necessary lessons of how to find the way, how to scout, to travel, to save horseflesh, and innumerable other details, were we able fairly to cope with our wily adversaries and wear them down. The South African Dutch, accustomed to life in the wilderness during 250 years, were at a huge advantage; and not until we had mastered our preliminary difficulties and learnt our lessons in veldt warfare, were we able to cope with them successfully. Mere courage, of which the British soldier has always possessed an ample share, was not enough; and our commanders, as well as our men, had to ride or to tramp many weary hundred leagues under burning suns before they mastered that simple yet elementary fact. Individuality must, in warfare, always count, and it is the duty of every man of British blood to cultivate this most valuable characteristic, a characteristic which, unfortunately, the conditions of modern life in this crowded country of ours tend to discourage and even destroy.”

Throughout the book, the combined wisdom of many men, and the occasional lady, on survival and scouting was made available. No wonder Baden-Powell made it recommended reading for Boy Scouts. Much of the thinking was too advanced for the military and for politicians. The then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu came up with an idea for the use of small motor boats:

…Regarding the defence of Home waters, there is now a considerable number, which I estimate at 300, of efficient sea-going motor craft which could assist in observation duties and in case of war. These should, I think, be divided into districts, each under the command of a local officer, on somewhat the same lines as that on which the Naval Volunteer Force is organised. When the fleet is mobilised the officer commanding each portion of the coast or group of harbours would have control of these boats and be able to use them as his sea-sentries, and thus prevent the enemy blowing up dock gates, defence booms, or mercantile marine at anchor. For this work a motor boat could easily be fitted with small search-lights, to make this duty more easy.”

An anonymous writer suggested future developments, including the advance of flight travel:

The Frontiersmen of the air will not be less useful to the State than those of the old order. Meanwhile, the best training for the work of the future is to master all present means of power transport, and to keep in close touch with each new discovery.

Without exhaustion a saddle-horse has been known to cover 132 statute miles in a day (Royal North-West Mounted Police), or 136 miles in 26 hours (Australia)……


A water-gaunt horseman claiming to come from well-watered trail, or the reverse; a teamster with a thorn-cut or rock-scratched wheels, claiming to have kept highway; a man with grass-polished boots, claiming to have travelled by dusty path; a man with marks of stirrup leathers, free from dust, on his legs, claiming to have no horse – are probably untruthful. Never doubt his word until you have him covered.

Always carry a notebook and pencil.


For a quick start in the morning, make tea overnight, let it stand five minutes, pour it away from the leaves, and in morning it will warm in half time needed for boiling. In pursuit or flight, if overcome by sleep, lie face down with rein round wrist, so that should horse hear anything and throw up his head, the jerk will arouse you.


When a man dies in camp or on an expedition, his friend or one of his officers should take charge of his property, especially his papers, medals etc. He should find out, if necessary from his papers, the name of any relation, and should communicate the fact of the death to that person. He should break the sad news as gently as possible. The following example will show that this advice is necessary:

“Dere Sur. The coyotes has et yure sun’s hed off. (Sd.) Bill”

This thoughtless mode of expression no doubt caused the father an unnecessary and cruel shock. It is better not to give details of the manner of death in the first letter, if it came about under dreadful or painful circumstances, but it is well to state that he has had Christian burial.

This final quotation refers to alcohol, which in certain beverages always proved interesting to Frontiersmen:

“Alcohol is to the human what spurs are to a horse: used when great weakness sets in with enteric, pneumonia, influenza; aid to digestion when exhausted by fatigue; for sudden fainting; given to patients when weak and during recovery from severe illness; rubbed on skin to prevent bedsores; diluted for erysipelas, burns, and scalds as antiseptic; in cold compress for sprains and fresh bruises. Sponging patient with spirits and water (which evaporates), 1 in 6, relieves high fever. Failing carbolic, a disinfectant for wounds, and surgical instruments. It is dangerous to use alcohol regularly in arctic climes… In some conditions alcohol is a rank poison, and its use may cost a man’s life.

It is actually possible to obtain a copy of this book today without paying the eye-watering sums requested for an original copy, although not in the original leather-bound version on fine paper. It has been reprinted by the University of Alberta Press, holders of the Frontiersmen world-wide archive, who have done a good job with the re-print. Although I am unlikely to find myself in the situations of some of those Edwardian travellers, my own copy is a regular reference volume. Every time I open it I discover something new.

The excellent modern reprint of The Frontiersman’s Pocket Book ISBN 978-1-55195-297-0 can be ordered from good bookshops or direct from The University of Alberta Press

The U.K. distributors are Gazelle Book Services


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