On 12 February, students from the MA Cultural Geography (Research) visited the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) for a half-day of archival research. The day began with a series of talks from current CDA students (Emily Hayes, Exeter; Natalie Cox, Warwick; and Jane Wess, Edinburgh), before we moved on to view an exhibit of lantern slides and scientific instruments from the society’s collection. The focus of the day’s work was the rich collection of illustrated journals and log books written by the nineteenth-century mariner Foley Vereker (1850-1900). The students were invited to examine Vereker’s journals and to form a response to them–not necessarily to offer a narrative account, but an interpretation of them. What follows is, then, a cultural geographical response to the items in the collection.
Innes M. Keighren
Vereker was an accomplished artist and the drawings and watercolours in his journals evoke the atmosphere of the places he travelled to in a way that his written accounts don’t. This is a picture I drew (using the pencil I was allowed to bring in to the Foyle Reading Room) of Vereker from a photograph of the whole crew aboard the HMS Alert somewhere in the South American waters in 1879.
The colour and diversity of Vereker’s entries range from precise sketches, graphs, maps and watercolours to evocative scenes in towns and detached descriptions of engagements in violent actions against pirates and an opposing navy. Some of the entries that struck me are those translating his name. He has written, or had others write, his name in Hindo, Persian, Singalese and Abyssinian among others (all spelling as in the original). These, together with his decorative dates, initials and occasional titles are interesting details. I also found some humour in several of the fragments on the backs of relevant newspaper cuttings scattered through the pages. One of which describes how the Prince of Wales went deerstalking in the Ballochbuie Forest but, “owing to the rain, his Royal Highness returned to Abergeldie without firing a shot”. I find the contrast with Vereker’s experiences curiously compelling.
Despite numerous references to his on-board shipmates, there is very little reference to his own wife, who we believe was left behind when he travelled. His briefly mentioned spouse gave him 8 children over 10 years, yet she is left out of the majority of his extensive journalling. We do appreciate these journals have been redrafted after fieldnotes, and, therefore, such emotional writing may have been edited out. Although to him this may have seemed a more academic way of writing, as his audience may not have appreciated this at the time, looking back now, through our cultural and emotional geography-focused eyes, this is clearly a missing element from the journalling. It could have been informative regarding geographies of exploration in relation to geographies of domesticity and home during a time of rapid geographical knowledge expansion.
Oliver Knight & Emma Shenton
From the stories on board the ship we gained greater insights into the atmospheric conditions that were produced whilst on board. Piecing together the fragments of legible writing there were many diary entries that were centred on heightened emotions from the jubilation of spotting sharks to the horror of explosion on the ship . The descriptive nature of the diary entries invited a more imaginative reading through the piecing together of the fragmented performances and events.
Robbie Sheargold & Thomas Dekeyser