[1890 Woman’s Autograph Letter Signed describing Her Being “Poisoned” and Fearful of Being Murdered and Imprisonment during Travels in Jerusalem and the Middle East].
“The whole trouble was caused by three men who went from here and tried to get us murdered…”
Lengthy and peculiar letter by a woman traveler, E.W. Carpenter, written to her nephew and niece in Lebanon Springs, New York, recounting a 7,000-mile journey to Jerusalem and the Middle East from which she has just returned.
Carpenter makes brief remarks on the plight of women in Jerusalem and reports with alarm how she and her party were “poisoned” and threatened with imprisonment and that their ship was fired across in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. She appears to capture the troubled mood of the whole journey while visiting the mountains of Lebanon: “I did not seem as if I wanted to look at it, such a depression seemed to come from there.”
Carpenter’s letter is descriptive and includes some curious observations:
Jerusalem is very interesting and there is a great deal of new building going on. Almost as much is outside the city as there is within. ... We staid [sic] on Mount Zion at an Hotel with a great many rooms but no one there. We did not see one foreign traveller the whole time we were there or in the country. There are a good many foreign officials who live there and vast quantities of natives of all tribes & shades of colour. I never saw such a variety of people any where else. ... We walked twice around Zion, partly, inside and partly outside the Walls. ... Endless throngs of people were continually going coming in and out of that gate [Jaffa gate], strings of camels, with their masters and boys shouting, thousands of donkeys with their owners men women & children bringing in the produce from the country around, small golden grapes, olives, pomegranates, small gourds like our young vegetable marrows. They come early to market, the women are the most unpleasing looking of the country, people so wretchedly dressed and so thin. There were a great many people who came to Jerusalem for the festival (Tabernacles [Sukkot]) Jews men women & children all well and picturesquely dressed, the Druses [Druze] from Lebanon the same gay clothing reminding us of the Chinese in their bright colors at holiday time. There were many marches past of the Turkish soldiers with bands of music on their way in and out of the Gates. Plenty of monks, the nuns it is said were all disbanded a year or two ago some of them are married but the history of woman in Jerusalem (I do not speak of the Jews) is sad, so persecuted by men. It is the great crime of the present day and the beginning of the great suffering which is going on everywhere. Night & day the population is disappearing, if they live they are prisoners.
We enjoyed a fortnight in Jerusalem very much but terribly persecuted by the telephone (poisoned) [a gutta percha speaking tube apparatus for conveying sound over a distance]. Only once for about two hours your uncle was perfectly natural. The same on board the ships telephones with telephoners and lodges of men & women. The persecution is scarcely bearable. ... [We] got away and went on to Beyrout [Beirut, Lebanon] and so back to Jaffa and on to Alexandria to meet our other steamer to Brindisi and then to London touching at Malta and Gibraltar. The whole trouble was caused by three men who went from here and tried to get us murdered. We were much poisoned and [indistinct word] but those men found they would have to be put to death themselves if we were. We did not know this until afterwards and only knowing we were greatly persecuted and finding at Jaffa that there was an endeavor to make us prisoners. All these places are doing an awful, wild beast business underground and in the mountains. The cry by telephoning was everywhere, from the foreigners, “we are prisoners”. It is said in Beyrout that every missionary family was a prisoner. ... We did not land in Alexandria, they did a good deal of firing right across our ship at an English flag on a fort. The ship that fired was on the other side of the Harbour. They fired also at Port Said, and at Gibraltar. Everyplace is in a very sad state so I should say to everyone who enquired of me, do not travel out of your own country unless you feel you have the duty to God. ... We are very thankful to have accomplished our journey, there and back through great dangers. The Mediterranean is almost deserted except by gunboats and ships of war. They used to come telephoning round at night… Your uncle suffered much from the chemical smell from the gunboats. I had to take him under cover, it was scarcely possible to get to bed one night, and nearly all the time I had to sit with my arm round his neck and to hold his hands. ... He felt the effect before the vessels were visible. Never let your boys study chemistry, it is the great destroyer of the age, and of all religion.
Carpenter’s description of “poisoning” by the loudspeaker device is a curious metaphor, lending in its very telling a droning, almost surreal background noise to her travel narrative.
An intriguing letter revealing the fears and unease of a foreign woman traveling in the Middle East.
Description: [1890 Woman’s Autograph Letter Signed describing Her Being “Poisoned” and Fearful of Being Murdered and Imprisonment during Travels in Jerusalem and the Middle East].
[Hackney, London, November 25, 1890]. pp. ALS. Two 8vo. bifoliums. Accompanied by transmittal envelope. Folds; faint toning at some folds; envelope torn and with edge staining and losses, its stamp torn off; very good.