Sunday, August 23, 2009

Following the Linggi

I almost missed this very nice piece from Saturday's Star. Our friend Caving Liz makes a journey to find the Linggi River in Negri Sembilan, following in the footsteps of intrepid 19th century British traveller Isabella Bird.

Bird was probably the greatest of the women explorers of her day, and travelled to many other parts of the world. The Golden Chersonese and The Way Thither (1883) is an incredible account of a journey made through the Malay Penininsula, and you can learn exactly what places like Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Kangsar were like back then. And I love to imagine the lady trecking through steaming jungle and riding on an elephant wearing her long Victorian dresses.

(Should your curiosity to read the book be stirred, you can read it online here.)


glenda larke said...

Have you ever read "The Golden Chersonese with the Gilt Rubbed Off - can't remember the exact title, but something similar - which was another woman's commentary on what it was REALLY like if you were a white woman living in the rural Selangor of the time, without Byrd's stature. She was the wife of the Resident (Advisor?) to the Sultan.

Sorry, I have a rotten memory, but it was well worth a read and very funny. Selangor royalty of the day does not come off well.

bibliobibuli said...

i've heard of it but not read it ... and in fact had forgotten about it until you reminded me. would like to track it down.

bibliobibuli said...

found it via abebooks.

"Chersonese with the Gilding Off" by Emily Ines :

The Chersonese with the Gilding Off is usually described as a companion volume to Isabella Bird's better-known The Golden Chersonese, published in 1883 and also available as an Oxford Paperback. As Emily Innes remarks,'. it may seem curious that, notwithstanding the brilliancy and attractiveness of [Isabella Bird's] descriptions, and the dullness and gloom of mine, I can honestly say that her account is perfectly and literally true. So is mine. The explanation is that she and I saw the Malayan country under totally different circumstances.' Whereas Isabella Bird was an experienced traveller, with a reputation as a writer and with easy access to those who mattered, Emily Innes was an ordinary person, married to a minor government official, and hardly a traveller at all. Rather, she spent six years living a lonely life in remote, uncomfortable, and unhealthy places, participating reluctantly in the pettiness of colonial society and in the life of the kampung around her. Arguably, today's reader may find The Chersonese with the Gilding Off a more memorable book. Emily Innes's writing is stark, with a wry sense of humour, and she writes from the inside (and not as an observer from afar on a short visit) recording what she saw with considerable accuracy. She was also a woman of some mettle, as her book indicates. "It was in May 1876, that Sir William Jervois, then Governor of the Straits Settlements, offered the post of collector & magistrat at Langat, in the Malay native States to Mr. James Innes, ex-treasurer of Sarawak." This work is Mrs. Innes primary resource on her life and activities. Covers Langat, her occupations, Mr. Innes's occupations, Malay manners & Dress, cholera & tigers. Of Tunku Dia Udin, while alone, and the flowers & insects. The unsophisticated natives, food, Durian Sabatang, Pangkor, after the murder. Visits to Perak & home, Langat again, boycotting, our last year, resignation. A lively account of Malaya, the natives, amahs & life in general there. She states "If I had no children nothing should induce me to let an ayah into the house. After trying 2-3 ayahs gave up in despair. Because they spend a great part of their time making love to the men-servants in Singapore they are of a higher class & this does not happen". xviii, 250 pp. Bookseller Inventory # 000780

bibliobibuli said...

the bookseller and abebooks spelt her name wrong - Innes.