The Grand Tour: Letters and photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922
The Grand Tour: Letters and photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922
Unpublished for 90 years, Agatha Christie’s extensive and evocative letters and photographs from her year-long round-the-world trip to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America as part of the British trade mission for the famous 1924 Empire Exhibition.In 1922 Agatha Christie set sail on a 10-month voyage around the British Empire with her husband as part of a trade mission to promote the forthcoming British Empire Exhibition. Leaving her two-year-old daughter behind with her sister, Agatha set sail at the end of January and did not return until December, but she kept up a detailed weekly correspondence with her mother, describing in detail the exotic places and people she encountered as the mission travelled through South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada.The extensive and previously unpublished letters are accompanied by hundreds of photos taken on her portable camera as well as some of the original letters, postcards, newspaper cuttings and memorabilia collected by Agatha on her trip.Edited and introduced by Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, this unique travelogue reveals a new side to Agatha Christie, demonstrating how her appetite for exotic plots and locations for her books began with this eye-opening trip, which took place just after only her second novel had been published (the first leg of the tour to South Africa is very clearly the inspiration for the book she wrote immediately afterwards, The Man in the Brown Suit). The letters are full of tales of seasickness and sunburn, motor trips and surf boarding, and encounters with welcoming locals and overbearing Colonials.The Grand Tour is a book steeped in history, sure to fascinate anyone interested in the lost world of the 1920s. Coming from the pen of Britain’s biggest literary export and the world’s most widely translated author, it is also a fitting tribute to Agatha Christie and is sure to fascinate her legions of worldwide fans.
THE GRAND TOUR
Around the World with the Queen of Mystery
Edited by Mathew Prichard
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd
1 London Bridge Street
London SE1 9GF
First published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2012
THE GRAND TOUR. Copyright © 2012 by Christie Archive Trust. Excerpts from AGATHA CHRISTIE ™ An Autobiography copyright © 1977 by Agatha Christie Limited. Introduction and epilogue copyright © 2012 by Mathew Prichard.
Illustrations courtesy of the Christie Archive Trust.
Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Source ISBN 978-0-00-744768-8
Ebook Edition © DECEMBER 2012 ISBN: 9780007460694
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books
Title Page (#u98a81d6f-7dc3-5e13-a8ad-0f68f4e4399e)
Setting Off (#ulink_dc1f5a11-c04a-53f4-89d9-12e531c8827c)
South Africa (#ulink_39a2a6af-0405-54c0-9333-353e313ea5e8)
New Zealand (#litres_trial_promo)
The Journey Home (#litres_trial_promo)
British Empire Exhibition (#litres_trial_promo)
About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)
The Agatha Christie Collection (#litres_trial_promo)
About the Publisher
by Mathew Prichard
By an extraordinary coincidence, it is 20 January 2012 when I sit down to begin writing the introduction to my grandparents’ participation in the British Empire Exhibition Mission, known as the Grand Tour, which my grandmother, Agatha Christie, brought so vividly to life in the letters and photographs she sent back to her family. The tour left on 20 January 1922, exactly 90 years ago today.
I called my grandmother Nima, presumably a first childish attempt at ‘Grandma’, and through force of habit I will use this family name in this piece, although of course the events she chronicled took place many years before I was born!
We have to be grateful that these wonderful letters have survived at all. It has been a continual frustration to me, in browsing through family memorabilia, that there are quite a few lovely letters from well-known (and not so well-known) people to Nima, but far fewer of her own letters, which by definition are in the hands of the people to whom she wrote. Fortunately in this case, however, her mother, to whom she wrote the most frequently, did keep the letters; when she sadly died three or four years later, presumably Nima reclaimed them, for they have survived with the rest of the material left by what was, I can promise you, a prolific letter-writing family! As you will see, it was a marvellous bonus to read all the letters for the first time a year or two ago, to see the brief addresses, and to leaf through the old black-and-white photographs, painstakingly pasted into a couple of old photograph albums.
It goes without saying that the world we live in has changed out of all recognition in those 90 years – some would say particularly the places visited on the Empire Tour: South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Canada. Not only have the countries changed, but the way we communicate, the way we do business, the way we behave as families – indeed the whole social environment in which people like my grandparents existed has changed so much that it is almost unrecognizable. I think some of the circumstances surrounding the Tour and the people involved would probably have been regarded as fairly eccentric even by their contemporaries, but even so, I think the changes are still very remarkable.
For instance, apart from my grandparents, the chief character concerned, one Major E. A. Belcher, whose last job before initiating this tour was Controller of the Supplies of Potatoes, was obviously a seriously eccentric and difficult man, whose unpredictability and inefficiency sorely tried my grandparents throughout the whole tour. One suspects that his friend and colleagues must have breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that he planned to be out of the country for 10 months! Certainly, however, somebody retained some confidence in him, for the expenses of the trip were considerable – four to seven people’s upkeep for 10 months (minus a month’s holiday for my grandparents), ‘free’ passage on ships all the way round the world, ‘free’ internal travel in each of the countries, not to mention the fees paid to Belcher and my grandfather Archie. At the end of this book I have recorded some evidence about the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. But at the end of the day, who are we to complain – we have gained a charming, perceptive and unconsciously revealing document concerning life shortly after the First World War, written by an author whose gift for storytelling remains second to none from that time to this.
It is worth dwelling for a while on communication. The only methods of communication used by members of the Tour appear to be letters or the occasional necessarily brief telegram. Not only no emails, but no telephones – in other words no immediate form of communication which, for instance, Nima could use to be reassured about the well-being of her two-year-old daughter Rosalind. Letters had to travel by the same means as the tour – by ship! And it appears that in either direction they took weeks or months to arrive, although within its own limitations the system worked very well. Even locally, communications were difficult, which made the keeping of itineraries and timetables challenging, to say the least. Worse, the difficulties of long-distance communication meant Nima and Archie knew before they set out that they would in essence be completely separated from their daughter for 10 months.
From a family point of view Nima and Archie’s decision to accompany Belcher on the Grand Tour was brave considering their precarious financial position at the time. I suspect their decision to go arose from Archie’s restlessness and dissatisfaction with his current job (a position which might not be kept open for his return); coupled with Nima’s passionate desire to see the world, and her suspicion that marriage to a businessman with two weeks’ holiday a year would make further opportunities for such adventures non-existent. Sitting at my desk, and reviewing in my mind Nima’s life-long love of travel, which took her at various times to the Middle East, North Africa, Sri Lanka, America, the West Indies – sometimes with her family in tow – it is hard to remember that forward vision was not available to her in 1922. She could not see her life spreading out before her, and who are we to blame such a passionate and enthusiastic person for taking what she thought was her one and only chance to see the far end of the world, whatever the financial risks and despite the certainty that she would miss her daughter dreadfully. It is also true to say that ‘family support systems’, including in Nima’s case, a mother, a sister and servants, were much more available and accepted than they are now.