Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

Return to Liverpool

Having obtained my passport, and got it vised for the Sultan's dominions at the Turkish consulate, and placed in Faed's possession a bundle of maps, which he generously volunteers to forward , to me, as I require them in the various countries it is proposed to traverse, I return on April 30th to Liverpool, from which point the formal start on the wheel across England is to be made.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 30th Apr 1885 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Cyclists in London

Soon after reaching London I have the pleasure of meeting "Faed," a gentleman who carries his cycling enthusiasm almost where some people are said to carry their hearts-on his sleeve; so that a very short acquaintance only is necessary to convince one of being in the company of a person whose interest in whirling wheels is of no ordinary nature.

When I present myself at Powerscroft House, Faed is busily wandering around among the curves and angles of no less than three tricycles, apparently endeavoring to encompass the complicated mechanism of all three in one grand comprehensive effort of the mind, and the addition of as many tricycle crates standing around makes the premises so suggestive of a flourishing tricycle agency that an old gentleman, happening to pass by at the moment, is really quite excusable in stopping and inquiring the prices, with a view to purchasing one for himself. Our tandem ride through the West End has to be indefinitely postponed, on account of my time being limited, and our inability to procure readily a suitable machine; and Mr. Wilson's bump of discretion would not permit him to think of allowing me to attempt the feat of manoeuvring a tricycle myself among the bewildering traffic of the metropolis, and risk bringing my "wheel around the world" to an inglorious conclusion before being fairly begun.

While walking down Parliament Street my attention is called to a venerable-looking gentleman wheeling briskly along among the throngs of vehicles of every description, and I am informed that the bold tricycler is none other than Major Knox Holmes, a vigorous youth of some seventy-eight summers, who has recently accomplished the feat of riding one hundred and fourteen miles in ten hours; for a person nearly eighty years of age this is really quite a promising performance, and there is small doubt but that when the gallant Major gets a little older - say when he becomes a centenarian - he will develop into a veritable prodigy on the cinder-path!

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 25th Apr 1885 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Chinese Embassy

On Tuesday I make a formal descent on the Chinese Embassy, to seek information regarding the possibility of making a serpentine trail through the Flowery Kingdom via Upper Burmah to Hong-Kong or Shanghai. Here I learn from Dr. McCarty, the interpreter at the Embassy, as from Mr. French, that, putting it as mildly as possible, I must expect a wild time generally in getting through the interior of China with a bicycle. The Doctor feels certain that I may reasonably anticipate the pleasure of making my way through a howling wilderness of hooting Celestials from one end of the country to the other. The great danger, he thinks, will be not so much the well-known aversion of the Chinese to having an "outer barbarian" penetrate the sacred interior of their country, as the enormous crowds that would almost constantly surround me out of curiosity at both rider and wheel, and the moral certainty of a foreigner unwittingly doing something to offend the Chinamen's peculiar and deep-rooted notions of propriety. This, it is easily seen, would be a peculiarly ticklish thing to do when surrounded by surging masses of dangling pig-tails and cerulean blouses, the wearers of which are from the start predisposed to make things as unpleasant as possible. My own experience alone, however, will prove the kind of reception I am likely to meet with among them; and if they will only considerately refrain from impaling me on a bamboo, after a barbarous and highly ingenious custom of theirs, I little reck what other unpleasantries they have in store. After one remains in the world long enough to find it out, he usually becomes less fastidious about the future of things in general, than when in the hopeful days of boyhood every prospect ahead was fringed with the golden expectations of a budding and inexperienced imagery; nevertheless, a thoughtful, meditative person, who realizes the necessity of drawing the line somewhere, would naturally draw it at impalation. Not being conscious of any presentiment savoring of impalation, however, the only request I make of the Chinese, at present, is to place no insurmountable obstacle against my pursuing the even-or uneven, as the case may be-tenor of my way through their country. China, though, is several revolutions of my fifty-inch wheel away to the eastward, at this present time of writing, and speculations in regard to it are rather premature.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 21st Apr 1885 (16:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Application for a passport

Arriving in London I lose no time in seeking out Mr. Bolton, a well-known wheelman, who has toured on the continent probably as extensively as any other English cycler, and to whom I bear a letter of introduction. Together, on Monday afternoon, we ruthlessly invade the sanctums of the leading cycling papers in London. Mr. Bolton is also able to give me several useful hints concerning wheeling through France and Germany. Then comes the application for a passport, and the inevitable unpleasantness of being suspected by every policeman and detective about the government buildings of being a wild-eyed dynamiter recently arrived from America with the fell purpose of blowing up the place.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 20th Apr 1885 (17:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Arrival in Liverpool

At noon on the 19th we reach Liverpool, where I find a letter awaiting me from A. J. Wilson (Faed), inviting me to call on him at Powerscroft House, London, and offering to tandem me through the intricate mazes of the West End; likewise asking whether it would be agreeable to have him, with others, accompany me from London down to the South coast - a programme to which, it is needless to say, I entertain no objections. As the custom-house officer wrenches a board off the broad, flat box containing my American bicycle, several fellow-passengers, prompted by their curiosity to obtain a peep at the machine which they have learned is to carry me around the world, gather about; and one sympathetic lady, as she catches a glimpse of the bright nickeled forks, exclaims, "Oh, what a shame that they should be allowed to wrench the planks off. They might injure it;" but a small tip thoroughly convinces the individual prying off the board that, by removing one section and taking a conscientious squint in the direction of the closed end, his duty to the British government would be performed as faithfully as though everything were laid bare; and the kind-hearted lady's apprehensions of possible injury are thus happily allayed. In two hours after landing, the bicycle is safely stowed away in the underground store-rooms of the Liverpool & Northwestern Railway Company, and in two hours more I am wheeling rapidly toward London, through neatly cultivated fields, and meadows and parks of that intense greenness met with nowhere save in the British Isles, and which causes a couple of native Americans, riding in the same compartment, and who are visiting England for the first time, to express their admiration of it all in the unmeasured language of the genuine Yankee when truly astonished and delighted.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 19th Apr 1885 (16:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Advice from a traveller

I am particularly fortunate in finding among my fellow-passengers Mr. Harry B. French, the traveller and author, from whom I obtain much valuable information, particularly of China. Mr. French has travelled some distance through the Flowery Kingdom himself, and thoughtfully forewarns me to anticipate a particularly lively and interesting time in invading that country with a vehicle so strange and incomprehensible to the Celestial mind as a bicycle. This experienced gentleman informs me, among other interesting things, that if five hundred chattering Celestials batter down the door and swarm unannounced at midnight into the apartment where I am endeavoring to get the first wink of sleep obtained for a whole week, instead of following the natural inclinations of an AngloSaxon to energetically defend his rights with a stuffed club, I shall display Solomon-like wisdom by quietly submitting to the invasion, and deferentially bowing to Chinese inquisitiveness. If, on an occasion of this nature, one stationed himself behind the door, and, as a sort of preliminary warning to the others, greeted the first interloper with the business end of a boot-jack, he would be morally certain of a lively one-sided misunderstanding that might end disastrously to himself; whereas, by meekly submitting to a critical and exhaustive examination by the assembled company, he might even become the recipient of an apology for having had to batter down the door in order to satisfy their curiosity. One needs more discretion than valor in dealing with the Chinese.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 16th Apr 1885 (12:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Ice berg

From beginning to end of the voyage across the Atlantic the weather is delightful; and the passengers - well, half the cabin-passengers are members of Henry Irving's Lyceum Company en route home after their second successful tour in America; and old voyagers abroad who have crossed the Atlantic scores of times pronounce it altogether the most enjoyable trip they ever experienced. The third day out we encountered a lonesome-looking iceberg - an object that the captain seemed to think would be better appreciated, and possibly more affectionately remembered, if viewed at the respectful distance of about four miles. It proves a cold, unsympathetic berg, yet extremely entertaining in its own way, since it accommodates us by neutralizing pretty much all the surplus caloric in the atmosphere around for hours after it has disappeared below the horizon of our vision.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 12th Apr 1885 (12:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Leaving the dock

At one P.M., on that day, the ponderous but shapely hull of the City of Chicago, with its living and lively freight, moves from the dock as though it, too, were endowed with mind as well with matter; the crowds that a minute ago disappeared down the gangplank are now congregated on the outer end of the pier, a compact mass of waving handkerchiefs, and anxious-faced people shouting out signs of recognition to friends aboard the departing steamer.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 09th Apr 1885 (13:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Winter break

Passing the winter of 1884-85 in New York, I became acquainted with the Outing Magazine, contributed to it sketches of my tour across America, and in the Spring of 1885 continued around the world as its special correspondent; embarking April 9th from New York, for Liverpool, aboard the City of Chicago.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 09th Apr 1885 (12:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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