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The Expedition of a Previous Lifetime – Discover Victorian Globetrotters

20 Jun 2022 | Written by By Bob Tate MA FRSA

Bob Tate MA Fine Art (Merit) FRSA is an experienced artist, lecturer, and researcher in many fields, but particularly art, culture, and history. We are excited to welcome him to The Joy Club on Wednesday 22nd June at 1pm, where he will share with you an expert insight into Intrepid Victorian Explorers. Ahead of his talk, Bob peels back the curtain and gives a preview of some of the fascinating individuals from history whose stories he will be telling.

Exploration has always fascinated mankind.


Practically every civilisation in human history has expanded the boundaries of its knowledge – and occupation – of the wider world, driven by curiosity, need or greed.


What we know of ancient explorers is wreathed in both mythology and anonymity. Perhaps there once was a heroic explorer such as Ulysses, perhaps not. We know that at about the same time Vikings were crossing the icy waters of the north in their longboats, to discover Greenland and America, the people of Borneo were extending their diaspora across the Pacific Ocean to the very limits of isolation at Easter Island, thousands of miles of the coast of Chile.


The voyages of the Golden Age of Discovery across the Atlantic to the New World from the 15th Century onwards, were essentially military expeditions, lead and crewed by men. However, by the Victorian period, individual men and women were beginning to travel far, adopting the customs, practices and modes of transport of the indigenous people through whom and with whom they travelled.


The Scramble for Africa


Between the Berlin Conference of 1884 and the start of the First World War in 1914, a massive competitive surge of annexation and conquest swept through Africa. In 1881 only 10% of the continent was under the control of the seven major European Powers (Britain, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Germany); by 1914, 90% of the land had been subsumed to European colonisation.


Each chapter of the story of the colonisation of this extraordinary collection of cultures, landscapes and natural phenomena has its own tragedies and triumphs. In my upcoming talk, we are going to focus on the life and works of four unique and idiosyncratic individuals, who in their own way, perhaps gave back something, to their bemused and often unwilling African hosts. 


Here is a brief introduction to the unlikely explorers we are going to investigate:


John Rowlands (28th January 1841 – 10th May 1904) A bisexual Welsh American soldier, who  (having fought on both sides of the American Civil War) explored a major river system in Africa and wrote a best-selling book, about his experiences.


Marianne North (24th October 1830 – 30th August 1890) was born into a wealthy Victorian aristocratic family. Upon her father’s death, she devoted herself to solo travel to exotic locations and created extraordinary plant and landscape paintings. She also wrote books about her travels and researched flora extensively. She is the only female British artist to have a permanent gallery exhibition of her work (Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew).


Sir Richard Francis Burton (19th March 1821 – 20th October 1890) soldier, diplomat, and anthropologist, with an extraordinary ability to learn and speak foreign languages. Burton was a prodigious writer, chronicling his adventures in over 40 books and 200 articles. His investigations into the marital customs and mores of Eastern cultures scandalised Victorian England.


Jane Elizabeth Digby (3rd April 1807 – 11th August 1881), daughter of an admiral, lover of mad King Ludwig of Bavaria and wife of a Bedouin Chief, she spoke eight languages fluently. She spent half the year living in a goatskin tent in the desert; and the other half in the sumptuous palace in Damascus, built for her by her adoring husband, 20 years her junior.


If these individuals and their stories have piqued your interest, please do come along to my talk at The Joy Club on Wednesday 22nd June at 1pm to learn more. I look forward to seeing you there!

Has this article piqued your interest? Join Bob himself at his upcoming talk on Wednesday 22nd June at 1pm to hear the full stories unfold! Find out more and book your place here.

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