My latest little project is to read up on the fascinating Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh, whose life story combines my interests in Irish history and disability. I have ordered all three available biographies second hand, but was delighted to discover that the one book which he himself actually wrote is available in its entirety, complete with colour prints based on photographs which he took, online via Google Books.
The Cruise of the R.Y.S. Eva is a travelogue of a shooting cruise which lasted just under six months, from October 1862 to April 1863, taking Kavanagh and his wife and friends to Corfu and the surrounding coastline. (No mention is made of Kavanagh's children, though we know from other sources that at least two and probably four had been born since his marriage in 1855. Presumably they were left behind in Ireland.) It was an interesting time to visit politically; King Otho of Greece had just been overthrown, and the British government had promised to hand over Corfu (and the other Ionian Islands, under British rule since 1815) to the new Greek king, George of Denmark. Kavanagh was there in the last few months of the British presence, and makes it clear that he deeply regrets the decision:
I do not mean to say that either tact or civility would have made the Ionian race satisfied with their position, not at all. Proud, restless, querulous, and variable as the wind, the most that could be said is, that they might have been more dissatisfied under any other protectorate, and about the worst that can be wished them is that they may be left to govern themselves. As they now stand, they have a long list of vexatious, trivial grievances, to place in the scale against great and substantial advantages. When they grumble at their taxes do they consider the millions of English money that have been spent, and are daily in course of being spent, in and upon their island. When the English are gone, what will their market be?One senses that he may have had some other, larger British-ruled island in mind apart from Corfu.
But excursions into politics are rare (having said which, Kavanagh got elected MP for Wexford only a couple of years later). Mostly the book is about the technicalities of crewing a yacht from Ireland to Albania, and then shooting lots and lots of animals when they got there. (The final death toll, proudly printed on the last page, is "Pigs 10; Snipe 45; Deer 6; Plover 6; Jackalls [sic] 6; Pigeons 24; Hares 4; Swan 1; Geese 13; Bittern 1; Duck 54; Sea Pheasant 7; Widgeon 152; Bargander [?] 3; Teal 102; Grebe Duck 4; Woodcock 203.") Lots of discussion of the locals and their quaint habits, and of the ecology of the shoreline. They ranged quite a long way both north and south, but Corfu was their base.
Kavanagh was only in his early 30s at this point, but had already had an adventurous life, which he occasionally reminisces about. I found this passage about his famous trip of ten years previously particularly interesting for its echoes of Hopkirk's The Great Game:
We started by Norway to make our way overland to India, went through Norway, Sweden, into Russia, through its immense extent to the Caspian Sea, visiting the great fair of Nizni Novogorod. We made our way across the Caspian from Astrachan to Asterabad and were caged for a day in the latter town in a sort of wooden structure, in the middle of the only square, and pelted diligently by the hospitable inhabitants with rotten eggs and bad oranges, soft things no doubt,but not the less trying to the temper. Thence we went from the north to the south of Persia, intersecting Kourdistan and Louristan, in the former of which lively spots I found poor Conolly's prayer book, and was shewn by an interesting Kourd the very tree to which he and poor Studdert [sic] were tied and foully murdered, the Kourd said because they would not become Mussulmen: we had no intention of being turncoats either, but I expect we owed our whole skin to our poverty, possessing little more than our rifles, horses, and a change of clothes, one shirt off, and another shirt on ; I don't mean to say, fair reader, that these were all we started with, but, certainly, they were all we had left, and the Kourds may have reasoned that it was hardly worth risking three of their precious lives in exchange for ours, the value of our possessions included.The thought of Kavanagh, with his disabilities, being put on public display like that is pretty revolting. But I am very intrigued by the mention of Conolly and Stoddard's fate, and Conolly's prayer book - most accounts have the two meeting their doom in Bukhara, 1000 km to the east, and Conolly's prayer book, now in the National Archives, was supposedly presented to his widow by a Russian who picked it up in Bukhara many years later. Also Asterabad (now Gorgan) is in northern Iran and does not appear to have been part of the Khanate of Khiva, let alone under Bukhara. Kavanagh knew how to tell a good traveller's tale.
The striking thing about the whole book is that Kavanagh was sufficiently confident in his personal security to go wandering around the frontier between a fading Ottoman empire, an evacuating British protectorate, and a Greek kingdom recovering from revolution, with his wife and various retainers. The worst hassle he reports experiencing is when he is taking photographs of the local women, and has to get their husbands to stop them raiding his darkroom materials. Perhaps there are bits of the story he didn't tell. (He himself starts and finishes with the yacht; his wife and the other women come to the Mediterranean by train and commercial steamer.)
And there is no mention at any point of his disabilities. (The closest we get, perhaps, is in the incident of the women and the photographic stuff, where it is clear that he is unable himself to take physical measures to stop them.) As a narrative on its own merits, The Cruise of the R.Y.S. Eva is not especially remarkable; but in context it is extraordinary.