Wednesday, January 18, 2023

101 Years Ago this Month, Agatha Christie Started her Around-the-World Voyage

Recently, I was researching South Africa, particularly Agatha Christie’s visit there. I was amused to see that her trip took place almost exactly 101 years ago. After boarding the ship R.M.S. Kildonan Castle, Christie wrote a letter headed: “First day: 20 January 1922.” She was to spend the next two weeks onboard, arriving in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 6. 

The Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company attached “castle” to the names of all their steamships, but there actually is a Kildonan Castle on an island just off the east coast of Scotland. The name “Kildonan” apparently refers to a Saint Donan who came to the Isle of Arran to convert the Picts to Christianity in 600-something. 

Christie was traveling with her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who was the financial advisor for the British Empire Exhibition Mission. The Mission intended to visit all of the British Dominions and secure their participation in the British Empire Exhibition, planned for 1924. 

While visitors certainly enjoyed the Exhibition, it was a financial failure and not the unifying celebration planners had hoped for. Critics pointed out that the pavilions depicted some of countries as stereotypically primitive by not showcasing their modernization as well as their traditions. Also, it was becoming harder to ignore the general friction growing between the British Empire and its various colonies, territories, and dominions. 

The Christies left their very young daughter behind to go on this ten-month-long trip. Not an easy decision to make, one supposes. In addition to having a grand time, Agatha certainly made the most of the opportunity and put many of the details into her books. “The Man in the Brown Suit” particularly follows her real-life journey and she based the character of Sir Eustace Pedlar on her husband’s boss, Major Belcher. 

image credit: R.M.S. Kildonan Castle by CC BY-SA 4.0

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