Book Review #27

Through no fault of my own, I managed to read another book which is older than me.  It is over four decades older, though to categorize it as a book, is perhaps generous.  It was only 68 pages, a couple of them being photos from a trip.  It is said to be the first English-language book produced in this German-speaking town.  I did not acquire it just to tick off a reading challenge sector.

The book:  A Canadian’s Travels In Egypt

The author:  Ward H. Bowlby K.C.

The review:  If you Googled ‘Vanity Press,’ there would be a picture of this ego trip about an Egyptian trip.  A local historian publishes a weekly newspaper column.  He mentioned that he had a pdf file of a carefully-scanned 1902 original.  He would forward a copy to anyone who asked – so I asked.

Ward Bowlby was a big noise here in then-Berlin, Ontario, at the end of the 19th century.  He had attended Ontario Law College in Toronto, being first in his class each year.  He came from a well-to-do family.  Besides generous fees, paid by other local captains of industry, he owned a large timber/lumber company during a significant period of city growth.

In the winter of 1898/99, he felt that he had earned a little vacation.  This was not your average on-the-cheap tourist-class jaunt.  Ward, and 8 of his family and friends, took a four month getaway from a cold, Canadian winter, including two months on a Nile houseboat.

They went by train from Berlin to New York City, and boarded a steamer.  Over 11 days, they visited Gibraltar, Pompeii, and Naples.  Then they transferred to an Italian steamer for a trip to Alexandria.  After eight days in Cairo, which included a visit by the two men in the party to an ‘Arab music hall,’ where they were suitably scandalized by half-naked belly-dancers, they chartered a Nile tour-boat.

They got as far upstream as Aswan (Assouan), and then returned, visiting village markets, Luxor tombs, the Sphinx, and the Great Pyramids.  Bowlby kept a daily diary of the Egyptian portion, later turning it into a published travelogue.  After Egypt, the party spent 10 days in ‘The Holy Land’ – Palestine, long before the (re)creation of Israel.  Sadly, Bowlby kept no notes about that segment of the trip.

He had 56 copies printed, and bound with leather with gilt lettering.  He autographed each copy, and gave them to people he wanted to impress.  I don’t know how common these travelogues were at that time.  This one has the feel of the quiet bombast of, This is something that I could afford to do, and you can’t.  The K. C. behind his name, above, indicates, not merely a lawyer, but King’s Counsel.  He suffixed each autograph with ‘Esq.’

The manuscript itself was as tedious as the year-end newsletter you might receive from any bragging almost-friend.  The basic story though, was like watching the Hercule Poirot movie, Death On The Nile, an interesting historical glimpse into the period actions of some monied Canadians.