Letters from Mabel, 4th December 1899


SS Rome

Dearest Mother

I quite meant to begin my letter yesterday, but put it off until too late. The fact is, in the morning I did not feel exactly happy. I wasn’t ill, but I did not want any breakfast, so I stayed up on deck and ate dry toast by command of the stewardess. She is very nice indeed and looks after me capitally. She won’t believe that I feel ill and is most hard-hearted, which I think has a good effect. I am perfectly all right now and feel as fit as anything.

I have got to know a good many people now and feel much more at home. I have chummed up to two girls, Miss Whitby who is travelling by herself and changing at Colombo for Travancore, and a Miss McIntosh-Smith who is going to Colombo with her father who has an estate up in the hills.

Then there are two very nice boys, young subs, one going to Bombay and one higher up. They change at Aden. One of them, Mr Moen, is exactly like Norman Windle, it is quite ridiculous. The other one’s name is Renny and he is in the East Lancashire. They are both very jolly boys and we are with them most of the time.

There are a heap of officers on board, very few civilians. There is a dear red rear admiral, Sir Henry Keppel. He is ninety one and going out to Singapore where he was stationed years ago. He is such a dear old man, and all the officers are tremendously proud of him. The young subs are always on the watch to do anything he wants.

The Captain is very nice and has quite taken me in charge. He is rather dreadful at meals as he is always asking me riddles which I can’t answer, and all the other people around listen. The man next to me, Mr Copeland, and his wife live at Gib so I wonder who I shall get after they have gone. He is very nice and I get on capitally with him. Mr Moens and Miss Smith sit opposite to me so I have a very good time.

We have been playing deck games this afternoon, deck quoits etc. They are none of them very exciting but it is better than doing nothing. I have not done much work yet, there always seems so much to look at.

We are due at Gib nine o’clock tomorrow morning.


We have been on shore all the morning and have had a very good time. We got in about 9.30 and were landed at 10 and had to get back by 12. We went for a drive round the town and went up to the Spanish lines. We did not have time to see much as we were so afraid of being left behind. Miss Whitby and I and Mr Moens and Mr Renny and another youngster named Corte had a carriage together. It was rather a tight squeeze but we had great fun.

It is quite hot today especially on land but now that we are moving again it is getting chillier. It is very jolly sitting on deck. The sea is quite smooth and the sky a most lovely blue. I have just heard a great shouting of ‘Miss Gibson’ and found it was the Captain calling me to look at porpoises, a whole school of them stumbling about in front of us.

I have got quite used to going down to my bath now. It was rather awful at first as I have to go down the stairs, past a crowd of stewards. It is wonderful how soon you get used to it.

There is an awfully nice man, an Irishman. I have not yet found out his name but he is always having sly digs at me. It is just tea time so I must leave off. I am quite ready for my meals now. The first two or three days I was not.

Thursday morning

We shall get to Marseilles about 2 o’clock today and leave again as soon as possible, so I don’t think it will be worth while going ashore. The Captain is not all encouraging so I don’t think I shall go anyway. My expedition at Gib cost me nothing, as the men we went with paid for everything.

The stewardess told me just now that the girl coming into my cabin is going to Colombo after all. Her name is Lander and she says she is very nice and I shall like her very much. Her father, Mr Dick Lander, is very well known in Colombo so I expect she will know all the Bois!

I have left off some of my thick clothes today, it is so much warmer, the sun gets so hot. The Captain says he hardly remembers ever having such a smooth passage at this time of the year. The ship pitched a bit on Sunday morning and since then it has been perfectly steady. Very few have been ill. Sunday morning’s breakfast was the only one that most of us missed.

I have just been interviewing the Pursar on the subject of my teapot etc and he has taken charge of it all right. He is a very nice fellow, quite young. His cabin is quite elaborate. He has such a quantity of things about. The Captain has been very busy the last two days cleaning his bicycle. He has taken it entirely to pieces. He intends going for a ride at Port Said.

I keep wondering what you are all doing. It seems ages since I came away. I was miserable that first day. We shall not get to Colombo till the 24th. I do hope, I do hope, I shan’t have hurried Maggie down too soon as I told both her and George that I should arrive on the 21st.

I have promised to send the Captain some wedding cake to Sydney. They will stay there a fortnight. He has again called me, this time to see a whale spouting but it is a long way off so not very interesting.

Please give lots and lots of love to everybody, you all seem a very long way off, and with heaps to yourself.

Your very loving daughter, Mab.


4 thoughts on “Letters from Mabel, 4th December 1899

  1. Just love Mab’s letters Sophie. Really look forward to reading about her great adventure.I have been doing some reseach re turn of the century history, women’s fashion etc. I feel like a child who has discovered a lovely treasure! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. I’m so thrilled to have these letters. It’s really poignant, reading between the lines, knowing she’s trying to put on a brave face, trying to be chatty and positive with her mother back home… I hope to find some photos.

  3. Loving reading these as instalments. Mabel has such a lively voice. Also wandering what happened to the cast of characters she’s meeting, such as Miss Whitby. This could be Downton Abbey at sea – some many stories waiting to come alive…

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